ON LIBRARIES – Risk and Reward

Leaders take risks.  You are all aware of that, and that awareness leads to something we don’t like to talk about.  In 2015, I blogged about the Stories We Tell Ourselves. I skipped a big one.

The story we tell ourselves is that if we take a risk we’ll embarrass ourselves so badly we won’t be able to face our colleagues and administrators.  It could even potentially cause us to lose our job. And that story is the secret reason why some librarians avoid taking on the challenge of leadership.

Fear of failure can be crippling.  It keeps you from growing.  Oddly enough, the converse is an equally big barrier—fear of success.  If you are successful, people will expect you to continue to do more.

And just like the other stories, it is only that —a story.  No one is suggesting you suddenly decide to campaign to redesign your library as a learning commons if you have never done anything to make your presence known in your building, but you do need to take some first steps.  You do need to build some “street cred” first.

Start small. Share your knowledge of new web and app resources by sending weekly emails to teachers describing just one, explaining how it could be used, and offering to provide one-on-one help for them to learn it.  Include your principal in the email. You may not get any takers at first, but eventually one will click with a teacher.  Slowly, teachers will begin to recognize the help you can give them.

There is no risk in doing that, but two important little goals have been achieved.  You have stepped out of your comfort zone, and teachers begin to take you into consideration when planning a unit. And those two accomplishments are the first building blocks of that very important “street cred.” Look for other no-risk or minimal risk ideas.

Try a book club.  If you don’t know how to do it, ask your library colleagues on your state association’s listserv or other places where librarians help each other. LM_NET is the big one, but there are many more.  Once you know what you are doing, speak with your administrator before putting it in place. Explain your goal for the program, how you plan to run it, and acknowledge there is no guarantee it will work but is worth a try.

If you launch the club, send updates on activities and accomplishments to your principal. Include videos of the kids discussing the books.  Now you have demonstrated your value to the administration.  And your reputation as a leader begins to grow.

Then it’s time to take a few bigger risks. Gardening projects have proved very successful at the elementary level.  There are connections to STEAM and the produce can be given to the cafeteria, to food banks, or a local shelter depending on what seems best for your community.

Other low- risk projects include starting Hour of Code or a Makerspace. For either of those ideas, you can get all the help you need in organizing it from other librarians. We are an incredibly supportive profession.

These early risks build your confidence and you can begin to look for other possibilities. Are you thinking of genre-fying your collection?  How about a Skype author visit?  What about a joint project with students in another school district—or country? Before long you might even be ready to turn your library into the learning commons that had seemed an impossibility.

Being a building leader is vital.  If you and your program are to thrive you must demonstrate you are invaluable to the entire educational community.  Now that you see that risks don’t result in those disasters you imagined, you can step even further out of your comfort zone.

Take your place among leaders.  There is always room for more.  Choose one of your new successful programs and write a proposal to present it at your state conference.  You may think it’s been done, but there are always librarians who haven’t tried it, and you bring your unique perspective to it. If it’s selected let your principal know.  It will build your reputation even further.

Serve on one of your state association committees.  Better yet volunteer to do the same in AASL or ISTE. Although it’s too late for this year’s AASL Conference IdeaLab, start planning to do it in two years at the next AASL conference.  You would be in a large room with many other librarians all presenting their best ideas. You talk one-on-one with those who stop and want more information.  Totally non-intimidating.

The first step in becoming a leader is deciding to step out of your comfort zone.  Every leader has done so.  I still take on challenges wondering how I am going to do it, but somehow it almost always works.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone?  What did you do?  What was the result? Where do you need help?

 

ON LIBRARIES – Effective Feedback

Feedback, in essence, is evaluation.  When given at the end of a project or unit, it’s summative.  When it occurs while the learning is taking place, it’s formative. While both are important, formative evaluation is the most effective, giving the receiver of the information a chance to correct any mistakes. Both, of course, have their place.

It’s best to provide feedback as rapidly as possible. The longer it’s delayed the more distant the learner is from the event, making it difficult to integrate the information in a meaningful way. However, time is only one factor.  The feedback also needs to be meaningful.  Whether you are correcting a written paper or making comments as students are working, what you say should be focused and specific.

“Good job” is not specific feedback. It’s nice to hear but what does it mean?  Far better to add, “Your conclusion clearly sums up the issues and the points you raised.” This is something that can be used in the future.  The learner can see what is considered to be a good conclusion. 

For most people, it’s more challenging to make a negative comment, but these can be even more valuable, especially when the project is still underway.  Saying the sources selected are not authoritative and suggesting the student review the criteria for finding such sources points makes the feedback a learning experience and provides a direction for success.

Don’t overlook receiving your own feedback.  It’s important that you have an accurate picture of how your lesson or a complete project went.  As you see what your students have done and given them constructive feedback, identify what concepts they are getting and which ones are causing them difficulties.

Reflect on this information.  Why were you successful with the concepts they understood and integrated? What kept them from getting other concepts?  How can you reintroduce the difficult ones so they are learned?  And how can you teach it differently in the future so you need not review it from another perspective?

