ON LIBRARIES: The Art of Asking

You want to attend a conference or workshop, or you want to purchase something for the library that isn’t in the budget.  Spring and fall are the most common times for state library associations to have their conferences. These are always excellent sources of Professional Development (PD), but many librarians don’t attend because they aren’t given the time and/or the money.

What do you do?  Do you ask anyway?  Many choose not to if past experience has led to your administrator turning you down.  But we know – if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”  Even when you are all but certain you know the answer, you can get heard and receive a different result if you frame your request differently.

The first thing to do is look at how you ask now.  Do you send an email with the information or ask in person? It’s far too easy for an administrator to send a quick refusal via e-mail. You need to meet in person, and you need to plan your campaign in advance.

Before your meeting go to your association’s website and carefully review the programs at the conference.  Which ones are you likely choose?  Invariably it’s those that have bearing on what you do with teachers and students.  Make a note of which ones you plan to attend along with how you hope to implement what you learn.

Check the keynote and luncheon speakers.  What topics will they be covering?  Do these have any relevant connection to what you are doing in your school? Or a connection to a goal of your administrator? Knowing these things and being able to speak to the benefits will support your cause for funding. If you also need to be looking at new purchases for the library, try to find out which vendors will be there.  You can assume that automation systems, some publishers, and database companies will be in attendance.

Prepare a bulleted list, divided by categories such as technology, literature, STEM, and critical thinking. Your list should be in order of what you principal most values. Armed with your information schedule a meeting with your principal.  Studies show that Friday at the end of the day is the best time.  Your principal is least harried then.

You don’t want to take more than ten minutes or your principal is likely to start checking his/her watch. Plan your presentation carefully. Lead with the needs of the students and/or teachers.  For example, you might say, “Our students are having difficulty finding valid pro/con sources for their papers. To deal with the problem, I want to investigate the best and most reasonably priced databases to help them.”  Then mention the conference.

Continue with one or two more items and give your principal the list you prepared.  State that the conference is PD directed towards school library programs, will be of benefit to the whole school. Then ask for the professional day(s).  If you get it, also try for reimbursement.  Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”

Is this guaranteed to work?  Of course not, but it will certainly improve your chances. Having this meeting shows you are interested in improving the library program and your skills for the school, and when you come back next year and ask again (which you should no matter the answer!!) you very well might get a different answer.

If you are willing, let the principal know this is so important you will take a personal day.  After the conference write up a brief report (no more than one page) of what you learned and how you plan to use it. If you were given the time or funding, make sure to offer your thanks. When you have a lesson that incorporates something you got from the conference, invite the principal and/or video the highlights so he/she can see the benefits in action.

Asking for something larger (read: more expensive) requires even more planning.  Way back in the early 1990s, CDs were the emerging technology.  Encyclopedias and some databases were available in this form.  In order to easily access them, you could get a CD tower that enabled the switching to occur seamlessly to the user.  Unfortunately, the towers were expensive.  (I really think they may have been $20,000 since computers were costing about $9,000.)

I was working in a district that voted down the budget twenty times in my twenty-two years there. I scheduled a meeting with my Superintendent, knowing even my principal couldn’t authorize that much money without doing some begging for me which wasn’t going to happen. I met with her during the summer.  And I heartily recommend you do this every summer – normally with your principal.  This is the best time to negotiate for anything including getting professional days and reimbursement for conferences in anticipation of the upcoming budget preparation in the fall.

As I anticipated, my superintendent was somewhat taken aback by the price tag. I agreed but reviewed why we need it.  She said I had to cut my existing budget someplace.  After looking at the possibilities that would least impact the program, we ended up cutting some book money, some A-V purchases, and a few other places.

When fall came and I had to submit my budget for the next year, the CD tower was on it.  I made sure my principal knew it was “pre-approved,” explaining that because the cost was so high I wanted to be sure we would all be on the same page.

I didn’t always get what I wanted.  Sometimes I had to modify my requests or recognize it was a lost cause.  But I did get a high percentage because I was prepared, persistent, and flexible. Asking for what I wanted took work and planning, but it was always worth it – no matter the answer. I showed I was a leader and that I was always working to improve the library program to benefit students and teachers.

It pays to ask, otherwise… they are going to say “yes” to someone else.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Empathy – It’s Not Just for Students

After years of focusing solely on the cognitive area, educators have re-embraced the knowledge that learning has its basis in emotion.  We also recognize the need for the library to be a safe, welcoming environment for all.  Our professional journals discuss the importance of diversity in our collections so students can see themselves in books and also learn about those whose lives are much different. To achieve these goals, we want our students to develop empathy.  I just recently posted on my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group a list of picture books that promote empathy.  But there is little out there in library literature about becoming empathetic ourselves.

