ON LIBRARIES – Gift Giving

Merry Christmas to those celebrating today!  I hope you received the gifts you wanted.  For those of you who are with family and friends this holiday weekend, being with them can be a gift in itself. For those who find themselves on their own at this season, I wish quiet peace and finding the strength and courage to fill your life with joy. For all of you, I wish time to relax and rejuvenate.  Too often we go from our hectic jobs to an almost frenetic pace preparing for and participating in the holidays.  Before you know it, your vacation is over and you return to your libraries exhausted.

So, take a breath.  Look around. And savor the gifts you have in your life.

It’s too easy to identify what you wish for and don’t have.  Instead, reflect and focus on what you have and all perhaps take for granted.  Commercials and appeal letters in the mail remind me of the many people who don’t have the simple basics of life that we take for granted such as fresh water and ample food (too much for many of us at this time of year).

Give yourself the gift of time. It’s so lacking in our lives. If you live by your to-do list as I do, include yourself on the list. Binge watch a favorite television program you have been too busy to watch. (My daughter recently couldn’t stop talking about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime). Read a book you want to read.  Play some board games.  Do what you enjoy that you haven’t been doing because of the tasks that occupy so much of your life.

For me, I make sure to go out for a walk.  I have been doing this 3-5 times a week for a few years now.  It’s what I do for me.  It gets me away from my computer and out in the world.  I have met so many wonderful people on the way.  Sometimes they even toot their horn and wave when they drive past.  I watch the seasons change, and pet dogs on their own walks.  I have watched exterior home improvements happening, seen people sell their homes and new owners move in.

Most of all I take this time think.  Sometimes it’s about what my I should write for this blog.  Other times I contemplate what I am going to eat. (I am a lifetime Weight Watcher member.) And in-between random and focused thoughts, my mind unclutters. It’s peaceful and my own form of meditation.

Make time to appreciate yourself.  Many of you feel unappreciated at work (and sometimes at home).  Think of the gifts you give to others.  What do you do for your family?  What do you do for your teachers and students?  If you are doing it because it’s who you are, and only on bad days do you feel you are being taken for granted, give yourself a pat on the back.

How many times have students thanked you for your help?  Don’t gloss over their words.  They recognize the gifts you give to them.  Remember the time teachers also thanked you.  They, too, are harried and over-worked.  They may not take time to express their gratitude, but when you reach out to them and build relationships, you will hear it more often.

Do give thanks to others.  Make it a practice to thank those who in any way are helpful to you. If you are specific in your thanks, as I noted in last weeks blog “The Power and Importance of Feedback,” you will help make their day.

Being true to my own words, I am thankful to all my readers and the participants in my Facebook group and to the extensive librarian colleagues and friends in my life.  You make my days richer. You are there to answer my questions and to post comments that keep me learning.  It is challenging for me to keep up since I no longer work in a school library, but thanks to you, I am not lost in the past. I thank you for that gift.

Enjoy your vacation – and the gifts you get and bring.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

 

 

Advertisements

ON LIBRARIES – The Power and Importance of Feedback

Feedback is vital. It’s how we learn whether we are on or off track. Knowing how to get it and how to give it are equally important. Sometimes it’s given as part of your job as when your administrator observes you and offers feedback. Requesting feedback is another matter.

Because of our own challenges, we tend to ask for feedback in a way that tells us nothing. Instinctively, we protect our feelings.  If we ask a teacher, “Did you think the lesson went well?” or some similar question, you are generally going to get a positive response. The wording of the question naturally leads to it.

However, you need to know if you were successful and to what degree. You can start with a more specific positive, such as “What do you think worked in this lesson?” But you also need to ask, “What didn’t work?” and “What would you like me to do differently?”

By being open to their negative comments about a lesson, you will hear the truth even if it stings in the moment.  You don’t have to be perfect as noted in last week’s blog. You just have to keep learning.  And that’s what leaders do.

