ON LIBRARIES: Still Feeling Alone?

Image by © Monalyn Gracia/Corbis

Feeling alone on a daily basis is a common challenge for many librarians.  It’s bad enough being the sole librarian in the school –or possibly the district—but when teachers don’t see you as one of them, you feel isolated. Why does it happen?  What can you do about it?

I’m not going to suggest you build your PLN or join library-related Facebook groups.  I already did that in my May blog The Myth of the Lonely Librarian.  I am also assuming you now have contacts with your librarian colleagues across the country.

And yet you still feel lonely.

It’s how the job seems to you every day while you are at school that’s the problem, and a lot of librarians feel this way. So consider this a deeper look at the issue.

First a look at the why.  In far too many places, teachers (and administrators) have a very sketchy idea what school

librarians do.  Teachers see their schedules as overburdened and from their standpoint at the elementary level you just read to kids or at the middle and high schools watch them as they work.  No grading.  Maybe no lesson plans.  Easy job. Some of you have even heard teachers say this.  Those of you who have moved from the classroom to the library may have had a colleague say, “Are you enjoying your easier life?”  It rankles because you know how far from the truth that is.

Trying to explain the range of your job and how challenging it usually is isn’t effective. If you tell the truth and say you are working harder than ever, your teacher friends won’t believe you and probably won’t really hear if you try listing all your tasks and responsibilities.  It’s better to just say, “Not easier, as much as different,” and leave it at that.

Now let’s look at what to do.  Start by changing your mindset.  Right now you are feeling angry and frustrated—and isolated. While the emotions are understandable, they won’t change the situation and may make it worse.

Whether or not you express your feelings, they are communicated. As I have said before, and research bears this out, much of communication is non-verbal.  People read your attitude from your body language and the tone in your voice you can’t always control.

A helpful switch can be: “I can win them over, one teacher at a time.” To do this, you have to work on building relationships.  And you will have to do that one teacher at a time.

Do you eat at your desk because you are so busy or do you join the teachers for lunch at least a few times a week? Join the teachers. Trust me. I know it’s difficult to do, but much is at stake.  As you build relationships you also build the foundation for collaboration/cooperation.

At lunch, don’t push your way into conversations, particularly at the beginning.  Listen for any mention of units they are working on.  Then prepare a “gift package” of websites and other resources. Email them with what you have, saying “I heard your class is studying this topic and I thought this would help you.”  Add you also have some books waiting for them in the library.  If you included a tech website or app, let them know you can show them how to use it with their students.

Do your best to arrange to do a “show and tell” for a portion of their grade level or department meeting.  Bring books and check them out while there.  You can take their names and the title back to the library to put then into the system.  Present one or two great new websites or apps such as the ones on AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching & Learning and Best Apps for Teaching & Learning. No more than two. You don’t want to overwhelm them.

And let’s face it – food is always a lure, so keep snacks and coffee available for teachers in a separate room for when they are there. Don’t besiege them with ideas for collaborative projects when they first stop by. Wait until they become frequent visitors, then mention an idea.

Slowly the teachers’ connection to you will build.  They will begin to see you as a helpful and possibly vital resource who makes their life easier.  When they initiate the contact and come to you for help, you have succeeded.

By not defending yourself and trying to tell teachers that your job is at least as challenging as theirs, you achieve your ultimate goal.  Instead, you’ll create a relationship where you work together cooperatively or collaboratively on projects, and you will no longer feel they are treating you as someone less than or not connected to them.

Initially, most teachers don’t have a good idea of what you do and what you can do for them.  But in actuality, unless you taught that grade level, you don’t know exactly what the teachers’ day looks like either. You certainly don’t know what your principal’s day is like.  When you build these relationships, you earn their respect and have them value you as a colleague.

What have you done to foster collegiality with teachers or administration?  Are you regarded as one of them?  Do you always say “we” when talking about you and the teachers? What challenges are you still facing? What support do you need?

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ON LIBRARIES – Are You a People-Pleaser?

