Presenting – You!

Leaders take risks. One of the scariest risks for beginning and seasoned leaders alike is making a presentation before an audience. But eventually you’ll have to do it. It’s how you extend others’ awareness of your value to the teachers and students. Unfortunately, Social Phobia—fear of social situations that can result in judgement, rejection or shame—is the topmost common fear.

So what can you do? Start small and with a familiar audience. Your first presentation may be to your fellow teachers. You know them and what they need to discover so they can be more successful at what they do. You’ve been showing them, one-on-one, how you support them. Now you are just opening it up.

Next level up may be to a parents’ group. While you don’t know them individually as you did with your colleagues, they will come to your presentation because they realize a gap in their knowledge you can fill, and you can show them ways to support their students. Sharing your expertise with them makes them more aware of what you bring to their kids every day.

Presenting to your state school library association or a national one is probably the scariest. Here you are speaking to your colleagues. A part of you may feel as though they know more than you and what are you doing there. (Ah, the ‘joys’ of Imposter Syndrome). Remind yourself a committee selected your proposal. They recognized you have something valuable to offer. Keep that in mind as you begin.

For all levels of presentation, preparation counts, and preparation includes your mindset. In addition to the content, you are presenting yourself—and that means you as a leader and the value of your program. Kevin Eikenberry describes how you can do this in Showing Up When It’s Your Time. Here are his tips:

Showing Up Aware -You are aware of the purpose of your presentation but think bigger. It may be a bigger opportunity than you realized. Something you say may spark a huge idea in someone in your audience. This might lead to a larger possibility, whether it’s a collaborative project with a teacher, a parent who now would like to create a library advocacy group, or it inspires an article or blog by you.

Showing Up Prepared – You want to be comfortable with the topic as well as how you plan to bring it. Technology blips (zoom, power point, internet connectivity) and questions going in an unexpected direction are always challenging and do occur. If you have a firm grip on your presentation and the material, you will respond confidently when the unanticipated occurs.

Showing Up at Our Best – Being rested and having eaten, as Eikenberry recommends, are a good start. Also, think about yourself and what makes you feel your best. You are likely to dress up for your presentation, but are you comfortable with what you are wearing? If you’re going to be standing for a long period, think about the shoes you’re choosing. If you may be photographed, think about the colors you’re wearing. This probably is not the day to try a new look. Don’t give yourself something else to worry about.

Showing Up Expectantly – Expect to succeed. An athlete going into a game expects to win. They may see themselves making a great play or crossing the finish line first. A positive mindset at the outset relaxes your body and makes you more engaging to your audience.

Showing Up Early – Always! This helps on so many levels. If you cut it too close, you will be agitated rather than relaxed when you arrive. You will have little time to “show up prepared” for those little glitches in plans. Also, arriving early allows you to mingle and talk with participants so that when you begin, they are already open to listening to you and you are already comfortable and familiar with them.

The hardest part of making presentations is getting started, but taking the risk is worth it. In the opening of the article Eikenberry quotes Woody Allen as saying, “90% of life is just showing up.” The idea is not to just show up, but to show off—your skills, your program, your leadership. And once you have a few successes under your belt, you’ll be ready for bigger stages in the future!

Perfect or Good Enough

When my daughter was in high school, I told her, “Good enough is not good enough.”  I was wrong. One reason for our stress and exhaustion is our need to get everything done perfectly. That’s not an option. We have too much to do, and we need to be honest about the importance of our tasks. From making the bed in the morning to leaving the library looking neat, we often treat everything we do equally, but that’s not a good use of our limited time. The result can be that important jobs do not get the detailed attention they need, and we are worn out.

Time management requires more than a to-do list. It means looking at what we do with an eye toward the return we get from our investment of time. In The Costs of Being a Perfectionist Manager, Anna Carmella G. Ocampo, Jun Gu, and Mariano Heyden discuss how to use perfectionist strengths without wearing yourself out trying to get everything done perfectly. They warn that perfectionism frequently leads to dissatisfaction because even when a job is well done, it still may still not meet your standards. It becomes a matter of balance and priorities.

