Me? An Author

If on seeing the title, your first thought was, “No way!” you should know that it is absolutely possible. And being an author gives you a unique way to be noticed in your school and district. It certainly makes your presence known, and being published in any format makes you seen as a leader. Like all things dealing with leadership, it takes moving out of your comfort zone.

I have been writing since 1977, and, as with my job as a librarian, I fell into it. I took a post-grad course to earn a supervisor’s certificate. For the final paper in the course, two of us created volunteer manuals. Our fellow students said we needed to publish it. I had no idea where to begin, and neither did the other student, Ruth Toor. Fortuitously, one of my library volunteers, a college professor, suggested contacting her publisher.

Figuring we had nothing to lose, I did so. The man who became our first editor suggested we enlarge our idea – by a lot—and model it on a Teacher’s Almanac his company had done. This was far more work than we had considered, but we decided to try it. It was a definite step out of our comfort zone, but we signed the contract.

To write the book, we met on weekends and developed an outline of the chapters from September through June, along with a sample chapter. It came back loaded with corrections. Panicked, I questioned our editor if he still wanted the book. He eased our mind by saying, “we only correct good writing.”

We buckled down, adjusting our different styles and drawing on our individual skills to produce the final manuscript. In 1979, The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac was published. You can still get a used copy online, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s more than a little dated.

Shortly thereafter, our publisher suggested we do a monthly newsletter to be called The School Librarian’s Workshop, whose title lives on in my Facebook group. Over the years, Ruth and I changed publishers several times but continued writing. The books led to presentations at state and national conferences, and our reputation grew. Ruth passed away a number of years ago, but I continue to write. My newest book, The Art of Communication: A Librarian’s Guide for Successful Leadership, Collaboration, and Advocacy, was recently published by Libraries Unlimited.

Since I started, I have seen many librarians make the same journey into authorship, and you can too. And unlike Ruth and me, you have formats other than print books to get started. For example, you can submit a blog for Knowledge Quest, the journal of AASL. Your administration will be impressed that you have published on the national level.

As with everything, the hardest part is getting started. In How to Grow a Reputation as a Thought Leader, Becky Robinson recommends five ways for people to get started writing:

  1. Identify the content you want to share – You have knowledge, skills and experience. Don’t assume everyone has the same. Start with what has been a big success and what you like to do. Have you had great bulletin boards or other displays?  Have you been able to reach formerly reluctant teachers and now collaborate with them?  You have probably been more successful than you give yourself credit for and there are inexperienced librarians who would benefit from your results.
  2. Figure out what content you have and create a content catalog – Robinson suggests checking out slide decks from presentation you have given. If you have a website, you may have posted content that can be used. Did or do you write articles for the school newsletter? All this is content you have ready to put together.
  3. Create a content calendar – This usually refers to when and what you want to post on social media platforms and your webpage, but it can also help you to look forward towards what a publication might need. Look at your content and see if there are topics where you are particularly strong. In September, they are looking for New Year ideas. In March or April, they may be interested in information on how to wrap the school year up so the fall starts strong. Identify themes and any times of the year when they are most appropriate. Some themes are good all year such as leadership, advocacy, and collaboration. Robinson suggests that you, “think about the stories you tell again and again. What are the questions you always get asked? What are the frameworks you share?” That will help you build content.
  4. Flex to repurpose your content – A presentation for teachers can become an article with the presentation used as graphics. Several short pieces on the same topic can be merged into a longer one. A long one can be broken into shorter ones.
  5. Bundle it up – When you look at the work you’ve done, you may discover you have a book almost ready to go. As a librarian, you are familiar with the non-fiction publishers in our field. Contact their acquisition editor and see if they are interested. If they aren’t, try another publisher. Ask around your PLN to see who may have recommendations.

Your years as a reader have likely made you a very strong writer. Your experience as a librarian likely means you have something to share. Look for what you’d like to give back to our community, where you’ve learned and grown, and you may discover some exciting publishing possibilities.


