ON LIBRARIES: Regarding Teachers

Students are our first priority, but teachers come in at a close second.  For the most part, they are the gateway to the students. If we don’t find ways to reach them, we lose much of our access to students.

Why don’t we collaborate more – or at least cooperate?  We are on the same team?  Aren’t we?  The answer is not simple.  Yes, we should be on the same team, but do you feel and act as if the teachers are on your team?  Do the teachers feel you are on theirs?

Too many librarians believe the teachers don’t recognize what they bring to students, and this is often the case. If they are not working with you, they have no idea what you are doing.  And they certainly can’t imagine what you could do.

The situation can be exacerbated by your reaction.  If you feel undervalued and even disrespected, your attitude creeps into your interactions with the teachers. They sense it and respond in kind, further setting up a “we/they” feeling.

It’s too important to let things continue if they are not working.  Your job responsibility requires you to at least have a professional relationship with every teacher. You don’t have to be BFFs, but you must be able to regard all of them in a friendly manner. The library is a “safe, welcoming environment for ALL.” That includes teachers, even if they never set foot in it.

Your challenge is to move from we/they to us.  If they don’t come in the library, you are going to have to meet them elsewhere. School and district committees are a good place to start.  Despite your heavy schedule, you need to make time for this because you automatically meet as equals on these committees.   As you bring your expertise to the discussions, teachers begin to realize how you can contribute to what they do.

Next, make your library an inviting space for teachers.  Food is always the perfect lure.  Have coffee (and tea) available if you can.  Bring in snacks both healthy and not-so-healthy that don’t need refrigeration.  Let teachers know you have this available. There are other ways to lure teachers in.  Having a color printer or a laminator are a draw. Even better, if your library has the space, create a “teachers only” area.

If you build this – they will come. You don’t have to stop what you are doing to greet them. Your students and classes come first. Leave a little welcoming note and/or any needed directions where you have the food.  You can leave some new additions nearby with a note saying these books are about to be put into the collection and to let you know if they want one of them first.  You can also put out magazines you think they would like.

On those occasions when teachers come in and you aren’t involved with students, don’t pounce on them with suggestions of books and websites and other resources.  Just focus on bringing them in. If they feek as though you are offering a sales pitch, they will stay away. Instead, use the time to get to know them as people.  What are their hobbies, interests?  Do they have kids?  Do whatever it takes to begin building a relationship. Reach out to them as people.  Personal before professional lays the groundwork.

You will know you are succeeding when some teachers bring in food as thanks or come to use some of the special resources you have available.  That’s your cue to take the next step with them.  Move from the personal to the professional. (Sounds backwards but it’s really the best way to create collaboration or cooperation.) Ask about what they are working on with their classes. Listen carefully to find out what the culminating project is or any difficulties they are having with the unit.

After the conversation, demonstrate your curation skills by gathering books and/or web resources.  Don’t wait for the teacher to come back in.  Deliver it in person if possible.  Otherwise, put it in their mailbox with a note saying, “Based on our conversation, I thought you would find this helpful.”

Teachers are as overwhelmed and feel as unappreciated and undervalued as you do.  The last thing they want is to take on more work.  Cooperating or collaborating with you sounds like it is just that.  You need to show them that being an Instructional Partner can and will make their life easier.


ON LIBRARIES: A Place for a Pause

Two weeks ago in my blog, I confessed that I talk a lot.  To combat dominating a conversation, I worked—and still work—at being an active listener.  One of the ways to do this is to know how and when to use the power of a pause in your daily conversations.  Mastering it will help build the relationships that are key to your success as a leader. You also want to be aware of phrases that stop conversations in their tracks and filler words that can help or hinder the impact of what you say.

Brenda Barbosa, in a post entitled 1 Tool that Will Make Your Conversation Flow Better, said the best advice she ever got was, “shut up and listen.”  Of course, you are quiet when you the person you are speaking with is talking.  But are you just waiting for your chance to talk?

