ON LIBRARIES: Can You Hear Me Now?

Sometimes it seems as though what you say keep falling on deaf ears.  Whether you are explaining to a teacher that Google is for searching not researching or sending emails to the administrator, somehow there is a disconnect and your message is not received.  It’s as though there’s no reception on your phone and you’re standing there asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Some solutions for business leaders were offered in John R. Stoker’s article entitled “How to Achieve Recognition by Results.”  With some tweaking, the 10 approaches he recommends can be applied in the education setting and may offer you ideas to help you get you heard. I’m going to discuss the first five this week with the conclusion next week.

First and foremost, Continue to do the Work. Of course, you will, but the important part of this step is to watch your attitude.  You need to maintain a positive mindset.  Not an easy task when you feel disrespected.  If you have Mission Statement (which is your purpose and that of your program), keep it in mind to motivate you.  I am always surprised to see how many librarians don’t have one – nor do they have a Vision Statement which can inspire you to push on and help when negative thoughts become overwhelming.

Stoker’s second suggestion is Look to Make a Difference. Yes, that’s what you have been trying to do all along and what is likely frustrating you.  However, in this case, it’s also about doing it differently. You know the classic line from Einstein about repeating the same action in hope of a different result.  Stop driving yourself crazy.   Instead, try new methods.  If you have been sending e-mails, try a handwritten note to teachers in a grade level or subject area. In an age of digital communication, the personal touch is more likely to be welcomed.  And again, don’t attempt too much.  Just enough to see if it works.

I have long recommended you Support Others in Their Work. While this is your goal and where you are likely feeling frustrated, there are two ways to handle this. First, get to know them as individuals.  As their trust in your builds, so will their willingness to come to you for support.  In addition, try to discover what kind of help your teachers and administration actually want, don’t assume.  This way what you suggest comes across more easily as support rather than criticism.

From listening to conversations in the school (remember, this is one of the reasons to take your lunch where the teachers do), try to discover their next unit of study, and then ask the teacher to stop by for coffee and maybe a snack because you have something special for them.  That’s when you can show the database that will make their students more successful. Offer to locate resources for any future unit.  Notice, you didn’t send out an email blast.  You made it personal.

Humbly be Right, Stoker writes:

If you come up with a solution that is a resounding success, keep your mouth shut. Let people draw their own conclusions. If you go out of your way to celebrate your individual success, rather than put the focus on the team effort, people will look for ways to discount your contribution, identify your weaknesses and let it be known what an arrogant and pompous individual you are. That also means that you do not want to go fishing for compliments. Let your results speak for themselves and let that be the end of it.

I once had a science teacher who kept explaining her curriculum was too tight to bring her students in for me to teach them the research process. We had a friendly relationship so I was able to cajole her into bringing her students in for one period.  The kids were incredibly successful. This was not the time for an “I told you so”. Instead, I said we could do it again whenever she wished.  At the end of the year, she told me the lesson in the library had affected all the rest of their research and the following school year, she brought them in for three days in a row to get them started.

The fifth idea is to Offer Concrete Evidence. There is so much talk about big data and needing to prove results, but despite years of accumulating evidence on how school librarians and libraries affect student learning no one seems to be listening.  Isn’t the data important? Yes, it is, but once again it’s impersonal and has no emotional connection to your building and school until you can show direct application and result.

Data with your students will find a more welcoming audience.   Use evidence-based practice to highlight how key district/building goals are being achieved in the library.  Then you can follow up with the impact studies.  If you state has done one, so much the better.

I’m curious to hear if any of these resonate with you. Are there ways you are already putting this into practice but could make some changes to get even better results?  Next week – the rest of the list!

 

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Connecting to the Community

How far does your reach extend beyond your school library?  I know you’re likely thinking – I have enough of a challenge getting my reach to extend where it needs to within the school – but it’s something librarians have to consider. I wrote about this several years ago, and while there are new methods for outreach, the reason for it is the same – if you ignore your community, your community will ignore you.  Here’s where leaders recognize opportunity and look for ways to show why libraries and librarians are indispensable.