In addition to describing several different types of perfectionists, the trio recommends the following approaches when faced with your own perfectionism:

Design the Right Goals – Ultimately, your goals should be tied to your Mission and Vison, however, as they say, your goals need to be “attainable yet challenging.” Interim goals that inch you towards your larger one will give you the best results. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and you don’t beat yourself up for not seeing your whole Mission in operation or achieving your Vision. You enjoy the process.

Recognize Failure as Part of the Process This can’t be stated often enough. We teach students that failure is learning, then don’t apply the concept to ourselves. We won’t get it right the first time. The learning is as important as the goal. If we don’t accept this, then fear of failure will keep us from taking risks, and risk-taking is an important leadership quality.

Cultivating Mindfulness – How you think is how you feel. Meditation is what the trio recommend. This could be traditional meditation, but anything that gets you away from your desk and immediate demands on your attention can be beneficial (long time readers of this blog know that I’m a walker). Look for times in your day when you can take a break, listen to your own thoughts (or music, or a podcast) so that you come back recharged.

Using Pep Talks – We are well-aware that we speak a lot of critical things to ourselves, things we’d never say to others. Perfectionist tendencies can make these thoughts batter us too often. Ocampo, Gu, and Heyden recommend finding calming and positive mantras to help banish these thoughts. I use this technique and remind myself of past struggles and ultimate successes. Again, what you think is how you feel.

Fostering Positive Interpersonal Relationships – Although every conversation is an opportunity, you don’t have to have an end goal in mind for each one. We know how important relationships are to the success of the library program, and building them begins with casual interactions. The authors point to how good we feel when we help someone. Doing so is a natural part of being a librarian. And not all help needs to be tied to library use. It’s about being an empathetic, caring person.

Managing Emotions – This is part of SEL and is vital for us all. Perfectionism leads to stress which tends to make us irritable and unpleasant to be with. The above techniques can help reduce that as will reframing. Every cloud has a silver lining. Find it and use it to calm yourself. This may also be a good time for a walk or reading some funny memes. Do whatever you need to restore your mental balance.

How many tasks do you have that don’t need to be done perfectly? Look to your priorities, give them the time they deserve, and then let the other things go. Sometimes, and again with apologies to my daughter, good enough is good enough.

The Power of Partnership

Getting teachers to collaborate with you can be a challenge. At the elementary level, you are their prep period, and they are perfectly happy to let you work with their students however you choose. At the high school level, you may never see them. And if they do come into the library, they know what they want and look to you for assistance, not collaboration. They don’t always see how your vision supports their goals.

If there is to be a change, chances are good that you must be the one to initiate it. It will take time and multiple steps to achieve your goal, but it will be worth it to everyone—especially the students. As you develop these partnerships, keep in mind your Mission and Vision. Look toward the relationships you have already built and focus on those who are most likely to be open to an overture from you. New relationships take longer but are just as worthwhile.

How you approach your teachers to begin the process is critical to your eventual success. Jim Knight offers Seven Principles for True Partnership. Although written to address to the business world, they are powerful reminders for us as well.

Equality – Although you are the one doing the initial heavy lifting, both parties must feel heard. No matter the teacher or what you see you bring to the project, it’s important that we “recognize the value and dignity of others.” This means listening without interrupting and correcting, which will likely cause them to withdraw. Be sure you show you recognize and value their interest in their students’ learning and the part they play in the success of your collaboration.

Choice – Rather than trying to find ways to impose your plan, look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the process as well as the final design. A partnership means there are contributions from both sides. Identify what you see as good ideas in what they proposed. Rather than thinking of it as selling your idea, approach it as how can you create something good together. It will be stronger for having input from both sides.

Voice – Give them room to react to your ideas. As with creating Equality, listen attentively. Make sure they know you hear and value their ideas. Sometimes a teacher’s idea of resources, essential questions, and other components seem off base. This may be a matter of newness, not ignorance. Are they concerned the scope is too large? Do they think it will be more work than they can handle? Pay attention to what they are saying and any other silent communication that suggests some resistance. If you spot that, ask about it. Don’t override any issues they have.

Dialogue – Knight talks about recognizing the other’s strengths. This is one of the best ways to build a partnership and collaboration. Each of you has something unique to bring to the project. Dialogue is a back-and-forth process where both sides want to be heard and understood. How can you leverage this?

