Transforming Your Community

Transformation can be deliberate and powerful, advancing your mission and your library’s status in the community.

Every part of our lives has been transformed by the pandemic, but it is important to remember that not all transformation is beyond our control. There are ways to make deliberate transformations, but you need to be clear and specific about what you want to change and why. On a small level, it could be to change teacher attitudes toward collaboration. On a larger level, it could be an ongoing and deliberate change to the school culture.

Communities are formed by a group of people having a common interest or location. A school qualifies in both senses. But strong communities generally have a central point. In towns it may be Main Street or the “Green.” In more urban areas it might be a park or playground. What is the center of your school community? What would it be like if the library were the center–the heart of the school? Can you imagine how it would feel? How would it look? What would it take to have the library and you be the first place everyone goes when they need help, information, resources, or a good book?

Merriam-Webster defines “Transform” as: to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character or condition. As applied to your library, the first two could be about redesigning your space. Looking at your library, besides complying with new safety requirements, is there anything further you want to do? To change character or condition applies if you want to change the school culture. What is valued? Is reading at the center? Are (or were) sports the biggest focus? Does it truly feel like a community?  

Plan your change strategically. Start as always with your Mission and/or Vision. How would the transformation promote either or both?

Next define your Goal. Don’t worry about the size. Choose something that you feel strongly about and which will lead to lasting change. For example, you might want to transform your school into a learning/collaborative community. That is a huge project, but your first step could be to create a reading culture.

Now create the Action Plan that will get you to your Goal. Keeping with creating a reading culture, to achieve it you will need to make as many people as possible interested in, engaged, and actively reading. There are many ways to move forward, including:

  • Caught Reading:
    • Create a display of a variety of books for students.
    • Take pictures of teachers, students, administrators, reading.  Be sure to include yourself.
    • Post the pictures around the school with the support of the principal – and hopefully a picture of her/him reading. Having the pictures outside the library encourages the idea that reading is for everyone, everywhere. If your school is all remote, look for a way to put it online, using avatars, if necessary, for student pictures (they can design their own – maybe the art teacher has an idea for this!).
  • Buttons
    • Start wearing a button that says “Ask Me What I’m Reading.”
    • Hand out buttons to all who are interested.
    • Carry a book with you wherever you go – including as you begin a class.
    • Have a book in reserve to check out to the “right” reader.
  • Hold a one book-one school event.
    • Check your PLN for ideas on how to run one.
    • Choose a book, possibly with the help of a small committee (great way to get teachers and parents involved).

Complete your Action Plan by identifying who you will need to help you and obtaining any permissions necessary. List the steps in sequence, including a start and an end date, if needed, and then move forward. 

Remember to include interim assessments so you can tweak the steps and timeline as needed. This also gives you an opportunity to send updates to administrators and others. At the conclusion, reflect on what was achieved, what worked and what didn’t. Where will you take it next? Then start developing your next Action Plan that will get you to your Goal and create the transformation you want.

Libraries transform communities. With clarity, focus, and action, you can transform yours. 

Be a Flexible Leader

In these continually uncertain times, I’ve decided we need a new word: Pro-reacting. What does it mean? It’s when you can be proactive and further your library’s mission even when you have to be reactive to the changes coming at you from teachers, administrators and situations you can’t control. It’s important to be responsive, but it’s equally important to be a leader. Pro-reacting is a way to do both.

When you are asked to change directions, take time to think about how you will carry them out. You may discover that what you need to do fits with your goals, even if it’s not the way you originally planned. When you are given non-library tasks and responsibilities, consider how to tie them to the library. How can you demonstrate the connection in what you are now doing?   Be flexible – pro-reactive – and use lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking is defined as taking a creative approach to solving a problem or facing a challenge. It requires not only thinking out of the box, but a growth mindset to discover alternative paths to a goal. You can find techniques (and a very fun video) for breaking out of the box with Success as School’s post Examples of Lateral Thinking Skills. Lateral thinking is a mental version of a physical exercise. You stretch.  You bend sideways. Stretch some more and now you’re able to reach further. Lead the same way and you become more flexible.

Jon Lokhorst suggests another way of being flexible in Take Your Leadership to the Next level: Lead Well in All Directions. Like a compass, he gives four directions where you should lead:

  1. Lead Yourself – You are the first person you lead, but first you must know who you are.  What are your core values? What is your Vision? Your Mission? What are your passions? Your strengths?  What do you see as your weaknesses?  Know what motivates you – and what stops you.

