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Teacher-Librarians as Leaders

This page looks at school leadership types and roles, and how the teacher-librarian can be a learning leader in the library and across the school in various educational contexts.

Young Professor

Teacher-Librarians are information and education specialists who impact the broader school community as:

  • Teaching and Learning Leaders

  • Curriculum and Policy Leaders

  • Literacy Leaders

  • Collaboration Leaders

  • Research Leaders

  • Inquiry Leaders

  • Technology Leaders

Leaders, Leadership, and Leadership Theories in Education: Defining the Terms

There is an interesting distinction between leaders - individuals, typically in a role with some form of formal or informal authority - and leadership - the collective processes of working towards common goals (Reis, 2018, para. 6).

​“Authority is framed as the right to direct others in the pursuit of a specified, and typically shared, outcome and is often tied to management or a positional role" (Vecchio, 2007). Power represents a broader concept that can - but does not have to be - associated with authority, reflecting the ability to shape others’ behaviours. Influence is frequently referred to in many formal leadership theories and is traditionally viewed as a softer version of power that is “weaker and less reliable” (Vecchio, 2007, p. 69).​ Influence skills can be grown or cultivated, and can "help leaders get colleagues on board for change initiatives, access resources, guide teams, develop shared goals, reduce resistance, encourage teamwork beyond functional boundaries, win support from those with competing agendas, empower others and sell ideas" (Kaufman, 2011, p. 315).

Leadership styles and theories are like different lenses in a phoropter that an optometrist flips between; depending on what theory you are looking through, you might notice different details, pay attention to different areas, or focus on different goals for improvement. One theory might look for individual leaders, while another might focus on overarching leadership structures. One might view everything through through the perspective of change, while another might highlight contexts and interactions.


Leadership theories within education include:

  • Transformational Leadership,

  • Distributed Leadership,

  • Charismatic Leadership,

  • Servant Leadership, and

  • Situational Leadership


All of these leadership styles provide distinct areas of focus and ways to view, evaluate and shape leadership structures and behaviours.  While some leadership styles may come more naturally to different people than others, they can still be learned and practised by anyone.


Image: Phoropter. Logan Ingalls / CC BY (

Who Leads and Who Follows?


The terms “leader” and “follower” can present a false dichotomy (Reis, 2018, para. 8), and in the educational context, both transformational leadership and distributed leadership recognise that leaders and leadership behaviours can be dispersed throughout the staff, not just concentrated in the administration.

Transformational leadership is focused on individuals and behaviours that bring about change, and in fact, “anyone can be a leader at any given time within in an organization as long as he or she is inspiring others to create change” (Smith, 2011, p. 4).


Distributed leadership explores the interactions between a dispersed “leaders and followers” throughout the staff; It is a theory that focuses on contexts and leadership practice, looking beyond formal leadership positions to attempt to recognise all formal and informal contributors (Johnston, 2012, p. 6). In the school context, distributed leadership theory thinks of the school as a network of pedagogical practitioners and leadership as something that happens at each node, built in and incorporated on the ground, not just located in the head office. Organisationally, distributed leadership often has instructional leadership teams, where leaders are chosen based on their “content and pedagogical expertise rather than their years of experience or formal leadership role in the school” (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, n.d., para. 3). However, distributed leadership it is not simply delegating tasks and responsibilities; it is looking at the interactions that bring about instructional improvement. (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, n.d., para. 6).


While they have different foci, both transformational and distributed leadership styles look beyond the traditional leaders in the school administrative hierarchy, and open up the door for anyone to lead. 

Charismatic Leadership "relies on the charm and persuasiveness of the leader. Charismatic leaders are driven by their convictions and commitment to their cause" (para. 1) such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Charismatic leadership skills can be learned. According to Patel (2017), there are five characteristics that make for great leaders.  Those 5 characteristics are: 

  • “confidence - a strong sense of self and rarely express self-doubt

  • creativity - see difficulties as opportunities and think outside the box

  • vision - have a dream and direction that motivates and inspires others

  • determination -  focused on getting results and accomplishing what they set out to do. 

  • communication - communicate with confidence and charisma and articulate with their words and ensure that each statement has a purpose” (Patel, 2017).