Some of us jump in with a comment even as the other party is still talking.  Others are more respectful outwardly but are busy formulating their reply.  Both behaviors show when we are not listening. Not the best basis for forming or continuing a relationship.

Here is where the pause comes in. Even if you know what you need/want to say next, take that moment. When you do so consciously you breathe deeper, and that sends more oxygen to your brain. You get a better understanding of what the other person is trying to communicate.  By pausing you will make a better, more relevant reply, and you will validate what the other person is saying to you.  A win/win.

When we validate another’s opinion, even if we disagree (yes, you can do both) with it, we build trust, a necessary component if you are going to have a relationship that leads to cooperation. In our digital age, we communicate with multiple devices, but you get the biggest return in a one-on-one conversation and the best results in that conversation when we are active listeners.

In the workplace, you are usually speaking in the Personal or possibly Intimate Space, which I described in my blog one month ago. In this space, you view body language, see each others’ faces. The voice is clearer and no emoticons are needed.  To make the connection, you need to be fully present and the pause will get you there.

And then there is the Yabut. It’s something you know, even if you’ve never heard it called this.  Marvin G. Knittel explained on the Psychology Today page How a Yabut Can Kill A Conversation. He gives this example, “I said to my friend, ‘This has been the nicest day we’ve had in a long time.’  My friend, said, ‘Yabut, you know our weather won’t last.’” Have you ever done that?  I’m sure I have.

Knittel goes on to quote Steve Cochrane as saying the Yabut may be the “No. 1 killer of collaboration, cooperation, great ideas and innovation in any organization.”  The complete opposite of what you are seeking.  The suggestion is to try, “Yes, and….”

Filler words can go either way. We all use them   A pause is good, and it’s common to say “umm” or “uh” when we are doing so since most of us have an aversion to silence in a conversation.  Use it occasionally and it moves things along.  Use it repeatedly and you sound uncertain.

Then there are the recurring words such as “actually,” “like”, “totally”, “you know”, and a number of others, most of which make us sound like teens in an 80’s movie.  They do have their uses.  Fluent U suggests some very good ones in their article Quick English Filler Words You’ll Thank Yourself for Learning. However, Christopher Mele’s New York Times “So, Umm, How Do You, Like, Stop Using Filler Words?” makes the point that if we use too many of these words our conversation, we don’t sound very intelligent.  Filler words minimize what you are saying. Unfortunately, Mele doesn’t offer a cure, but awareness is an important first start.

My suggestion is to start listening to yourself. You won’t be able to stop using the filler words at first, but by being more aware of when you use them, you can slowly delete them from your conversation.  Actually, I have uh managed you know to literally almost get them out of my speech pattern. Totally.  

ON LIBRARIES: Perseverance, Persistence, and Resilience

The list of leadership qualities seems to be always growing. Listening to librarians as they discuss how they cope with the demands of their job as well as the constant need to show their value, it seemed time to add some more.  For us as school librarians, perseverance, persistence, and resilience are particularly necessary qualities of leadership. We have a seemingly never-ending challenge to prove our worth along with that of the school library and the programs we create.

According to Merriam-Webster, Perseverance is “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” It’s almost a definition of the school librarian’s world. Every day, we strive to connect with teachers and the administration to demonstrate to them how we increase student achievement, transform learning, and prepare students to be the lifelong learners necessary for success in an ever-changing world.


Given teachers’ highly stressed workday, it is a continuous challenge to get them to give you the opportunity to prove your worth. Yet, you persevere.  If you are or want to be a leader, you believe that you will ultimately achieve your goals, accepting it likely that it will be a process of two steps forward and one step back.

