ON LIBRARIES – A Trauma-Informed Mindset

For the past several years, we have been discovering the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The result has been recognizing how many of our students have experienced trauma in their lives and how this affects their behavior and learning. Now we’re in the middle of a pandemic and nine weeks into distance learning, we are all suffering from trauma to one degree or another, our most vulnerable students are even more so. How we respond to this trauma in our students will go a long way in helping them – and our programs – thrive in the months ahead.

In a post for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD.org), Jason A. Haap discusses The Private Logic Behind a Trauma-Informed Mindset. Haap writes about the way those with trauma interpret the world around them. When a student, particularly oe affected by trauma, believes s/he is unworthy, they translate even an innocuous comment as proof you see them that way. Their response can then seem out of proportion and unrelated to what was going on.

Whether or not we realize it, our mindset and beliefs interpret situations and then we act on the assumption that we are correct. As with many aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion, we can be very wrong.  Our language to describe what happened and our ability to see it is affected by our own private logic.  Do we recognize the response as a reflection of the student’s needs or do we attribute it to something done purposefully to get our attention? By considering the possibility of it being a need, we can attempt to address it in a way that might defuse the situation.

As Haap says, “We never can know what’s going on in someone’s mind.” However, we can work at altering how we perceive students’ behavior in a more positive, understanding way. If you adjust your mindset about the cause of the behavior, you will reduce the number of confrontations you have with those dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).

With distance learning, you may not be experiencing the sometimes violent student reactions that occur in person, which may seem to make things easier.  However, at the same time you need to be more mindful of the possibility that the home environment, often a major cause of the students’ trauma, is increasing their stress. Hopefully, you can draw on the guidance counselor or the school’s psychologist for additional help when needed.

A big take-away from the Haap article is that “behavior is communication.”  What is the student saying? What needs are not being met?  If you can identify that, you can give a constructive response and you are also less likely to act from faulty assumptions.

Even recognizing this, there is another challenge.  We, too, are under stress.  There is trauma happening in our lives. How are you handling your needs? What would those close to you think you are communicating by your behavior? Are you aware when they’re responding based on incorrect assumptions?

It may seem unfair that we have to worry about how others are perceiving us while also trying to be aware of their needs and challenges, but if you’re feeling as though you’re not being heard or understood (a daily issue for your ACE students), then take the time to be as clear as you can. If you need help with something, an hour of uninterrupted quiet, someone else to make dinner – ask. If you’ve never made a request like this before because you’ve been able to balance your life, then not only is it important to be clear, but to also give yourself the compassion you’d show your struggling students or family members.  You are navigating a new mindset professionally and personally, and that will be an adjustment for everyone. The more you can “reframe your attitude,” as Haap says, the more successful you will be.


ON LIBRARIES: Changing Lives One Kid at a Time

Librarians are in a unique position to connect with students, get to know them in ways their teachers – and parents – might not, and impact that lives, maybe more often than we know.  Many of you have received thank you cards from students.  They are spontaneous and always bring that leap of joy in your heart.  But for every card you receive, there are hundreds of others who just haven’t sent a note and who will remember you forever.

Students don’t always show themselves to their teachers.  A large percentage want to make a positive impression because they are seeking a grade. The ones who act up are making a different statement.  Although there are many teachers who have always been good at making connections and who recognize the pain that underlies their “problem” kids, you have an “in” they don’t have – You don’t give grades.

Because the school library is not connected to the pressure of grades, students may feel safe letting you know who they are. When this happens, you get to see them.  More than a classroom teacher, you have opportunities to work one-on-one with kids.  During these interactions, they may take the chance to reveal themselves – their pain, their hopes and dreams, their fears.  It happens because you have made the library a safe, welcoming space.

You also connect with them throughout their time in a school building, watching them grow and change. You see them maturing, learning, succeeding, and failing. This gives you a different perspective from the teachers who may only interact with them for a year or two at most. It’s something you may take for granted, but it gives you an incredible opportunity to make a lasting impact.

Having been a librarian for many decades, I have had many examples of how I touched and changed a life.  From an honor society student who named me as the teacher who made the greatest difference in her time at high school to a young woman who stopped me on the street in New York (I live in New Jersey) to tell me that serving on “library council” was the first place she felt safe in a racially homogenous school.

