ON LIBRARIES: Be a Community Builder and Leader

The world will never be as it was on New Year’s 2020.  So much has changed, and so much will be changed.  What never changes is people. One of the reasons we feel unsettled so much of the time is due to the upheaval in our relationships. Being cut off from our usual daily contacts for such a long stretch is a huge challenge.  What does all this mean to you? An opportunity. This is a time for you to take a new type of leadership position – one with a community focus.

Although we often refer to the educational community, we don’t pay much attention to what holds and keeps it together. Our schools must be strong communities outside the classroom more than ever, and you can be the one who creates and leads it. This goes beyond the support you have given teachers on distance learning and the resources that go with it, and the various online events you have held during the virus.  I am talking about vital connections and relationships, the kind that truly sustain a strong community.

Believe it or not, one of the ways you can do this is by building website – one that is specifically focused on creating community. Yes, your library and/or you school already has one but consider creating one that is for community.  This is not for tools, techniques, meeting times, administrative forms or other resources.  This one is for connections. Alternatively, you could consider building private Facebook group.

People join communities because they need something that’s provided by the social support and network found in a community. When trying to create one, think about the needs of the potential members (parents, teachers, administrators). Beyond the academic goals of each of these groups, what do people need that they can get from coming together as a group.

This can be a place to encourage the school community to share who they are with each other. It may be a place where people ask for help, or a way to set up online playdates or movie watch parties.  You can also create themes for days of the week. For example “Monday Menu Ideas” could ask for everyone to put links to their favorite simple recipes (we all need some new ones by this time!). “Starring The Staff Tuesday” could be the day where teachers and administrators are featured engaged in an activity they love. “Binge Fridays” could ask what shows people are planning to binge watch in the coming weekend. You can also spotlight local businesses that could use the support of everyone around.

Before starting this, discuss your idea and goal with the principal. Explain that building a strong community will boost resilience as we tackle whatever the future brings. To get the community site started, announce it on all social media the school uses and any other ways they reach out. Be clear about the purpose and how you see this supporting the school through this time and the future.

Even having posts to help people laugh can build community. I saw a post on Facebook askin people to quote a famous line from a movie and add “due to the pandemic.” The idea drew many responses and was shared heavily, drawing more suggestions.  You can do the same with a famous line from a book, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times …due to the pandemic.” Post some riddles or other brain posers.  Invite teachers and administrators to add their own ideas.  The more people who contribute the stronger your community will grow.

You might suggest the community have a slogan and/or a logo.  Ask for ideas and have a vote to decide which one to use.  Then incorporate that in any activity you do.

Emelina Minero offers 10 Powerful Community-Building Ideas you can choose from to boost your group.  I like the Shout-outs.  Encourage members to acknowledge someone for anything that is worthy of sharing with others. We all love to be praised.  Oddly enough, we also feel good when we single out someone for praise.

Look for projects everyone can get behind. Ask for suggestions and for someone to lead it.  You are leading the way, but you want others to join you. And you don’t want to be doing all the work.

The idea behind this is to have some fun together and learn who we are as people.  We need to be like the California redwood trees which manage to grow so tall and live so long even though their roots are very shallow. They remain standing because their roots are interconnected with each other.  Together they stay strong. Like the redwoods, the more interconnected we are, the stronger we will grow.


ON LIBRARIES: Tackling Time Management – Again

I have yet to meet anyone who said they’ve mastered time management.  No matter how much we have learned and put into practice, we have far too many days when we feel like a hamster on a wheel. Part of the problem is with so many tasks, both professional and personal, we can’t possibly finish them all.

The truth is, no matter how good you get at time management, there will always be days that are so hectic by evening you are exhausted.  If the large proportion of your days are like this, the energy drain will rob you of your enthusiasm and joy in what you do.  And that’s not good for you, your students and teachers, or your relationships family and friends (check out the last two weeks posts on burn-out and resilience).

Most time management articles and posts repeat much of the same things, which suggests they work. Most of the time we are not thinking of these practices as we dig into the day’s workload. So rather than going through a long list again, let’s try a simpler approach.

In an Edutopia post, Matthew Howell talked about Balancing Effort and Efficiency: Three Tips to Help School Leaders Establish and Achieve Their Goals While Keeping Their Workload Manageable. Focusing on just three behaviors might be just what you need to keep from becoming overwhelmed.