Exit tickets are another way of getting feedback from students.  Come up with thoughtful questions to ask and give the class time to reflect on their responses before ending the lesson. Don’t make it too complicated but give them the chance to decide what they want to let you know.

For example, you can have one box of exit tickets that say, “The most important thing I learned today was….”  A second box of cards might ask, “I’m confused about….,” while a third set has the statement, “I’d like to know more about….”  When students get to choose which card they wish to complete you will get more relevant responses.

Don’t get defensive or upset about getting many “I’m confused about…” cards.  This is your opportunity to refine your teaching.  In addition look carefully at the ones answering “The most important thing I learned today was….”  Are the statements only surface learning?  Did they receive an Enduring Understanding?  Did they deal with the Essential Question? If not, how can you better focus your lessons?

You also need to get feedback from the teachers with whom you work either collaboratively or cooperatively. Don’t just ask, “Did the lesson I gave go all right?”  You most likely will get back a reassuring affirmative answer.  Like, “Good job,” this doesn’t tell you anything.

Although it’s more difficult, and sometimes painful, ask the hard questions to learn how to improve your instruction.  You can start out by asking what they think worked for them and the students and then follow up with, “What didn’t?  Was there something I should have done differently?”

I once did a unit with a general science teacher on composting.  She was passionate about the subject and knew what she wanted students to discover.  I thought I did a great job with the first lesson, but when she got back the initial reports from students they hadn’t located relevant sources.  As is so typical, they grabbed the first two hits.  Even though they had used a database, their searches were not sufficiently refined to target the key ideas.

I retaught the lesson and students did better.  The teacher also realized how she could frame the assignment better.  The following year when we taught it again, the students did much better.  Because they did, the teacher saw ways of continuing to improve the lesson.

Incorporating regular feedback in your dealings with students and teachers will help you do a much better job and improve your students’ learning.

Do you give and get feedback regularly?  How?  Do you use exit tickets?  What are your best questions?

ON LIBRARIES: Start With Emotion

Since the 1990’s education has focused almost exclusively on cognitive learning as high stakes tests became a nationwide obsession.  Along the way, we forgot that emotions are at the root of everything we do, and that means it affects learning.  It is time to review what we once knew and see how it can be implemented today. (EDITOR’S NOTE – Our images are larger than normal so you can see the details in each)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed his “Hierarchy of Needs” in an article entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation.”  All of us learned his pyramid during our educational studies, and if you were like me, you wondered whether you had achieved “self-actualization” which is at the pinnacle of the pyramid and if you are truly all you can be.  It’s what we want for ourselves and for our students.

To reach the top, Maslow said you needed to fulfill all the other lower levels of the hierarchy in your life.  Educators have long recognized that if the Physiological Needs of students such as shelter and food aren’t met students’ ability to learn will suffer.  And the efforts to eliminate bullying speak to the Safety Needs required for learning. There has been less appreciation for the importance of Love and Belonging.

As a librarian, you can’t provide family or intimacy, which are components of Love and Belonging, but you can focus on friendship, in this case meaning you show you care about the student. The safe, welcoming environment you create in your library addresses the Safety Needs along with the Love and Belonging Needs.  Once students find the library is a safe place, they are open to your interest in them as a unique person. Some of the students you reach out to feel alienated in the general school population for many reasons and so are prone to loneliness which can lead to depression.

Most important, in my opinion, is the need to build students’ Esteem. The overtures you make help them realize their self-worth.  This gives them the impetus to believe in their ability to tackle a task and succeed.  When you can do this, you have given that student a gift of inestimable value.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – In 1956, Harold Bloom published his Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain and followed it in 1964 with the Taxonomy of the Affective Domain. The Psychomotor Domain was released in the 1970s.  We are all familiar with the Cognitive Domain which has been used in developing higher order thinking skills, but since the 1990s we have ignored the Affective Domain as too “touchy/feely” and besides it can’t be reflected in high stakes test. This has been a serious error.

What we ignore is that the Affective Domain is emotions-based and therefore affects how students approach learning.  Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition provides a list of the categories of the hierarchy with examples and verbs associated with each level. In many ways, the Dispositions in Action and the Responsibility strands in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner reflect this domain, but there are librarians still focusing almost exclusively on the Skills strand.

What I hope you see is that the Affective Domain puts emphasis on students’ response to the material.  It gives you ways to guide them into making a connection with it. And the strongest connections are those that tie to emotions.  We all have seen how students’ beliefs about a task or subject affect their success.  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.”

Harold Gardner – In 1983, Harold Gardner developed his theory of Multiple Intelligences Originally there were six intelligences which have subsequently been expanded to nine and there may still be more.  It was a revelation at the time to discover there was more to intelligence than Verbal/Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical.  He observed that excelling in either or both of those intelligences were not a good predictor of success in life.  Yet those two are still the prime focus of our testing.

Indeed, having high Interpersonal Intelligence was a far better indicator of success. Those who had high Interpersonal Intelligence have the “capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations, and desires of others.” Does that sound at all familiar?

Those skills are aligned with Emotional Intelligence which I have discussed in the past.  It’s imperative for leaders to have a high EI and continue to work on improving it.  Success in life is strongly rooted in understanding and managing emotions.

