ON LIBRARIES: Connecting With Administrators

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Over the years, too many librarians have told me their principal has no idea what they do. My reply is, “It’s your job to let them know.” A good part of the reason we have lost so many positions is because those in charge don’t know what a librarian does. It’s clear from what I’ve read on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that librarians have played an important part in keeping teachers and students going during this pandemic. Does your administrator know? 

Yes, keeping her/him in the loop is one more thing for you to do, but it may well be the most important thing. Administrators, both principals and superintendents, are under extreme pressure. When budget constraints are mandated, they are the ones making decisions that impair, reduce, or eliminate your program and possibly your job. It’s up to you to find an approach to forestall and/or alter those scenarios. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  Your administrator will not seek you out if there has been no previous connection.  You have to create connection and that requires a plan.

Take it one step at a time. First, make a record of all you are doing and categorize it by the recipient. You can keep this general (students, teachers) or be more specific (grade, subject level, ELL, etc.) If you make it into a grid, you can also show what type of services you are providing: instruction, tech help, reading promotion, collaboration.  If you find yourself amazed to see how much you are doing and how many people you are reaching – think of how your principal will react.

Because administrators are swamped make certain anything you send to them is clear and to the point.  If you are wordy, they are less likely to respond. Try sending a message with the subject line, “One Good Thing” and then adding a specific reference such as, “One Good Thing: Teachers are successful with the Platform we are using.”  In the body of the email, explain what’s working and how it’s helping – briefly.  If all your messages are “One Good Thing,” it will tie them together, reminding your principal this all comes from you. They will recognize your emails and, hopefully, look forward to what you share.

You should also take time to consider and identify your administrator’s challenges.  Do you know her/his priorities? What are they trying to accomplish?  What difficulties are they facing? What is working? What isn’t? Once you know at least some answers think of how you might be able to help your administrator manage or mitigate any of these.  Because of how you interact with everyone, you have a big picture scan – just as your principal does.  You may not realize it, but you see things from a similar perspective.

After you’ve identified places where you can help, create one or two solutions and reach out. Again, use the subject line of the email to draw them in “How the library can support….” Diversity/Access/Test Success.  Whatever it is. Let them know you have an idea and ask for 5 minutes to speak – in person if possible, Zoom or other visual if not.  If you have no alternative, phone and email can work. Once you have your time, stick to it. Don’t go over. Your principal will appreciate you keeping your word and your focus. Lay out your plan, ask if he/she has questions and then follow up with an email or other documents as appropriate.

AASL also has support to help you make the connection with administrators. Past President Kathy Root’s  AASL School Leader Collaborative Administrators & School Librarians Transforming Teaching and Learning” is a 2-year initiative. From school librarian recommendations, it selected seven school administrators to serve and they have done a lot including creating YouTube videos and doing a Town Hall on Leading Learning.  I urge you to watch the free archived Town Hall. It’s inspiring to hear these administrators talk about how they rely on their school librarians. 

Repeat any and all of these steps so you build a lasting connection. This is cannot be a onetime thing. Once you have made it, continue to foster it.  Start building your own connection to your administrators. Not only will they know what you do, they will tell others about your program. Having a principal see you as a leader and collaborator will make you even more successful.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You an Ethical Leader?

As librarians we are expected to follow the Library Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics. These are meant as a guide for fulfilling our duties., but they can be difficult, and not everyone upholds them consistently. Ethical is not necessarily easy.

Ethics are tied to a person’s core values.  Ask yourself, what do you stand for?  What is the line you won’t cross? Only you know the answers and no one ask that you reveal those answers, but it is important that you know and tell yourself the truth. If you honor your line, you are likely behaving ethically.  There is also the ethics of leadership. As a school librarian, having people see you as ethical in your dealings has a direct effect on your ability to lead. 

Yonason Goldson presents Six Questions to Ask to Find Out If You’re an Ethical Leader to help you determine just how ethically you are perceived, He makes it easier to remember them by offering the questions as the acronym ETHICS.

Empathy: what impact will my words and actions have on those around me?

Think before you speak.  It is more important than ever to consider what our listener will hear. This is an important issue when we discuss things such as implicit racism. We must ask: Will it be hurtful even if unintentional?

Work to be conscious of the interests and aspirations of others. We are often focused on our own challenges and can unintentionally overlook what our students, teachers, and administrators are dealing with. Being alert to unvoiced messages will make you better able to make honest connections.

Trustworthiness: do I trust others, and have I earned their trust?

