ON LIBRARIES: Easing Into Leadership

This blog is often about the importance of being a leader, but I know that for some (maybe many) of you, taking that first step and then building on it can be the biggest part of the challenge. Moving out of your comfort zone might feel like too great a risk.  Perhaps you haven’t gotten tenure yet.  Or for any number of reasons, your job may not be secure.  In all of these cases, this is when being seen as a leader is the most important. So, how can you be ready to make that initial move? Try “managing up”.

Managing up is a term often used in the business world.  For me, it’s similar to being a team player.  I also think of it as leading from the middle. Leaders are a presence in the building.  They are recognized for being able to get exciting things done. You can become a presence – at least to the administration – and help get exciting things done if you learn to manage up.

When you manage up, your aim is to further the goals of your administrator.  The concept is core to any strategic planning for your program.  If your principal (or superintendent) recognizes that the library program helps achieve his/her aims, he/she is more likely to support that program.

In my last school district, the superintendent and the principal wanted to move to a 4×4 block schedule.  This meant that class periods would be twice as long, and students would complete a year’s work for each course in one semester.  For example, they might take English 10, World History, and Chemistry in one semester and Spanish II, Algebra II, and Creative Writing the second semester. Although there were numerous objections from teachers, it was clear from the beginning the plan would go through. It was what the administration wanted.

Once it was clear this was happening I proposed that I be given $500 extra in my budget to buy supplemental materials to help teachers use a block schedule in their subject area.  My principal quickly complied.  I made certain the teachers were aware of the resources I had for them. The teachers weren’t thrilled about the change but felt, at least from the library, they were getting needed support.  The administration was grateful I aided in calming down the negative emotions. The $500 stayed in my budget the next year. And that’s how managing up works.

When you manage up you are less “exposed,” and it’s not that difficult to incorporate it into your work life.  Joel Garfinkle offers business people 5 Tips for Managing Up. The advice, with very little tweaking, works equally as well for school librarians.  Here are his five – with my modifications:

  1. Know What Matters – This is the first step and is probably the most difficult and important. What does your administrator really wants to accomplish?  What does he/she focus on at faculty meetings? What does he/she look for when doing observations? Knowing this is critical for the success of your program since you want to show how the library can help make it happen. In the process getting to the core of their goals, you will develop a “big picture” view.  Your principal keeps an eye on district targets and sometimes larger ones as well.  By figuring these out, you gain a broader awareness of how to position your program.
  2. Connect Broadly – Your big picture view will help you tune into what administrators are focused on. In the middle and high school, it can mean department chairs and subject coordinators. If it does, make certain you are working with the people in charge of those areas, showing how the library is a resource for them.
  3. Garner Support – You want to have people in your corner. In one school where the new library was one of the additions planned for the building, the cost of air conditioning became a concern.  Because I supported him over the years, the Athletic Director said he was willing to forgo a new weight room if that meant the library was air-conditioned. The bottom line is, be ready to help others.  You do this naturally for students and teachers.  Now do it for administrators.
  4. Keep Stakeholders Informed Never blindside an administrator. Don’t try to hide bad news or cover it up.  It always gets discovered, and you have left the administrator unprepared. I once had a School Board member who was retired and liked to drop into my library.  As soon as he left, I would contact my superintendent and let her know what he said and what I said. If it came up at the Board meeting, she was prepared.
  5. Build Personal Relationships – You find out teachers’ personal interests as part of building relationships with them, Do the same with administrators. Knowing their likes and perhaps their hobbies and outside interests gives you new ways to connect them with your program and occasionally reasons to reach out.

Two Do Nots and One Do

  • Do not become a “brown-noser” – That will destroy your relationships with teachers. It’s important that you don’t carry tales or go along with everything even though you know it’s wrong. You don’t sell out your principles.
  • Do not manipulate senior management. – Be open and above board in your interactions.  If there is something you want, figure out a way to propose it so it gets heard. This is no place to be passive-aggressive.
  • Do – Promote teacher activities with administrators. Use your connection to be a voice for teachers.  That will strengthen your connection with them.

When you get to be proficient at Managing Up, and start to notice the benefits, hopefully, you will find it has become easier to step into full-fledged leadership.

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ON LIBRARIES: Tickets Please

Exit tickets as an assessment surfaced several years ago and have been getting increasingly popular.  They mostly are a summative assessment where you get instant feedback as to what kids learned. Depending on what you ask, they are also formative assessment as you can discover what’s on students’ minds, where and what they want to explore further, and where they may be confused,

As I thought about exit tickets, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything about entrance tickets.  The idea took hold during my walks.  Entrance tickets could be one solution to classroom management.

The library is a classroom, among other things, but it looks and feels much different from the rest of the classrooms in the building. Other than the gym, it has the largest space.  It has places where it’s easy to hide.  Since students aren’t in the library every day, there is always something new to look at.  All these are distractions, and distractions keep students from settling down.

Procedures and routines are an effective way to get students focused from the beginning, and you probably have instituted some that work well for you.  Entrance tickets could give you something more. For example, to introduce a lesson on Newbery or Caldecott winners (which will be announced on January 28, 2019), your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What is the best book you ever read or heard?
  • What makes you like or dislike a book?
  • What do you do if you start a book and don’t like it?

Thinking about books and authors focuses them on what is to come. When you collect the entrance tickets, you can read some or all of them and begin the lesson discussing them briefly. Your exit tickets can then connect to the lesson and/or the entrance tickets.

As with exit tickets, your entrance tickets let you know where kids are and gives you clues as to where you need to take them next.  Depending on the topic, they can serve as a pre-assessment. If you were doing a unit on Fake News, your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What’s one thing you know about Fake News?
  • Why is Fake News a problem?
  • What can you do to identify Fake News?

Although I thought I was very creative for coming up with this idea, I did search to see what else might exist. Among the few I found were two that offered some worthwhile additions. The Teacher Toolkit begins the explanation with a short video of an 8th grade English teacher who uses them then gives directions on how to use them.

Should you decide to try this, it will take some time as students need to become familiar with this new routine for starting class. To help this, the entry tickets should always be in the same place.  Once you decide what you want students to focus on, write the question on the entry ticket or post it for students to see. Make sure to set a time limit for students to answer the question.  When time is up, you can discuss the answers. The site lists the value of entry tickets and has templates for creating entrance tickets at different grade levels.

The second site is from Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.  It is very brief and meant for the college level, but it clearly states the advantages of entrance and exit tickets as follows:

  • participation of each student
  • prompt for students to focus on key concepts and ideas
  • a high return of information for the amount of time invested
  • important feedback for the instructor that can be useful to guide teaching decisions (g., course pacing, quick clarification of small misunderstandings, identification of student interests and questions).

If you have been using exit tickets, consider adding entrance tickets.  If you haven’t been using them, think about how starting this program could support your mission.  It may suggest possibilities for future lessons.  Share what you discover with your principal. The kids’ comments will give him/her a better idea of what you do.