ON LIBRARIES: Space Relations

Whether or not we consciously recognize them, we maintain four zones of space in our communications with others: Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate, and this space is important to the success of our relationships. Artists are well aware of the importance of what they call negative space, referring to the area where there are no people or objects.  Negative space exists in relationships too, and, just as in art, it carries messages.  In an article entitled An Update on Proxemics, Nick Morgan explains why the term and the concept, created by Edward T. Hall, still has relevance. The space we maintain from others reflects the zone of our interactions and our connection.

In Public Space, we are twelve feet or more from the speaker.  It includes listening to a lecture or other situation where someone is usually addressing an audience of a number of people.  We are not always mindful of what is being said in public space.  You probably have noticed how many people check their cell phones – or check out completely – during a lecture of any sort. Ask the kids who sit in the back of the room.

For the person doing the speaking, the challenge in this zone is to keep the listeners engaged. If you are the one who is making the presentation, it’s important to recognize this reality and know how to draw your audience in.  Telling stories about your experience as it relates to the topic is one way. It makes it personal.  Moving away from the podium, if you can, temporarily alters the distance and can build a connection.

Social Space varies from four to twelve feet. It is what exists, for example, when we dine in a restaurant. As with Public Space, there is a mental space between us and the other diners in the room.  Unless they become loud, we are aware of then only in the most superficial way.  You might overhear a conversation that is interesting, but it is hard to concentrate on it so you tend to shift your focus.

In the education setting, you are most likely to deal with it in the teacher’s lunchroom. Each group has its own conversation taking place.  If you are alert, you might discover what unit a teacher is working on or planning.  Then you can speak to the teacher to supply the right information to make the project more successful. It can be the beginning of developing a collaborative relationship. And it’s an excellent reason to make it a practice to get out of your library for lunch.

The distance in Personal Space ranges from four feet to eighteen inches, and we are always aware of who is in this space. It’s bred into us as a matter of survival. We also need to be extra mindful here because subtle differences in how we define Personal Space can cause problems. Over time you can fine-tune your senses to be aware of how the person you are speaking with is reacting your distance.  In general, they will instinctively define it for you, taking a step back if you are too close or stepping forward if they sense you are too far.

When having a conversation in Personal Space, always be sure to accept the other person’s boundaries.  Don’t move forward if they have moved back.  It will feel to them as though you are encroaching. Accept the negative space. If you are uncomfortable with how close someone is, you can move back, but know they may read it as you trying to distance yourself from them.

Intimate Space is from eighteen inches to zero. Again, there are cultural differences as well as gender ones which make this acceptable or uncomfortable.  Unsurprisingly, women tend to prefer more distance in these situations than men, particularly in conversations with the opposite gender.  If you are a man, it is wise to be aware that moving too close here or in Personal Space may make a woman feel anxious or concerned, which can ultimately block effective communication.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, most of our communication is nonverbal.  The fours zones of space are another form of non-verbal communication. Most of our conversations, particularly the important ones, occur in the Personal and Intimate Spaces. Being aware of what the other person(s) is communicating in the negative space of body language can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful attempt at building a relationship.  And we must never forget that we are in the relationship business.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Making a Successful Move

It was interesting and helpful to hear all the responses in the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group to last week’s blog. Thank you for all your input, comments and feedback. I’m glad so many of you got something from the post. If you decided based the blog that it was Time to Move On, (or if you’d already come to this decision on your own) now the question is – how do you do get the job you want?

First, dig out your resumé and review it.  It likely needs updating.  Although an Objective might work for those looking for corporate positions, every librarian (and teacher) seems to have almost the same objective: “To create or expand a 21st century library program.”  There are variants of course but it uses up valuable page real estate – the opening of the resumé – to add nothing of value.

Spend some time thinking of what you do very well as a librarian. Then, instead of an Objective do a Profile with three or four bullet points highlighting your outstanding skills, such as Experienced Tech Integrator or Skilled User of Social Media.

Under experiences which you list in chronological order, don’t just describe your job.  Highlight what you did. You might have started a One Book, One School event or created a Makerspace.  In other words, how did you make your program successful?  This reinforces what you featured in your Profile.

Include a section on Related Experiences such as being an advisor to a club or making a presentation at a conference.  Next, of course, is Education. You should also have a section on Professional Associations which shows that you are a professional and here you should include any volunteer positions you hold currently or held in the past. Other sections include Publications which include blogs, Honors you have received. Some people close with References available on request, but since this is a given it also takes up valuable space and doesn’t need to be included.

Using your state association’s listserv and other resources, locate (and keep searching for) job openings.  Once you have spotted one, do research and find out as much as you can about the school and district.  Check their state report card. See what they say on their website. Is their Mission Statement mostly boilerplate or does it give an indication as to what they value? If they have photos of students, what are they doing?

