Nearly a decade ago, 1 was introduced to the writings of Steven Covey, particularly his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). As soon as I was given it by one of the most visionary principals I have worked with, I read it from cover to cover but kept returning to page 98 where Covey writes:
To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the fight direction [...] how different our lives are when we really know what is important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.
When my principal gave me the book, I was emerging from the trauma of a really serious car accident with ongoing physical and mental injuries that meant I would never be able to teach full-time in a full class again. I needed to reshape my life. When that same principal offered me the vacancy that had opened up in the library resource center, telling me that he was prepared to back my enthusiasm in the library and experience in the classroom, I promised him I would return to the university to learn how to ensure that the library would be the best it could be for staff and students.
Between 1998 and 2002, my life was dominated by study as I worked my way through two master's degrees, numerous sideline courses, and several conferences while at the same time working full-time to establish a brand-new library. Family, friends, and colleagues couldn't believe the workload I had undertaken nor understand why I was so driven. How could I find delight in spending huge amounts of hours and dollars on such a single-minded pursuit?
What they didn't understand was that I had at last found my passion. After 25 years of teaching, I discovered I was born to be a teacher-librarian. I began to feel like one of those rock stars who say they can't believe they are paid to do something they love. I had a long-term goal, and thanks to Steven Covey, I was able to map out a path that meant that all the steps I was taking were leading to its fulfilment.
A significant part of that goal was to identify what a best-practice library looked like so that I could emulate the model in my library. I also developed a mission statement so that I could be certain that more than just my personal goals were being satisfied. Displayed prominently near the entrance to the library resource center is this statement:
The staff of the Catherine Palmer Resource Centre understand and undertake the responsibilities identified in the International Federation of Library Associations / UNESCO School Library Manifesto and the Australian School Library Association's Bill of Rights so that our staff and students can achieve appropriate teaching and learning outcomes to become competent and confident readers and independent, efficient, and effective users of ideas and information.
We are dedicated to providing and promoting intellectual and physical access for all to an extensive range of print and electronic resources, tools and technologies that will:
* meet the educational needs of all members of our staff and student body;
* enhance and enrich our educational philosophy and curriculum;
* stimulate interest and independence in literacy;
* encourage our staff and students to create and manipulate ideas and information efficiently and effectively so that they may become independent, lifelong learners.
I was really proud of that statement because it encapsulated exactly what I believed we were about. It had the authority of leading associations, identified our goals, and had all the right jargon. We were there.
But then, in October 2004 I attended the Navcon2k4 conference in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I had the opportunity to listen to Tom Sergiovanni, professor of education and administration at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. What he had to say really made me confront my comfort and complacency.
In his address about creating a new type of leadership for schools based on community theory, Sergiovanni (2004) asked:
* How does the school vision statement reflect what is actually happening in the school?
* Is it a working document?
* How does it help make decisions or assess the effectiveness of decisions made?
* Does it spell out the strategies to achieve the vision?
* Does it identify the roles and responsibilities of those involved including staff, students, and parents?
* Are we doing the things that will help us embody our mission?
* What should we be doing to move closer to it?
Suddenly, I had much to think about, especially the realization that the formulation of the mission statement was only the beginning of the task even though it provided the ending. There was a destination but no map to get to it.
Just as I had set my personal goals and developed a pathway to achieve them, the same now had to be done for the library's goals. But I also realized that this would not and could not be a personal journey: the library belongs to the whole school community and therefore everyone has a part to play. These insights raised many questions:
* How will we construct the map to our destination?
* Who else will join me on the journey?
* What will be the roles and responsibilities of each of us?
* What resources will we need to arrive safely?
* How will we know that the destination has been reached?
* Is the destination as far as we can travel or is there somewhere beyond the rainbow's end?
So, over the next semester I will gather together a team of staff, student, and parent representatives to examine our mission statement and to ask:
* What do we already have?
* Is what we have still valid, valued, and valuable?
* What more do we need?
* How can we make the task manageable?
* How will we know that we are making progress?
* How will we know that we have reached our destination?
* Can our destination ever be reached?
Even more questions are needed to give us the answers to those questions:
* Where are we starting?
* What are the priorities?
* Which priorities need to be addressed immediately?
* Which priorities can be worked toward over a longer timeframe?
* What are the steps that we need to take?
* What is the sequence of these steps?
* What is the timeframe for these steps?
* What are the challenges we are likely to encounter7
* What support will we need?
* How will we measure our success?
* Where will we go from there?
Fortunately, Sergiovanni also provided some answers to the questions he had inspired.
One of these answers is to start by having each group of key players make five promises that will held us work together for the common good of the institution. Therefore, staff (teaching and administrative), students, and parents need to identify what their particular roles and responsibilities are, determine how they will undertake them, and then promise to carry through with them. These promises are then published and displayed in many situations around the school so that everyone is continually reminded that they are part of a connected community.
Reducing the strategy to the smaller scale of the library, as the leader of the library team 1 will be asking each group for its commitment to the library, and the library staff will make a similar set of promises to the groups. These promises will then be displayed alongside our mission statement as a real and ready reminder.
Our action plan will be developed and displayed, complete with milestones to be marked, as we move along our journey. Major decisions will be measured against our plan before they are made. Examples of excellent work demonstrating the standards we are seeking to achieve will be on display, and we will celebrate the fact that we know who we are and where we are going.
At the end of his address, Sergiovanni said, "Your history is your storyline. Do you like it? If you could, would you write a different one?"
When my time at this school is over, I would like to answer those questions with a loud yes followed by an even louder no, my demonstration that I did, indeed, begin with the end in mind. What would be your answers?
Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Melbourne: Information Australia.
Sergiovanni, T. (2004). A New Leadership. Keynote Address, Navcon2k4 Conference, Christchurch, New Zealand.
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|Title Annotation:||strategy; your library's mission statement|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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