Do you keep your word?  Do you keep confidences?  The answer to those are at the core of trustworthiness. You may have many reasons for not following through on something you said, but the message is that you didn’t keep your word. 

What about gossip? It’s easy to join in the fun by contributing, but as soon as you do, you run the risk of destroying the trust you were building, not only with the person whose confidence you violated but also that of others who, by your actions, know you are not safe to share something private with.

Humility: am I interested in what benefits my community or in what benefits my prestige and my ego?

It’s not about you.  It’s about the larger goal.  If you want to build relationships and be seen as an ethical leader, you need to put others in the spotlight. This doesn’t mean false humility. Saying, “It wasn’t anything much,” rings false and minimizes everyone’s accomplishment. Strong leaders take responsibility for what goes wrong and shares the praise with others when things succeed.

Inquisitiveness: do I want to know as much as I can, or do I want to look like I know it all?

When you are trying to look like you have it all together, you are likely faking it.  We are lifelong learners.  We need to be practicing that in our interchanges with others. Even students can teach you something you didn’t know.

All of us have strengths and weaknesses.  Know yours and look for those who can fill in the blanks for you. People love to feel they have contributed. By encouraging them to bring their strengths and talents, you create partners who trust you to lead well.

Courage: am I more afraid of looking wrong or of being wrong?

Either can cause you to not seek help.  This ties to Inquisitiveness.  Asking for help doesn’t make you weak.  It makes you strong.  And it creates relationships. Leaders need to take risks.  Risk-taking requires courage. You can mitigate the chance of errors by checking with others and asking for help.  And when you do succeed, remember your humility and praise others.

Self-discipline: what do I need to improve today so I can do my job better tomorrow?

It’s hard to look at what didn’t work, doing so allowed you to learn and not repeat it. Reflection helps you grow. Take stock of how you are living the other five questions. Which one(s) is/are difficult for you?  What do you need to do to improve it?

Your ethics matter in leadership, and others are watching you. Be the leader you would want to follow and soon others will see you as a leader they want to follow.

ON LIBRARIES – Five H’s To Live By

As the school year continues with fits and starts, you and your colleagues may struggle to keep up with each new schedule as it emerges. By focusing on Five H’s – head, hands, heart, health, and habit, you can keep your balance in a world that continues to tilt. The first four come from the 4-H program. The fifth is from me.

Head – At the beginning of each month do a big picture scan. What is working?  What isn’t?  Based on what you are seeing in the world, your state, your town, your school, what seems to be the direction things are heading? 

Review your Mission and Vision Statements. Does your Mission still reflect what you are working to achieve?  On a daily/weekly basis, how much of your time furthers your Mission? Is your Vision still describing your aspirations for the future of the library program? Based on your review, you may want to tweak these statements. 

Using this big picture awareness you can choose how you can leverage your skill set to meet the upcoming needs of your students, teachers, and administrators. The pandemic has changed how we do things and therefore what is necessary to accomplish them. This is an opportunity. The more ways you can anticipate and address what their requirements are and will be, the more people will rely on and value you.

Hands – Put your thoughts into action. Create a plan to meet these identified needs. Have a rough timeline for accomplishing it and remember you may need to adjust details to account for changes. Make certain to select communication channels to reach your audience effectively then inform stakeholders of what you are doing and with whom. Be succinct. For example, don’t send wordy newsletters, no matter how nice they my look. Everyone is overloaded. Don’t add to it. If the recipient doesn’t see the value of the communication, it is pointless to send it. 

Look for sources of help. Sometimes students can be of assistance in these projects. Knowing they are doing “real life work” engages them. And they will also learn a great deal in the process, and you will have a new collaboration to share.

Heart – Show caring. I’ve written about this a lot during the last several months, but we continue to see that little things mean a lot. If you are physically back in school, drop small notes on teachers’ desks. Print out a funny cat or dog picture and sharing it a place people walk by. Social media is not the only place to share the fun. If you are remote, send the note or picture as a message.

Congratulate colleagues (and students) on successes and be a listening ear when things aren’t going well. Use your displays to send messages of kindness and caring. And, as I wrote in my October 19 blog, remember to say, “Please,” Thank you,” and “You’re Welcome.” 

Health – Self-care is an ongoing topic and an important one. Your health is vital to your ability to do everything else. Make sure you are making time to guard it. While you are wearing a mask and washing your hands, there are other health basics you may be overlooking. People are joking about the COVID 20, referring to the pounds gained during the pandemic, but it’s something to be aware of. Healthy eating keeps your immune system up. Getting enough sleep affects your emotional intelligence.

