Spark Your Creativity

Are you creative?

What was your first reaction to the question? You probably thought in artistic terms. If you knit or draw, you may have categorized yourself as creative. Those of you who design great book art projects or bulletin boards tend to do the same. But there is more to creativity than art.

When you consider redesigning your library to meet current needs, you need to be creative. When you want to come up with a project that will excite and engage students, you need to be creative. When you want to get more money for the library program (an outgrowth of the previous statement), you need to be creative.

Any time you want to move past the status quo, you need to be creative. We are all creative, and, frequently, more creative than we realize. But what do we do on the days when we are so tired the thought of being creative is beyond us? How do we break out of that “too tired to think” sense?

Alaina Love has some great recommendations for how to spark your creativity in Building an Imagination Process. As I do, Love recommends “establish[ing] a space for imagination.” She proposes four steps for doing this.

Value the Trinity – Love says we need the trinity of imagination, inspiration, and creativity – to be creative. You can free your imagination by asking, “what if?” For example, what would my library program and facility be like if money weren’t an issue? Creativity will flow from there. Don’t censor yourself by thinking you will never get the money. First get the idea. You can then get creative about money sources.

Establish and Value Your Process – I love the phrase she uses: “It’s hard to get creative in the middle of a hurricane.” What she means by this is you may need to change your surroundings to free your imagination. I’ve written often of my passion for walking. When I’m out and about, I let my brain run free and think of words and phrases associated with what I’m working on. On my return, I record my thoughts. With these new ideas igniting my thinking, I am ready to form them into a concrete plan of action..

Find what works for you. It could be journaling or sitting quietly in a comfortable chair. What matters is that you find the method that sets your imagination free. Then cultivate it.

Be Judgement Free – All that matters is what is right for you. Don’t stress about whether your way is the best way or if you should try something different. Best is not the answer. As long as you are thinking in new and creative ways you are doing it right. It’s much like not censoring whether the ideas you generated can be achieved.

You may not be immediately successful. You are establishing (creating?) a different practice. It takes time to be comfortable with it. As long as you’ve stopped thinking about the “hurricane,” you are heading in the right direction.

Start Small – In another great expression, Love says you shouldn’t try to “boil the ocean.” Start with the project to engage students rather than developing a new library program and facility. See how the space you have created works for you.

As you get better at this, you will automatically tweak how you get into your imagination space. It will be comfortable. Make it a regular part of your week.

Developing this practice will give you a direction, resulting in changes that will demonstrate the leader you are – and your value to your students, teachers, administrators, and the community. Just imagine what that would be like.


Projecting Confidence

Are you confident?  Everywhere? Of course not. Where don’t you feel confident? One of the reasons people trust leaders is the sense of confidence they instill in others. To be clear—this doesn’t mean leaders don’t have doubts. What they do have is confidence in their area of expertise and know they can figure out what to do and what needs to be done.

So what is confidence and how can you project it – even if there are times when you don’t feel it? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstance.” There are two key words in this definition. “Feeling” implies an emotional quality. “Power” in this sense about abilities tied to an inner awareness.

How you feel about a given situation can affect your self-confidence. When you are nervous or entering an unfamiliar one, you might not feel confident. A change of mindset can shift you from being uncertain to believing you have the ability to successfully handle the experience. You can read my February 5th blog, Leading a Great Meeting which discussed 5 “P’s” for success: Purpose, Preparation, People, Process, and Progress.  These 5 are applicable in those situations as well.

Taking confidence a step further, John Garfunkel offers his 5 Ways to Exude Confidence in Meetings, Even If You Aren’t.

1. DO: Sit in the front of the room or head of the table  – This can feel challenging when we’re not sure of our place, but, according to Garfunkel, this shows that you care about what is going on, what is being said and that you want to contribute and be heard. Being in the front shows others you value this meeting and ready to be a part of things.

AVOID: Sitting outside the focus area of discussion – Garfunkel notes, “if you are on the fringe leaves you exactly that.” The people in the back rarely speak up. They have chosen their seat because they are unsure of themselves. In a job interview, move your chair into a better position. You may have multiple people interviewing you, and you want to see each one – and have them see you.

2. DO: Treat Senior Executives as Equals – In education, this would refer to administrators and other district personnel such as the head of IT when you are on a technology committee. You have knowledge to bring to the table. Don’t be hesitant. Demonstrate your value to this meeting and to the educational community. Be aware of your intonation, and don’t end sentences with the raise in tone suggesting uncertainty.

AVOID: Looking Down and Not Making Eye Contact – This conveys insecurity in the situation. You want to show you are a full, contributing member of the team no matter who is present. Garfunkel says to “go for full engagement — listening, speaking, body language and eye contact.” This is equally true in a job interview. You want interviewers to see you will be a valuable addition to the staff.

