ON LIBRARIES – Staying Curious

There used to be a commercial that had the tag line, “Inquiring minds want to know.” That mindset is what we want to instill in our students.  It is also one that is essential to a leader. In following the rabbit, Alice discovers a new world and a lot about herself. You never know what you will find if you go down that rabbit hole.  How can you develop a vision and take your school library to new heights if you are not seeking out new possibilities? Leaders are lifelong learners, and so are librarians.

What stimulates your curiosity?  Is it related to a hobby you have?  Do games engage your attention? As school librarians, we are constantly helping students search for information on a subject of academic or personal interest.  Do you ever continue to explore it even after the student leaves because you were still curious?

The nature of our profession requires us to be connectors.  We are constantly connecting people with information, but we also connect one piece of information to another.  That is how new knowledge is created.  When we follow the rabbit, we find ideas that can add greater dimensions to our program.

One way to stimulate your curiosity is to read outside school librarianship. I keep an eye on what is happening in technology and what administrators are focusing on. In addition, I look frequently to what the business world is doing.  Their purpose and goals are not necessarily the same as ours, but there are enough commonalities to see how their ideas can make us and our programs more effective.

A case in point is a post from Stephanie Vozza on 8 Habits of Curious People. She suggests that being single answer driven results in our being trained out of curiosity. How can we re-ignite the curiosity we had as young children?  Here is Vozza’s list of habits along with my usual comments.

  1. They listen without judgment – This implies active listening. You need to hear people out.  Sometimes they say something that sparks an idea you would never have considered. A rush to judgment shuts down your thinking on the subject.
  2. They ask lots of questions – If you have that inquiring curious mind, you want to know more. And the questions you ask should provoke a more detailed response and a way to continue learning.  Questions that can be answered with a yes or no will not add to your knowledge or lead you anywhere.
  3. They seek surprise – This one surprised me, and then I realized how true it is. If you look for something different, whether it’s a scenic attraction or an exhibit of technology, you don’t want to find what you have always known. The surprise generates new thoughts and who knows where that may take you.
  4. They are fully present – This is about knowing when to not multi-task but to focus on what is happening in the moment. How many times are we doing something else while someone is asking us a question? Are we really listening to what is being said? Is anything being said?  Why bother being with someone if you are not going to be “fully present?” Conversations with people outside the profession can bring up an idea that has relevance to what goes on in the library.
  5. They are willing to be wrong – This can be scary territory. I was involved in leading a library renovation project that was using moveable bookcases on tracks to make more floor space available. I planned on putting fiction on the counter height bookcases and reference along with the rest of the nonfiction on the tall bookcases.  My co-librarian noted that having heavy reference books on high shelves was not a good idea. She was right, and I made the change.
  6. They make time for curiosity – The suggestion here is to take one day a month to consider what things might be like in three years. You probably can’t schedule a full day to do this (although if you can – do it!), but you can plan time on a Friday at the end of the day to reflect on what isn’t working as well as you like or what is going better than expected, on what the kids seem to be interested in, and then on what can be changed or enhanced to respond to these situations.  You might then explore your thinking further – just because you are curious.

    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
  7. They aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know” – Not knowing is the perfect launch to finding out. It’s giving rein to your curiosity. As librarians we are accustomed to saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Use that in how you respond to something new you haven’t come across before.
  8. They don’t let past hurts affect their future – Don’t live in your previous experiences. Just because you understand them and perhaps have had some bad experiences with pursuing a new course, you shouldn’t shut the door on curiosity.  Learning should never stop.

I challenge you to find one new idea outside librarianship that excites your curiosity.  Follow the rabbit.  Then create a plan for bringing your idea into your program.  It’s what leaders do.

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Leader in You

If you saw the title and thought “Hilda’s writing about being a leader again” my response is – absolutely. I will likely never stop. I honestly believe every one of you is a leader.  You just may not be revealing it to yourself and others. It’s time to let your leader out for the sake of our students, teachers, and our profession. And just as you must continue to discover, practice, and improve your leadership skills, I must cheer you on, providing as much assistance as I can. I hope as this school year gets underway you challenge yourself to engage in one demonstration of your leadership.

The Vision of AASL speaks to what I have been saying for many years, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”  The only way we are going to stop losing school librarians is by being valuable leaders in our school communities.  Those of you who are leaders have two tasks: become even more visible as leaders and help the school librarians in your district and state to become leaders.

A Google search yields scores of definitions of what a leader is, but the one I like best is from Vocabulary.com: “A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”  You are leading when you work with your students and engage them.  You are being a great leader when they feel they can really do what at first seemed like an overwhelming task.

The same skills can apply in your dealings with others.  Joel Garfinkle, writing for the business world, identifies and explains 8 Traits of Great Leaders. Many of these you are using with your students. It’s why your lessons work.  The next step is to think of how you can use these traits in throughout your school and beyond.

