With all the grim news about cuts in library positions and budgets, it is easy to have a pessimistic attitude about the future which affects how you interact with others on a daily basis. I learned the word “chopportunity” in 2013 at a School Library Journal Summit. It’s a mash-up word combining Challenge and Opportunity. I strongly believe our mindset influences how we look at our world and feel about what we do. When you look at a challenge as an opportunity, it changes your mindset. The shift puts you in charge of the situation rather than feeling like a victim of what is happening around you.
What challenges are you (and your teachers and administrators) facing? How do you deal with turbulence and disruption when they occur? You could panic. You could complain. You could hunker down and hope it will pass. But that’s not what leaders do. When technology first captured the enthusiasm of administrators, affecting library budgets, I told librarians, “When you see a runaway truck coming at you, don’t try to stop it by lying down in front of it. You will die. Instead, jump on and steer.” The advice remains true.
Chopportunities come in all sizes. A small one that frequently occurs in our lives is being “asked” to cover a class when no substitute is available. We know it’s more of a demand. When possible, find out if the class can meet in the library. (Hopefully, it is just one period.) Explain you don’t want to close the library to students and teachers who need it. This nicely informs the administration that your work is valued throughout the school and throughout the day.
And even if you must follow the plans the teacher left, you invariably can add a library component. Invite the kids to learn library tricks to help them get work done more efficiently. Or you can use the time to weave in of your lessons on hoax sites and evaluating sources based on the subject you’re being asked to cover. Challenge them to find the “agenda” behind a website they check. Compile their exit tickets and give a copy to the teacher and your principal. What was an inconvenience becomes a Chopportunity to reach students and prove the worth of the library!
The paradigm we all grew up with was that schools have libraries with librarians. Not ever contemplating the situation could change, many librarians focused on doing their job but not showing teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders why it was vital. You know what happened next.
InKen Goldstein advises those in the corporate world how to avoid being swept out when the world changes once again. He points out you can’t control change. What you can control is “attitude, anticipation, and readiness.”
Attitude is the ability to see the latest crisis as a chopportunity. Goldstein reminds readers that “The reward for getting over a hill is the opportunity to climb another hill. There is always another to get through.” Supposedly, “May you live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse, but it all depends on how you look at interesting times. It can be exhilarating. A chance to try something new and different.
Anticipation in this context is the opposite of complacency. Things are going well, and you assume they will always continue this way. In actuality, change is coming. It always is. There’s a new educational idea. New technology explodes on the scene. How many changes have you seen in the past two years? Goldstein refers to “big company syndrome” which is “the belief your paycheck will always show up.” (We’re looking at you Sears, Blockbuster, and Kodak.) He says, “smart company syndrome is knowing you have to earn your keep every day.” For us, it means proving our worth – every day.
Readiness is the key not only to survival but to increasing your value to the educational community. Our National School Library Standards challenge us to embrace change. We are to reflect on our practice and go beyond “it’s good” to “what do I need to do to make it better.” We must be aware of the larger environment, looking beyond the library to what’s happening in education, trends in technology, and whatever else might impact schools and the library program.
I was once talking to my vice-principal and said it would be great to have one normal year without a crisis. She told me crisis was what was normal. She was right. As Goldstein advises, “Make peace with turbulence. Pace yourself for a ceaselessly bumpy endurance contest. Expect an unruly rollercoaster ride and be mildly pleased the days it doesn’t throw you from the train.” In other words, you must always be ready to deal with something – usually several somethings—in the course of the school year. Some small, but others quite big. It’s just another Chopportunity.