I once did a unit with a 9th-grade science teacher who wanted her students to work on various recycling possibilities including composting.  I knew what databases would support the project and she brought the class in to find out about them and begin their research.

She asked them for preliminary work and was very disappointed with what they turned in. Fortunately, I was following up on it with her and asked if I could re-do the lesson.  I had not taken time to teach students how to create the questions they would seek to answer and select sources based on relevance to what they were doing.  If the source had one keyword, they assumed it would work and included the information from it whether it fit or not.

The re-teaching proved successful and the teacher was happy.  When she repeated the project the following year we were ready.  We were more specific about what its purpose was.  Her in-class introduction was more focused, and so was my lesson with the kids and how I worked with them during their research.  The results far surpassed what happened the previous year.  The initial feedback, negative though it was, was invaluable.

One of the more common ways to see if students are on track is getting feedback on your lesson from exit tickets.  Asking, “What confused you?” or “What do you still not understand?” will let you know where your instruction missed the mark.  Of course, the classic thumbs up, down, and out are always helpful while you are teaching.

For receiving feedback, I like an article written by Peter Bregman for the Harvard Business Review on How to Ask for Feedback that Will Actually Help You. He lists five ways:

  • Be Clear You Want Honest Feedback– People are hesitant to tell you where you missed the mark. You may think you’re being clear, that you don’t only want to be told you did great, so reinforce your question by saying to the teacher something like, “It’s very important to me to learn where I didn’t do the best job.”  (The exit tickets from students does the same thing.)
  1. Focus on the Future – As I suggested, since the lesson has already been taught you want to show why hearing a negative has a purpose. Saying, “I hope we do this project again next year, so for my notes, what didn’t work and needs to be changed?”
  2. Probe More Deeply – The first response you get may not be as honest as you need it to be. People don’t like to tell you messed up. Follow up by referring to specific parts of the lesson and ask about them.
  3. Listen without Judgement – This can be hard. You don’t want to defend yourself nor show by body language that you don’t accept what the teacher is telling you. Think to yourself, “I will analyze the information later.  Right now I just need to hear his/her opinion.”
  4. Write it Down – Take notes for three reasons. First, it’s human nature to forget or smooth over negative comments.  Next, writing down what is being said to you lends weight to your being really interested in making changes. Finally, it gives the teacher time to think of more things. (Ugh!)

When it comes to giving feedback, Entrepreneur.com offers Five Steps for Giving Feedback in connection with the business world. As usual, I am interpreting them for us as educators.

  1. Create Safety – If students think you only criticize, they aren’t likely to hear what you say or follow your advice. A teacher won’t feel threatened by what you say, but if you don’t have a reputation for your work with your colleagues or don’t have a relationship with the one you are speaking to, your words will fall on deaf ears. Remember to find a balance between what you tell students and understand the nature of your relationships with teachers.
  2. Be Positive – As much as possible offer positive feedback about something they are doing with students and teachers –and don’t always follow it with negative feedback or your first statement will be ignored as they wait for the other shoe to drop.
  3. Be Specific – Don’t just say, “Good job,” or the equivalent. That means very little.  Tell a student something like, “I saw that you continued searching after you first approach didn’t work. Your follow through shows you understand how to do true research.”  With a teacher, you might say, “How did you prepare your class for this project?  They were really on task and focused from the beginning.”
  4. Be immediate – The best feedback happens in the moment. Whether speaking with teachers or students, it reinforces positive directions and alerts the recipient to a potential problem before it becomes an issue.
  5. Be tough not mean – Or to put it in another way, “Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.” Don’t ignore what is happening when you see a teacher or a student saying or doing something that won’t get them the results they want. Speak the truth, but use the other four steps to ensure they know what you are saying is because you want them to be successful.

Think about times when feedback – either positive or negative – helped you improve your performance. Learning to give and receive feedback is a process and a practice developed over time. Look to your relationships with students and teachers to see if you know how you are doing on this and take the time to think about where you might need to grow this skill set.