  1. Great leaders have integrity – It’s why your students trust you. And your teachers do as well. They know you keep confidences. You also uphold the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Great leaders have intelligence –It’s why you can help others. You know your stuff.  This intelligence is also social and emotional intelligence.  You have empathy. This is what, along with trust, helps you build relationships.  Don’t forget to show how you can help your administrator. What is his/her vision?  What do they want to accomplish? Use what you know to help them achieve it.
  3. Great leaders have high energy – It’s why you keep coming back. You can’t be a school librarian without it. Even on a fixed schedule, you can’t predict what demands will be made of you during the course of the day. Your high energy communicates to others your enthusiasm for what you are doing. Don’t forget to build in “me time” to avoid overwhelm and stress which will sap that energy.
  4. Great leaders bring stability – It’s why you can stay cool in a crisis. (You may choose to fall apart later.) This calm inspires confidence in you and your program. It is a reason for people to look to you for help when things get crazy. It’s why they will follow your lead.
  5. Great leaders have high standards – It’s why you have a Mission Statement. This works in addition to the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. It represents what you see as your purpose and what your school library program is determined to deliver. Everything you do is related to that statement.
  6. Great leaders have a strong inner voice – It’s why you can stay focused. You trust your intuition and your gut to help direct you in your decisions. This is part of why you are calm in a crisis.  It is powered by your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  If you haven’t taken the time to create these, do so.  That inner voice will serve you well.
  7. Great leaders are confident in their decisions – It’s why you can get back on track. You may always feel very strong in this trait but trust your inner voice, standards, intelligence, and integrity. Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing you will grow from it. Your confidence, like your calm, contributes to having people follow you.
  8. Great leaders invest in their own growth – It’s why your program keeps getting better. I have always felt strongly about this. You are responsible for your professional development.  There are so many opportunities from webinars, Twitter chats, professional journals, and, of course, conferences.  (I am an unabashed conference junkie.) You must be a member, preferably an active one, in your state library association.  You should also join—and participate- in at least one national association.  Working at that level will bring out your leadership skills.

As the subtitle of my most recent book for ALA Editions, Leading for School Librarians says, — There Is No Other Option.  Take on making the AASL Vision a reality by performing as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Confrontation

No matter who or how you are, at some point someone is going to get angry with you.  How you respond is a demonstration of your leadership skills. Your ability to manage the situation will affect your relationships and possibly your reputation. The “attack” can come from any direction –a teacher, and administrator, a student.  There are basic strategies to deal with all of them as well as some specifics. Knowing these in advance will help you through a stressful situation and potentially result in a positive outcome.

When someone comes to you angry at something you supposedly did, pause before responding.  Let the other party fully express themselves. That is likely what they most want. To be heard.  As they talk, take time to breathe.  Depending on your personality, your natural response will be to attack or defend and neither is a good solution. It will only escalate the confrontation.

My favorite example of diffusing a nasty interchange occurred when I had started a new position as the high school librarian in the early days of automation. A teacher stormed into the library and began haranguing my clerk.  I stepped in immediately and asked the teacher to come into my office.

The tirade slowly ended. In between the “how dare you,” and “you had no right to,” was the core of the complaint which stemmed from a system the previous librarian created. My first thought was, “I just got here. It’s not my fault.”  Rather than engage that way, I let her know I would fix the problem as soon as possible.  I also consciously relaxed my body during the conversation. This added to my personal sense of calm and allowed me to stay focused on the teacher’s concern.   By dealing with the message rather than the method of delivery, I was able to calm her and fixed the situation. Ultimately, the teacher became one of my strongest supporters.

On another occasion, the confrontation wasn’t loud, but it was challenging.  In the late ’90s was the leader for the district librarian and was meeting with the assistant superintendent who began by stating my repeated requests to flexibly schedule elementary librarians was ludicrous. He had observed one lesson where the librarian used a filmstrip on how a book is made starting with a tree.  He felt a classroom teacher could have done the same, and it was a waste of valuable time.

Once again, the person on the attack had a point.  I agreed it was an unfortunate lesson, and my agreement took the wind out of his sails.  He was prepared for an argument.  I said it showed we needed proper professional development opportunities so we could deliver the program students needed.   I earned his respect for that one.

My recipe for managing confrontations:

  1. Pause
  2. Listen to the whole complaint/concern without contemplating your response.
  3. Use the time to relax your body and calm yourself.
  4. Respond to the core of the issue.

Anne Rubin authored a post on The Principal’s Guide to Angry Parents which contains good advice for librarians as well.  Her recommendations are similar to my own.

  1. Stay Calm – Meeting anger with anger is a guarantee you will lose.
  2. Cut It Off – Recognize when the person had gone beyond acceptable limits. Change your body language. You can raise your hands to indicate, “stop.” Then try something like, we can’t resolve this now.  I will get back to you on the issue.  Using email will help you document the interchange if necessary.
  3. Protect Others – I stepped in quickly when the teacher was berating my clerk. You are the leader. Any problems are your responsibility.
  4. Don’t Take It Personally – It rarely has anything to do with you. It’s usually a situation that for some reason has frustrated the teacher or administrator at this time. Find the reasons and you’ll be able to change the situation. This is usually is true for why a student became angry with you.
  5. Know When Enough Is Enough – This is very much like Cut It Off. You can say, “This is not the best way for us to deal with problems. Let’s find another approach.” Your composure could make them angrier if they’re not ready to work with you and still want to be mad or right, but if you maintain it, you will bring the discourse to an end.
  6. Create Guidelines for Behavior- Rubin suggests principals create guidelines for others’ behavior. Since you can’t do this, you can do it for you.  Be aware what your limits are so you know when to “cut it off” and when “enough is enough.”