Working Together

To be truly successful as school librarians, we need to collaborate with our colleagues. Yet, because we have full schedules and so do teachers, many of us have found this an insurmountable challenge. It’s easy to fall into existing patterns and not go beyond what we have always done.

Collaboration needs us to extend beyond regular projects or limited to what has been previously done. Our students need it and our programs are better because of it. And doing so is part of our national standards. Collaborate is the fourth of the Shared Foundations in AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Libraries and Librarians. How School Librarians are to implement it is best shown in the framework on pages 84-85 of the Standards. Here you find:

Key Commitment: Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.”


School Library Domains and Alignments: A. Think

The school library facilitates opportunities to integrate collaborative and shared learning by

  1. Partnering with other educators to scaffold learning and organize learner groups to broaden and deepen understanding.”

As a leader, grounded in your Vision and Mission, it’s part of your job to look for ways to connect with as many teachers as possible for the benefit of your students and the teachers. Finding the time won’t be easy, but you need to make the outreach a priority. Ken Blanchard in Playing Well with Others presents reasons why it is worth your extra effort.

When getting started at building relationships forming the basis for collaboration, I recommend reaching out to those with whom you already share a bond. But, as Blanchard points out, you can’t stop there. Playing well with others means finding places to form a connection. Those with different viewpoints are the very ones who can help us grow. In the process, you can form the start of a relationship leading to collaboration.

Blanchard discusses four benefits of working with others:

Learning–When we work with others, we learn: about them, ourselves, new ways to create. Like Blanchard, I have written a number of books with a co-author. We had some knowledge in common, but each of us had areas where we knew more than the other. Our combined strengths led to a better book and to me learning more than I expected during a venture where I was sharing what I knew.

Skill BuildingOne of the most vital skills in creating relationships is listening. You have to truly listen – and not just wait for your chance to talk—when you are working collaboratively. Related to Learning, there will always be skills where your partner is stronger and their knowledge will help you grow. Acknowledging what you each bring to the partnership strengthens it and leads to future collaboration.

Productivity—An obvious benefit. When work is divided, the load is lessened. While it seems at first that building relationships and creating collaboration increases in your work, ultimately you will be more productive and successful when you collaborate.

Networking Creating a network of teachers who understand and support the library is vital for your ongoing success. In addition, collaboration can extend to working with other librarians in your district (if you have them), public librarian, or a librarian at a local college. The larger your PLN, the more you grow, and the more you have to offer your teachers and students.

It’s simpler to work by yourself. You know what needs to be done. You have your own style and approach for doing it. Working with others seems be a way to slow things down. But as the saying goes, “To go fast, go alone. To go far go with others.” Thinking about this, realistically, how many teachers can you target for a collaborative project before the holiday break? Even one is a start. How many can you target from January to the end of the school year? What you learn from the first will help you reach the new ones with whom you plan to work.

Instincts + Facts = Strong Decisions

If you are an NCIS fan, you know that Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Hamon, always trusts his instincts. But should you trust yours? And if so when?

For me, and I assume for many of us, the answer is sometimes. My instinct is an accumulation of life experiences, good and bad. It’s faster than data analysis in telling me about any given situation. I can rely on it for taking on speaking engagements, agreeing to a new project, or choosing to join a committee or board. But it can steer me in the wrong direction, especially when I’ve been influenced by incorrect information, such as the language and biases I was raised with.