3. DO: Project Your Voice Own that you are an expert in your area and have an important point to make, even if what you’re saying may be unpopular. Be clear, don’t end your sentences on a lifted voice (which makes your words sound like a question and unsure). Be confident and clear. 

AVOID: Apologizing or second-guessing yourself – Again, be mindful of your intonation. Put your ideas forward, knowing they are based on your competence and knowledge. Your conviction will go a long way in helping others to feel and accept your confidence.

4.  DO: Use your body position to convey confidence – Garfunkel recommends you lean forward. It shows you are fully engaged. The act of physically engaging will send a strong message and boost your own positivity.

AVOID: Slumping, Slouching or Angling Away from the Conversation – Sitting this way sends a strong message that you have tuned-out and can insult or upset the person who is speaking. Show engagement whenever possible.

5.  DO: Engage Before the Meeting Starts – This is an excellent time for you to become more comfortable with the others in attendance and they with you. It will make it easier for you to engage and for others to engage with you once the meeting begins because you will have already connected casually.

AVOID: Lowering the Height of Your Chair – Remain at eye levels as others in the meeting so that you are not visually defining yourself as less. You are there to contribute equally and show the expertise you bring.

Something to remember, confidence is not the same as arrogance. Arrogance is when someone has an exaggerated sense of their own importance or abilities. That’s not confidence or leadership. Too often, arrogance is used as a form of bullying, a use of Power Over others, and a good leader is never a bully instead of relying on their Power Within.

How you present yourself not only allows you to look confident, it will help you tap into your true confidence, which comes from the value and expertise you bring to a meeting. Be aware of the subtle messages you send with your body language, and you will project more self-assurance and show you are a confident leader.

How – And When – To Say No

You already have a full schedule. You are always a hairbreadth away from overwhelm. And now you have been asked to do something else. What do you do? Can you just say no?

What if the request is coming from your principal? What if it’s a teacher you are good friends with? My guess is you say, “yes,” and then you try to make it work. Maybe you stay late – and cut out some of your self-care. Yes, it cuts into family and personal time, but you had no choice. Right?

There is always a choice. It’s how you manage it that makes the difference. Something that frequently worked for me, especially with teachers, was asking, “Can we do this differently?” Then I would come up with alternate solutions. It could be anything from changing the date or time that was requested to sending a cart of books and emailing websites if my schedule was booked.

When it came to my principals, I, of course, couldn’t say no—not exactly. Instead, I would let them know that I’d be happy to accommodate them and ask for their advice regarding how to handle the shifts I would need to make to meet their requests. This lets them know that you can agree, but gets their buy-in or support for the things that will have to be dropped or changed.

There was a time I was asked by the secretary to close the library to accommodate a meeting of the athletic directors in our league could meet. I agreed and said I would contact the previously scheduled teachers to tell them they couldn’t come because of this meeting. A teacher complained to the principal. The secretary called me back “to apologize for her mistake.” She said the request was that I close a portion of the library to allow the meeting to happen. This had a double benefit. Not only had I completely acceded to my principal’s request, I also had demonstrated how connected I was to the teachers and curriculum.

As a leader, you may get requests from your state (or even national association) to take on a task. Do you want to do it? How much of your valuable time will it take? When this occurs, pause before responding and do your best to make your decision out of your purpose, priorities, and passion. If it doesn’t match up with these, say no.

In Saying No Is Better Than Saying Nothing, Shari Harley had advice for those times when “no” is the answer you want to give. She recognizes that saying no is hard. She says people often practice avoidance, ignoring the request or saying you will get back on that—and not doing it. That shows a lack of integrity and honesty in your dealings with people, something that hurts relationships.

Harley offers three options. Before exercising one of these, the first step is thanking the person for asking and saying you will give them your response in a set period of time (not too long in the future). Make sure you get back to them after you determine what your answer will be. Then you answer with one of these options:

Option One is to turn down the request but suggest someone else who might be able to do the task. Within the school, this option is rarely open to you. However, when it’s a district request or one on the state/national level, you should be able to recommend a qualified person who could do it.

Option Two is to agree but negotiate a different time. It gives you the opportunity to ask important questions such as by when does this actually have to be done. It enables you to prioritize your time in completing this new task. It may be possible to do an introductory piece and then complete the project at a later date. For example, if the teacher wants to bring in a class two days in a row, perhaps you can go to the class and do an opening to get students started and thinking, and then have them come in a day or so later to actually get to work. (Debrief them on their thinking process to begin the class.)

Option Three is to turn down the request but offer what you might be able to do instead. Ask if that would work. If not, see if you can find some substitution, but don’t change your no into a yes. You have thought the request through. You know it won’t work for you. Don’t push yourself into becoming overwhelmed.

Harley concludes with “keep your commitments.”  Whatever you said you would do, do it. You want people to trust you. Your word must have meaning.

Knowing how and when to say no is a test of your leadership. Don’t answer too quickly – and always follow through.