Gratitude, Reflections & Resolutions

The December holidays are pretty much done. You (hopefully) have time to relax before New Year’s and the return to school. In this quiet space, it’s a great opportunity to take some time to think, focus your mindset, and be ready to bring your rejuvenated self to being the best leader and librarian you can be for the remainder of the school year. But where to start?

I am a great believer in gratitude. The daily stress and crises of life, both personal and professional, can drown out the good. Life will always happen, but we need to savor the happy moments. To do this, find a quiet spot. Take a notepad or your tablet with you and give yourself time to think. What do you have in your life that you are grateful for? Family and friends. Home, food, coffee, jobs we enjoy, the people who make our lives easier. Start listing them. As you continue to think, your list will get longer.

Reflect on the joys and celebrations you have had this year. I keep an “All Good Things” canister on my kitchen island. I record whenever something good happens to me or a family member on a sheet of paper from a small pad I keep in the cannister. Then I fold it, write the date on it, and put it back in the canister. On New Year’s Day, I empty the canister and put the folded sheets in chronological order. As I read through them, I can remember what I great year I had.

With those two steps completed, you are ready for the traditional writing of New Year’s resolutions, intentions, or goals. Knowing how often these are made and quickly broken, consider Dan Rockwell’s suggestions in A New Year – A New Focus and do it differently.

His novel idea is to start by making a “Don’t Want” list. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you’ll write this. We are quite clear about what we want less of. Follow it with a short explanation of how to keep it out of your life (or minimize it.)  For example, you may not want to feel so tired. So, you will need to go to bed earlier. Perhaps you don’t want to be always going from task to task like the Energizer bunny. You will have to prioritize your commitments and learn to say, “no.”

Rockwell says to then consider what you do want. Think about what you want more of in your life and then ask yourself what it would take – what would the steps be – to have that in your life. If you want more time with your family what will you need to do? What will you stop doing to give yourself more time? On the professional level, you might want to collaborate with more teachers. Who can you reach out to? (You don’t want to tackle too many. Remember you are prioritizing your commitments.) What’s the best way to connect with that teacher? How can you build your relationship with them?

With these two lists, you now have a clearer idea of where to focus in the New Year. Reflect again. This time on what went well this year. How can you improve on what didn’t? How can you take your successes to the next level? How can you let go of what didn’t work or didn’t serve you?

And lastly, Rockwell (and I heartily agree) asks “How do you want to bring value to yourself and others? You have noted how much you have to be grateful for. Now it is time to focus on the ways you can give back. You are a leader. What do you need to do that will strengthen and grow your community? But do maintain balance in your life. It will be a matter of priorities.

Quiet time over. You have set your direction for the New Year. Now enjoy the remainder of your vacation.


Leadership Power

Making your Vision for your library a reality requires two things: leadership and power. Power has many faces. Some comes from a person’s title, like principal or superintendent, but at its core (and by definition), power is having or making people do what you want them to do. The best kind of power happens when the person with power inspires – rather than forces – people to follow.

The strongest and most effective leaders don’t only have power, they are visionaries. Your Vision Statement is just a dream unless you keep it in mind and work toward it, however slowly. In addition, you can’t accomplish your vision on your own. You must make connections with others who help bring it with you to fruition.

As an example, look at this Vision Statement, “The Blank School Library Program is the center of collaborative learning, producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.” It is uplifting, as all Vision Statements need to be. At the same time, the importance of others being a part of it to make it a reality is embedded in the statement with phrases including: “collaborative learning,” “appreciation of literature” and “critical thinking skills.”

Bringing your vision to life requires you to work with teachers at all levels and in all subjects, as well as creating the safe environment that welcomes all, allowing them to produce their best work. To achieve that, you need to be clear on where you are going and have a positive mindset about getting there. Alaina Love in her post, Do You Have the Kind of Power That Really Matters? guides you with these five questions to ask yourself.