Reflection – Look inwardly to see how you behave and react as the partnership develops. We tend to jump in and fix things rather than allow the other person to find their way and learn. Telling someone what they should do doesn’t work unless they have asked for advice. Make certain that each step in the process strengthens the partnership you’re working to build because you want this to last beyond the one project.

Praxis – As Knight uses it, this is about the learning that occurs while a project is happening. Plans rarely go exactly as designed. Both of you need to be prepared to make changes and adjustments. Mistakes and successes will happen. Learn from both. And do this in partnership so that you each feel supported.

Reciprocity – Each partnership is an opportunity to learn and grow. Go into this collaboration knowing that you are likely to learn as much (or more) from them as they will from you. That is one of the gifts of partnership – it speeds our learning because we do it together. What have you learned from each other? Be sure to share how you benefitted from the other person. Hopefully, you will hear what they learned from you.

Librarians and teachers have days that are filled with tasks and deadlines. Both have goals that are difficult to achieve alone. Building and nurturing collaborations take time, but the benefits to students and to our own lives are worth it. With whom will you partner?

Love The Life You Live

Do you love your life? Only on special occasions? You are not alone. Many people count the days to their retirement even when it’s years away, and it’s not a healthy way to live. When we are not seeing the positives in our life, we are easily stressed. In addition, our negative perspective affects how we see events and people. Studies have proven our mental and physical heath are affected by our emotions.

Mindset is powerful. You know that from your experiences with students, teachers and administrators. We discuss it in SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) and possibly in Professional Development groups you belong to. A negative mindset hampers your Emotional Intelligence.  

In a post about the central tenants of his book, The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment, Marshall Goldsmith offers this 5-step approach to re-examining your life and coming to love it:

  1. Align your aspirations, ambitions, and actions—Just as you have a Vision for your library, you need one for your life. Why are you doing all this? Why are you working so hard? Goldsmith says to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve. What is your big goal? In a way, this is like your Mission statement. Follow that up with ideas and plans of how to get there. In essence, you are creating a strategic plan to have the life you really want. Goldsmith cautions against basing success on the quantity of your achievements. That leads to the overwork many of us are prone to – and the exhaustion that accompanies it. Hustle culture doesn’t work. Focus instead on the doing rather than the totality (the end result) –relishing the learning that is part of the journey.
  • Eat the Marshmallow – Referring to the experiment where children were asked to decide if they want one marshmallow now or wait until later and get two, Goldsmith asks what if you are asked to delay further for three? How much gratification should you delay? Waiting for an ultimate reward can suck the joy out of everyday accomplishments. Delight can and should be incorporated into your every day. You don’t need to wait until you earn it because of some big event. Use the good dishes. Buy the thing you want so much.
  • The “New Me” Paradigm—We need to remove the “when” from our life view. Deciding that happiness will come only when a certain event or achievement is reached keeps you from enjoying the now. Goldsmith notes that there is no correlation between achievement and happiness. You don’t need to be better, thinner, more financially secure, or any other version of a “better” you to embrace being happy now.
  • Credibility Must Be Earned Twice – I have never seen the idea put this way before, but it is vital for school librarians to recognize. According to Goldsmith, for people to trust you, you have to be competent at what you do, and you are. But that isn’t enough. Your work must also be recognized. And that is where we sometimes miss the mark–and miss out on happiness. The lack of recognition for our work is a big factor in not loving our lives. The answer is to market yourself so that what you’re doing is noticed by your core audience. If that feels too hard, start by promoting your program. As Goldsmith says, “If good work really spoke for itself, no company would need a marketing function.”
  • The LPR – This is your Life Plan Review, a daily reflection of how you are doing. Goldsmith did it with a group, but you can do it alone. I keep a Success Journal near where I work to track my daily accomplishments so I can see what I’ve done in a day, rather than only focus on what still needs to be done. If you’re only looking forward, you cannot take joy in what is happening now.

You have so much in your life that is good and so much you’ve accomplished. True, there are challenges and problems, but if you look closely, you can see how much is right with your world. Take time to see all the good choices you’ve made, the wonderful people in your life, the opportunities you have. Start loving the life you live–or keep waiting for more marshmallows.