  1. Use Time Well – Setting goals with a clear why/purpose is a great way to avoid misusing your time. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and why. Once you know what the goal is, stay with it. It’s all too easy to get distracted. If you leave the room where you are working, you are bound to see something that needs your attention. Unless it’s a real emergency, train yourself to ignore it. Those pings on your phone?  Ignore them until you have reached your goal. The messages will be there later.
  1. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify – If the task (and goal) are too large, you will find ways to procrastinate because you don’t think you will ever get it done. As the saying goes, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Ask yourself, is there a way to get to the goal with fewer steps or pieces?  If not, how can you break it down into small, manageable goals? Reaching them gives you the impetus to move onto the next small goal.

I have discussed my technique of telescoping, microscoping, and periscoping as a means of managing big jobs.  The first step, telescoping, has you look at the whole picture and breaking it down into smaller manageable chunks.  Next is microscoping where you focus completely on that small chunk.  Every so often you pop up a periscope to see the next task, just to be sure you are prepared for it when you get there.

  1. Prioritize People –   Those who know me now would be surprised to learn this was the most difficult lesson for me to learn. I would always put tasks first.  If I was working with someone, I lunged into what needed to get done, saving the “chit-chat” for when we completed the work. I’d skip right over the opportunity to build relationships.

Always put people first. In the long run the tasks get done faster and better.  It’s also a way to learn if someone can help you with a current project. As we find our way in these days of virtual learning and communicating and social distancing, it’s more important than ever to make meaningful contact with people.

One of your goals (and possibly a modification to your Mission) needs to be about creating community.  So often administrators say, “the library is the heart of the school.”  True, their actions don’t always back that up, but the more you can show that you are at the center of the educational community, the more indispensable you will be.

One more idea to help with focus.  See the graphic on the left?  That’s a .pdf for you. Just click, download, and print (SLW – Time management info).   Post it where you can see it while you are working. It will remind you to stay on track and do better at managing your time. Most of the time.

ON LIBRARIES: In Search of Resilience

Has your get up and go got up and went? This is not the usual end-of-year tiredness.  We have had too much to do, a huge learning curve, and an increased workload coupled with fear of the virus and economic concerns.  And while you may want a nap, a glass of wine and a lot of chocolate, what you need is to develop resilience.

Before we look at what resilience can offer, consider the distinction between three words which are similar but not the same: Perseverance, Grit, and Resilience.

Perseverance is the ability to keep going no matter what.  It’s how you have mostly been getting through your days. One foot in front of the other. Grit is when you focus your mind on what needs to be done, bear down and power through. It’s perseverance with a dose of determination. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back or recover in the face of challenges and difficulties. Unlike the other two terms, it isn’t about just coping.  It carries a connotation of growing and improving as part of dealing with challenges. It is a growth mindset and one that could be a tremendous benefit to you in the weeks ahead.

Perseverance and grit are good traits in their own way, but resilience will carry you through.  In a post from KQED in California, Katrina Schwartz discusses the work of Elena Aguilar on 12 Ways Teachers Can Build Resilience So They Can Make Systemic Change. Many are familiar, but this presents it in a new way. The idea is not to survive, but to thrive and grow.

  1. Know Yourself – Start with self-reflection to give you the base on which to build your resilience. What are your strengths? Where do you struggle? Your weaknesses probably come to you first, so promise to take the time to be honest and recognize your strengths. (Ask a good friend if you struggle with this!) Also look at your traits, your background and what life experiences you’ve had. They all contribute to your becoming the person you are.
  2. Emotions – You are well-schooled by now in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for your students, but don’t forget to apply it to yourself. Emotions power almost everything from our choices to our reaction. Notice how you have been using your EI in approaching the day. Practice noticing and naming the emotions you’re experiencing.
  3. Tell Empowering Stories – I often talk about the “stories we tell ourselves” that have a basis in truth but keep us from stepping out of our comfort zone. Instead, start telling yourself stories about your successes. Now re-write a story about a failure, putting the emphasis on what you learned as a result and how you used that. Reframing a situation and changing the context can be powerful.
  4. Build Community – Relationships are at the heart of what we do. In the days of social distancing they are more important than ever. Be sure your community includes many librarians. Join and participate in the library-related social media groups.  They will support you, soothe your hurts, give you laughs, provide information and rejuvenate you. They will understand and support you in vital ways and contribute to your resilience.
  5. Be Here Now – Aguilar says this is about mindfulness and being aware of the “story” you are telling. It is also about focusing on what is in front of you without letting yourself be distracted by what’s beyond that. This is a form of mental multi-tasking which reduces your concentration on what you are doing, making current projects take longer and be done less well. Staying focused can lower your stress and increase your productivity.
  6. Take Care of Yourself – This is the advice given most often, and it’s the most often ignored. It’s not that you don’t agree with it.  But you don’t have time at the moment.  That’s not sustainable. Include at least 30 minutes of the day for “me time.”  Don’t use it to get dinner started or do any other of the tasks you do for others. This is all about you.
  7. Focus on the Bright Spots – They are there. Hold on to them as the treasures they are. As I have written before, I note my successes and things for which I’m grateful in a journal. Keeping those thoughts in front of me means the negatives can’t dominate my consciousness.
  8. Cultivate Compassion – This leans on your Emotional Intelligence (EI). Everyone is stressed and many are having difficulties managing it. Students and adults alike are lashing out in anger and frustration.  Instead of focusing on the emotion being broadcast, look for the underlying cause and speak to that. You will likely defuse the situation.  And when you do this, add the success to your Empowering Stories.
  9. Be a Learner – This one is second nature for us, but make time to learn about something new that catches your attention, not just the learning you do for your job. Broaden your horizons. You may discover something wonderful.
  10. Play and Create – Adults need play time as much as children, Some of you are very crafty and show it in your displays, so find other outlets for that talent. Because being creative is a kind of risk, it takes some courage, but courage is part of resilience.
  11. Ride the Waves of Change – Change is part of life. It is happening at a fast pace these days, but your Empowering Stories remind you that you have survived and thrived many other changes both professional and personal. You have what it takes to learn and grow as more changes come into your life.
  12. Celebrate and Appreciate- Celebrate small things as much as large. Celebrate yourself and celebrate others. Our lives are what we make of it. We are resilient.  We are strong.