  1. What is the over-arching purpose I am here to achieve? The word “purpose” provides the answer. It is your Mission Statement. Your Mission Statement is what grounds you and keeps you focused on what is truly important so that you don’t get distracted –or not for long—by tasks that don’t further your purpose.
  2. What are the outcomes I am hoping to manifest today? A prioritized to-do list has you working towards that over-arching purpose in manageable steps. The pleasure we feel at being able to cross off these tasks keeps us motivated to continue in our always busy world. Love recommends keeping track of your successes as a reminder of what you are achieving. Seeing progress is an incredible motivator.
  3. How do I need to show up for others to get these results? For librarians, this means listening to the people in our community and learning what teachers are doing – and struggling with. When your library is a safe welcoming environment, they are more likely to share their worries and stresses. Offering your help and doing the heavy lifting brings them back. They will see you and the library as a vital resource toward their success.
  4. What needs to shift in the environment I create to allow others to be more successful? Your first thought may be to look at the physical arrangement of furniture in your library. That’s one place but go further. You can invite teachers to put their student projects on display highlighting the success of many. You might also assess if you can make it easier for teachers to talk with you and/or schedule their classes into the library. Is there a place in your library where you can talk privately? Environment is about more than how a place looks. It’s about how it feels when you’re there.
  5. Where do I need to demonstrate more authenticity in my interactions and communications? Establish yourself as someone who can be trusted. Be comfortable sharing what you know – and what you don’t. In addition, be open to feedback, valuable part of leadership. is tough but necessary. After a project is completed, be willing to seek the truth from the people you worked with. Ask, “What do you think worked best?” “Where did you feel most supported?” “What could I have done better?” “How could I have helped you more?” “What changes would you like to see if we repeat this project?”  Asking may make your feel vulnerable, but you will have built trust. And trust is the foundation of relationships.

You want to be the kind of leader who stays in your power and impacts others positively. With your Mission Statement and Vision to guide you, you can work continuously and successfully to make your Vision a reality because others will want to be a part of what you’re creating.

Building Relationships With Everyone

As I’ve written about many times, we are in the relationship business. Without them, we’re out of business. And if the library is going to be a welcoming place for all, we need to be in relationship with everyone in our building. The challenge comes when we must work with those who we find difficult to connect to – because it doesn’t matter. We need to build a relationship with them and provide them with the same services and resources we give everyone else. We don’t need to be their friends, but we must create the connection that shows we are there for them.

So how can we build these connections? Amy Gallo offers guidance on how to handle tricky waters in Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). Her five suggestions should get you going.

1. The definition of a “difficult person” is often informed by bias – Take note of why you might consider this person difficult. Gallo says, our interpretation is often informed by our own biases and prejudices. The author suggests you ask yourself: “If your colleague was a different gender, race, sexual orientation, would you make the same assumptions? Would you be willing to say the same things or treat them the same way?”

Even if you have become aware of your implicit bias towards BIPOC – or possibly LBGTQ+ people, there are other types of implicit bias we hold. Do you innately believe your Athletic Director is a non-reader and/or someone who wouldn’t be interested in libraries?  Do you unwittingly assume that custodial staff members are less intelligent? What biases do you hold about people who are very overweight, much older (or younger) than you, or those who your friends don’t particularly like?  We make judgments without being aware we have done so. Stop to consider this when looking at the relationships that challenge you.

2. Your perspective is just one perspective – It’s not only our implicit biases that shape our perspective. How we see the world is not necessarily how others see it. Our attitude towards so many things unconsciously affects our decisions about others. In my family, we often interrupted each other in our enthusiasm to communicate our ideas. I have a friend who considers it rude. There is no right or wrong here. Only different perspectives that deserve understanding. To deal with this, the questions to ask yourself, says Gallo are, “What assumptions have I made?  How would someone with different values and experiences see things differently?” By stopping to ask yourself this, you’ll have the chance to connect.

3. It’s not just negative relationships that need attending to – Your positive relationships may be affected by your negative response to others. Colleagues you don’t like or who annoy you add stress. You bring that stress with you into all areas of your life. And it’s important to recognize that not all relationships fall neatly into “good” or “bad”. There are those which are more ambivalent, and which also need our attention. You may not have a problem with the person, but if you’re indifferent, you really don’t “see” them. As a result, you remain unaware of their needs and don’t provide the same support and resources that you do with your positive relationships. Also remember that relationships aren’t fixed. Good ones can turn sour without care.

4. Escalating is an option that has to be done carefully – As a librarian, this is one you hopefully will never have to use. Going to the administration or possibly the union about a colleague is something that would require an egregious offense. It happened to me only once in my career. I was retiring from a high school library and my co-librarian was a disaster. Through her own careful planning, she managed to avoid being observed so the administration wasn’t aware of her shortcomings. She was up for tenure and slated to replace me. I spoke to the Assistant Superintendent, and while I wasn’t able to change their decision, in my exit interview with the principal, I recommended frequent visits to the library and listening to the staff. They did, and a year later my suspicions proved accurate, and they moved her to another library. The library – and other relationships – were more important. Consider this before escalating.