With your research in hand, you are ready to write your cover letter. It’s invariably three paragraphs.  The first paragraph states what position you are applying for and where you learned about it.  Use this space to start your pitch by referring to what you learned in your research. For example, if it’s a high performing school you might say, “I am looking for the opportunity to work with the best and the brightest.”  If it’s in a school that is focused on improving student performance, you “want to be part of the challenge in helping students discover what they can achieve.”

The second paragraph is where many applicants tend to waste the space, restating things that are in the resume, such as the places where they worked.  Instead, show why you are the perfect candidate for the position. You can point to how your abilities as a tech integrator led to increased collaboration with teachers and 21st century learning experiences.  This sets up questions that will be included in your interview.

In the final paragraph, don’t close with the traditional, “I look forward to hearing from you.” Instead, say “I look forward to discussing what and how I can contribute to the school program.”

As soon as you hear they want you to come in for an interview start doing additional research. Find out who will be interviewing you. Will it be just the principal, or will there be a supervisor and perhaps the current librarian?  Google them and see what you can learn. Take a close look at the library’s page on the school website.  If there isn’t one – that tells you something about the current program and a possible way for you to improve outreach. You need to learn as much as you can about what they have accomplished and what they seem to value. Do a dry run to the school preferably at the same time as your interview so you know exactly where to go and what kind of traffic to expect.

You should also consider going online for sample interview questions so you will be ready what they might ask. Inevitably one will be, “Why do you want to leave your current position?” Do not say anything negative about the administration or the teachers.  Instead, answer with something like: “Budget constraints had me teaching two classes resulting in the library being closed. This was unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, and it’s important to me that the library be available to students throughout the day.”

Prepare questions of your own in advance.  Too often when applicants are asked if they have any questions they ask something foolish such as what the salary is or what their schedule would be like. Ask questions that will help you understand the vision and culture of the school and district.

Prepare a portfolio to bring with you showing your best lessons and projects. Bring enough copies for everyone present since you will be leaving it there. In addition to or instead of a printout, consider putting it on a thumb drive.

Listen carefully to what is said and what is not said.  Almost all administrators say the library is the heart of the school. What do they mean by that?  You can and should ask what they like/don’t like about the current program. The response will tell you how well they understand it, as well as where they would like to see it go.  Do ask to see the library and learn as much as you can about the technology it has.

As soon as possible, send thank you letters to all who interviewed you. In general, hand-written is better than e-mail.  It will carry more impact. Again, don’t waste the real estate.  You don’t want to say that you appreciated their time and look forward to hearing from them soon.  Take the opportunity to remind them of who you are.  Refer to something specific the person said that you found informative.

If all goes well you will get a job offer.  Think carefully before you accept it. Mentally review the interview.  What are the negatives about the position?  Do the positives outweigh them?  Know your priorities and if his position supports them. If you don’t evaluate the offer completely, you may jump from the frying pan into the fire.  A mistake here will require that you remain a few years before you can consider a new move.

And although the process is challenging – stay positive. Jobs are opening up.  There are opportunities for those who are willing to leave their comfort zone and go after what they want. Finally, for those of you who are happy where you are, consider bookmarking this post. You never know when things change so it’s best to be prepared.

ON LIBRARIES: Time To Move On

The question is a bit shocking. Although people in other professions do it all the time, librarians and teachers rarely consider changing jobs unless they aren’t rehired. It is probably related to tenure which makes us never think of the possibility.

There are three reasons to start thinking about finding a new job. The reasons range from the obvious to the surprising –at least for those of us in education.  (And even if you don’t fall into any of the three categories, it’s wise to be prepared.)

The most obvious reason is moving.  Your spouse got a transfer or for some other reason, you are going to be pulling up stakes and moving too far away to continue in your current job. Finding a new position can be challenging particularly if you are changing states. You need to research and network.

The research will tell you how complicated it will be to move your certification to your new location and how to go about it. You can also find out about which are the best school districts and salary scales. Networking involves connecting to the school library association. You can’t get on their listserv if you aren’t a member, so join quickly.  Introduce yourself there and on their Facebook page which they are most likely to have.  Ask about job openings. This is not a time to be shy.

The second reason is you dread going to work most days. Everyone has some bad days, but if you rarely have a good one, it is time to move on.  Maybe your workload keeps increasing.  No matter what you try, your administration only thinks of you when they have another job you can take on. Your teachers are so exhausted and demoralized they can’t possibly collaborate with you. The school culture, which I wrote about last week, also will inform this situation.

This is when you need to accept the truth that you are no longer doing well by your students or your teachers.  Your schedule keeps you from doing the things that were why you became a librarian. Your first step is to start checking your state association’s listserv.  If you see any vendors let them know you are looking.  January is a good time of year as districts will soon be getting ready to hire for the fall.