In going through this list, it struck me how it connects to the four Domains of the National School Library Standards: Think, Share, Create, and Grow.  A good recipe for building resilience.


ON LIBRARIES: The Return of Burnout

Burn out is a common problem at the end of the school year, but here we are a month or more after schools have ended and for many the challenge continues. You are not alone. The workload, the assessments – of students and you – and the feeling that you aren’t valued are all contributing factors.  Add to this all the ways COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, and it’s hard to change course. How can you rekindle your enthusiasm?

Moving at top speed to get everything done will not help.  Once you recognize you are burnt out – whether from things at work, home, or a combination – your first step is to pause and breathe.  To create a pause, do what you can to remove yourself from the environment you are in. Go sit outside. Take a walk. Drive to park and, if necessary, sit in your car. Just get away from your usual surroundings with its reminders of all you have to do.

Next consciously take a deep breath, slowly in and slowly out (this is good even if you can’t change your environment).  In the article The Benefits of Deep Breathing, Andrea Watkins, LCSW, writes that the benefits of this one action include:

  • Decreasing stress, increasing calm,
  • Reliving pain,
  • Stimulating the lymphatic system (and detoxifying the body),
  • Improving immunity.

Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll be better able to think clearly and see the ways you’re capable and succeeding. You are used to dealing with many demands. You have proven how flexible you are. Throughout the quarantine you have been a source of information –and comfort – to students and teachers. Trust yourself to continue to be that. And make sure your principal and even your superintendent know what you have been doing and how it has contributed to learning and student engagement throughout this time.

Another action that can help is to reconnect with your “Why.”  It’s amazing how powerful this can be. Think back to the reasons you became a librarian.  Recall the special moments you have had with kids, teachers, and others. Maybe even some that took place during this crazy final semester. Remember your Mission and Vision statements.  This is who you are and what you bring to others.

You can also try reorganizing your day and possibly your work environment. A change-up will help to energize you. Be sure you are including “me-time” of at least 30 continuous minutes. You will get more done by taking a break than if you worked through it.

When you’re feeling calmer, identify what was the “straw” (or strawS) that triggered the burnout. Look at both your work and personal life. Each may be a contributor. Once you’ve determined what that breaking point might be, taking action – even one step – can help.

I’ve been reading on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that many of you are worried that after all you have done, you won’t have a library to go back to. You might be re-assigned to the classroom if libraries and other specials are being cancelled for the year, or perhaps the administration is talking about eliminating you entirely. Your action step can be stepping up your advocacy. All across social media you can find numerous charts and infographics for “sharing” with your administrators.  Here is  one from New Jersey Association of School Libraries or this one from Arlen Kimmelman, also of NJASL. AASL has one specifically for administrators.  You might also request time with your principal to discuss how you can impact student learning in the various potential configurations for school in the fall. Bring your awareness of trauma-informed learning and teaching. Discuss how you can assist in helping teachers who are also suffering from trauma.

The switch to distance learning, helping teachers who are struggling, and doing the same for students has been incredibly draining.  As you look toward a new school year, the extent of uncertainty about how the new configuration will look, and what your role in the new configuration it will be is increasing your anxiety and exhaustion. But if you take the time to use your support systems, make a plan, and take a step, you will discover you can do this.  You have already done so much.  Don’t let burnout stop you now.

Take the time you need and, as always, breathe!