From https://livelearnwrite.com/2016/10/13/how-being-a-people-pleaser-can-effect-your-future/

Or do you please people?  There is a big difference between the two, and it’s not just semantics. The second is a successful leader. By contrast, it’s impossible to be a leader and a people-pleaser.  It may seem as though it’s the safest approach to ensure your position won’t be eliminated, but the opposite is more probable.

There are numerous websites on the characteristics, qualities, and results of people-pleasing. Most of us don’t fall into the full spectrum of people-pleasing as described by psychologists, but too many incorporate aspects of it into work behavior.  Reviewing what is discussed, look to see if you notice patterns that reflect some of your behaviors.

Jay Earley lists the following actions in The People-Pleasing Pattern:

  • I avoid getting angry.
  • I try to be nice rather than expressing how I really feel.
  • I want everyone to get along.

What’s wrong with avoiding being angry or wanting everyone to get along? Doesn’t it make for a better workplace environment? Isn’t that using your Emotional Intelligence? Not exactly.

Emotional Intelligence does require you to manage your emotions, which means getting to the reason for your anger and dealing with it to achieve your goals. Suppressing your feelings means you are making your emotions and yourself less important than those around you.  That is not leadership – or healthy.

The underlying truth to your behavior may be another of Earley’s characteristics—you are afraid to rock the boat, a fear frequently based on the concern that your job and program might be cut. However, you are most in danger of being eliminated if you don’t show your value and being a quiet doormat does not demonstrate value.

Consider what happens if your principal assigns you extra duties or you are told you will be responsible for two schools instead of one. What do you do?  Even though your principal might blame it on the budget situation, should you just accept it as is?

The people-pleasing response is to accept without any comment. This subtly sends the message that it’s no problem for you to take on the extra responsibility.  Which then suggests you have plenty of room in your schedule.  Taking that to the next stop, if you have plenty of room in your schedule, doesn’t that mean that your program doesn’t keep you busy?

If you responded this way, you are not alone.  Many librarians have done the same.  The simmering resentment can then affect how they do their job and their willingness/ability to build a relationship with their administration.  You don’t get to be a leader if that’s how you react.

I am not suggesting you get angry with your principal.  Obviously, you can’t ignore what you are being told to do.  But you can react in a way that will please people – including yourself.

Start by making a list of all your responsibilities.  Take some time to ensure you have identified almost all of them.  As much as possible, do a fair estimation of how much time you spend on each on a daily or weekly basis.   Star anything you definitely don’t want eliminated because it is at the core of your program. In addition, try to determine a fair estimate of the amount of time your additional assignment will take.

Next, set up a meeting with your principal seeking his/her advice and guidance. Explain you want to be sure the students and teachers will be getting the necessary literacy and 21st-century skills after the change in your schedule goes into effect.  Review your list of responsibilities, current and combined. Be clear that some things will have to be eliminated, and you want to have the principal’s agreement as to how to proceed. Also, realize you will have to go along with whatever the principal says you can stop doing.

Yes, you still have the change in your responsibilities, but recognize the difference in how they came about.  You didn’t quietly accept it.  You expressed your concerns, current program needs, and possible sacrifices to the person most able to support you (complaining to coworkers and spouses changes nothing). Your principal had to face the cost of your new assignment.  In the process, he/she was reminded of your value and contribution to the school program.  Managing the request this way will likely leave you with a much greater sense of satisfaction since you have not acted in a people-pleasing manner.

In your dealings with teachers and administrators, you don’t and shouldn’t quietly accept negation of your role while seething inside.  Leaders stand up for their worth.  They don’t do it aggressively.  That loses supporters.  They do it with calm confidence, offering alternatives. We teach people how to treat us.  If you say nothing in response to being minimized, you give that person the right to repeat that behavior.

One of my students in a summer course told me the principal had contacted her to say he was cutting her budget in half, and she needed to eliminate some purchase orders. He added, “I have always been good to you in the past.”  I told her, she could have said, “I saw it as being good for our students and our program, and then laughingly continued if you were being good to me, you would have given me a BMW.”

How have you handled being given additional long or short-term assignments or other changes which were given to you? Were you a people-pleaser or did you figure out a way to please people and show your leadership?

