ON LIBRARIES – Build Your Listening Skills

Are you a good listener?  I am much better than I used to be, but it’s a skill I know I need to keep improving.  To be a successful leader you must be a good listener, hearing what is said – and not said and become an active listener. Active Listening contributes directly to building strong relationships.  As a quick review, Employee Development Systems Inc. gives these 6 Elements of Active Listening for Improved Personal Effectiveness:

  1. Letting others finish what they’re saying without interrupting them
  2. Asking questions to gain understanding
  3. Paying attention to what others are saying by maintaining comfortable eye contact
  4. Remaining open-minded about others have the right to their opinion
  5. Using feedback and paraphrasing skills
  6. Observing non-verbal signals such as the speaker’s facial expressions and body language

I have finally managed to do #1 most of the time. I do the others as well, but #5 is the one I’m still working on developing.

Click the image to go to the article

Another way to look at how we can change the way we listen is offered by C. Otto Scharmer in an article entitled How Are You Listening as a Leader?  He lists four types of listening.  By categorizing which one you need when, and knowing how to use all four, you will improve your leadership and develop better relationships.

He calls the first one Downloading.  At this level, what you are hearing is information you already know.  It reminds me of so many faculty meetings.  You can tune in with one ear while you plan the tasks you need to do once you leave the building.  Of course, if this is how you are listening when a teacher or student is speaking to you, you will not connect the way you should so downloading should only be used when appropriate and not as the first one.

The second level is Factual Listening. The focus here is on data transmittal, and we are listening for where what we are hearing confirms or goes against our expectations.  In education, this kind of listening is likely to occur when the focus is on changes in scheduling and other areas during testing situations. Scharmer cautions that this is where we need an open mind and to not make judgments.  For example, you may (rightfully) become angry at what will happen to your program during the days devoted to testing.  Rather than be resentful, contemplate how you can make it work for your program (as long as you aren’t proctoring) and offer it as a suggestion to your administrator.

Empathic Listening is when we reach out to another’s person’s feelings.  It’s at this level that relationships are built and your colleagues, student, and administrators come to trust you as a leader. By understanding and recognizing what is motivating another person, you are better able to understand their point of view.  While you don’t have to agree with the view offered, this knowledge puts you in a better position to respond in a way they can hear you.

Finally, there is Generative Listening. When you are at this level, you and others are creating.  This is where innovation begins. You are ready to consider what is possible while giving others the space to come aboard and join with you.  You are not enforcing your will or ideas, but rather collaborating as the best from each participant is allowed to be heard allowing the result to be far greater than you could have imagined.  In the end, everyone has contributed to a project or program’s creation and success.

Click image to go to the article

Why do we have so much trouble listening? Dan Rockwell in his Leadership Freak blog post in March suggests the following reasons for “shallow listening.”

  1. Desire. Listening is such a bother.
  2. Ignorance. You might listen if you knew how.
  3. Time. Hurry up. The clock’s ticking.
  4. Energy. You don’t have the energy to listen deeply.
  5. Discipline. On a list of “hard things to do,” listening is near the top.

I am discounting #2 because I am sure you have heard much about Active Listening besides what I have just discussed.  For most of us, #3 is probably the main reason.  And after a long day, #4 takes over.

We change our habits when we recognize that making the change is worth the time and effort. Then it becomes a priority.  Listening is a leadership quality. Scharmer says, “Listening is probably the most underrated leadership skill. How you listen can be life-changing; not just business- or industry-changing.”

You can see what a difference it can make in your program and the individuals you come in contact with, where so much of what we can achieve rests on our ability to build relationships.  Listening and continually improving our listening skills deserves to be a priority. It changes our ability to be effective and impactful leaders.

 

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Upping Your Advocacy Planning

I am always thrilled when I hear about librarians showing up as leaders in their building. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and taking on the challenge of leadership. For librarians, becoming a leader carries the implicit requirement for building advocacy for the library program which includes you.

While advocacy is a given, I am concerned that in the conversations I have been having, I don’t hear much about advocacy plans. Without a concrete plan, advocacy will occur in a hit or miss fashion.  And in that case, it will mostly be miss. As the eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

Start by creating a strategic plan which is ALWAYS about advocacy. Whatever you want to accomplish must also build relationships and partnerships for you and your program. All good plans start with your Mission (and Vision).  In brief, your Mission declares your Purpose—showing why the library program is vital.  It’s your “perspiration.

For example:

The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information, but 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.

Or

The Blank School Library mission is to empower and inspire all students to apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, to experience individual and team success, and to become responsible, contributing members of our community.

Your Vision is what you wish to achieve and how you want to be perceived. It’s your inspiration and aspiration.

For example:

The Blank School Library Media Program is the center of collaborative learning producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.

Or

The school library media program is a safe, open, accessible and inviting learning library commons, essential to student achievement, citizenship and support the principles of intellectual freedom. Our students think globally and are capable of creating new knowledge.

Now take the next step.  What would you want to achieve that would strengthen your program?  Who else would benefit? How does it promote your Mission? How long might it take to accomplish?  Whose support are you trying to get?  What does that person (or group) want?

Keep thinking and putting down questions.  Use the answers to create multi-year goals.  You can have one goal that builds collaboration with teachers and another for getting parents more involved with the library.

For every goal you need an Action Plan.  What are you going to do next year to get you closer to the goal?  What resources will you need?  What stakeholders can be part of it? How will you get the word out?  Create a timeline and an assessment for each of the key steps.  At the end of the year, develop your Action Plan for the next year.

Actually crafting an Advocacy Plan takes thought and commitment but it’s vital if you are going to build ongoing support for the library and the library program.  But you are just one person and are carrying a heavy load already.  Good news – there are some places to get help.

AASL to the rescue. Its Advocacy Page provides a wealth of resources for you.  Check out the Tools.  Definitely download the AASL Advocacy Toolkit.  As you go through it, note the Everyday Advocacy pages. Do any of those fit with the goals of your Advocacy Plan?

ALA has an Advocacy page as well. Although much of it relates to the legislative aspects of Advocacy, there is a link to the Libraries Transform campaign which I have discussed previously.  You can get great ideas for slogans from this page.

Finally, use your colleagues.  Ask for help on your state association’s listserv.  Check the various library-based Facebook groups.  Post your questions and challenges.  We are an incredibly supportive group.  You will be amazed at how much information you will get in response.

Don’t put this off until you have time to do it.  You will never have time.  Make the time – and START TODAY.