In a brief article, Terry Magelakis explains the difference between Perseverance and Persistence.  He sees Persistence as the choice to continue doing something despite the difficulties in achieving the goal. Although this sounds close to the Merriam-Webster definition of Perseverance, Magelakis, emphasizes the idea that Persistence is about the choice. By contrast, he says Perseverance is” the continuation of commitment through action in spite of the lack of success.”  To persevere you need stamina and endurance – and so many of you have just that.  I love his statement that “perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

But what if you see no path to making the needed changes in your school and/or district? While I always write about leadership and the successes that have been achieved, that isn’t the whole picture.  The fact is success is a goal not a given. And sometimes it is unattainable where you are.  It is why I blogged a few weeks ago about when It’s Time to Move On.

However, before hauling out your resumé, remember that Perseverance does require a continuous effort to achieve your goal. If you slowly see improvements, persevere. Learn from what doesn’t work and try a different approach. After all, repeating the same action in hope of a different result is a definition of insanity. Make a realistic assessment of what is possible and decide your next course of action.

Persistence, which as noted, is very close to Perseverance, is an interesting term.  I had a highly

Small Plant – Drought Desert

strategic superintendent who led a school district that voted down budgets regularly.  She had learned to make it work as best she could with a stratagem I suspect is used by many administrators.

After approving one of my requests, she told me when someone came to her asking for something requiring funding, her immediate answer was “No.”  According to her, they would go away, and she no longer had to deal with it. I, on the other hand, frequently got a positive answer because I kept coming back with alternatives.

My behavior told her that I was serious about my request.  I was creative, and I probably was not going away.  This made her confident that I would use the funds wisely and the students and staff would benefit.

Some think Persistence carries the connotation of being stubborn. This should send up a red flag.  Be careful how your behavior might be perceived.  Stubborn people don’t listen to others’ ideas, believing their solution or approach is the only possible way.  Review how you are presenting your ideas.  Check with a trusted colleague to see if you are sounding stubborn.  If so, revise your message.

Resilience refers to your ability to bounce back from a setback.   Sometimes one of your ideas doesn’t pay off.  You want to go and hide and hope everyone forgets – or doesn’t notice. Nobody likes to get it wrong.

We try to teach students that failing is a part of learning, but we don’t react that way when we are the ones who failed in some ways.  If you always get it right, you haven’t reached high enough.  Leaders will and do make mistakes. It’s what you do next that makes all the difference.

Yes, you can have a pity party, but don’t stay there too long.  Take a close look at what happened. Was the whole thing a disaster or was there any part of your project/idea that worked?  Any of it salvageable? What went wrong? Was it a matter of timing? Did you count on the wrong people? 

In your analysis avoid going to negative or positive extremes.   Honesty is vital if you are going to learn from your mistakes. You will be a better leader as a result.


ON LIBRARIES: More Stories

In October 2015, I blogged about The Stories We Tell Ourselves that keep us from becoming the leaders we need to be. At the time I looked at three stories, but I have come to realize we have many more. Our heads are filled with stories – and not all the happily ever after kind.

Some stories are about how we believe others see us. Some speak to how we perceive ourselves, often based on societal “norms.” In our mind’s eye, we view ourselves as having handicaps we can’t get passed. As with the other stories, while there may be an element of truth to the story, more often it is not as bad as we believe and it ends up being something that holds us back. If you are going to be a leader or grow more in your leadership, you need to be able to quiet the stories and become stronger as a result.

The first step is to recognize the negative self-talk going on in your brain. What is it saying? When do you hear it the loudest? What does it keep you from doing? Where did it once keep you safe but now holds you back? The more you can answer these and other question, the more you will be able to see where these stories don’t work for you anymore. When you see how they have influenced and stopped you, you will begin to understand how important it is for you to change your mindset. Then, hopefully, you are motivated to find the means to see yourself differently.

The number of different stories we tell ourselves is as numerous as the books in our collections, however, like those collections, we can find some similar themes. I am going to keep the focus on the stories that are keeping you from being more of a leader in your program and school district.