For years, librarians did their jobs exclusively within their four walls.  Elementary librarians usually had a fixed schedule (and most still do) with teachers dropping off and picking up their students at assigned times. At middle and high school levels they waited for teachers to approach them about bringing their classes in throughout the year to do research.

Infographic from AASL webpage on Advocacy. Click image for link

This pattern created a library program seemingly unconnected with the rest of the school which led to the widespread elimination of librarians as tight budgets forced tough decisions. Since few administrators knew what value the librarian and library program brought to students and staff, it was a “logical” place to cut.  Although many librarians were developing inquiry-based projects in collaboration or collaboration with teachers, great numbers of them were also swept away in the carnage.

The good news is we are coming back. A combination of factors including advocacy initiatives from ALA/AASL, the concern over fake news, and a growing awareness that there is a place for librarians is reversing the trend.  However, the change is happening slowly and there is always the danger of the pendulum going back if we don’t widen the base of our advocates to prevent that from happening.

A reminder about what advocacy means. It is not about you campaigning to keep your job and program.  As defined by AASL, it is an “On-going process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program.”  And why do they support you?  They support you because you consistently supply something of value to them. You and your program help them reach their goals.

You can see it clearly when you collaborate and cooperate with the teachers. Your assistance makes their jobs easier and their students more successful.  That’s what teachers need, and you provide it.  But other stakeholders have different needs you should be aware of.

For example, the public library has also been hit with cuts in staff and budgets.  You are natural partners.  Reach out to the children’s or young adult librarian and talk about how you can help each other.  For example, September is Library Card Sign-Up Month. You can promote it on your website and in the library. At the beginning of the year, hand out and collect registration cards along with any promos the public library has created.

In return, have the public library publicize what is happening in your library.  See if you can do a bulletin board every so often with pictures of the kids at work.  Whether it’s Makerspaces or research, let the community know and see what goes on in school libraries. Maybe some of the students or teachers will join you to set up the bulletin board.

You can also “exchange” space on your websites. You can link to the public library’s site while they can link to yours.  Include it in a paragraph that will pique the community’s interest in going to your website.  This can be a place to use your Mission and/or Vision.  Or you may want to say something like, “See how tomorrow’s citizens are preparing today.”

Consider going even bigger by inviting community groups into the library.  Have the historical society do a display and use library resources to complement it.  Do the same with the garden club and any group that may be able to do something in the library. They will appreciate having the additional forum to promote what they do for the community. You might have the local cable station or newspaper cover it, especially if this becomes something you do regularly. Of course, put links to the groups you feature on your website.

The biggest reach is to the business community.  The Career counselor in my last school was a member of Rotary.  My principal was in Kiwanis.  Through them, and always with the permission of the administration, I was able to give a brief talk at one of their lunch meetings. Today, I would also be showing them my website and other online features. If you are in the high school, this is a great way to find out if these local businesses use interns. Working with the guidance department, you can promote the possibilities to your students, who are likely to let their parents know how they heard about it – thus reaching another group. It may even be possible to get some of these people help out in your Makerspace or other initiatives.

Think big.  Think bigger than your school library.  As you build relationships with the larger community, they will come to see how libraries have changed, what you bring to students and the school community and by extension the whole town (or neighborhood if you are in a more urban area).  Remember, the community votes on school budgets.  You want them to value the school library and support it.

ON LIBRARIES: Keep Your Communication Channels Clear

Clear communication is critical in building relationships, and you need these relationships to develop advocates for your program. As a leader, you will communicate with many people in many situations from one-on-one to (eventually) large groups (more about this in my blog on Space Relations). You also communicate with yourself, often as the initial step in reaching others. Communication is a giant topic with extensive subtopics.