Most of our decisions are based on emotions (studies put it as high as 80%). If you can identify a student’s or adult’s emotions about a given topic, you can determine the best way to reach them.

The works of Maslow, Bloom, and Gardner were all published in the last century and, sadly, we seem to have forgotten their universal relevance. When business discovered Emotional Intelligence a decade or so, a shift back began to occur. It’s taking longer to fully reach education but some schools are beginning to see value in integrating emotions into teaching.

Education Week had an article on “How Students Emotions Affect their Schooling.” There are many more articles on the topic.  Emotions are more than just a series of faces we add to texts and posts. Isn’t it time you began incorporating it into how you work with students?  Are you already doing so?  What successes have you seen?

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: To Do and To Don’t

I am very disciplined.  Usually.  And sometimes I am not. I have a feeling many of you share this duality, and I think there is a good reason for it.

Back in August, I did a blog called A Matter of Time. In it I discussed time management techniques to keep you from getting overwhelmed.  I advocated various forms of To-Do lists to keep you on track, recommending you find one that works for you.

And I certainly have a To-Do list.  I couldn’t function without one, yet there are some days when almost nothing gets checked off.  I used to become upset with myself for being so unproductive and not completing all those important tasks.  But I have come to realize it isn’t all bad to take time off.

I have found I am most likely to procrastinate the day after I have been extremely busy and productive.  It’s as though my mind and body are sending a signal they need to recharge.  And we do.  We can’t keep draining ourselves.  There is a cost.

Most of us have numerous obligations outside of work.  Whether it’s getting kids to sports or other activities, preparing dinner, doing laundry, taking care of the lawn, or shopping.  The list is long.  Consider what happens to your attitude and your patience when you have been on the run for days on end.

When you have been going full tilt on your job, you are likely to get impatient when you are interrupted, whether by a student or a teacher.  And yet, our jobs are full of interruptions.  It’s who we are and we want people to know we are there to help them.  I once wore a button that said, “Please disturb me.”

You know by now the importance of building and maintaining relationships.  They are key to our success.  The last thing you want is for teachers and students to think you don’t have time to respond to their requests.  You can destroy a relationship much quicker than you can build one, particularly if it isn’t well established.

There’s also the matter of burnout.  When you keep going without a break, you stop enjoying your job.  As I have said, much of our communication is non-verbal.  Your exhaustion sends a message that you are uninterested.  And that definitely you don’t want to be disturbed.

Worse, discipline problems in the library will increase. Students who are at loose ends because they didn’t think it a good idea to ask for assistance can get into trouble quickly.  Then there are those who love disruptions and recognize a great opportunity to set you off. Usually, you are able to distract them and prevent most problems.  But not when you are in overload.

Yes, when you get back to your usual helpful demeanor, people begin approaching you.  But if you spend too much time in that harried place, you may find fewer teachers dropping by to see you and ask questions.  Students will not risk a rebuff. What you need to do is recharge.

ticking now on check boxes on blackboard

You will have to focus on high priorities.  Classes must be taught, but you can scale them down.  At the elementary level, instead of a major lesson, consider having a coloring day, and join the kids.  More and more adults are discovering what a de-stresser that can be.  And the kids can use that too. At the end of the class, discuss if they liked the activity and why.

In upper grades, let kids research on their own and walk among them seeing how they are doing.  Ask them about what they are finding.  Close the period by having a group discussion on how successful they were and what they can do differently.  It’s a good self-assessment lesson.

For those of you who picked up the challenge of leadership, you may have been thinking that this is why you didn’t want to become a leader.  It is too time-consuming.  However, leaders must learn to set an example for others.

Among my favorite quotes is the one by Tom Peters, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” If a leader is seen as being exhausted and constantly in motion, no one will want to emulate them.  You need to show the rewards of leadership.

So ask for help. It may take time before you can figure out just what you need, but you will also be giving someone the opportunity to see what leadership entails. Librarians don’t usually know how to delegate, and if you are accustomed to being in control, it’s hard to give some of that up.  But the benefits are worth it.

Don’t overlook how your being overwhelmed affects your family and personal friendships.  Even if you are able to be your usual wonderful self on the job, when you get home you are not anywhere near your best for them.  Much as you love being a librarian, your work should not be the priority in your life.

You need to live a balanced life so you maintain your joy. Moments you chose not to spend with family and friends because you had “too much to do” can never be recaptured.

To rejuvenate look for small ways to procrastinate.  There are several things I do.  I play solitaire on my computer or spend time on Facebook.  As long as I keep an eye on the clock, the “away time” lets me return with new energy.

My favorite downtime activity is taking a walk.  It clears my head.  I can figure things out so much better than when I am on the computer.  Most of my blog ideas and how I am going to discuss them are figured out while I am walking.  At the same time, I stop and talk to people walking their dogs or take note of the change in season and how the trees and plants are changing.

I also make sure to see my friends on a regular basis.  I work at home primarily, but when my son comes over I stop what I am doing.  I have learned the task will get done.  It always does.  And cherishing the joys in my life helps me do a better job in completing them.

What gives you joy?  How are you living a balanced life?