Empathy is one of the many qualities of leadership.  It’s a part of Emotional Intelligence which I have discussed before, including a blog about being Emotionally Connected. Since that post, it’s become increasingly obvious that we must better at it.  We need it to communicate more successfully with our students, use it to build relationships with our colleagues, and in today’s often highly-charged atmosphere, we need it to ensure we can get along even with those with whom we disagree.

LaRae Quy, whom I have quoted previously, writes Empathy Makes You a More Effective Leader. She makes six points to help you become empathetic starting with Understand[ing] the Meaning of Empathy. It’s not the same as sympathy.  That’s something you offer.  Empathy is about being open to receiving the other person’s emotions or feelings. If you know where the other person is coming from, it is far easier to connect with them.

What blocks most people when they try to read body language is their own determination and commitment to be right.  We have all dealt with administrators or teachers whose attitude is “my way or the highway.”  It doesn’t work. While you never want to communicate in that way, you will need your empathy skills to reach those people.

Quy says we need to Realize Empathy is Driven by Our Brain.   It’s the neurotransmitters in our brains that help us make connections with one another. The brain rewires to adjust to new situations and help us survive. Getting along with others is a survival mechanism that goes back to cave days.  Humans are very fragile creatures.  They quickly learned they needed to be with each other and work together for protection. If you think of a clan living together in the confines of a cave, it is easy to see why we recognized the importance of getting along.

In our schools today, there are bound to be colleagues who don’t think as we do. We aren’t going to change their minds by arguing.  Instead, do what you can to validate their views without violating your own beliefs. Before things get too heated, say something like, “We aren’t going to agree, but I respect your willingness to share your views.”  And say it like you mean it.

As has been often noted here in several contexts, it’s important to Pay Attention. Facial expressions and body movements all communicate what is going on in someone’s mind.  If you are thinking about what you are going to say, or even worse, what you have to do next, you will miss a lot of important information.

We also need to Communicate Empathetically. This begins by becoming aware of the cues others send. The signals we send our read by others.  If you are talking with a difficult teacher, is your body stiff?  Are your lips tight?  That will affect your voice as well.  When you are engaged in a conversation, tune in to yourself as well as others.

Active listening, which supports empathy, is a skill that can and must be learned. It’s one I’ve been working on for years. Do you look up from your computer when someone is talking to you? Better yet, do you stand up and move away from it? Our actions and body language communicate whether we are listening and another person’s willingness to open up is enhanced by our focus.

Finally, there is the tried-and-true Fake It Till You Make It. There may be people you feel you can never empathize with.  It can be done. Quy, who worked with the FBI, tells of managing to fake being empathetic with a child molester, finding that after faking it for a while she was able to develop a bit of real empathy. That is quite an extreme case but shows it can be done.  You just have to be willing to make the effort. Willingness goes a long way.

Looking at the ways we are creating relationships by using empathy – or not using it – can show us where we are succeeding or missing the mark when creating a library and library program which is a safe, welcoming environment for everyone.

ON LIBRARIES – Beating Burnout

It happens to the best of us – in fact, the most invested in your job you are, the more likely it is to happen to you. Burnout. Your alarm goes off, and you don’t want to get out of bed.  It’s not just tiredness and lack of sleep, although that’s part of it.  You have given and given, worked and worked to make do with less and less, constantly striving to demonstrate the value of your library program and what you bring.  Now it feels there is nothing left.

Burnout is common to leaders –so take some comfort in knowing that as lousy as it feels, it’s a sign that you are acting as a leader. Going into work when you’ve been feeling this way for a while leads to little getting accomplished.  Worse, because you are not at your best, you are less likely to handle situations with your usual skill. This, in turn, will give you more work to do in repairing any damage to relationships and the last thing you need is more work.

Although the feelings of burnout are most likely to happen during the school year, vacation is a good time to prepare for the likely possibility of this condition. Knowing in advance how to deal with this challenge will help you get past it quickly.

Once again, I’m using advice from the business world to address this. The first suggestion Mark Ellis offers, in his article entitled What to Do When You Can’t Face Your Team, is to take some time off.  During the school year, that’s probably limited to one “mental health” day (personal or sick – your choice) but it’s vital that you use it if you truly need it. And when you do use it – do what you can to make the most of it. Since you’re reading this during vacation, make sure you currently are taking the opportunity to replenish yourself. It’s also a good time to stop and think about what makes you feel burned out and what most helps alleviate the stress. This way when “symptoms” appear, you have a plan.