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Aren’t Perfect

Over two years ago I blogged about the Stories We Tell Ourselves referring to the things that we believe about ourselves (usually negative) which aren’t really true but keep us from stepping up and becoming the leaders we need to be. I have found yet another story.  One that’s tied to our belief that leaders do things perfectly.

They don’t. Trust me. I have the mistakes and the successes to prove it.

When we envision library leaders at the national or state level we see them, as we do at conferences, addressing a large and rapt audience of librarians at a conference.  Or perhaps we read one of the columns or blog posts they have written.  They appear self-assured, confident, knowledgeable — seemingly perfect.

That’s where the story kicks in.  You may feel confident as you do your job on a daily basis, but you are so far from perfect how can you possibly follow in their illustrious footsteps. You know your many flaws.  There are all those tech sites you haven’t explored.  Your last lesson didn’t work as smoothly as you expected.  And unlike these leaders, you still haven’t convinced many of the teachers to collaborate with you.  In fact, you’re pretty certain some of them still have no idea what you do.

The story is: these leaders have it all under control. They are perfect.  They are completely unlike you and you will never be like them.

Like many of the other stories we tell ourselves, it’s not true – on both sides. It is not true of you (you are a lot like them) and it certainly isn’t true of them (they are not perfect).  Yes, leaders come from a place of confidence and self-assurance.  But confidence doesn’t mean perfection. They, too, have strengths and weaknesses. One difference they may have from you is that they are aware of both.  They work from their strengths and accept and get help for the areas they need it.

In fact, smart leaders let others know where their weaknesses are. They don’t hide them. They admit them and use them as a way to work with their colleagues.  This creates connection and collaboration because if you a leader is perfect, you might choose not to say something when you notice a mistake or when you have a different opinion or perspective. Leaders encourage their colleagues to let them know when they spot something wrong. They want to know what you see.

For example, I am a “big picture” person.  This generally means I have vision and know where I need to go next.  But it means I can miss obvious details.  I repeatedly tell this to the people I am working with and leading, cautioning them even if they are sure I am aware of something but decided for my own reasons to ignore, that they still need to alert me.  I really could have missed it.

Let me give you a specific example which is amusing in hindsight and would have been disastrous had someone not said something. When I was a high school librarian, I led a 3-year renovation project of the library.  I was focused on flexibility, increasing space where walls couldn’t be moved for environmental reasons, and making the library inviting for all students not just the high-performing ones.

We were going to a system which used movable shelves to create that space along with replacing furniture that was blocky and heavy.  Our reference collection (in the days when we had lots of print reference books) was on counter height shelves along the windowed wall and on additional counter height shelves running perpendicular to them.  I wanted to move the reference to the tall moveable shelving and put fiction on counter height shelving. My reasoning was it would encourage casual browsing.  It was a very attractive area of the library with a lovely view of the outside.  Kids gravitated there because of it. It seemed a great place for fiction.

It might have been, but my plan for the reference collection was not a good idea.  I was so focused on that vision of students casually congregating there and seeing displays of inviting titles I missed the obvious.  My co-librarian pointed out that heavy reference books on a high shelf was a recipe for kids getting hit in the head when they reached for one. Ouch.

Obvious to her – not to me. If she had assumed “Hilda knows best. She’s the leader.” someone – possibly me – would have been clunked on the head. Talk about a hard lesson to learn.

If you take the opportunity and the chance, to step up and lead, it’s important to keep in mind that no one expects you to be perfect.  In fact, most leaders have things that they need to learn from the opportunity they have accepted and they expect to make some errors along the way.  Not only should you accept your imperfections and expect errors, particularly in a large project, but you should seek feedback to ensure you are aware of and can correct your mistakes.

And then get ready for your next leadership opportunity.

ON LIBRARIES – Cultivating Curiousity

copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

For life-long learners and leaders, curiosity is often the inspiration that makes you better and more knowledgeable about everything in your life.  We are one of our students’ role models for lifelong learning and therefore must be continuously curious.  Whether it’s new ideas or technology, we should always be on a quest to discover and learn .  And it doesn’t stop there. Curiosity extends to building our relationships as it helps us to be more knowledgeable about and connected to the people in our lives.

