I recently received an email from a reader, and in my response I included some tips for new Tibrarians. I still remember that feeling of being completely overwhelmed when I first started in the library, and I am reliving that feeling a bit this year as I have returned to the library after a four-year hiatus. Here are my
“Words of Wisdom” for New Tibrarians:
Tip #1: Pick your Battles
You definitely can’t do it all your first year. Choose a few areas on which to focus and don’t sweat the stuff that you just can’t get to. You can’t change everything and make it your own in your first year at a school, even though you might want to. You have to be willing to turn a blind eye to some of the stuff that is bothering you. Just put that stuff on your focus list for next year! Make a list of your top priorities and direct all your effort towards those goals. This year, I am focusing on helping my third and fourth grade students improve their book selections, motivating students to read with an amazing reading incentive in the spring, and improving collaboration with classroom teachers. There are some topics that I have chosen not to think or worry about at all, like eBooks. Librarians in my county went to a two-hour meeting about eBooks at the beginning of the school year, but most of that meeting was spent pointing out the quirks and kinks in the system that haven’t been worked out yet. I’ll just let those resources sit on the back burner until things are working more smoothly.
Tip #2: Bend Over Backwards
You need to show people at your school that you are willing to help and that you can make their jobs easier. When you meet with grade levels to discuss your plans, stress the point that you can do some of their teaching for them. At my old school, I was having trouble bonding with the third grade team. I had made some changes to the set-up of the library that they did not like and they weren’t excited about working with me. I met with them anyway and went into the meeting with a list of topics that I wanted to cover in the library. I said things like, “I’ll do a full unit on dictionary skills in the library so that you can have more time in the classroom to focus on writing.” All of a sudden, the third grade teachers were my new best friends! By showing them that the goal of my curriculum was to support and enhance their curriculum (in other words, I could make their lives easier), I was able to get them on my side.
You can also show teachers that you are indispensable by offering to help them whenever they seem to need it. I spent twenty minutes a few days ago discussing math with a fifth grade teacher and helping her come up with a project to give her students practice combining and disassembling shapes. She came in to the library looking for books about the topic and I talked to her and tried to help in any way that I could. You can do this same thing by passing out grade-level appropriate Veterans day stories to team leaders so that they can share them with their students, stopping to show a teacher how to use the digital camera that he just checked out, allowing teachers to reschedule their classes when they miss library because of an assembly or field trip, etc. Anything to let the staff know that you are willing to go the extra mile.
Tip #3: Be Excited About Books
Read the popular books in your library, know what students are reading, and be ready to make recommendations even when they are not solicited. In schools like mine with large populations, it will be really hard to know every student, so pick a few grade levels to start with. The upper grade students tend to respond a little better to this sort of thing, so you might want to start there. Talk to your students as they are choosing books and make whatever suggestions you can. Don’t forget to work some book talks into your lessons to help students branch out from their reading ruts. I just did a two week lesson on Newbery winners with my fourth graders and they have been enjoying checking out books from my “Newbery Nook”. Just like teachers, when students know that you care they will respond more positively to whatever you are doing. Plus, you will be helping students to become better readers along the way.
Tip #4: Make a Splash
I know it seems overwhelming, but try to do at least one school-wide reading incentive during the year. Go really crazy with it (there are a bunch of suggestions for specific incentives in Section 2 of my book). You will really show the students, staff, and parents that you care about literacy if you pull off a motivational event like this. It does wonders to get kids excited about reading and it gives you a chance to paint yourself as a fun and exciting teacher.
Good luck, new Tibrarians. Keep those emails coming! I am always willing to share whatever ideas I have to make your first year (or any year!) run smoothly!