Ellis’s next suggestion is to remind yourself why you do what you do.  In other words, connect with your Why.  Read last week’s blog as a reminder.  And if you still haven’t defined your Why, this should be a further incentive to do so.

For those of you who can, meditation is another one of Ellis’s methods for breaking out of burnout. There are not only shelves of books to help you with this, but videos and apps as well. If it works for you, you’ve got a great new tool to use whenever you need it.  I use walking to get out of my head and find an inner peace.  You deserve to find an equivalent that works for you.

If you have been beating yourself up because your library program doesn’t “look’ the way you want it to or you are comparing your library to someone else’s—give it up.  As Ellis says, “putting that much expectation on yourself as a leader will only leave you chasing something that doesn’t exist.”

Wendi Pillars, writing for ASCD, presents Eight Burnout-busting Self-care Strategies that can also help. The first is Monitor Connectivity.  We are far too attached to our digital devices and need to schedule unplugged time for ourselves.  I now shut my computer down for the day at supper time.  Watching some of my favorite television programs after dinner (I’m hooked on several British mystery series) is a great way to tune out and give my brain a time to rest.

Create is Pillars’ second recommendation (and – bonus! – it’s one of the four Domains of our new National School Library Standards). There are many ways to create. Knit, crochet, draw, doodle, take pictures, scrapbook, or put together a puzzle. Adult coloring books can bring out the artistic side of just about anyone. Is it any wonder they are so popular. Look to things that give you pleasure.  Even writing a snail mail thank you is a form of creativity.

Pillars follows that with Get Back to Nature which can mean camping, walking even simply going to a nearby park to sit on a bench and relax.

Review Your Diet and Sleep are her next two suggestions. When you are feeling burnt out you are likely not eating wisely.  Usually, that means too many sugars or carbohydrates which leads to worse eating and also affects your sleep.  Figure out how much sleep you need and do what you can to get those hours.  You deserve them and your career and relationships will benefit from it.

Choose Your Frame is about mindset. Negative self-talk makes everything worse.  Find a better way to see the situation.  What are you doing well despite the challenges?

Enjoy Friends and don’t say you haven’t time because you have too much to do.  You will always have too much to do.  Time lost with friends and family can never be recovered. And you will feel restored after being with them.

Finally, Practice Gratitude.  This is advice I love.  It also helps your mindset.  When you see how much you have to be grateful for, you are much less likely to indulge in negative self-talk. Keep a list, a journal, or even jot it down in your calendar at the end of each day. As the list grows you’ll find yourself feeling better.

None of these ideas are earth-shattering. You probably could have come up with many of them yourself, but now you have them laid out. As Ellis concludes in his article, don’t consider burnout as a failure. “Leadership is tough, and we all have to go through these difficult periods if we are to grow and thrive.”

ON LIBRARIES: What’s Your Why

Being a school librarian is a demanding job.  We love it – until we don’t.  Too many added tasks.  Too little appreciation.  Fear of being eliminated.  All these contribute to losing our passion for what I think is the greatest job in the world.  Don’t let outside forces drain the love you have for being a librarian.  When times get tough, having a limited view of our purpose can cause us to give up.  You need to identify your “Why.” When you make this connection you’ll be able to tap into your passion and even bad days will go better.

I first learned about “Why” in Weight Watchers.  Everyone joins to lose weight.  That’s obvious.  Some people have more specific or focused reasons such as wanting to lose weight for a special event such as a wedding.  They achieve that limited goal being at or close to their desired weight for the event. Then what?  They go back to their old ways of eating and the weight comes back with interest. Or they find a bigger Why and keep going.

When I first joined fourteen years ago, I wanted to look better in clothes and pictures. What’s kept me going all this time, my bigger Why, is my continuing good health and being able to enjoy the foods I like and not put on pounds.  I don’t have to be perfect, and my Why keeps me on track.

So, when it comes to your work, what is your Why?  It is not the same thing as your Mission.  Your Mission is your purpose for being a librarian, but it’s not why you are doing it.

For example, here are two well-crafted Mission Statements:

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become lifelong users of information and also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.
  • The Mission of the Blank School Media Center Program is to create lifelong learners with critical thinking skills and an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.

Is that Why you became a librarian or is that what you are committed to doing because of why you became a librarian?  Why speaks to the purpose for your life.

My Why is tied to who I am as a person.  I want to reflect back to people (students and teachers and everyone I connect with) the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it in their lives so they see and believe it. I can carry out much of that in a library with either of those two Mission Statements – or many other equally good statements.  But when overwhelmed or having administration block my ability to carry out my Mission Statement, rather than feeling hopeless, I can go to my Why.