ON LIBRARIES – Know Your Value

Value. According to the dictionary: (1) the regard that something is held to deserve; (2) the importance, worth or usefulness of something; (3) a person’s principles or standards of behavior.  We use the word a lot, too often to bemoan the fact we and our programs are not valued. But there are other ways this word comes into play.

We are committed to our professional values as stated in ALA’s Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. In addition, some of you have your own professional values encapsulated in a Philosophy Statement which I discussed in a blog last January on the Value of Values.

What I have been calling a Philosophy Statement is closely aligned to what the business world refers to as a Values Statement.  Sounds more important somehow.  The Business Dictionary defines it as:

“A declaration that informs the customers and staff of a business about the firm’s top priorities and what its core beliefs are. Companies often use a value statement to help them identify with and connect to targeted consumers, as well as to remind employees about its priorities and goals.”

Translating this into the education world is relatively easy.  The “core beliefs” are your philosophy.  If you haven’t written one yet, you can base yours on the Common Beliefs of the new AASL Standards. The “top priorities” are what’s new.

Do you know your top priorities?  Those who are working from a strategic plan have at least two or three identified in their goals.  But to what extent do those goals help you “identify with and connect to targeted customers?”  In the case of the library, your customers are your students, the teachers, and the administration.

Crafting a Values Statement is a new way to look at how you focus your program. The Free Management Library: Online Integrated Library for Personal, Professional, and Organizational Development has a web page on the Basics of Developing Mission, Vision, and Values Statements. Review what they have on Mission and Vision Statements, but once you have them, go on to the five steps that describe how to construct a Values Statement.

The terminology may be a bit difficult to wade through at first but you will get the idea.  One of which is that Mission, Vision, and Values Statements are the foundation of strategic planning. And you all need a strategic plan so you are always working toward achieving meaningful goals.

From https://www.chiefoutsiders.com/blog/not-screw-up-value-proposition

In 7 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Value Proposition, Mark Caronna states, “a value proposition is a powerful summary of who you are and what you offer.  It defines what is distinct and valuable for those prospects and customers that you want to reach.”  He goes on to say:

“Your value proposition needs to be solidly founded on your distinctive competencies.  Value propositions aren’t aspirational (that’s the role of a Vision Statement).  They translate what is unique about your business into something unique … and of value to your customers.”

In other words, what does your program provide that no one else in the school does?  And more importantly, what makes it of value to administrators, teachers, and students.  Be sure you frame the statement in words your stakeholders understand.  The simpler the better.

Here is a Values Statement from a public library:

Tompkins Public Library (Ithaca, NY) Core Values

  • A welcoming environment to enjoy the written and spoken word, cultural programs, and the arts
  • A well-maintained and safe facility
  • Lifelong learning
  • A vibrant community and the library’s role in as an active community citizen
  • The importance of continuously evolving to meet changing community needs
  • Privacy and confidentiality in patron use of library resources
  • Intellectual freedom and the freedom to read

And here’s another:

The Haverhill Public Library (MA) – its Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers – is committed to the following values.

  • We value the library as a public forum: it is a community facility for open communication of ideas and information; its collection, displays, programs and services reflect an array of opinions and viewpoints.
  • We value our customers by responding to them with equal, respectful, accurate and friendly service to all.
  • We value reading and learning and promote both for all ages.
  • We value full and equal access to information, the building, its services and its programs.
  • We value the collection of and accessibility to information in all formats: print, electronic, audio and video.
  • We value the community by being active participants in it, endeavoring to enhance the quality of community life.
  • We value the privacy of our users by keeping their transactions strictly confidential.

Note that some statements are about professional values while others are of value to the community. Your Values Statement – best done in a bulleted list as these are—should have a similar mix.

I have long recommended that Mission and Vision Statements be framed and hung where anyone using the library can see them. Your Value Statement belongs on your website, but it’s a bit too long to do that.  Instead, create a word cloud to display your Values.  It will definitely catch the eyes of your users.

What would you include in your Values Statement?  Which ones are of value to your stakeholders?