The final reason I’m going to offer is not obvious.  Most of us can see the proverbial handwriting on the wall but few act on it. These are the times you know things are almost undoubtedly going to go downhill, but you just stay put.  It’s like knowing a train wreck is coming and doing nothing about it.  Sometimes you need to trust yourself and take a big leap no matter how scary it seems.

I lived through this.  I had been in a district for twenty-two years. The last five or so I had a principal who was an egotistical bully and a liar. But I had great teachers and a strong program.  I also had a superintendent of schools who always knew what was happening everywhere in the district.  She was the one who had transferred me to the high school six years before this principal showed up because she liked what I was bringing to the educational community.

Then my superintendent announced she was retiring in two years.  I immediately called her and said I was job hunting.  She urged me to stay, but I could read that handwriting clearly.  The assistant superintendent would get her job and stay for three years to get a larger pension.  He was a nice guy but had nowhere near her strength or vision.

Once he was gone my principal would become the superintendent of schools and my life would be all about managing him and working to keep him from undermining my program. Dealing with him would drain so much of my energy, it would affect all aspects of my job.  And it would affect my home life likely leading me to come home so angry at his latest tactic I would rant and rave to my husband.  I knew he would just tell me to quit.

No sense in waiting for his advice.  I decided to act.  There was going to be a workshop on the automation system we used at one library in a great school district. I let the librarian who was hosting know I was job hunting, and she said she was retiring at the end of the school year. I made the necessary contact with the district’s H.R. department and had an interview scheduled for a few hours before the workshop.   By the end of the week, I had a job offer and a signed contract. When I told my superintendent, she asked me to give the principal a chance and to talk with him.

My meeting with him quickly proved me right.  He had no trouble or issues with my leaving. He told me he had done their Middle States Evaluation and talked about their great budget.  Since it would be a much longer drive to work, he suggested I try audiobooks.

I had a wonderful time in my new district and discovered how much I had learned over the years. When I would return for retirement parties at my old district, I found out I had correctly read the situation there.  Four years later, my former principal was the Superintendent of Schools.  And the teachers kept telling me how smart I was for getting out.

Yes, I lost my tenure.  But I knew that I wouldn’t want to work for any district that didn’t grant me tenure.  What I really gave up was my sick days, but only in the short run.  It was worth it.

Next week I will blog on how to get the job you want.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Culture Conscious

How would you describe your school’s culture?  If you have never thought about it, now’s the time to start.  The school (and district) culture influence everything from your budget requests to the willingness of teachers to collaborate with you and administrators to support you.

I have written in the past of two very different cultures in districts where I worked.  At the first, education was regarded as being like medicine.  You don’t like it, but you have to take it.  The twenty budgets that were defeated in the twenty-two years I was there was an obvious indicator.  The district depended heavily on teachers’ commitment to helping their students since there was never an extra payment or support for what they did.  I knew one world language teacher who taught four different sections including having an AP Spanish class within Spanish IV.

The other district saw itself as a leader in education with a diverse, multi-cultural student population.  The culture reflected pride in what they were doing and bringing to students and, by extension, the community. The Wall of Fame saluted graduates who had made major contributions.  It included authors, government officials, and those in noted businesses

While these districts could not be more dissimilar, I could get funding for projects in either place by working with the culture.  In the first district, I always presented my requests by stressing how this would save money in the long run, using as a theme, “the library gives you the biggest bang for your buck.”  I even had one teacher tell her department chair they didn’t need new textbooks, “as long as Hilda’s library was up-to-date.”

In the second district, my proposals were always tied in some way to why it would keep us in the forefront of education. Knowing how strongly the administrators felt about moving to block scheduling, I put in a request for extra funding to purchase support material for the faculty.  I noted that many teachers were opposed to the change because they couldn’t see how they were to get through their curriculum within the structure of a longer period and alternating semesters, (e.g. Spanish I in the fall of 9th grade and Spanish II in the fall of 10th grade).  The extra resources I was proposing would give them the information they needed to continue to be great teachers and show that the district was there to support them.

On a daily basis, the school culture affects you differently.  My two districts had radically diverse cultures, both had teachers strongly committed to serving the students.  To have teachers collaborate with me, I had to convince them that what I taught would help their students be more successful. The English teachers in one district relied on me to teach each grade the research process for term papers because it ensured every student had received the same background information and experience.

I had a co-librarian in one district who teachers rightly felt didn’t like the students.  When they brought their classes to the library, if I was already scheduled to work with another class, they taught their students themselves.  That situation is an example of how we can also negatively affect the culture around us.

click image to read the full article

In an article primarily directed towards administrators on “5 Ways to Impact School Culture,” Dr. Amy Fast offers suggestions that work well for school librarians.  The first is “Assume Best Intent.”  So, if you send a teacher a resource for his/her students and there is no response, don’t assume you are being ignored “because the teachers don’t appreciate what I do.”  Things get lost in cyberspace.  Either send it again with a message saying, “I don’t know if you received this when I sent it out,” or speak to the teacher in person, which is probably best, and find out what the situation really is.

