Initial thoughts on Teacher Librarian leadership

In my introduction on the ETL504 discussion boards, my section on what I hoped to gain from the subject was the following:

“To be frank, I struggle somewhat with the notion of the TL as Leader, especially in the NSW DoE primary school context. If this subject can persuade me to a different view on this point, that would be an ideal gain. Pragmatically, I hope to gain another completed subject so that I can complete my course and confirm my position at FSPS as permanent. Somewhere in between those two, I hope to gain knowledge and understanding, as well as skills and strategies, to help support my position when advocating for things (such as admin time or particular resources) relevant to my role as Teacher Librarian.”(Simon, 2019, July 5, para. 4)

We have been encouraged to reflect on our thoughts and understandings of Teacher Librarians (TLs) as leaders before diving into the meat of this subject, so I will try to expand on the thoughts expressed above. My friend and fellow classmate, Liz Parnell, is incredibly sceptical about the notion of TLs as school leaders and gives an excellent description of one common experience – the overburdened, fighting-to-keep-afloat primary school Teacher Librarian (Parnell, 2019, July 1, para. 3). This captures some of the struggle I related regarding the notion of the TL as leader in a NSW Department of Education primary school context. I am currently working in that context as the sole, 3-day-per-week TL at a relatively small (215 student) primary school in Sydney. In my initial six months in that role, I see myself more in Liz’s description of a follower being pulled in multiple directions than in the descriptions of TLs as technological and curriculum leaders put forward in the advocacy videos by Students Need School Libraries (2018) and ALIANational (2014) found in the subject home page and first module.

However, as I began to reflect on these feelings and opinions, I began to realise that perhaps some of the fault I was finding had more to do with my concept of leadership in schools than with the role of the TL. In much of my experience, school leadership has been top-down, directive, decision-oriented, organisational and classroom-centred. Even when principals, executive team members and supervisors sought input from the rank and file staff the underlying understanding I had was that the key outcome was a decision to be made and implemented and that was ultimately in the control of those leaders. In that model, it is indeed hard to see where my role as primary TL would overlap with the leadership role. While I am involved with all teachers and students at the school, I sit somewhere off to the side, taking classes to provide relief-from-face-to-face (RFF) teaching for the main classroom teachers – leaving me neither at the top, nor in the centre of the classroom. While I do have the capacity to make some decisions and organise some things, these capacities are limited, at least perceptually, to the library and resource collections and have as much to do with implementing the ordering decisions of others as with making those decisions myself.

This led me to consider alternative models of leadership that I have encountered in other areas of my life. As a church-going Christian, I have long been exposed to the concept of servant leadership, stemming from biblical quotes such as:  “…the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:26b New American Standard version) and  “…If any one wants to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all (Mark 9:35 b New American Standard version)” In addition, I am vaguely familiar with the Co-Active Leadership model (Kimsey-House & Kimsey-House, 2016), as it was created by my eldest brother and his wife, who run a life coaching and leadership training organisation in California. If I look at being a servant of all, also framed as Co-Active Leader Behind in the Co-Active Model (Kimsey-House & Kimsey-House, 2016, p. 41) as leadership, suddenly the TL role of being aware of the resource needs of the teachers and students and responding by providing relevant information and resources takes on a new hue. Perhaps there is something to the notion of a TL as leader after all, even if just in my own perception and actions.

I still remain to be convinced of that perception being shared by the broader school community, but we have a whole session to travel so my mind is open to the possibility.



ALIANational. (2014, Janurary 6). Promoting your school library [Video file]. Retrieved from

Kimsey-House, K., and Kimsey-House, H. (2016). Co-active leadership: A new leadership story. Leader to Leader, 2016(80), pp. 38-42. doi: 10.1002/ltl.20230

Parnell, L. (2019, July 1). Preliminary ETL504 thoughts [Blog post]. Retrieved 2019, July 8 from

Simon, M., (2019, July 5). Howdy from Marika 2068 (home)/2000 (work) [Discussion board post]. Retrieved from

Students Need School Libraries. (2018, October). Teachers + Teacher Librarians = Better Learning [Video file]. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Initial thoughts on Teacher Librarian leadership

  1. My thought process has also grown along similar lines to yours – about less of the TL being “in leadership” and more about the TL leading from where s/he is. Leadership vs management, if that makes sense?

  2. Leadership v management makes a lot of sense. I think the amount of management required in a TL role varies vastly, but our opportunities to lead (especially as leaders within, behind and beside (Kimsey-House & Kimsey-House, 2016)) are there if we can find ways to make use of them.


    Kimsey-House, K., and Kimsey-House, H. (2016). Co-active leadership: A new leadership story. Leader to Leader, 2016(80), pp. 38-42. doi: 10.1002/ltl.20230

    1. I think I meant more being a leader vs being on the executive. You can be a leader without being in a management role.

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