In an online article, Marlene Chism identifies three communication mistakes which are at play in any professional situation. She states that “one of the most valuable tools leaders have for driving results and improving performance is conversation.” No matter what channel you choose and no matter your message, there are always three parts: the sender, the message, and the receiver.  If any part is muddled the message won’t get through. 

Obviously, you are the sender.  Unless you are speaking for a group and haven’t made it clear that you are presenting information that is not necessarily your own belief, there is rarely any confusion about the sender.

The message is another matter.

Aside from the need to tailor the message to the medium and the receiver (which I’ll discuss another time), you need to be sure you are not inadvertently bringing confusion. To ensure message clarity, you must avoid mistakes that can affect all communication no matter which method/medium you use.

Lack of focus is the first blunder.  Are you trying to communicate so much that the channel is completely clogged?  If the receiver can’t make sense of where you are going, they often stop listening. Too many examples and too much background information become overwhelming to the person you are addressing.

School librarians often make this mistake in speaking with their administrator.  They are so anxious to be sure the principal understands the basis for the proposal and to demonstrate they have fully thought it out, that not much of the goal gets through.  Administrators are drowning in details as is. They don’t want or need to assimilate all of yours.

To fix this, identify the bottom line.  State what you want from the principal and for what purpose.  Consider it an elevator speech—no longer than a minute.  Then say, “If you need more information, I will gladly supply it.”

Many of us have this same problem with the conversations in our heads. School librarians wear many hats and sometimes it seems they all require attention at once.  In an effort to take care of all it, your brain swirls thinking of one thing then another without following any one them all the way through. It’s exhausting and non-productive.  A solution to this is to stop, separate all the responsibilities and assign priorities to your tasks. Then work your way through them.

Chism refers to meetings that don’t get anywhere. You probably have attended way too many of these. In Leading for School Librarians I discuss “Making Meetings Matter.”  Among the suggestions are for the leader to learn the purpose and intended results, create and send out an agenda in advance and invite feedback from those who will attend, review the goals so everyone knows where you are heading, and close with action steps that need to be taken before the next meeting.  Focus is what makes the meeting productive.

Putting Tasks before Context is the second block to effective communication. If you start dealing with the details before you have explained and solidified the overall plan, no one will understand where you are going. This is related to lack of focus, but in this case, it is about the sequence.

Back to that conversation with your principal.  If you want to launch a Makerspace or a school-wide reading program, don’t begin with the activities you will include in the Makerspace or how you are getting stakeholders to participate.  Start with the goal – why you need the Makerspace.

It’s similar to creating a strategic plan.  First, you look to your Mission and Vision (hopefully you have them for your library).  Then identify two or three goals that will meet a need and promote that Mission and Vision.  Only then do you develop the action steps for each goal.  You need to know the “why” before you begin the “do.”

The same is true for how you are communicating with yourself.  If the to-do list you create in your head or on paper has you going from one thing to next like the Energizer Bunny, you may get them done, but they won’t add up to solid progress because they were not the outgrowth of a solid plan.  It all becomes busy work. You need to talk to yourself – clearly – about why something needs doing and how it relates to the bigger picture before scurrying around to get it done.

Lack of a “By When” is the final communication error.  Whether it’s you, a teacher with whom you are collaborating, or someone on a committee you are leading, if there’s no set completion date people assume they have loads of time.  Time enough to forget about the task.  Anything that is accomplished tends to be slipshod. If you have not communicated any urgency or priority level, the individual/s is left to assign it themselves.  Your listeners have no idea of the task’s relative importance.

In our internal communication, we plan something in our heads (or on our to-do list) without a due date to give ourselves an out. It keeps us from being accountable. You don’t have to meet your self-assigned deadline, but you do need to know if you missed it – and why.

