ON LIBRARIES: Scoping the Future

We are starting our seventh week of social isolation and distance learning, and everyone is looking to see when it will end and “life will get back to normal.” Prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork but no one knows what our future will look like. The question is, how do you plan for an unknowable future?

A method I developed when my district added a wing to the high school including a new library may help you get through this with a minimum of fear and a readiness to take on the next stage. I call my method Microscoping, Periscoping, and Telescoping.

Microscoping is what you do first. You only focus on what is happening and possible in the here and now.  It includes the things under your immediate control.  You do whatever is next and it allows you to feel grounded in the moment. This can mean planning tomorrow’s lesson, creating a video to send to teachers or families, or doing laundry.

Telescoping is how to plan for the future. It’s done rarely, but is still important. This happens when you look down the road to see what’s ahead. It allows you to make your best estimate of what needs to get done in order for you to be back in your library working with students and teachers or what’s necessary to end the year online. It keeps you aware of the steps in between today and the future.  At this point, you can’t spend too much time on Telescoping, but you can create lists and steps for what will most likely need to be done.

Periscoping is what keeps you from missing something important. In Periscoping you pop up and look around.  What is the next step you can take in connection with something you identified when Telescoping?  Is it coming up soon?  Does something need to be altered or changed?  Once you’ve taken a look at what’s happening around you, Periscoping helps you adjust your daily Microscoping to ensure you are staying on track.

We can never forget that the truth is we are still living through a crisis and don’t know how the ripple effects are going to play out. Becky Robinson says A Crisis Is Not a Marathon — But It Is a Call for Endurance.  She acknowledges four ways this crisis is different.

  • This crisis is not predictable– Unlike a marathon we are uncertain of the distance or the route we need to take. Different states will make different decisions and some are having a harder time than others.
  • We did not train for this – As a profession, we are good at tech, but no one was ready for full-time distance learning, supporting both teachers and students and dealing with the trauma they (and we) are living with all while dealing with other things happening on a personal front. Many of you are doing double duty on distance learning as you help your children as well as support the needs of your school.
  • We are isolated from our support crews – We miss the daily interactions with our students and teachers. Some of you didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.  You went home on Friday and were told over the weekend not to come back. And I’m sure many of you hoped for a return before the end of the school year. This separation is a huge challenge. I hope you’re finding ways to use your PLN’s Facebook groups as a source of information and strength as well as finding ways to stay connected with friends and family who can give you support and strength.
  • We can’t see the finish lineThis is much like the first on the list. It’s not only that we can’t see it, we have no idea of where it is. We can hope and plan, but not knowing when restrictions may ease up is a huge challenge.

These key differences add up to a great deal of stress – both personal and professional. Robinson’s recommendations on how to face this call for endurance are very similar to my approach. She cites Ryan Hall’s book Run the Mile You Are In reminding us that you cannot look to far ahead. If you see how far you have to go, or notice that you can’t see the finish line at all, you will want to give in. It’s not unlike trying to lose a lot of weight. If you focus on 50 lbs it can seem impossible. Instead, you must take it in small goals, daily challenges, and doable steps.  It may not be a perfect solution, but nothing is.

This pandemic more like runnng a marathon on a treadmill. Lots of energy required but not getting anywhere – or so it seems. To get to the future, we can only manage the now. Keep a close focus on what we can do today, how we can be there for each other, and what we need personally so that when the finish line finally comes into focus, we’re as ready as possible.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Reversing the Energy Drain

Feeling drained and exhausted?  You are not alone. Even though you’re not commuting or doing as many before and after school activities, the things that energized you – including seeing the teachers and students – are missing. But while you can partially attribute the feeling to cabin fever, the major energy drain is due to fear and there’s no getting away from it.

Acknowledging the fear and knowing it’s going to be a part of our lives even after the virus is contained (and hopefully cured) is a good first step. But what else can we do to minimize the energy drain so we are at the best we can be now and going forward? In Maximizing Your Energy During COVID-19 Nicholas W. Eyrich, David Fessell and Gretchen Spreitzer offer three ways to accomplish it. (NOTE: There’s a survey at the end of this article which requires personal information at the end.) They recommend:

Identifying and using your signature strengths – Consider both your people and professional skills. How good are you at lifting the spirits of others? Often helping someone else feel better gives you an energy boost.