Her second recommendation is, “Surround Yourself with Greatness,” because “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  That can be a scary thought.  Work hard to connect and get into relationship with the teachers who are recognized as “stars.”  As they create units with you, the others will follow, and your school library culture will thrive.

“Elicit Feedback” is her third way. I discussed this in my blog on “The Power and Importance of Feedback.” The fourth idea is to “Know Your Sphere of Influence.” Too often we think all the power – and leadership—comes from a title.  You can, in fact, lead from the middle- or the bottom.  In my Weight Watcher program, I have been keeping up enthusiasm which was crushed when the leader we adored was fired. I lead from my seat – and it is recognized by the other members.

Dr. Fast’s final suggestion is “Make Your WHY Transparent.”  You know why you became a school librarian.  You know why you love your job (most days). Make sure you are communicating that in your words and your actions.  It will also keep you from focusing on the negatives that are a part of any job.

If you are struggling to get teachers to work with you or you want your administrators to recognize your value, review the ways you interact with school culture and see which ones might help you improve your school library culture.

ON LIBRARIES: In With The New (Standards)

appy New Year! There is always a flurry of activity around the beginning of the year. Resolutions, goals, intentions, new things to try, old things to toss.

One of the big new things to embrace? The new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries.  Have you bought your copy yet? Are you excited, or hoping it will go away? (HINT: Go for the former. The latter isn’t happening.) I blogged about this change back in September (the post is here and gives you several links to help you start), and since then I’ve heard about them at the AASL conference in November and started using them. It is a change I am definitely excited about.

Many of you have been put off by the price tag of $199 if you are not a member of ALA.  Even the cost of $99 to ALA/AASL members has caused some gasps. But recognize, these will be our standards for the next ten years. You may as well bite the bullet and get started. If memory serves the old standards, Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs, cost about $45, but it but had only 64 pages!  The new standards comes in at a hefty 314p.  That’s almost five times the size – so it’s practically a bargain! 

Personally, I have been immersing myself in the National School Library Standards in order to update an online course I’m teaching starting January 17.  Since it’s a course text, I had to re-do much of the syllabus, rewrite sections of my lectures, and change topics for discussion as I figured out how to introduce my students to the standards.

The task of wading into these new standards seemed enormous at first.  It’s such a big book and there didn’t seem to be any parallels between old and new standards which would have allowed me to simply insert new page numbers.  It was intimidating, but I am so glad I couldn’t put it off.  The more I explore the Standards, the more I find to like.

I like the idea that there are three Frameworks: one for learners, one for school librarians, and one for school libraries. All three have the same structure so you can see how the same Domains (Think, Create, Share, Grow) and Shared Foundations connect.  It is simple to compare them and once you have familiarity with one Framework, you can easily grasp the others.

Most likely you will want to begin with the AASL Framework for Learners.  It’s a free download and only eight pages so not having ordered the larger book it is no excuse for not getting started. We all are learners and more than ever we need to focus on our own learning. Spend time with the centerfold that lays out the standards for learners. Read the Key Commitments for each of the six Shared Foundations. You will find your old lessons almost always included aspect of the four : (1) Inquire, (3) Collaborate, (4) Curate, and (5) Explore.

Your lessons may not have incorporated Include and Engage but you now should give these two serious consideration Include (the fourth Shared Foundation) articulates the need to incorporate diversity and global citizenship into student learning opportunities. Engage (6) focuses on the ethical use of information.  Both have been components of your practice, but the six Shared Foundations keep them in front of you.  This is not to say you need to include all six Shared Foundation and all four Domains in one unit, but in constructing your units, you should see which ones fit best.

Check the AASL portal for the Standards regularly.  If you “enter” as School Librarians, you will find resources to support you in getting started with the new National Standards for School Libraries.  New ones are added frequently.

Once you have your copy of the Standards, I recommend How Do I Read the Standards? It boils down how the six Shared Foundations and four Domains combine within the three Frameworks, defining the competencies we want to achieve. In addition, it explains how to identify which of the Shared Foundations and Domains you are using in a lesson.  All this in a one-page (free!) infographic.

Another resource I like is Reflect and Refresh: Getting Started with National School Library Standards. Again, a single page PDF, it briefly explains “What Should I Know?” What Should I Do?” and “What Should I Share?”

Do check the Professional Development AASL is offering.  Upcoming events as well as archived ones are available.  Choose one and get started.

It is a new year and we have new standards.  It’s a bit scary, but it’s also exciting to be here as we truly take our profession and practice into the future.