What are the things you do that change lives?  Betty Ray has identified 6 Traits of Life-Saving Teachers. Unsurprisingly, you do many of them.

Life- Changing Teachers Help Their Students Feel Safe – Accounts by authors and others talk of how the library was their sanctuary. They remember their librarian and how they made them feel safe and valued. Their time in the library helped them find their voice and become stronger. It is a life-long influence.

Life- Changing Teachers Possess a Contagious Passion – Passion is contagious.  People catch the fervor and either embrace it or enjoy being around it (or both). You have a passion for books and what they bring to lives as well as the importance of research, communication of ideas, literacy, knowledge and so much more.  You also are passionate about being a librarian, choosing it as a career.  Over the years, I have been thrilled to learn of former students who have become librarians.

Life- Changing Teachers Model Patience – There are days when patience is in short supply, but this is about your overall attitude.  Choosing patience can be a gift to yourself and everyone around you. You don’t tell—you guide, you encourage, and you cheerlead.  Students are less afraid to make a mistake with you, unlike how they may feel with their teachers.

Life- Changing Teachers Know When to be Tough – You are not a pushover. You have high standards and expect students to work toward achieving them.  Looking back at the teachers you remember, it wasn’t the ones who let you get away with anything and made things easy.  Attaining a goal brings a sense of pride and makes memories. Guiding a student to a new level of success is an achievement for your both.

Life- Changing Teachers Believe in Their Students (and Help Them Believe in Themselves) – This is why life-changing teachers can be tough.  Students are very good at seeing their own faults, just as we do ourselves.  It’s important that they learn to put these in perspective and even discover how they can become strengths. Librarians also have an opportunity to see skills that classroom teachers may not. Reflect these back to your students whenever possible.

Life- Changing Teachers Love Their Students – You can’t fake this. Students know when you care about them as people.  I once had a co-librarian who didn’t like kids. It’s no surprise that they didn’t like her either. Emotions are tied to learning.  Positive ones foster it.  Negative ones take away from it.  Where the library is a safe, welcoming environment, it is also a discovery zone, a place where students create, believe in themselves, and grow.

You are a life-changer.  How many of these traits do you exhibit every day?  Take the time to change your own life by acknowledging your impact. You make the future a better place.

ON LIBRARIES: Routine Matters

COVID-19 has affected all of our routines, some out of necessity and others out of our emotional responses. It has also changed our habits which may be one reason we feel so out of sorts.  Although routines and habits are similar, habits are repeated actions that happen with little conscious thought.  Routines need some attention.

For example, your commute to work was routine. (Although some days you may have done so on automatic pilot.) Washing your hands was a habit.  Now you are not driving to work, and you are focused when you wash your hands.  Eventually that routine, repeated often enough, will become a habit.

Many parts of our job were habits.  Signing in, opening the library, and booting up computers were automatic — habits. Interacting with students and teachers were, for the most part, comfortable routines that were a regular part of your day.

Routines help us organize our time.  Knowing what we accomplished at the end of the day gives us satisfaction and the incentive to keep on going.  With our old routines gone, we have put some new ones in place, but they aren’t always as good a “fit” as the old ones.  Our lives work better when there is structure.

In thinking about our interactions with others as a “routine,” I found a post by  Eric YaverbaumHow One CEO, Positive for COVID, Is Continuing to Lead. I am hoping his leadership style, which he says was always rooted in “openness and optimism” will help him defeat the virus as well as offer us some pointers.

Check in to start your day – Many of you are required to do this, but if you aren’t, make a point of officially starting your day.  It’s helpful if you do it at the same time each day. Differentiating between work and non-work is particularly important when home and work are the sharing the same space.  If it helps – change your clothes. It tells your brain you have begun working.

My first September after retirement, I indulged myself in sleeping late and lounging about in sweats and going without makeup. I soon discovered I was getting nothing done.  How I dressed affected my attitude and my routines. To this day I get washed, dressed and put on makeup even if no one but my husband sees me.

Support and gratitude- This doesn’t sound like a routine, but it deserves to be.  You support your teachers and students every day, but you should be aware of doing it regularly. Equally important is to be a cheerleader to keep them going. And don’t forget to get the support you need. Use your PLN, family and friends to bolster you.

