Principals' Evaluation of School Librarians: A Study of Strategic and Nonstrategic Evidence-Based Approaches

Article excerpt

Principals have a range of strategic and nonstrategic approaches available to them that they could potentially employ to gather evidence to evaluate school librarians. This study surveyed principals on how frequently they used each of these possible forms of evidence. Results show that principals are proactive, deliberate, and strategic in seeking the evidence they use to evaluate their school librarians. They are more likely to use their own observations, interviews, and data analysis than to rely on evidence provided to them by the school librarian, particularly in the form of reports.

Introduction

No one in the field of education can dispute the effect a principal has on the school library media program. Professional practice and a substantial body of international research (see, e.g., Oberg, 2006) has clearly established that principal support enables school librarians and programs to thrive and that the lack of principal support can decimate programs.

School librarians in Canada have indicated that the principal shows support for the program in three ways: by working directly with teachers to develop their understanding of the program; by clearly demonstrating personal commitment to the program; and by using the management role of school leader to enable the program. More specifically, this support is shown by "making explicit statements about the value of the program, being visible in the library, by being a model for teachers by using the program in his or her teaching" (Oberg, 1995, p. 224). Henri, Hay, and Oberg's (2002) study involving principals in Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Japan, Scotland, and South Korea focused on principals' influence and information services in schools. Principals and school librarians in those countries ranked belief statements about principals' and school librarians' roles in development of an information-literate school community. The most important future tasks for principals identified most frequently by both groups were: encouraging and facilitating the professional development of staff; supporting the development of a resource collection that is current and relevant to the curriculum needs of the school; and advocating and facilitating the development of an information-literate school community. Flexible scheduling, a practice usually under the principal's jurisdiction, can have a formidable effect on the school library program. Principals are credited for making flexible scheduling work by devising solutions to the problem of providing planning time for teachers and librarians (Zweizig, McAfee-Hopkins, Wehlage, & Webb, 1999); setting the tone for how teachers will respond to flexible scheduling (Shannon, 1996); setting expectations for collaboration and team planning (Donham van Deusen & Tallman, 1994); demonstrating confidence in school librarians by allowing them to implement flexible scheduling as they see fit; being physically visible in the library; and being involved in initial planning meetings (McGregor, 2002). The 16 student achievement studies compiled in School Libraries Work (Scholastic Research Foundation, 2006) also lend credence to principals' influence. Most of the library media program variables linked to student achievement are under the direct control or influence of the principal: budget, professional and support staff, collection size, time devoted to teaching, and extent of collaboration with teachers.

Evaluation of the school librarian is closely aligned with the principal's effect on the school library program. In most school systems in the United States, principals conduct mandatory, formal, evaluations of teachers, counselors, nurses, and school librarians. Hartzell (2002) maintains,

A principal's evaluation of a librarian does more than fulfill a bureaucratic requirement. It also influences how the principal sees the library and librarian in the school, and this, in turn, influences the level of support she is willing to extend, (p. …