 

ON LIBRARIES – Reading Is Required

Between Makerspaces, STEAM, and integrating technology into the curriculum and our own lessons, we can lose sight of a common belief of librarians. It is necessary for us to keep a focus on recreational reading.

Frequently, pressure from the administration and the need to be considered relevant, rather than stodgy, that causes discussions on the importance of recreational reading to be pushed to a back burner. It’s not quite as challenging for elementary school librarians, but for middle and high school librarians championing reading may make you sound tied to the past.

Nothing can be farther from the truth, and we need to be leaders in spreading this understanding.

The challenge is to bring the message in a way that will get heard.  Two weeks ago I shared the Common Beliefs from our soon-to-be published national standards. The fourth one, as I noted, is, “Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.”

A few years ago, I was the AASL representative on ALA’s Committee on Literacy. One of the members shared this visual:

The House of Literacy has many rooms. There is digital literacy, health literacy, legal literacy, computer literacy, information literacy, and an ever-lengthening list of additional literacies.  But the entrance is through text literacy.

Poster available at the ALA store online

AASL had as a slogan, “Kids Who Read Succeed.”  We know this is true.  The benefits students get from reading impacts their entire life.   One reason the many research studies show the correlation between having a certificated school librarian and student achievement is because librarians guide students into becoming lifelong readers.

Although elementary librarians spend a greater portion of the time helping students find the “right book,” than do middle and high school librarians, all of us are hampered when there is a requirement for kids to read at their level.  It is acceptable to use leveled books in the classroom to discover if students are reading at their instructional level, but the recreational level is different and perhaps more important.

 

Poster available at the ALA store online

If a book interests a kid, the level should never be a consideration.   When students read below their reading level they develop fluency. When they choose to read a book that’s “too hard” as many have done with Harry Potter, they rise to the challenge, learn persistence, and are proud of their accomplishment.

 

When my now college professor son, was in fourth grade and not wanting to read, I gave him a sports fiction story that was one year below his instructional level.  He could read it rapidly and did.  He loved it and wanted more.  It was a while before I gave him a book that was more difficult.  To this day, he is a reader.

But why do readers succeed?  In my opinion, it’s because of the peripheral information barely noticed while reading which becomes absorbed into the readers’ knowledge base. For as long as the book lasts, you are walking in someone else’s shoes, living their life and during that time a unique type of learning occurs.

I loved historical fiction while I was growing up.  By the time I studied British history, I had an understanding of who Queen Elizabeth I was and the forces that drove her which went far beyond what was in my textbook. I discovered science fiction and began to speculate about life beyond Earth.  The prejudice experienced by some races from other planets helped me look at my own prejudices and laid the foundations for the tolerant adult I hope I have become. Whether I was discovering the work involved in running a farm or seeing slavery through the eyes of a main character, books opened me to the world.  By temporarily living these other lives, I developed empathy for others.

This isn’t limited to fiction. Those who prefer non-fiction expand their horizons as well. When a student reads a biography of a sports hero, he or she finds out about the challenges the player encountered and conquered on the way to achieving success.  Reading about how others dealt with setbacks and persevered becomes a life lesson.

An October 3, 2017 article written by Susan K. S. Grigsby in Improving Literacy and Communication Magazine entitled “Literacy Starts in the Library”  supports my viewpoint. The opening states, “Literacy is the foundation of everything we do for our learner,” and goes on to say, “When students are starting to read, they tap into one of the very things that makes us human: stories.”  This human connection only continues with students who become lifelong readers.

The article is worth your time and should be shared with your administrator as part of a discussion on how and why to increase students’ recreational reading at all levels. Share students’ comments about books they have loved.  Short videos capture the emotion and send a powerful message.

What are you doing to foster lifelong readers? What are your success stories with kids you have connected to the perfect book?

 

ON LIBRARIES – Emotionally Connected

For several years I have been writing and speaking about Emotional Intelligence (EI) and its importance in leadership success.  Emotions drive us in our lives and are at the root of, according to some studies, at least 80% of all of our decisions.  The more we are attuned to them, the better we can use them to achieve our goals. And when we connect EI with empathy, we have a powerful leadership tool.