In a post on Goalcast, Scarlett Erin says, “Your ‘Why’ Matters” and gives 10 benefits for knowing your purpose in life.

  1. It helps you stay focused: Just as your library Mission Statement does, this gives you a larger and more personal perspective on what really matters.
  2. It makes you feel passionate about your goal: It’s more than doing a great job; it’s about making a difference.
  3. It gives your life clarity: Knowledge is power. When you know yourself, it’s easy to make choices.
  4. It makes you feel gratified: When you see you made a difference, you automatically feel great.
  5. It helps you live a value-based life: You recognize and embrace the values that represent who you are.
  6. It makes you live with integrity: When you know who you are and what matters to you, you realize these are core values that can’t be compromised. You can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to requests more easily by staying aligned with your values.
  7. It encourages trust: Because you are confident with who you are, you are more open to others.
  8. It infuses an element of grace in your life: Your life is smoother, with fewer trips and stutters, because you act from a deeper place, aligned with what matters to you.
  9. It helps you find a flow in life: Fears are easier to manage because you trust yourself and accept whatever happens you can stay grounded and centered.
  10. It makes life even more fun: You are more likely to live in the moment and appreciate what is happening as it occurs.

During your break as you are taking time, I hope, to do the things you love and that fill you up (see last weeks blog on this), I hope you also take time to reflect and determine what your Why is. Having fun and being relaxed is the best time to connect with and be aware of the things that most matter to you.

ON LIBRARIES – Inquiring Minds

from The Purposeful PreSchool

Inquiry-based learning is embedded in our National School Library Standards. As the Key Commitment of the Shared Foundation, Inquire states, “Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 67). Inquiry is where learning begins, and we work hard to develop it in our students. In the business world, leaders are continually searching for “what’s next.”  They know that they can’t afford not to anticipate what is coming. They have to be ready to shift their business model, and sometimes we do, too.

Inquiry, or curiosity, is essential to lifelong learning.  And as role models for lifelong learning, we need to model it in our daily lives. Too often we have a passing curiosity about something new and because of time pressure we don’t Explore (another Shared Foundation) it, and we lose the opportunity to “discover and innovate” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 103).

Curious minds keep growing, and as I and many others have said, “You are either growing or dying.” To be a successful leader you need to curious about the world around you in large part because, as I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago you are more than your job, however much that defines you.  Keep an eye on what’s happening outside the world of school librarianship, beyond education. Connect to what interests you as often as you can.

Obviously, curiosity is another quality of leadership and it is time to cultivate that mindset. The challenge is to do it when you are so busy just keeping up.  Once again, the business world has faced the same issue and offers a solution.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan explain What Happens When Leaders Lack Curiosity?  Interestingly, their first observation is that those with intellectual curiosity are more open to new experiences. They are more likely not to pre-judge people.  They are more tolerant and able to see beyond the narrow frame of their own perspective. They are, simply, more successful.

Tolerance for others is part of our Shared Foundation Include which has as a Key Commitment, “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 75). When you reach out to collaborate with teachers, do you choose the ones who are most like you?  Or do you recognize those with different backgrounds and interests can add a deeper dimension to the learning experience – and be a model for students?

Another characteristic of curiosity is being able to deal with ambiguous situations and issues. Although your roles as a school librarian are clearly spelled out in the National School Library Standards, how this plays out in your school setting is not always so clear.  Every day you are faced with people who think they know what you are to do and while they are usually right about part of your job but often doesn’t take in the whole nor see how the pieces all intersect.

One of you may have an administrator who is so enamored with technology, he or she wants you to focus on that exclusively.  Another is totally committed to literacy and only wants to see that in the library. There is nothing wrong with technology in the library and certainly reading is one of our Common Beliefs.  What you do is follow the directive you have been given.  And then you get creative. You support your Makerspace or STEM programs with books that stimulate thinking.  You read stories to the kids and have a display of nonfiction related to what you read.  You blur what you were told to do so you can deliver a comprehensive library program. In doing so, you make your students curious as well.

Most of all, Chamorro-Premuzic and Swan say curious people have a “hungry mind.” They are not committed to creating a plan and sticking with it no matter what.  They accept that things change and changing direction can improve the outcome. Indeed, that’s a concept we would like our students to develop around their research.

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

In March, I blogged on building students curiosity.  We need to cultivate it as well, no matter how busy we are.  To me, it seems librarians are naturally curious as a group.  We need to know – and we love knowing.  We can’t let the demands of our job keep us from this vital leadership quality. I hope you find lots of ways to indulge and enjoy your curiosity this summer