Brown (2015) provides seven suggestions for improving your charisma:

  • “stay tuned - stay alert and focus on the person talking, be completely present for that person

  • stay smart and sharp - look after yourself, smile without overdoing it, and stand tall, believe in yourself

  • remember and repeat - repeating someone's name is a way of subtly complimenting them, makes them feel special and worth talking to.

  • master your other language - your body language will be unconsciously read

  • your eyes say everything - hold good eye contact

  • no more complaining - keep the conversation positive

  • good words go far - genuinely compliment people, be expressive when you talk, with your body language and with your facial expressions” (2015).

Teacher-Librarians: Trained and Positioned for Leadership

Teacher-librarians are well-positioned to be leaders within the distributed leadership model. We can be valuable contributors to instructional leadership teams, with our pedagogical understandings particularly of inquiry and deeper learning, our passion for our students and for literacies, and our unique bird’s eye positioning to see what is happening in different classrooms across the school. Because we also seek to collaborate with teachers, we can also be leaders in our interactions as we working to create a better educational experience for all.

collaborate with teachers to incite deeper, more critical, and more evaluative thinking, more digital/media awareness, and more authentic inquiry.

For example, a teacher-librarian may be an efficient manager, but that does not automatically make her a leader, and vice versa, and in fact the skills required for both help support the other.

Teacher-Librarians as Literacy Leaders

One specific area where teacher-librarians can lead is in traditional literacy.


Click on the PDF icon to open the document shown to the right. 

To learn more about how teacher-librarians can support and lead in schools with other types of literacy, including "new" literacies, transliteracy, critical literacy, media literacy, news literacy, see the Multiple Literacies page.

Teacher-Librarians as Literacy Leaders
Mela Vallentgoed, Robyn Kuseler, Jillian Knuttila, Shannon Thiessen Burton, 2018

TLs as lit leaders.jpg

Practical suggestions for leading from and beyond the library for promoting literacy:


  • Work on the school’s virtual presence. What does the school website show about the school library, and can it be edited? If not, make your own (free) website, get a prominent link to it on the school website, and promote access to the OPAC! Consider linking a library Twitter feed, possibly creating online discussion groups (also discussed in more detail with recommended host sites by Achterman, 2010, p. 71), and  adding a library Instagram or other digital gallery feature. Recommended reading list links, and teaching and promoting sites like Goodreads could be helpful for both teachers and students..

  • Morris (2013) suggests checking with teachers to coordinate literacy strategy instruction to provide repetition and reinforcement for students (p. 10).

  • Help students “see” their teachers read by distributing “(Name) is currently reading ____” pages to each staff member for display and updating (Lawrence, 2014, p. 68 and Achterman, 2010, p. 71). On my “I am currently reading” card, I have added “I am currently researching” to also promote lifelong learning. Instead of writing and erasing, we are using strips of heavier paper so that our past reading can grow to cover the sides of shelves behind the help desk, to eventually create a interesting display. This could be done with student books/reading as well! 

  • Both Lawrence (2014) and Achterman (2010) discuss student-made book trailers - what a great way to do booktalks and to promote reading and literacy both in their making and their viewing! Lawrence provides some great ideas for going beyond just showing these trailers as a booktalk, such as putting them in the OPAC record for the relevant book, and putting QR codes next to the book on the shelf so students can have a virtual preview the books, and a peer recommendation, as they physically browse the shelves. Achterman gives some great advice about booktalks in general and some valuable links for tips and sites with heaps of examples to draw on (2010, p. 69-70). 

  • Library policies directly impact literacy leadership. The importance of weeding and the necessity for streamlined and user-friendly online digital access contribute to how easily resources can be found and used which are of high interest and support the curriculum. The collection development policy directly supports literacy in the curriculum, and the better a teacher-librarian knows the official (and unofficial) curriculum, the better tailored the collection can become. Borrowing policies and organisation contribute to usage. The more quality and quantity of books, the more students will reading, and the better they will do academically (Krashen, 2004, in Achterman, 2010). 