Regular exercise is another contributor to overall health. It doesn’t have to take long. There are many YouTube videos with 5-minute workouts, especially good for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere where the weather is getting colder. Keep some weights in your desk if you are in school. Pausing for five minutes to take care of yourself will get you back at work with a more positive attitude – and it will help keep you in shape.

And don’t forget to hydrate! Wearing masks can make remembering this a challenge. Set a timer on your phone if it helps to remind you. That leads us directly to – 

Habit – Good and bad habits are the things we do unconsciously. They can improve our capacity to get things done or they can sabotage us. Think of one bad habit you might want to eliminate and one good habit you would like to gain.

When does the bad habit show up?  Why? What is something you can do to distract yourself from it?  What could/should you do when the habit shows up? In noticing what triggers the habit, you are more able to replace it with the diversion you think will work. The more often you do it, the more likely the habit is to shrink. It may never go away, but it will be more controllable.

When do you want to practice the good habit? Set an alarm to remember or find a positive trigger. Frequency builds habits. Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day when you’re developing something new. You will succeed if you just keep at it. Knowing your why and making it a priority will also support your success.

At the end of the week, reflect on what you have accomplished. Did the “Five H’s” help?  Was there one that was especially helpful? Then do what you can to keep going with it. Was one challenging? Look for ways to get support (change is easier with a group)  or make a new plan. Then your next week will be even better.

ON LIBRARIES: Courage

Ernest Hemingway said that courage is “Grace under pressure” We are under more pressure than ever before and it cannot, does not, stop us.  Doing what we must with grace is more of a challenge, but when we do, we inspire others to continue. Courage is something within us that gives us the strength to do what must be done even though we’re afraid.  By definition it is hard.  And yet it is with courage that we will be able to do more than just survive in these times.

In battle, courage is spurred on by an adrenaline rush which helps propel you forward in the face of fear.  What we are dealing with today is just the opposite.  If anything, our adrenaline is drained by the daily demands of doing our job as a pandemic rages. To my mind, true courage is doing what must be done when all you want to do is curl up in bed and shut out the world, and the best way we as librarians can do that is through service, unexpected opportunities, and joy.

Service – Although we have always been service-oriented, the business world has recently been waking up to the value of what they call Service (or Servant) Leadership.  A Service Leader puts employees first, shares power, and empowers people to perform at a higher level. The model works for us.

The library has always been there to be of service to the school. During this time, we can look for new or specific stresses and challenges that are happening for our students and teachers and offer assistance. That’s courageous. Working collaboratively, even if we take on the heavy lifting, helps our teachers and principals feel more supported and in control of the situation — in essence, more powerful.  That empowers them to be more courageous.

Unexpected Opportunities – The world is different.  When mindsets are in flux, as they are now, you can leverage these changes to transform how you are perceived and valued.

The new tech demands continue to overwhelm many teachers even as they struggle to incorporate different approaches to their teaching.  They are more likely to be open to collaborating with you.  As you support them through the process, teachers will experience how your skill set can make their jobs easier and more productive, even beyond the needs of functioning during a pandemic.

As you seize these opportunities, make your administrators aware of what you are doing. Be sure to highlight the teachers’ accomplishments and show how goals were achieved.  This not only ensures they will see you as an indispensable member of the educational community, it will also help them as they present their school’s progress to the town’s school board and other administrators. It also shines a light on the important part a library plays in the success of students.

Spreading Joy – Joy lightens the heart and raises spirits. Before you can spread joy, you need to find it.  It is easy to overlook because it is often found in the simple things. If you aren’t aware it, it can be gone in a few moments.  Joy is too important in our lives to miss.

Make a practice of seeing those things that bring you joy.  Share the moment with others. It can be seeing birds in flight or a wonderful message from a student. Big or small they all matter. Use an app you like where you and others can post your moments of joy.  Joy is contagious.

Remember to bring joy to your life by creating events and by making time for yourself. Self-care is not a new idea. We are recognizing its importance, but still can have trouble remember to take the time in our busy days. Schedule it in your to-do list if necessary. Make sure you take care of yourself.

It doesn’t seem like courage to be of service, recognize opportunities, and spread joy, but by taking positive action you break through the molasses-like feeling of moving through yet another day.  It takes courage to have a positive outlook.  I am proud that so many in our profession are showing up as leaders, leaders who demonstrate courage everyday as they find ways to help their colleagues find their way to successfully navigate living in the time of COVID-19. While not denying the dangers that are present, if we focus on our commitment to be of service, look for the unexpected opportunities, and find and spread joy, we can show grace under pressure.