Leading from the middle: Influence, Power and Partnership

As our group works its way through the collaborative project and we delve deeper and deeper into the leadership role of the Teacher Librarian, it is becoming clear to me what a dangerously misunderstood concept “leading from the middle’ can be.

The word that gets the most focus in this term is ‘leading’. While many, many articles are written outlining how TLs can lead and mention facilitation, building influence, collaboration and partnerships, I wonder if the message is getting drowned out in the desperation of our profession to be recognized, and legitimized and ultimately retained as important contributors to the school. So is the part of the message that is most agressively promoted and received ‘Lead’? It is very easy to fall into the trap of trying to get out in front and organize people in an attempt to raise the visibility of the TL. This can be stepping into the area of the least effective types of leadership style — Coercive and Pacesetting leadership.

TLs need to be mindful of the fact that they are in a partnership with teachers and that teachers are leaders too. In the end, teachers are the ones in the classrooms and at this stage, are the main delivery agents and biggest influence on students’ learning.

Fullan states that:

Although you cannot direct outcomes, you can set up conditions that help to guide the process. ‘The challenge is to disturb them in a manner that approximates the desired outcomes’ (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000) (Fullan, 2005, p. 57)

I am coming to appreciate and believe in the more positive power of ‘influencing’ – and see it as an art worth cultivating.

In a presentation to the School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV) in 2005, Ross put forward a question that needed to be asked.

What constitutes effective shared teacher & librarian-teacher pedagogy and leading of learning through partnerships?

In his talk he called for a shift in the focus to a more cohesive view of learning and onto the library as a key learning environment. He suggests:

Stop talking about collaboration

Stop talking about information literacy

Stop talking about research projects

Stop talking about roles of teacher librarians

Start talking about guided inquiry through information resources

Start talking knowledge outcomes, not information literacy outcomes

Start talking about intellectual quality of learning

Start taking about libraries as quality teaching environments, not resource environments

Start talking the leading of learning through the library

You are the information-learning specialist, working with partner-leaders to lead learning through complex and diverse resources, enabling your students to develop deep understanding of their curriculum topics.

I think this more mature view reflects an acceptance on the part of TLs that they are an integral part of the learning team and can focus their attention on the task at hand rather than on their role in it. And self acceptance is always going to gain the respect of others.


Fullan, M. (2004). Understanding change. In Leading in a culture of change: Personal action guide and workbook (pp. 39-77). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Todd, R. (2005, August). School libraries, productive pedagogy and the leading of learning [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from School Library Association of Victoria Web site: http://www.slav.schools.net.au/pastp.html