Thank you for joining me for the third and final installment of the Teacher Librarian as Leader blog post series. If you have missed the first two posts, consider jumping back to the start to read all three in order.
The first post discusses the role of the TL, and how it embodies both management and leadership. This is followed by the second post, which offers an overview of some of the theories of leadership in the business literature and how these might be applied to the role of the TL.
In this final post, I am presenting an example of how approaching leadership through a business lens might reveal new insights about a well known concept – the reading culture of the school.
TLs are regularly asked to lead the promotion and cultivation of a culture of reading throughout the school (Merga & Mason, 2019). This is an area where TLs might benefit from extending their professional learning into the realm of business research.
In business, an organisation can live or die according to the health of its workplace culture. Thus, the concept of organisational culture has received extensive attention, and there is comprehensive information about what organisational culture is, how to cultivate it and how to shift it if there are signs of dysfunction. TLs can take advantage of these resources to identify evidence that supports their experience of the way a reading culture has (or hasn’t) developed within the school, and the processes needed to shift it as necessary.
An organisational culture consists of the things that people think (their ideologies, beliefs and values) and do (behaviours and customs) that people learn and share as members of a group (Muckle & Gonzalez 2015).
The most common model presents organisational culture as having three layers which range from “the very tangible overt manifestations that one can see and feel to the deeply embedded, unconscious basic assumptions…defined as the essence of culture or its DNA” (Schein & Schein, 2017 p.17). To get a deeper understanding, check out this ten minute video deconstructing one of Schein’s seminal articles. If your time is short, I’ve summarised the layers of organisational culture below, with examples from a school library perspective.
The first and most visible layer are artefacts – what you see, hear or feel upon engaging with the culture. In a reading culture, examples of cultural artefacts could be:
- reading resources and the physical space of the library
- the ways in which students and teachers talk about readers and reading
- visible behaviours and activities associated with reading e.g. the presence or lack of regular events, book clubs or even students or teachers actually reading.
The second layer, which people within the culture share with others are espoused beliefs and values. These are the socially validated explanations the group shares for why things are done in a particular way, based upon previous positive outcomes. Examples of espoused beliefs and values in a reading culture might include:
- reasons given by students and teachers for their regular use (or lack of use) of the library space and its resources
- value placed upon library resources, seen in amount of overdues and missing items (from students and teachers)
- beliefs about the importance of reading for pleasure, shared by all levels of the school community
- ways in which the library space is used and how the library space is treated and maintained by the school community.
The third level are the underlying basic assumptions held by members of the culture. These are so ingrained that they are taken for granted, not easy to articulate and difficult to shift. In a reading community, underlying basic assumptions might include:
- assumptions about the necessity and role of school libraries
- perceptions of the role of the TL and the type of teacher a TL might be
- assumptions about the real value and importance of reading for pleasure once students have reached a particular reading level.
Understanding the concept of a reading culture from the perspective of organisational culture research may reveal evidence the TL needs to support their work. TLs know that a healthy and growing reading culture is enabled by supportive leadership, staff who model reading and broader parental and community support of reading for pleasure (Merga & Mason, 2019). TLs who draw upon business research can back up these claims with an understanding of the ways in which the overall school culture can influence the development of a reading culture.
As outlined in the literature on shifting organisational culture, surface level actions which only address the visible artefacts of the reading culture will not create long term and sustained change. The deeply held underlying basic assumptions that fuel attitudes and behaviours towards reading, the library or the role of the TL may be the reason that the culture will not shift, no matter how much is invested in events, resources and the physical space. While changes first and second levels might create excitement in the short term, without addressing the underlying and deeply held values (which the community may not even be conscious of), it may be almost impossible to sustain change over time. Change at the third, deepest level is challenging and takes time. Although too detailed to address in this post, there is great value in exploring the different frameworks and models which explain how a sustainable change in culture can be achieved over time.
This is just one example of how you can draw upon the wealth of business literature to enhance your leadership of the school library and your educational leadership across the school community. Check out some of the resources I’ve curated to extend your professional reading.
Merga, M. K., & Mason, S. (2019). Building a school reading culture : Teacher librarians’ perceptions of enabling and constraining factors. The Australian Journal of Education, 63(2), 173-189. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0004944119844544
Muckle, R. J., & Gonzalez, L. T. d. (2015). Through the lens of anthropology : An introduction to human evolution and culture. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Schein, E. H., & Schein, P. (2017). Organizational culture and leadership (5th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.