Leadership & the School Librarian as an Education Leader

Leadership isn't just gaining a position of power and authority; the true Leader embraces empowerment, organization, and communication as the best way to serve colleagues. If School Librarians want to be viewed as educational leaders, we need to build alliances that help us learn and improve. | No Sweat LibraryAs each generation of education scholars researches how a child learns, they pass that knowledge on to the next generation of scholars and teachers, who then build upon the foundation to discover even better ‘best practices’. Classroom activists who advocate these discoveries often struggle against fellow teachers and supervisors who are more comfortable with their own generation’s methods. Thus, only when visionaries achieve leadership positions can they truly influence how we educate our youth.

How, then, does a visionary who is finally in a leadership position truly effect change in the classroom, in the school, and in the educational community? I believe the true Leader embraces 3 goals: empowerment, organization, and communication.


A very wise principal of mine, Dr. Frank Taylor, once said, “You gain more power when you give it away.” Control is not leadership. Even the best leader cannot do everything, so the true Leader cultivates other leaders in the school and helps them develop their strengths. Then, the true Leader gives them responsibilities to use those strengths and lets them soar.

I believe this applies to students as well as to teachers. Student successes bring respect to us. We can help students stand by their work product by engaging them to refine the snags toward even higher achievement. Anyone is empowered to become a leader when they are confident they can find answers to solve problems.


There is truth in the saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” especially in education. Too often we are inundated with multiple directives, and nothing seems to fit together. In any school, some folks are skilled at time management, some excel at processes and procedures, and some have a real knack for visual simplification and presentation, so the true Leader invites collaboration to refine directives into an organized plan for implementation. Even if it takes extra time, a  Leader knows an organized plan will be accepted more readily and easily than individual, unconnected changes. Additionally, a well-organized plan takes into consideration the needs of each and every teacher, minimizing the discomfort of change. We work hard to individualize for students; a good leader recognizes that teachers deserve the same. 


Finally, nothing works if no one knows what’s going on. A true Leader establishes regular and consistent communication through standard channels, be they print, audio, video, digital, or face-to-face. If we know when and how to expect certain communications, we plan ahead and are more likely to pay attention. School Leaders are wary of interrupting over the PA, which is disruptive—too many become tiresome and both teachers & students tune them out. Even email can be overused—rather than persistent, detailed explanations that invite deletion, shorter pithy communications generate interest and invite face-to-face collaboration. Most importantly, a Leader recognizes that frivolous and repeated changes to what has already been communicated cause confusion, mistakes, and resentment. A true Leader makes sure their communications align with the goals of empowerment and organization.


When I re-entered education in the 90s, I realized that the ‘new’ ideas I’d learned during college had become accepted pedagogy and were being widely implemented, because my generation had moved into leadership positions. I am proud to be part of a group totally devoted to doing what will bring success to all children as they move through their school years. But I am ever cognizant that there is always a new generation whose research uncovers better methods, and true Leaders understand they can’t stand still…they must also remain informed of ‘best practices’ and move their followers forward.

After 25+ years in public education I’ve had great leaders and some not so great. My 2 favorites—Ms. Lynda Opitz and the aforementioned Dr. Taylor—truly understood empowerment, organization, and communication as essential for great leadership. Their influence encourages me to be a better teacher and librarian, and I try to emulate their leadership qualities when I work with other teachers.

School leadership can have a huge impact on the School Library Program.
Read 5 Things You Want a Principal to Know About the School Librarian.


To merit leadership in our school, we must first earn respect as a School Librarian. Are we a leader as an experienced teacher, an instructional partner, an information specialist, and a program administrator? | No Sweat LibraryOf the 5 facets of being a school librarian—experienced teacher, instructional partner, informational specialist, program administrator, and school leader—four of them cannot be effective unless we are a school leader. Does this mean joining committees or volunteering for non-contract tasks? It can…but in order to be respected at those pursuits, we must be respected as a competent certified School Librarian, as the supreme authority of our profession in our building. How might we do that?

First and foremost, we must align our school library program with current National School Library Standards. The American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association, has provided many materials to assist us in learning and using our standards, including crosswalk documents to integrate with other curricula. All these can be found on the AASL National School Library Standards website. It’s our obligation to our professional certification to know and use these documents.

Another source of information and inspiration is the Future Ready Schools initiative. Their Future Ready Librarians Framework  helps school librarians become leaders in their buildings and districts. Keep up with FRL by joining their Facebook group.

Join the international LM_NET listserv. With nearly 12,000 members, this group can help you solve problems and develop innovative lessons that will have teachers flocking to collaborate with you.

Finally, let social media help you by joining a Facebook group for School Librarians. My personal recommendation is The School Librarian’s Workshop, created by Hilda K. Weisburg, a true librarian leader, and with more than 10,000 members.

A School Librarian also needs to embrace those 3 leadership qualities:

  • empowering students and teachers through our lessons and collaborations
  • exhibiting strong organizational skills in the way we manage our library facility and the school library program
  • regularly & effectively communicating with our entire school community through our School Library Website, social media, and provided school channels.

Encompassing all the above allows us to naturally slide into a leadership role in our school, among other librarians, around the community, and in the larger library and education world.

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Moving On: Take or Leave School Library Lessons?

What does a School Librarian do with library lessons when leaving a School Library? How do we decide? We must consider our teachers, consider the incoming librarian, and consider ourselves. | No Sweat LibraryAt some point in the career of any School Librarian, this question presents itself:  When leaving our current school library position, what do we do with our Library Lessons?