How do you deal with success? How do you deal with failure? When and how do you get sidetracked, and what do you to get back on track? How do other people see you? Is it a fair judgement? If not, what about you is giving them this perception?

  • Lead Up – Stretch your leadership arms straight up. Continue your flexible leadership by leading with your principal.  Successful library leaders have strong relationships with their principals and other administrators. In too many schools, principal began with little or no idea of the benefits a school librarian could bring to them and the school community. You have to lead them to this knowledge.

First, find ways to make the principal look good.  They make reports to the Superintendent. By knowing what is being looked for on the district level, you can supply your principal with information showing her/him to the best advantage. Then move on to the Superintendent who reports to the Board.  Be sure your principal knows what you are doing when sending things further up with leadership.

  • Lead Across – Collaboration is vital to the library program.  How can you lead already stressed teachers to work with you? The answer is by first building a relationship with them.  Make it as personal as possible to develop trust which is the foundation of relationship. We all generally extend ourselves for those we care about.

The second step is to ensure the teachers you have targeted recognize you will do the heavy lifting.  It won’t involve extra work for them. Finally, promote them in the collaborative project when you communicate with your principal.  This combines leading across with leading up.

  • Lead Down – How do you lead those for whom you are responsible?  The most common situation is with your students. Having them become engaged, critical thinkers requires you to lead in a way that guides but does not direct them. 

Making those you lead feel valued, worthy, and successful is the best way to lead. Make them feel welcome, heard, and understood. You become a role model to them for leadership. If you understand how you do it with students, you will be more able to do the same when you are leading across and up.

In addition, think about how you lead parents. This group is either across or up, depending on the situation. With the pandemic, you are likely to have more opportunities to reach out to them.  Lead them in discovering how they can help their children, and they will become advocates for the library.

To stay in shape as a leader, flexibility is a requirement.  Start stretching. We need the library in all parts of our lives.   Find the opportunity when you’re asked to make a change, be pro-reactive, and you can advance the library program no matter what situations you face.

Finding New Approaches to Effective Leadership

Leaders have go to responses that support their success in projects, challenges, and interactions, but with all that has been happening in the last several months, you may find that what worked in the past isn’t getting the results you want. If you’re experiencing this, the solution may be to try an opposite but equally effective approach.

A post on the District Administration site by Michael Moore, Rethinking Leadership, Plus 6 Tips to Improve Effectiveness, asks us to consider what he refers to as the “polarities” in leadership styles.  If what you’ve done isn’t working, he suggests being ready to move to the opposite pole. It will be unfamiliar at first, but the results will be worth it.

Consider these six polarities among the nine he offers:

  • Act – Plan – In a new situation, do you go into action mode first? Or do you wait and take time to plan? Both have advantages and if one is what you always do, considering trying the other and seeing what results you get.  
  • Think- Feel – It’s easier to respond to people’s ideas, but it’s important to be able to identify their underlying feelings.  Which is your go-to style and can a switch give you a better result?
  • Confident -Modest – Leaders need to be confident, but children and adults respond well when you let then know about your failures and challenges.  If you are too confident, no one will see a need to help, and you may find yourself doing everything.
  • Just-Compassionate – Is there flexibility in your structure? When there are library guidelines instead of rules, then changes can be made based on equity and unexpected circumstances. It can make decisions less clear-cut, but ultimately you will take better care of people that way.
  • Answer -Ask – Notice how you respond when people come to you with questions. Do you need to have an answer? Are you willing ask more questions or say you don’t know? (related to Confident-Modest)
  • Solution – Problem – Similar to the Act-Plan polarity, do you move quickly to find a solution or take time to explore the roots of the problem and learn if there is something deeper creating the situation? Sometimes the problem can tell you more.

After explaining the polarities and how a switch can support your success, Moore offers six tips for becoming a more effective leader.

  1. Tell People Why – Transparency in decision-making gives others a chance to contribute. Their input may sometimes save you from a serious error, and their involvement builds relationships.
  2. Be Clear About Specific Behaviors You Want – This applies most often to your dealings with students, but it could include teachers with whom you collaborate. When explaining what you want, include the why so your audience better understands your decisions. You can also consider giving them a chance to discuss how they see it working.
  3. Build Networks of Support – I have long recommended you use your PLNs but also build support with others in your school and district as well, particularly your principal. This will help when faced with sudden changes or unexpected absences.
  4. Lighten the Load – Collaboration and delegation are the secret to effectiveness.  I once worked in a school where each teacher in a grade level created the unit in a specific subject area (ELA, social studies, science, math, health).  They would then exchange their work across the grade level. Look for ways you can do this. If there are other librarians in your district, reach out and get creative.
  5. Measure and Track Results – Incorporate informative assessments into projects so you can accurately tell whether you are achieving your goals or need to change something. Be willing to make changes as necessary and celebrate successes.
  6. Vary Your Pace –You can’t be effective if you are overwhelmed and exhausted. Build in time-outs so that if a crisis comes, you have more energy. Those who exercise or weight lift are advised to change up their pace.  It is strengthening.  You will get more done. 