This Job Is Too Big for Me to Do –  This is a common one that keeps many people playing small. There is always a job that’s bigger than what you have done before. There’s a popular meme these days that says “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” Whether it’s running for president of your state association or launching a large, school-wide project, if you haven’t tackled something like it, it is scary. But you don’t want to let that fear stop you from creating something you know your students need.

You probably have heard the quote, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”  The truth is if you do your “due diligence,” which means getting information and advice from others who have done it, planning as best you can, and having a clear goal in mind you won’t fail. You will make mistakes. Some correctable, others not. Some will lead you to a better solution than you had originally thought. That’s the benefit of taking these risks – and not listening to this story.

I Talk Too Much – I chose this because it’s one of my stories. Starting in my adolescence, I felt people disliked or avoided me because of it. The true part is I am a talker. Anyone who meets me will agree on this. At first, I tried to not talk so much, but it isn’t who I am. When I thought about how I felt about someone who talked “constantly,” I realized what I didn’t like was it gave me no room to speak or minimized what I was saying. The solution that worked and changed me as a leader was to become an active listener who respects the other person’s views and ideas.

As part of recognizing this story, I had to learn that the fiction is my talking is rarely the true reason I am liked or disliked. And no matter what I say or don’t say, there will always be people who dislike me. That’s about them, not me. Over time, I have learned that it is what you say rather than how much you say that makes the difference. I get to be myself, embrace who I am, and enjoy the friends it’s made me over time.

Others Know More Than I Do – Of course this is true. No one knows everything, even in their own field. This story may manifest in your professional life as keeping you from submitting proposals to give a presentation at a conference or volunteering to serve on a district committee. But the flip side of this truth is there are others who don’t know as much as you do on certain topics and areas of interest. In moving out of your comfort zone, you learn and grow. If (when!) the program committee accepts your proposal, believe them and know that not only is it worthy, but there are many who are going to benefit from what you share. You wouldn’t have been put on the program if those making the selection didn’t think you had something to contribute.

It Is Not a Good Time for Me to Do This – While the statement doesn’t sound particularly negative, it’s one of the most common ones. It becomes a repeated and believed excuse and therefore a story. It allows you to feel as though you will get around to doing it someday – just not today. But the reality is someday never occurs. You have put it on the horizon and like a ship heading out to sea, the horizon always stays the same distance away. You have set yourself up to believe you’ll get to it when in truth you are putting it off or never plan to take the step.

We are smart and creative people. We can always come up with a “good” reason not to take on that task or new responsibility or project, a reason that sounds so well thought out and logical the people around us support our putting it off. But that’s no way to become a leader and improve your program or your skills. Stop and think, “What value will doing this bring to my life/profession/goals?”  If it is truly worthwhile, work on how you can possibly take it on – today.

I’m Too Heavy/Thin or I’m Too Tall/Short – Surprised to see this here? Stories about how we look can regularly hold us back professionally. Having a negative image of how you look is a frequent concern of women – and as librarianship is a female-dominated profession, it is important to look at this issue and how it affects us. We create programs where we can sit behind a desk or stand behind a podium. We don’t take opportunities to speak or meet new people because we’re worried about our appearance. We do whatever we can not to attract attention to ourselves but still hope people will notice our program, our successes, and our abilities.

Sadly, you can’t have it both ways. If weight is your worry, consider looking into programs which will support you to change this. Height has no real fix, although we all know people who hunch over or wear crazy heels to make a difference.  And the truth is, it’s only making a difference to us. The true part of this story is the myriad of ways in which we don’t accept ourselves and fear being seen and judged. As with the other stories, the first step is noticing where these thoughts are holding your back, stopping you from being the leader you want to be. The sooner you take steps to accept who you are  – and realize nobody else cares about your appearance more than you do – the sooner you will be able to let your true abilities shine through.

You will never get rid of all the negative stories going through your head, but don’t let them keep you from becoming all you can. Leaders are not perfect. They have faults and have their own stories in the heads. If you want to change yours, start with the loudest one. The one that most interferes with your growing as a leader then begin to create a solution to quiet it down.