Sometimes we have to be the adult in the room – As with much of all our relationship-building (in and out of work), and our collaborations, it often seems as though we have to be the one doing the work. There will be times when you need more help from them or wish they’d do more, but ultimately, the only person in a relationship you can control is yourself. These means that to have the relationships we need, we have to accept responsibility for their success, even when (and maybe especially when) it’s difficult.

We need to be in relationships with everyone because the library is for everyone. Yes, some relationships will be deeper than others, some may even become lifelong friendships. What’s important to remember is all of these relationships are important, and the better you are at connecting to your colleagues, students, administrators, and parents, the more likely it is that your program will thrive.

Coping with Anxiety

Anxious, nervous, worried, fretful. So many words to express a state of mind we all experience at one time or another. These days seem to be coming more often. The news, job stress, book banning, and personal issues all find their way into our brain and our internal conversation, only heightening those emotions.

We all have situations that make us nervous. Right now, I’m worried about my upcoming state library conference. I will be giving a presentation tomorrow just before lunch. Me, a conference junkie, and I haven’t been to one in two years. My thoughts are racing. Will I remember to pack everything I need for my overnight stay? What about my presentation? Have I prepared enough? Will it be well received?

Major or minor, these anxiety-producing situations take a toll and keep us from bringing our best to whatever is on our plates. We need tools to deal with the draining effects of anxiety. Marlene Chism has a plan for us in 7 Practical Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Difficult Times.

  1. Challenge Your Thoughts – Notice what you’re thinking and take time to ask yourself – is it true? Our thoughts can be our worst enemy – negative internal conversations where we’re highly self-critical. Or we catastrophize, seeing all possible outcomes in the worst possible light. We won’t ever stop those voices from popping up in our heads, but Chism suggests we note their presence and say, “Thanks for sharing,” then find a way to shift our attention.
  2. Stop Ruminating – You may have a repetitive strain of negative thoughts going on. Chism suggests finding a way to break that cycle before it becomes a habit. To do this, move to a more soothing thought. Instead of constantly thinking, “I’ll never get more budget money” meet that concern with a thought about going for a grant or creating a DonorsChoose campaign.
  3. Eliminate Blame – Chism says blame is about the past and makes you a victim. It keeps us away from taking responsibility and creating change. Recognize your choices and take back your power. Instead of continually seeing the administration as the cause of no new budget dollars, you can look for ways to make the library more visible so the administration is more likely to support your initiatives.
  4. Unplug from the Media – This is a reminder that, “Watching the news or engaging in social media non-stop is toxic to your health, takes up time and wastes precious energy…” Many of us are what’s known as “data responsive.” We can’t help but feel anxious and worried when we hear about the state of things, even if these are things we can’t help. Limiting exposure to this information decreases anxiety.
  5. Create Structure – Reliability and predictability decrease anxiety. Our structures began falling apart during the pandemic. Many of us are still putting new ones in place. Structure affects behavior and builds routines. Routines build habit. Habits build accomplishments. If you make time to recognize the accomplishments, you can quiet the negative thoughts.
  6. Get Organized – Build on the previous step by creating organization in your environment. This is good for home and work. Chism says, “There’s something about the physical activity of organizing that can help you clear your mind, whether at work or at home.” The author further suggests you organize your mental environment by putting all your concerns and worries down on paper and determining how you will deal with them and when you will do it. This will also help you notice some of the other steps – including negative thoughts, ruminating, and blame.
  7. Rekindle Relationships – The pandemic proved that humans are social animals and how much we thrive with connection. We wither when we don’t have contact with others. Yes, we see and work with people daily, but it’s our relationships that refresh us. Sometimes it’s a case of a “problem shared is a problem halved.” Other times, it’s putting your cares away for a time and allowing the freedom of just enjoying being with those you care about. Get coffee with friends. Share lunch with your volunteers. Make your relationships a priority.

Our anxieties won’t go away, but we can keep them under control. As for me, I’m focused on my priorities and to-do list for today and reminding myself that I’ve had many successful presentations in the past, and I can trust that I’m bringing something of value. Best of all, I will be seeing my friends and colleagues again.