As librarians, we often explore new ideas to see if they have merit or are being embraced simply because they are new (Fidget Spinners, anyone?) whether at the request of students and teachers or because of our own interests.  We look to sources outside our field to find out what is being done or discussed and seek to learn whether it might have valuable applications for our students and teachers. The knowledge we gain we bring to our students and share with our teachers.

The more regularly we do this, the more they rely on us to be able to help them.  For students, this means guiding them to the best resources for their assignments or a new book or author to read. For teachers, it means we show them new ways to engage their students in learning and to be more successful in what they are working toward.  We build awareness of our value each time we bring the fruits of our curiosity into our school library.

Many years ago when rubrics were just beginning to be used in education, a teacher came to me for help creating one.  At the time I had never done one, although I was acquainted with what they were.  We sat down together and developed what she needed.  Not wanting to confess to her supervisor that she didn’t know how to design a rubric, she chose me because from our previous interactions she trusted I was both knowledgeable and safe.

If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we need to help them develop their curiosity as well. Children are born curious.  Our brains are designed that way.  It’s how we learn. Anyone who has been around a two-year-old knows they are constantly asking why. Author Arnold Edinborough said, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”  Learning is not the memorization of facts, it’s using those facts for a purpose.

Unfortunately, the structure of many schools effectively curtails this vital instinct. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “It’s a miracle curiosity survives formal education.” This is truer than ever as high-stakes tests have focused teaching energy on correct answers.  It is our job to reach that innate curiosity that is in danger of being lost.

Curiosity propels civilization forward. I have said that knowing the answers only proves one has mastered the content. But that was already learned.  It is when we or our students take that information and ask new questions that don’t have answers yet, that knowledge moves forward.  Bernard Baruch said it better, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”

We want our students not only to ask “Why?” but also “What if?”  They need to have opportunities to wonder and see where that takes them. Through cooperative or collaborative inquiry-based learning experiences, we can engage students’ curiosity in topics that interest them and lead them to discover answers not in textbooks.  In this way, they become better prepared for whatever the world has in store for them.

In addition to being curious about ideas and things, good leaders are also curious about people. They go beyond the surface mask most people wear in their daily interactions.  They want to know who more about their colleagues, what they care about, and what motivates them.

Curiosity is also a factor in Emotional Intelligence.  While you can perceive the feelings of others with some success based on their outward persona, you will be more successful in using emotions if you know more about the people you are dealing with.  The more you know, and to learn you must be curious enough to ask, the easier it is to build relationships.

When I say we need to be curious about the people in our world, I don’t mean being nosy. It’s about caring about them and their situation.  It’s being empathetic.

I have told the story about seeing a teacher walking through the halls with her shoulders slumped:  her entire body language conveying misery.  While I was perceiving her emotions, I had no clue as to the cause.  Her first answer when I asked what was wrong was to claim she had an argument with her department chair.  I knew her past and her successes – no way was a disagreement with her department chair the occasion for such a reaction.

I invited her into the library to relax and have a cup of coffee and then asked for the real reason she was so unhappy.  She confessed her only child, who had done so well at school, had become a heroin addict.  She feared for his life.  It was not an easy confession to make, but it helped her unburdened.

There was no advice I could give her, but I could be a listening ear.  A confidential one.  While we had a comfortable relationship before, this new connection deepened it.  It led to more collaboration on research projects, but that was not the reason why I reached out to her.

A caring, curiosity was my motivating force in asking this teacher for a deeper truth.  Empathy and curiosity often go hand-in-hand, but they never should be used to manipulate others or you have negated the empathy.

We live so much in a task-filled world, spending our day in “doing,” we devote little time to wondering—being curious.  Embrace your natural curiosity in all things.  Ask more questions. Look for more creative answers. And get to really know the people you work with. Life will be more interesting and you will be a better leader.