Focus, Context, and Due Dates will keep your Communications clear.  And being a good communicator is an essential quality of a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Curiouser and Curiouser

In the opening to Chapter 2 in Alice in Wonderland, Alice describes the events unfolding by saying, “Curiouser and curiouser” going on to comment, “now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!” With this book, those words, and what occurs on Alice’s adventures, Lewis Carroll created a world antithetical to the Victorian education of his day.  In a society where students recited “How doth the little busy bee…” chorusing it by rote, curiosity was not encouraged.

But Carroll was right. Curiosity lets you open out like the largest telescope. Curiosity leads to innovation and growth for students and for ourselves. We need to introduce curiosity into more subject areas and bring it further into our lives as leaders. Where standardized tests are the “Little busy bee” of our time, curiosity must be cultivated and celebrated.

Schools and libraries have been creating Makerspaces and STEM labs which are giving students the space and resources to follow their imagination. They love the activity and become skilled at problem-solving.  In a Makerspace, students don’t worry about failure.  In that environment, they accept failure as part of the learning process.  It’s like their video games where they die, learn from it, and are then able to use the information to go back then go on to the next level.

In Makerspaces, students are asking themselves, “What if I …?”  “I wonder if …” Those are the questions of the curious, but problem-solving is not just for Makerspaces.  It needs to be everywhere. But what is happening the rest of the day?  What are classes and assignments like?

Unfortunately, there the emphasis is still on success and correct answers. As librarians, we need to lead the shift to have students focusing on and learning to ask important questions. In February 2016 I blogged about Quality Questions and spoke about the role of Essential Questions in creating learning experiences for students.  There is a link at the end to an article in Edutopia on 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners.  It’s still a worthwhile read, but we need to do even more.

Many of librarians use KWL (know, want, learn) charts with students.  I suggest adding a fourth column- “Q” which stands for “Questions I still have.”  Having them complete this final step encourages kids to think deeper and possibly explore aspects of the topic that haven’t been covered in the project.

Inquiry is the first Shared Foundation in AASL’s new National School Library Standards (NSLS).  In the Framework for Learners. The Competency for it under Think, the first Domain, reads, “Learners display curiosity and initiative by: ….”  From curiosity and initiative come the new ideas that will power tomorrow.  But first students must develop the ability to do so.  Our lessons must stimulate curiosity and the questioning that comes with it.

Explore is the fifth Shared Foundation in the NSLS.  In the Framework for Learners, the Competencies for Grow, the fourth Domain, states “Learners develop through experience and reflection by:…”  Reflection is an important word (and is used throughout the standards).  We grow through reflection because we think about what we know – and what we don’t.  And that should make us curious.

We need to give the student time to reflect and come up with questions that begin, “I wonder….?” and “What if ….?”  Questions that can’t be answered by a quick Google search.  And when they come up with these questions, ask them where they can find answers to their question.

As leaders, we must cultivate curiosity in ourselves as well.  It’s how we move out of our comfort zone which is the only way we grow as leaders. Is there a teacher in your school whom the kids love?  Consider asking if you can observe him/her during your free period.  You might learn so much, and the teacher will likely appreciate being recognized.

Reach out to your colleagues at other schools and other grade levels and ask questions. If you are at the elementary level, talk with the middle school librarian to see what students read and research at that level.  If you are at the high school also check with the middle school librarian to see what experiences they have had.  Middle school librarians can go either or both ways.

Be curious about your coworkers and their lives outside of school.  Sometimes we are like the kids who think the teachers sleep in the school because they can’t imagine them having a life past the school walls.  In getting to know the teachers as individuals beyond their subject/grade you begin building trust and relationships which lead to collaboration.

An article from Experience Life by Todd Kashdan discusses The Power of Curiosity.  The fact that curiosity increases intelligence and social relationships is logical, but you may be surprised to see how it increases health, happiness, and other benefits.  I love the ideas of thriving on uncertainty, reconnecting with play, and finding the unfamiliar in the familiar.

Curiosity, in my opinion, is a foundation of a growth mindset.  It makes the world a more exciting place – and you a more interesting person.