How can you know when your “gut” is drawing you to the right choice? In the last part of her blog post, Efficient Decision—Making with EQ Skills in Business, Dr, Anna Rostomyan offers these five steps to guide you. She concludes by noting the importance of the additional information intuition and gut instincts lend to the decision-making process. These are her steps with my comments:

  • Delay the decision – Akin to counting to ten, a pause prevents you from going too fast and not seeing all aspects of the situation. It also keeps you from drawing on the implicit bias that has built up over the years. It helps you to notice if you’re responding out of learned emotion, the facts that have been presented, or a combination of both.
  • Recognize your emotions, and the emotions in those with whom you interact – We all have triggers that can set us off. Is your reaction based on one of yours? Have you accidentally set off someone else’s trigger? Can you stop and see why certain emotions have come up for you or the person you’re talking to? We sometimes use phrases where we don’t realize the potential for harm and need to stop and reflect if we don’t get the reaction we’re expecting. As an example, look up the history of the phrase “grandfathering in” to see where racial inequality has influenced our language.
  • Identify the emotional side of the decision – Identifying emotions allows us to take a step back from experiencing them. This is one of the key reasons for the first step of delaying the decision. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong reaction to information, news, or change, but it is important to not act on that first response and instead notice how we’re feeling.
  • Reappraise the feelings which are hindering your rational decision-making – Rostomyan says this will let you analyze whether the emotions are helping or interfering with the process and allow you to see the facts more clearly. In my blog last week, I talked about leaving a position after 22 years. As relevant as they were, I had to remove the emotional components (my dislike of the principal and my dismay at the approaching retirement of the supportive Superintendent) from the rational aspect of the situation. The facts were the principals track record of restricting the library program and his known aspirations to becoming Superintendent. Big decisions are usually connected to deeply held feelings, not always easy to identify. When you can separate your emotional reaction from the facts that led to that reaction you can see whether you have truth to back up your response and then make your decision accordingly. Taking the time to explore them will help you make the best choice.
  • Look for substitute or alternative decisions – Have a Plan B. If the decision is important, you need to know what you will do if your first solution doesn’t work. Here Rostomyan says to be careful of “FOBO” (fear of a better option). To avoid this, she advises… getting back to your gut.

Your gut or intuition can be a reliable guide, but despite Jethro Gibbs, it is wise to check in with your emotions and the facts surrounding your response to make certain your gut is leading you in the right direction.

Stay or Go

Did the beginning of the school year feel like the beginning of a prison sentence? Are you already counting the days until the winter break?  If so… it may be time to start a job search.

As scary as this may be, there are many great reasons. You may be in a toxic environment or an unsupportive school district. Maybe there’s been a recent change in administration, and you know your program will soon be under fire.  It is probably affecting your relationships with family and your health. But what alternatives do you have? Librarians and teachers rarely think of leaving a job when they have tenure, but as a leader, hopefully, you have become good at reading the “handwriting on the wall.” It’s worth it to take the time to be honest with yourself. You know when things are not going to get better.

I have been in that place, and I took the leap after being in a district for 22 years. I had a brand-new library I had designed, a small but decent budget, and the respect and support of my teacher colleagues. What I didn’t have was a supportive principal who had been there for about 5 years. He would thwart my efforts whenever he could. What helped me was a very supportive Superintendent. When she announced her retirement in two years, I knew my work life would be completely miserable with him in charge. And he was likely to become the Superintendent once the Assistant Superintendent had a chance to take over for a few years.  I began my job hunt that day.  My new job proved to be everything I wanted and more, and my prediction was also correct. Three years later, the principal was the Superintendent. 

Leaving is not always the answer, which is why you need to seriously consider all aspects of the situation.  A colleague of mine had been in charge of school library with a very limited budget. She jumped at the opportunity to go to another district which paid more, and her daughter was starting college. In the new situation, she was the junior librarian.  She thought it wouldn’t be a problem.  The senior librarian was a good friend.  Within six months, the friendship was in tatters, and the dream job had lost all its luster.

The first step in planning to leave is to know what you want and what you cannot accept. If the job has everything you want, but there are things you cannot accept, don’t take it. For example, I was willing to drive 1 hour but no more to a job, I had to be the senior librarian, and the library had to be attractive. For my colleague, the money was her primary and overriding purpose in changing her job. Having made that choice, she needed to remember it was her choice and to find ways to adjust. She ultimately moved to an elementary school in the same district.