Gratitude both in and out of work will help keep your focus on the present. You can use a small notebook or a Google doc to regularly note what you are grateful for and writing it down can become a very inspiring routine. Before or after your lunch and as the last thing in your workday, reflect on what you have in your life that makes you grateful.  It’s one of the simplest techniques I know to keep a positive mindset.

Take breaks – Don’t sit in front of your computer all day.  Get up and do something you like.  For me, of course, that’s walking, but give yourself at least an hour to separate yourself from your tasks. Pick a new series to binge watch, take out that coloring book again, look for a new recipe. And if it stresses you – stay away from social media.  Find the things that fill you up and make them part of your routine.

Cultivate empathy and compassion – This must always be for yourself as well as others.  If kids are late getting something done (students or your own kids), find out why.  If you don’t get a response from someone, assume they have a good reason when you check back in with them.  Don’t beat yourself up for what you haven’t done.  Celebrate what you have. Cheer on the people in your life, including yourself. Every step forward is an achievement.

It’s been a tough few months, and it is likely to continue for quite a while.  Given the routines we’ve been forced to adapt, we need additional ones that give us the support we need to keep going.  We need to nurture and cherish the things in our lives that are working, be grateful for the support that’s available, and keep finding more things that make us – and those around us – feel successful.

ON LIBRARIES – A Don’t-Do List

How long is your to-do list?  Whatever system you use to keep track of your ever-growing lists of tasks – both personal and professional – it has probably gotten too long.  And despite all you are doing, you probably feel you are still behind, which adds to the strain of an already grim situation. Something has to give. You don’t have to get the virus to get sick.  Stress takes a toll on the body.

To manage the situation differently, you need to acknowledge two factors that are making things difficult. First is the dramatic change to your workday. It is more complicated to teach and collaborate online, and you may have more meetings than you used to, sometimes daily. This, along with requests from teachers and parents, keep coming. The second factor is the pandemic itself. Television and social media are bringing continual updates, frightening stories, and conflicting information all mixed into a divisive political climate. You fear for yourself, your family, and your friends and you have the challenges of the new schedules of the people with whom you are at home.

Since it will be awhile before either of these factors change, it may be time to find some things you can stop doing so that you can feel successful going through this time.  The Ebling Group blog recommends Three Things to Stop Doing This Week. Targeted to the business world, the advice holds true for us as well.

Stop Sitting All Day; The medical profession has said that sitting all day is dangerous. Without your usual commuting time and reducing your regular shopping and errands, you are walking much less. You brain and your body needs the stimulus of movement.  For me and many others, walking is a refresher. I’ve even taken to doing laps around my house on bad weather days. It clears the mind, opens up ideas, and focuses you on something else besides your tasks and your fear. (Although you should consider having a mask on if you will be passing people.) Fitbits give users reminders, or you can set an alarm on your phone.

Stop Making Every Meeting a Zoom Call: Zoom and other meeting platforms have been invaluable in allowing us to get our jobs done.  We can stay in communication with students, teachers, administrators and parents while having the added benefit of seeing familiar faces.  But several articles have made note that one Zoom meeting after another is even more draining than a series of face-to-face meetings.  It may be following the various faces or finding everyone on a large call or underlying worry about how you look or sound since you can see yourself as well as others. When possible look for ways to limit these meeting/calls. Obviously, there are ones that can’t be changed, but reach out to your PLNs to see what alternatives are being used to reduce your time on Zoom.  And see if you can get up and walk between calls.

Stop Holding on to Your Original Plan: What did you imagine you would be doing when you were told schools were closing and you would be teaching online?  Whether it sounded scary or like something you could handle, it probably hasn’t turned out the way you thought. And remember when you thought you would have a chance to get to those tasks around the house you had put off because you didn’t have the time.? Yeah, most of us aren’t getting those done either.. None of this could be anticipated – neither the workload nor the emotional toll. In addition to everything else we don’t know, we can’t predict how productive we will be on a given day. Some days you’ll make progress and others will be a battle for every inch. Do what you can to be unceasingly kind to yourself no matter what.  You’re doing your best even as your best changes from day to day (or hour to hour).

I’m not sure of a lot right now, but I do know librarians have flexibility and resilience. We use both these characteristics all the time.  We adjust and we persevere.  Just remember to put these three things on your Don’t-Do Lists.  Keep making time for yourself, move, and breathe.