Most people don’t enjoy confrontations, but we all get caught up in them. The only thing you can control in this situation is you so the more tools you have, the better. Look to understand what is fueling the other person and how to tone down the rhetoric.  People will come to realize that you know how to manage these stressful interchanges.  It makes you more trustworthy and demonstrates your leadership ability.

ON LIBRARIES: Time Management – Truth and Lies

The school year has just begun, but do you already feel as though you’re behind? Our job can easily be overwhelming. Every school librarian I know wrestles with time management. It affects you and how you do your job. It can be what stops us from introducing a new program, starting a project, or stepping into leadership positions in our state library association. How can we possibly fit it into our schedule?

The fact is, we can’t.  There is no room.  As I blogged in Making the Most of Your Time, there are only twenty-four hours in a day. No one gets more (I’ve asked).  If you want to add a new task, you first must discard one.

When I’m in this situation, I base my decisions on my purpose (or mission) and my priorities.  What will I achieve by adding something to my list?  Is it worth it?  Do I really want to do it?  Why or why not?  Once I determine the new task will move me forward in a direction I want to go, I have to look at what I am already doing and decide what I want to drop. This is typically harder.  Everything that’s on my list needs doing. The first thing I do is see if anything is almost done and if I can speed up the work to complete it. Sometimes I can get a partner and minimize my contribution.  The process isn’t easy, but it’s do-able.

You have all read numerous suggestions on how to manage your time better.  Variations on to-do lists are common.  I use one and can’t function without it. The blog post I did has thirteen ways to become more efficient with your available time.  They are all good suggestions, but in some ways, I wonder if they may have added to your stress about time.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests you may have been setting yourself up to fail. She offers 5 Lies You Have Been Told About Time Management. She offers a worthwhile – and calming—perspective on the topic. The five lies she identifies are:

1.     If You Were Better at Time Management You Could Do It All – No, you couldn’t. If you actually tried to fit everything in, you would be in constant motion.  It’s unrealistic.  Thinking “doing it all” is an achievable goal only makes you feel you are not as organized or capable as other people.  I sometimes forget this.  I look at colleagues who are getting so much done and think I have no time for all that.  True, I don’t.  But they don’t have time for all that I am doing.  It’s back to making the decision about what is really important to you.

  1. There’s One Perfect System – No, there’s not. But chances are there is one that works well for you. I love paper and pen to-do lists to keep me on target. Others like organizing by priorities. Some prefer to keep track digitally. My daughter sings the praises of the bullet journal. It may take some tweaking and changing until you find your best system, but if you focus on how you like to think and organize, you’ll find one that’s right.
  2. You Can Learn Time Management in a Day – Or Even an Hour – No, you can’t. Workshops may help. I give one on the subject, but I don’t expect participants will be able to implement their ideal approach as an immediate result. Instead, my goal is that they leave with ideas they can try to find what will support them best. It takes trial and error to determine what does work best for you in part because there are habits to overcome. These have been ingrained and can be hard to kick. I’ve learned to do my high priority work first because I am most creative and focused in the morning.  Except on the days I am lured into my emails. Or I decide one game of Klondike (or 10) will jump-start my thinking. Even if you are proficient in time management, there will be days you waste more than you’d like.  Don’t beat yourself up. That’s definitely a time-waster.  Accept that sometimes your brain and your body need a rest and move on.
  3. You Can Be Tightly Scheduled 24/7 – No, you shouldn’t. That is like “you can do it all.”  It’s unrealistic. Your brain doesn’t work that way.  You need breaks otherwise you’ll burn out, and you definitely don’t have time for that. I go for a walk after I complete something- like this blog.  If you don’t plan breaks – and fun – into your schedule, you will take them anyway and likely not notice or enjoy them. It’s like the difference between choosing a dessert you enjoy and mindless eating that happens without your notice.  One is calories without satisfaction, the other is time loss without any benefits.
  4. You’re Hopeless – No, you’re not. Some people are naturally more organized just as some people are naturally neat.  When something is important you can learn it.  It just might take you more time to master it. You will improve as you go along and you’ll learn from your setbacks. Thinking you are hopeless gives you an excuse to do nothing which will keep you from improving in your time management. Given your roles and responsibilities, that is not an option.

It’s never a bad time to discover the time management techniques that work best for you and begin implementing them. Talk to people who you think do this well. Ask if they have recommendations. Then as you feel more confident, choose a project or job that will move you further into leadership – and practice your new skills by deciding what you can postpone, delegate, or drop.  You’ll be giving yourself the time to shine