How much of a techie are you?  Working one-on-one with a teacher (online, of course) to demonstrate a resource will help you focus on doing something positive.  When they use it their teaching, they will invariably let you know. Another feel good experience that helps restore energy.

Those of you who are artistic or crafty can create something to share online. The act of creation, particularly when you tune into it is an energy boost. Bringing beauty to others adds to your pleasure and that too adds to your energy.

And since energy carries over, think about your strengths and joys outside of your job. Do you like cooking, baking, knitting, gardening or singing? Spend some time purposely doing those things. It’s okay to enjoy yourself.

Keeping your purpose ever-present – This is probably my theme song.  Your Mission – or purpose – is what keeps you on track.  It’s all about your Why.

Why did you become a librarian? What powers you when you are in your library?  What can you bring from that into your new environment?

What values are important to you?  Note where they are still present. Acknowledge yourself for when and how you further Mission and demonstrate your Why.

Lean into high-quality connections – As always, keep checking in to your PLNs.  You don’t only have to use them for advice on how to do something.  You can also open up and let them know you are feeling.  By sharing your fears and anxieties, not only do you release them (fear hates when you shine a light on it) but you may learn methods others have used for dealing with the same concern or your disclosure could help someone else feel stronger and in good company.

Recognize when you are feeling drained. Identify its cause.  Most of the time fear will be at the root.  Choose one of the three suggestions to help you restore your energy or let me know others that are working for you. Most of all, be kind to yourself no matter where your energy is. Accept that there will be days when you don’t accomplish much, and don’t expect to give maximum effort all the time.

ON LIBRARIES: Crisis Leadership

For most of my career I have discussed leadership and its importance to school librarians but leading in the pandemic requires another set of skills. Crisis leadership necessitates the traditional leadership skills of confidence, empathy, and vision – but on steroids. You can see these skills at work in the governors who are getting respect for managing the pandemic in their states.  They stay calm, reassure but tell the truth, and seem to have a plan for getting through and past these surreal times.

The Leading Blog zeroes in on Dealing with the Two Fronts of Every Crisis—Issues and Fear. The post quotes Harvard Business School Professor Herman “Dutch” Leonard’s definition of a true crisis as “there is no precedent for it, there is no playbook for handling it. There is no script for managing it.”  Sounds familiar.

You are accustomed to being flexible, adjusting to the mini crises that are part of managing a school library but this is unprecedented. On the Issue front, although you are just attempting to do your job in a different environment, you really are in uncharted territory. You need to invent answers to managing it as you go. The clearest way to deal with the situation is to define a process and make it work as you go.

To create this process, the post suggests you first identify all the concerns or priorities. Next, get information on the crisis focusing on who has information relating to your concerns.  It could be the school district, or it could be resources from ALA. Finally, knowing the priorities, you develop a plan for getting things done.

You may have already done this but are still feeling harried.  What likely is draining you is the second front of Crisis Leadership – Fear.  The article presents four ways of dealing with fear in a crisis.

  1. Always Keep the Big Picture in Mind – Leaders always need to look at the big picture. Don’t be pulled away from what you are doing by the latest news, the newest curation, or the most recent outpouring of free resources. The news needs time to be validated as do the curations and free resources. Don’t let them immediately distract you.

Instead, use your Mission Statement as your anchor.  Too much is happening too quickly. Keep your direction in mind. Sift through the new and only deal with it if it moves you in the direction you want to go. Is the curation or resource worth your time to explore? Are they of immediate value to your students and teachers? Is it information you need to share with an administrator? If not, let it go.