If you are considering leaving, read Greg Vanoourek’s post Why We Stay in Bad Jobs Too Long. He goes through the reason why people stay, what makes a job wrong for you, and the downside of staying in a job too long. Although it is tailored to the business world, there’s enough there to help guide your decision. You are not likely to find a job in the middle of the school year, so you have time to contemplate the pros and cons of staying or leaving over the next few months. Be strategic. Think about your priorities and your deal breakers. Be clear about what excites you and what you bring to a position. Consider where you want to be in the next five years. Talk to your librarian colleagues in your PLN.  And do talk to your family. A job affects so much of your life; it is worth it to have one that brings you joy.

What Is Your Body Saying

Our silent communication is often louder than our verbal one, and it’s not always saying the same thing as our words. Or what we want. The mixed messages we send can cause people to not trust you, not feel included, or not worth your time. And since our relationships are key to our success, making sure there’s cohesion in what we are communicating is important.

Body language communicates what we are thinking – even if when (especially when) we’re not aware of it. Whatever mindset we have about an interaction is on display for everyone to see in our body language. It includes voice and tone as well as the positions of our body.

For example, have you ever had a situation where a class you “know” to be difficult lives up to your expectations? There’s a chance you were partially responsible for this. How did you sound when you greeted them? How were you holding your body? All of these tell the students you were sure they were going to act up. And then they do. But, if you prepare yourself and change your mindset, you can get a different outcome. For example, you can think of the students as highly energetic rather than troublesome. Most of the time, along with a good lesson, it will work.

Your body language also comes into play when you are at a meeting. There are many reasons you might not be fully engaged, but if you learn to recognize and control your body language, you can prevent sending negative messages. Lolly Daskal in Seven Cringeworthy Body Language Mistakes Leaders Make During Meetings provides basics you need to know as a teacher and leader to become more aware of any unconscious communications you are making.

Unengaged Posture –Slouching sends a message that you are tuning out. When meeting with a group of teachers, doing this while they discuss matters related to them before or after your presentation says you aren’t interested in topics about their workday. Or to put it another way, you only want to “sell” the library.

Lack of Eye Contact – This is much like the unengaged posture. It gives the impression that you have tuned the speaker out. Eye contact is often associated with honesty. As Daskal notes, it’s not that you stare at the speaker, that wouldn’t be natural. Indeed, it could be seen as trying to intimidate or disparage the speaker, but you do want to make regular eye contact and not be looking off elsewhere.

Drumming Fingers – Although usually done unconsciously, it sends an obvious message of boredom or impatience. It’s an almost stereotypical but clear sign of being disengaged.

Looking Distracted – Daskal puts is well: If people don’t have your full attention, they won’t give you their full respect. How many faculty meetings have you attended where people are checking their phones? When you are with other people, this is when it is key to stay engaged. Take notes. Ask questions. Be involved.  

Crossing Your Arms—A classic way of shutting down by visually and physically closing yourself off. When kids do it, you know they don’t want to hear you. You are saying the same thing. Possibly accompanying it with drumming your fingers.

Fidgeting—Let jiggling, toe or pen tapping, continual shifts in position or slouching from one side to the other. You may not even be aware that you’re doing it, but if you are, it’s signaling distraction and lack of attention. Daskal suggests if it’s your response to nervousness, seek a coach to help you.

Multitasking—Many of us multitask on a regular basis, but it’s important to shut down that impulse anytime you are in a situation where relationships can be built. Not only does it send the wrong message, but studies show that it’s inefficient and it sends a message that other things are more worthy of your attention.

How many of these do you do? As you start recognizing them and preventing them from occurring, become aware of the messages others are sending. It will help you to better respond to them. Make sure your words and body match the message you want to send to build stronger relationships with students, teachers, and administrators.