March Best Practice of the Month: Professionalism

Jeannie.Standal's picture

Professionalism:  What is it? Wearing a suit with uncomfortable shoes?  Maybe, but not necessarily for a school librarian - especially the uncomfortable shoes part. Keeping up with the profession's latest trends and best practices? Yes.  Learning as much as you can to do the job well?  Yes, yes!

→Let’s start with the basics.  Probably you do these things already, but it’s good to revisit these tried and true rules:

  • Be on time – the time of others is as valuable as yours;
  • Dress appropriately – if your school has a dress code follow it. It should be clear who is the adult and who is the student.
  • Don't complain (really, no one likes a whiner) - if you have a problem, develop a few potential solutions and present the whole package to your supervisor in one well-organized meeting. If the way forward is not clear, ask for advice on how to proceed. 
  • Be respectful.  You don't have to like everyone you work with, but you do have to work with everyone you work with.  It creates a much more pleasant and productive environment if all are treated with professional courtesy; even those who bring joy when they leave rather than when they arrive.
  • Get your work done.  It is so easy to just check your social media accounts for one quick thing, and then realize you are still at it 30 minutes later.  Leave non-work-related posting for after hours.
→Next, follow policy.This seems pretty straight-forward, but can get murky in the real world.  Take, for example, rules around phones. If your school has a no-phone use policy, it is best to get approval before diving into a text/post based lesson in the library. Besides obviously violating school policy, you will be on your co-workers’ bad lists when the kids won't return the phones to their backpacks, which wreaks havoc on classroom order. Not professional.
 →Be a resource to coworkers - it's what we do. The librarian should be the first and best resource in the library. Make every effort to become the expert on the library, the other resources in it, and how to use them. In addition, be an expert on using the technology in your library, whatever it may be. From scan-tron to 3-D printer, if it is in the library, learn how to use it, so you can teach others.

→ Carry a notebook to jot down reminders.  How often does this happen: while walking down the hallway, a teacher stops you and asks a question.  You promise to get back to her with the answer, only to forget as soon as you cross the library threshold.  Whether the notebook is paper or a list on your phone, make a habit of checking it often to make sure all requests have been addressed.   

→ Develop a professional network. It might be called a professional learning community (PLC) or a professional learning network (PLN). Whatever it’s called, this group of people is a fantastic resource for information, ideas, and advice.  This is especially important for school librarians, who are most likely singletons in their buildings.  Most schools have only one librarian, making it more difficult to connect with peers. 

→ Become involved in the profession.  Subscribe to professional journals (you can read several school library professional journals in LiLI for free!), subscribe to a listserv, and/or attend a conference! You can even join an organization. It’s fun, and staying current in your profession helps keep your library relevant! 

→ Take advantage of all the training and education you can. ICfL offers free webinars, ABLE/SABLE, workshops, seminars, and continuing education credit for certain programs.  ALA offers many courses, some for free and as short as an hour long.  Booklist and School Library Journal offer many readers advisory webinars and author talks.  Many of them will even offer a free archive if you can't attend the live broadcast. Learn all you can! 

→ Read read read!  Part of the job is to stay abreast of current literature.  We can’t read everything in our collections (well, maybe you can – I can’t), but it is a good idea to read some of the award winners each year, the most popular books, and sample one or two books from the each of the most popular authors.  Definitely become familiar with the titles that will support the projects you know will happen year after year. Students and teachers love when you can give them a concise little review of a book, or when you can talk with them about a book they’ve just read.  Hint: if it is difficult to find time to sit down to read a book, give audio a try.  It is a safe and legal way to read and drive at the same time, and a fun way to make housework/yard work more pleasant. 

In our ironic t-shirt wearing, text speaking, phone on the table at dinner society, some think that professionalism is dead.  But really, professionalism comes down to good manners.  The purpose of good manners is to make those around you feel comfortable.  It’s the same with professionalism, but at work good manners also help people around you do their best work.