ASCD  began promoting Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in the late 1990’s. The May 1997 issue of their journal, Educational Leadership  was devoted to the topic, and included an article on “How to Launch a Social & Emotional Learning Program.”  The article discussed attitudinal and logistical roadblocks to instituting a SEL program. Those attitudinal roadblocks are undoubtedly why it has taken so long for districts to develop SEL programs. 

Also in 1997, ASCD published Promoting Social and Emotional Learning by Maurice J. Elias, Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissberg, Karin S. Frey, Mark T. Greenberg, Norris M. Haynes, Rachael Kessler, Mary E. Schwab-Stone and Timothy P. Shriver. In the opening chapter, the authors state,

  • “The challenge of raising knowledgeable, responsible, and caring children is recognized by nearly everyone. Few realize, however, that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to children’s social and emotional learning (SEL). Indeed, experience and research show that promoting social and emotional development in children is “the missing piece” in efforts to reach the array of goals associated with improving schooling in the United States.”

The book is still available or you can read it online – amazing to find something from 20 years ago that isn’t completely out of date!

Recently, I have been seeing more districts add SEL to their curriculum. Education is finally accepting the fact that emotions do affect learning.  In New Jersey, my home state, the Department of Education has a page on their website on Social and Emotional Learning filled with helpful links.

Interestingly enough, the website page falls under the heading of “Keeping Our Kids Safe, Healthy & In School” and is part of a section on “Safe and Positive Learning Environment.” While we have recognized for some time that feeling safe is required for learning, it is only recently the role of emotions is being seen as playing an important role in that safety.  Without directly referring to EI, the core of the information shows how to develop and improve EI.

If your district hasn’t gotten started with SEL, discuss it with your principal.  You can start by sharing this PDF from the New Jersey site. You will notice that the first three are the “what” about EI and the remaining two are the “how” to infuse it.

Despite the slow reaction of districts to adopt SEL into the curriculum, librarians have always been doing it even when they didn’t have a name for it.  It’s intrinsic to making the library a safe and welcoming space for all.  Now you have the opportunity of being at the forefront of incorporating it throughout the school.

One aspect of SEL – and EI—that many find difficult to master is empathy. According to LaRay Quy, “empathy is the most important instrument in a leaders’ toolbox.” Good leaders take care of their people who in turn take care of them.  If you are fortunate enough to have a clerk or even more staff, you must take care of them.  But your teachers need care as well, and to do so effectively you need empathy. 

Quy, who used to work for the FBI, notes that empathy is like a mind reading tool.  By being attuned to another’s words and body language you can tell what they are thinking/feeling. To take care of them as you learn what’s going on with them, you can’t make your need to be right a priority.  One of my long-time mottos is, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?” Because if you want to be right, it’s not going to work.

This connects to another aspect of empathy, showing that you value the other person’s work.  As librarians, we know how we struggle to feel validated.  Don’t forget others in education feel the same way. Validated another is a way to start an important change throughout your district.

When you are talking to someone, focus on them.  Look at their eyes even as you note their body language.  Don’t multitask.  This is not the time to go through junk mail, or see if another email has come in.  As with the other leadership techniques, it’s as important to use this with students as with your colleagues.

And if there is someone—teacher or student—who seems to rub you the wrong way, you still have tools that can help smooth this relationship. Start by watching your body language as you interact with them. They may be responding to something they are reading in you. By staying open, you may be surprised to discover you can feel empathy for this person.

Graphic from http://www.teachingwithdesign.com/empathy-skill-sets.html

I remember a teacher who I felt was highly confrontational.  My first instinct was to draw away. But by listening and focusing on what she was saying and her body language, I became aware she was reacting to the way people responded to her.  She was very intelligent and had high standards.  Many students disliked her because she was “tough,” which meant she dealt often with angry parents.  By letting her see I respected her knowledge and valued the way she got her students to succeed beyond their expectations, we developed a wonderful relationship.  She became one of the strongest advocates for the library program.

Does your district integrate SEL into the curriculum?  What training did everyone get? What’s your part?  If your district doesn’t include SEL, how will you bring the idea to your administrators?