  1. Educate to Bring Clarity – Being able to communicate clearly is a core leadership skill. In a true crisis there is continuous confusion (have you noticed?), and people need help in dealing with their fears and their insecurity about what they are doing and if they are doing it right. As teachers cope with how to do their jobs online your expertise as a tech integrator can support them and their students.  You can share the best resources to guide them through this uncertain landscape or offer to do an online tutorial.
  2. Remain Steady – If you look at those who are best regarded and trusted during a crises, you see they remain calm even as they refer to uncertainties. Part of a crisis is there is so much no one knows. Instead of adding to fear, look for positives.  Acknowledge your teachers and your students for where they are successful. Look to your PLNs to acknowledge you and take time to cheer for others.
  3. Make People Agents of Something Positive – Along with acknowledging, leaders empower others. In crisis leadership this is more important than ever. We are often reminded that together we are stronger (the needs of social distancing not withstanding). Consider creating a newsletter of sorts to highlight the great things being done by teachers, students, and parents. You might even give a boost to your administrators.  Encourage people to email you contributions. It’s a wonderful chance for your community to see how it is working together.

Iron is forged in a super-heated fire.  The pandemic is our fire. Crisis leadership needs a cool head and the ability to alter course quickly. You have what it takes to be a crisis leader. Follow your Mission and priorities. Take time to get clarity before acting. Do what is necessary and don’t try to do everything. Lean on others even as you lead the way and remember to take time for yourself.

ON LIBRARIES: Lemonade and Lateral Thinking

Here’s to all you are doing to support your teachers and students during this crazy time.  It’s clear from the School Librarians Workshop Facebook page you are all researching, curating and sharing resources. And you’re doing this while under your own set of non-work stresses. Clearly you’re making lemonade out of lemons – but at some point, you just don’t want anymore lemonade.

Most of the time this blog is about ways to help you go further and do more, but at this point I’m concerned that most of you are doing too much as is.  So, while I was on one of my daily walks, I challenged myself to think of something I could suggest that might help you. The phrase “lateral thinking” came to mind.

Lateral thinking is about approaching a problem from a different direction.  It’s not just out of the box thinking; it’s beyond that.  In the words of Joyce Valenza, “What makes you think there is a box?”

A recent article from Repost Leadership Don’t Make Lemonade: A Better Approach for When Life Gives Us Lemons was particularly timely. The author told the story of Marshall Pickney Wilder, who passed away in 1915.  He was 3 ½ feet tall.  Wilder didn’t take the obvious path in his day for someone who was extremely short (lemons) and join a circus or something similar (lemonade). Instead, he to become a noted actor and wrote three books.   Rather than making lemonade, he built his own lemonade stand.

The story is an excellent example of lateral thinking. For the moment, forget that your home base is in a library within a school.  Think of your Mission or purpose as a librarian. An example I often use is:

  • 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.

Nowhere in that Mission Statement does it refer to the physical space of the library.  Even if you add, “creates a safe, welcoming environment for all,” it doesn’t require a physical library.  Only the feeling.

If you were to design your program from that Mission in a world where all your students, teachers, and administrators were not in physical contact, what would it look like? How would you connect and collaborate with teachers?  How would you work with students? Keep your administrator informed?

For the past several years I’ve been an online instructor, and I love the fact it’s asynchronous. My students respond when they are available, and I do the same. They have an email to reach me with questions.  I can set office hours if I want. How much of that could you do with your students?

Think of whom you could collaborate with now that you are not impeded by the schedule and the bell.  Could you do a joint lesson with the nurse – especially given the current crisis?  How could you work with Art, Music, and even Physical Education teachers?  There’s a unique opportunity to go beyond collaborating to co-teaching.

Looking further outside the school, think how much easier it may be to call in outside experts.  Many of them are working from home as well.  They might appreciate the break or change and the chance to contribute.

As you work with teachers in new ways, you will build new and/or deeper relationships. The relationships you build now will endure when we eventually come out of the pandemic.  Life will return to a new normal, and you will have changed the normal in a positive way.

Doing things differently gives you a new perspective.  Hopefully, it will get you energized while so may other things seem to sap our energy and outlook. Be inspired your Mission (and if you haven’t written it – this is a terrific time to do that!).  Consider the ways you can create your virtual library program and have fun while you build your lemonade stand.