Start with Why, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, Building a Culture of Collaboration: School Librarian Leadership and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is part two of the eighth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Before participating in the Lilead Project Summer Institute in Norfolk, Virginia, I had no intention of extending my review of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. (See Part 1 published on 7/17/17.)

But last week, twenty Cohort 2 Lilead Fellows, four Cohort 1 speakers and other supporters, the Lilead Project Team, and five mentors  (of which I am one) spent four days thinking and talking about, writing and revising our “whys” in terms of the Fellows’ Lilead projects.

Throughout this process of connecting the purpose and value of school librarianship to goals for their projects, Fellows had support for pushing their thinking and connecting their “whys” to their personal and professional values and to their school districts’ priorities.

During the week, John Chrastka from EveryLibrary shared information and strategies related to the importance of political literacy, particularly in terms of the Fellows achieving their project goals. (EveryLibrary is registered as 501(c)4 social welfare organization and supports library organizations around the country in achieving their goals.) John said this, “Our concern is on the basics: fix the disconnect in districts that say they want successful schools and fully prepared students but don’t fund their libraries or hire qualified librarians.”

John noted that for many library supporters a librarian “who cares (about other people’s literacy needs and welfare) is a proxy” for supporters’ own desire/need to care. These people comprise the “library party” and believe that the library is a transformational force in their communities. Everyone in the room agreed that passionate librarians are “true advocates for lifelong learning.” These connections apply directly to the “whys” Lilead fellows are addressing with their projects.

The Fellows were asked to write about their values related to education and librarianship, their vision for their school/district, why they do this work, and what happens if they don’t do it. All of these thinking activities connected and reconnected to their “whys.”

When the Fellows were asked to share the key ideas that frame their projects, the similarities in their “whys” were very exciting. This is what I heard in terms of key concepts: issues (access/budget/resources/staffing) related to equity (7), cultural responsiveness (2) a subset of equity, librarians as instructional/digital leaders/building capacity (5), advocacy/changing perceptions/increasing visibility (3), K-12 curriculum (2), and increasing future-ready learning spaces (1).

To “see” the Fellows’ “whys” expressed in these ways leads me to believe that the school library profession can coalesce around a shared overarching “why.” With a collective “why,” the “what” we do and “how” we do it may look different in different schools and districts but the benefit of an overarching “values-based approach” (John Chrastka) can help school librarians work within a shared values framework. It can help us identify and build coalitions. It can help the Fellows elevate their projects because they are based on authentic truths—on the school library profession’s shared values.

Thank you to Simon Sinek for giving us the “why” prompt as a stimulus to our thoughts, discussions, and the feedback we shared with and received from one another.

Thank you to John Chrastka for teaching us about political literacy and helping us apply these principles to help us achieve our goals for and with our library stakeholders. We look forward to learning more with you.

Thank you to Roger Rosen, president of Rosen Publishing, for joining us in Norfolk and for sponsoring our learning with John. We are grateful.

Resources
EveryLibrary.org. Newsletter Subscription.

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Sweeney, Patrick PC, and John Chrastka. Winning Elections and Influencing Politicians for Library Funding. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2017.