No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be more – the next project, a new challenge or a change in administrators.  Before automatically using the same techniques, take time to see what’s effective and what’s not working as well, then decide what you can do to support your success. Leaders are willing to try new approaches.

Your Self-View Lights the Way

It is a new year, but has anything changed? If you are back in school, whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual, and are still frustrated and tired, it’s time to take a fresh look at yourself.  Unless you change yourself, you won’t be able to change anything else.

This isn’t about self-care. It’s about your self-view.  There are some important questions to ask to check in about this:

  • How do you see yourself in relation to your colleagues? 
  • How do you believe they see you?
  • Is your Vision still alive or out of reach?
  • Do you feel no one recognizes your value as you are constantly being given tasks outside the scope of librarianship?
  • Does the thought of last week’s blog, “Your Leadership Journey” and following the Yellow Brick Road seem beyond your capabilities? 

Although the Christmas season is now past, I give you a new mentor.  To help with your self-view, instead of Dorothy, emulate Rudolph. Skip Prichard presents 5 Success Lessons You Can Learn from Rudolph. The success inherent in these lessons starts with changing how you approach the world. When you change that, you can lead the change to much more.

Here are his lessons (with my interpretations):

  1. Don’t Let Someone Else Define Your Value – Rudolph’s worthiness wasn’t seen initially, and certainly not by the other reindeer (co-workers?). You know what you do and what you can do to contribute to the school community. All too often we let other people’s assessment of the value of a school librarian affect how we react to others – and think of ourselves. 

Look at it the way you would a non-reader.  It’s just someone who hasn’t found the right book.  The person making disparaging or ignoring comments about librarians hasn’t been given the opportunity to see what we can do – yet. 

  • Be a Light to Others, Even If They Hurt You – Rudolph never struck back at his detractors.  It’s not worth the effort, and it won’t change their mind.  Actions like being kind and reaching out stand a better chance of turning someone’s opinion around. This is not to suggest being a doormat because you don’t let them define your value.

As a librarian, part of your job responsibility is to have at least a professional relationship with everyone.  You can’t shut your door. When in a challenging situation, consider what that person likes, what might be putting them in a bad mood, or whether they may have been offering feedback rather than criticism (see Criticism vs. Feedback). Identify and respond to their needs, and you begin to develop a relationship.

  • Your Uniqueness Is Your Gift to the World–Rudolph’s red nose, the object of scorn, saved Christmas.  You have unique abilities. In addition to the ones you have as a librarian, you have other abilities and interests that make you the person you are.  Share them.

Some of you are crafters, whether it’s quilting or jewelry design, you make wonderful creations. What hobbies are you passionate about?  Photography?  Gaming?  Are you into yoga? These all contribute to your uniqueness.  If you incorporate them into your work world, it will help you reach people you wouldn’t have otherwise. You never know when the PTO might want to host a Craft Fair or if the teachers would want to come in early for some yoga stretches.

  • Find Someone Who Believes in You – Although it took a while, Santa recognized what Rudolph could do and had him lead the sleigh.  Mentors are great, but be sure yours believes in you all the way. Self-doubt is natural. We all have moments–sometimes very long moments—when we are filled with it. Having someone who believes in you reminds you of your value and worth, keeping you motivated and moving forward.
  • Difficulties Are Always Opportunities in Disguise – If it weren’t for that “very foggy Christmas Eve,” Rudolph might never have had the opportunity to show how special he was. It’s easy to be disheartened and overwhelmed by difficulties.  Life will always hand them to you.  How you react is what matters.

The Corona virus has been far more than a “difficulty,” but the opportunity it presents is equally large.  Teachers, administrators, students, and parents are all searching for how to get through the new landscape.  You are a leader.  You have unique abilities. Show your community how you can make their lives easier.

Mentors and lessons are everywhere. Today, consider using the steps that enabled Rudolph to take his place at the head of the pack.  Let your light shine and blaze a trail in the new year.