  • Be a literacy leader by doing: get involved in curriculum committees, use data, provide relevant ideas and resources, jump in and show leadership in action through service using expertise. This requires expert knowledge, including being up-to-date with how literacy is changing and the advent of new literacies. Achterman (2010) recommends specific journals but acknowledges that this can be daunting, and to just start reading and learning anyway - it is a lifelong growth process. That is encouraging!

Leadership styles and self-evaluation


It is possible to be practising a variety of leadership styles concurrently, and highly effective leaders are likely to be doing so, even unconsciously. However, by choosing to focus on a specific leadership style, one can learn about oneself and one’s organisation and make specific and strategic improvements. 

From transformational leadership: As educators we are in the business of making positive change - in ourselves, our coworkers, our students, our schools, and our communities. This is transformation, and it is exciting!

From charismatic leadership: Being positive and uplifting, sharing one’s passions, and specifically to keep being a champion of the library and reading, is infectious. Simple and specific behaviours - most connected to being a clear communicator and showing the value of the person one is interacting with - can be impactful (Brown, 2015).

From situational leadership: Pay attention to where staff and students are at and what their needs are, so that they can be supported in the most appropriate manner, whether directing, coaching, supporting, or delegating.

From servant leadership: Long hours in service of others is also leadership - helping teachers to do the best they can in their classrooms, and striving to make the library and its programmes as engaging and effective as possible. This builds trust and is a model for others to serve in the same way (Crippen, 2004). 

From distributed leadership: Cooperation is not the same thing as professional collaboration, and distributed leadership is not the same thing as delegation. Interactions are important places of leadership in action, and we can use our expertise as teacher-librarians to impact our schools, on leadership teams and when collaborating with others.


Leadership can be learned and strengthened. An examination of leadership styles can help to provide personal focus and insights in order to grow.

Where does this come from? References and Resources

Achterman, D. (2010). Literacy leadership and the school library.  In S. Coatney (Ed.), The many faces of school library leadership, (pp. 67-84). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.). 4 key things to know about distributed leadership. Retrieved from 

Brown, J. (2015, May 10).  7 ways to increase your charisma. Retrieved from

Crippen, C. (2004). Servant-leadership as an effective model for educational leadership and management: First to serve, then to lead. Management in Education, 18(5), 11-16. doi:10.1177/089202060501800503

Dees, D., Mayer, A., Morin, H., & Willis, E. (2010). Librarians as leaders in professional learning communities through technology, literacy, and collaboration. Library Media Connection. Retrieved from

Explainer Video Agency (2017, March 26). Situational leadership. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Harris, A. (2014. September 29). Distributed leadership. Teacher. Retrieved from 

Johnston, M. P. (2015). Distributed leadership theory for investigating teacher librarian leadership. School Libraries Worldwide, 21(2), 39-57. doi:10.14265.21.2.003

Johnston, M. P. (2012). School librarians as technology integration leaders: Enablers and barriers to leadership enactment. School Library Research, 15, 1-33. Retrieved from 

Kaufman, B. (2011). Leadership strategies: Build your sphere of influence. Business Strategy Series 12(6), 315-320. DOI: 10.1108/17515631111185950 Retrieved from

Lawrence, E. (2014). Librarians of the loose.  Knowledge Quest, 42(4), pp. 64-70. Retrieved from

Morris, R. (2013). Let’s read it all together: Developing the literacy team. Library Media Connection, 32(3), 8-10.

Parrott, D. J., & Keith, K. J. (2015). Three heads are better than one: Librarians, reading specialists, and classroom teachers in the learning commons. Teacher Librarian, 42(5), 12-18.

Patel, S. (2017, August 7). The 5 characteristics that make a charismatic leader. Retrieved from

Reis, R. (2018, September 13). Core consideration of leadership.  Tomorrow’s Professor eNewsletter. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford Center for Teaching and learning. Retrieved from

Smith, D. (2011). Educating preservice school librarians to lead: A study of self-perceived transformational leadership behaviours. School Library Research, 14. Retrieved from

Smith, F., Mihalakis, V., & Slamp, A. (n.d.). 4 key things to know about distributed leadership. Retrieved from 

St. Thomas University. (2018, May 8). What is charismatic leadership? Leading through personal conviction. Retrieved from


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