Some administrators expect all lessons to remain at the school, and librarians may balk at being ordered to leave their own work products. Some worry that leaving their lessons will minimize their value when used by the next librarian, or that there’s a legal or ethical concern about using their same lessons at their next school, or that it precludes them from presenting or publishing the lessons.

The question is one that calls upon (what the Library Director who inspired me says) “making a wise professional decision.” Thus, our professional conclusion must be to minimize the transitional impact on our current teachers and students. What does this mean?


I remember my first year as a new school librarian. The previous librarian had opened the new middle school and left after 2 years, but she had already done several collaborative lessons with teachers. Imagine my apprehension when a teacher came to me: “B_ and I did a unit on _____ and I want to do the same unit again this year.” The teacher didn’t know exactly what B_ had done for the lesson, but thank goodness I had her lesson files:

  • I was able to find the lesson so the teacher didn’t need to spend inordinate amounts of her planning time to get me up to speed.
  • I had a starting point for myself rather than scrambling to create something new and trying to determine what resources I had in the library that suited the lesson.

As the year progressed and I worked my way through the previous librarian’s lessons, I jotted down ideas for making them my own, but by not having to recreate already existing lessons, I had the time and enthusiasm to develop my own new lessons with teachers who hadn’t worked with B_. Thanks to her, my first year was a success with faculty.

When a School Librarian moves to a new position elsewhere, do we leave our library lessons for the incoming librarian? If we consider our teachers and the time we spent collaborating with them, we'll have our answer. | No Sweat LibraryConsider an alternative: I am a classroom teacher who has spent considerable time planning with the librarian. I’d be pretty upset if the new librarian had no information about those lessons. Even if she could create something new, I’d resent all the valuable time I’d spent planning with the previous librarian—possibly over several years. If all my hard work was down the drain and we had to redo it, I might not bother to plan lessons with any librarian, let alone each new one that arrived at my school.

With that in mind, lessons generated through collaborative planning with teachers would best remain on the campus to maintain the continuity a teacher expects after putting time and energy into planning the lesson. One might even reason that any creations for the library during regular contract hours ought to remain on the campus, including signage, bulletin board decorations, and information documents. I suspect that’s the reasoning an administrator has when insisting lessons be left on the campus. This doesn’t preclude us from copying files and taking them with us, since we shouldn’t have to start from scratch at our new library, either!


We don’t normally expect to be moving on to another position, but in case we do, we want to prepare the incoming School Librarian with information about the existing school library program. When I began, the previous librarian left good lesson plans, but nothing else, so I knew it would be important to document the policies and procedures I developed.

I began with library handbook for teachers, but with each year’s updates I reduced it to only what teachers really needed until it became a concise “flipbook” outlining what our library program offers to teachers. What I retained and used became a detailed librarian handbook which kept growing larger and more comprehensive.

My School Librarian Handbook is designed as an Annotated Table of Contents, organized according to:

  • School Librarian Duties – Budget, Collection, Facility, and Lessons
  • Librarian Administrative Tools (such as planning, reports, handouts)
  • Non-Library Services I perform (for school, district & state)
  • Appendices with extended examples & suggestions

This 32-page expandable Annotated Table of Contents is the perfect way to document everything you do in your School Library, and is a necessary guide to an incoming School Librarian, should you move on to a new position. | No Sweat LibraryBecause it’s a digital text document, it expands as I add explanations for the philosophy, organization, policies, and procedures of the school library, and instructions for various library activities. The Table of Contents is hyperlinked to the related section pages, making it easy to navigate the growing document.

Eventually I printed the document and organized it into a three-inch-thick, 3-ring notebook binder as a customized guide to everything anyone needed to know about our school library program. It sat impressively on the shelf above my desk, and all my principals noticed and asked about it—offering a great opportunity for some advocacy!

My expandable School Librarian Handbook template is available in my TPT store.


Leaving our ‘School Library Home’ is a difficult decision for any librarian, and we don’t want emotional disagreements over our library lessons. It’s never too early to contemplate what to leave and what to take when moving on.

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All professional creations that are made on personal time, are our intellectual property. We needn’t share these freely, and we can take the files with us and use them however we choose. That’s something to keep in mind each time we create a new library lesson or management tool: Should I work on this at home or at school? Will I want to take this or leave it when moving on?

When I left my library position, I put all library files on the school’s internal network drive for the next school librarian. I also left any hard copies in the office, circulation desk, and file cabinet. When I visited the new librarian, who’d moved up from a feeder elementary, she was thrilled that she had access to all I’d done during my 13+ years there.

I did copy everything to a USB drive to take with me, and I can compare these school documents with my home computer files to determine whether to freely share with other librarians on listservs and social media. I’ve been careful to use copyright & royalty free images so my materials can be made available to other librarians and teachers through various online services:

  • This Looking Backward Blog shares ideas and activities through topical blog posts and the FREE Resources link.
  • My free videos are hosted on YouTube and Vimeo and I often mention these on social media.
  • My No Sweat Library on Pinterest is organized specifically for School Librarians, with topical boards filled with resources from me and from other school librarians.
  • My Library Lessons and Library Management products are available for a small cost through “No Sweat Library,” my TeachersPayTeachers store. I provide lesson plans—aligned with CCSS, NGSS, C3SS, and National School Library Standards, slide presentations with PDF Notes, student worksheets for lesson activities, and multimedia files pertinent to the lesson.

Take advantage of what I have to offer in my store, and feel free to comment or ask questions below!

The No Sweat Library goal for other School Librarians is to minimize the time spent on administrative tasks and to maximize the value of their lessons.

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