ON LIBRARIES: Who Are You?

The great philosopher, Socrates, said in the 400s B.C.E. “Know thyself.”  Truly words of wisdom. Do you know yourself?  In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.” If you don’t know yourself, it’s more than a little difficult to be true to yourself.  Strong, confident leaders must know themselves and be true to themselves. It is one of the reasons people follow them.

This starts with being honest with yourself about who you are. You may not imagine yourself better than you are, but it is equally dishonest to consider yourself as less. Remember, leaders know their strengths and weakness and look to others to fill in where they need help. They accept their mistakes and where they struggle even as they work to improve.  But the imperfections don’t detract from their confidence.  It’s part of their self-awareness.

Laurie Ruetimann’s post Self-Leadership is Self-Awareness points out there is no leadership without self-leadership, and self-leadership begins with self-awareness. She addresses these three components of self-leadership:

Self-awareness of Personal Values – This goes back to your philosophy. You have a professional and a personal one. As a school librarian, you should hold the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and its Code of Ethics as core values.  It means we stand up for intellectual freedom and access to information.  It may mean that when faced with a job situation that violates your personal values, you recognize it as such and make a decision as to whether you leave.  If you stay, you know why you made that choice and accept it honestly.

Self-awareness of Intentions and Behaviors – Your word has value. Leaders know their goals and work toward achieving them. They recognize they are the ones ultimately responsible, so they take responsibility for what goes wrong they don’t blame or look to others to solve the problem.  It’s on them. In addition, they praise others for their successes because they know success doesn’t depend on one person.

Self-awareness of Personal Perspective – An emotionally intelligent leader accepts bad days and failures as part of life, not as a sign of failure or a reason to give up. When these days happen, take a short while to be upset with what went wrong but don’t dwell on it. Instead, look for solutions.  What can potentially be done to make the situation better?  What should you differently next time? Knowing your personal perspective allowed you to move forward not get stuck in the past.

How can you become self-aware? Laurie Ruetimann lists 10 questions for you to answer?

1.     What am I good at? – Be honest with yourself.  List both your professional strengths and your personal ones.

2.     What exhausts me? An interesting question. It’s not just the physical tasks. It could also be dealing with certain people. Again, look personally and professionally.

3.     What is the most important thing in my life? This list should include personal ones first, in my opinion.

4.     Who do I love? Be sure to put yourself on the list.

5.     What stresses me out?  This is close to #2, but not the same. Working to meet deadlines can stress me out, but it’s not what exhausts me.

6.     What’s my definition of success? Another interesting question, and one that should take your time to answer.

7.     What type of worker am I? Team player? Self-directed? Over-achiever?

8.     How do I want others to see me? Trustworthy? Helpful? Knowledgeable?

9.     What type of person do I want to be? Is it different from #8?

10.  What things do I value in life? Similar to knowing your personal values, but consider looking at what you value in others.

 

Ruetiman’s final question is “Does it feel awkward to be self-aware? Her answer – “Probably at first.” We tend to be so focused on looking outwards, we don’t spend enough time looking inwards. We have come to realize the importance of reflection.  Self-awareness is part of that.  And remember the advice of Socrates and Shakespeare.

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe and Welcoming Face

Last week I blogged about A Safe, Welcoming Space, but a recent event coupled with some personal experiences has made me think about the face we present to the world. I see people in the supermarket, restaurants, and other places, and more often than not their faces seem closed as though they don’t want to let anyone in.  Sometimes it’s because they are focused on their smartphone, other times it’s just that they are in their private world.

We need to be more mindful of the face we show the world.  If we want kids to feel comfortable in approaching us, we have to be present to them, not lost in our thoughts. It’s hard sometimes when there is so much to do, but I have been finding that having a welcoming demeanor and showing kindness will open you up to a richer world.

It has been scientifically proven that humans need contact with other humans – face-to-face.  As much as social media can keep us connected (personally I use Facebook and Twitter a lot to stay in touch with friends and family I can’t see often), for too many of us it has become our main or the most relied on source for social interaction. When we smile at others and speak with them, there’s a double-sided bonus. It makes us feel good and allows us to be kind.  And when we smile and are kind, everyone around us benefits from the connection.

I had a dramatic example of this while at the recent AASL Conference.  I was standing by the ALA Store preparing to go to the general session to hear the opening speaker when I saw a man walking past me with dreadlocks, a headband, and a long white smock that went past his knees. I said to him, “I love your hair.  I love seeing different hairstyles and colors as I am not able to do much with mine.”

He immediately stopped and began a conversation with me. We began walking and talking and as we did I asked him if he had a purpose in life.  He said his was to bring kindness into the world. In return, I told him mine was to reflect back to others the greatness I see in them, and when appropriate help them manifest it.

Watching the time, I said I need to start heading out to hear the speaker for the morning, which is when he told me he was Dr. Adolph Brown, the speaker. The dreads and the outfit he wore to go with them were part of a persona he dons to test the reactions of people he meets. Because of our interaction, he mentioned me in the talk he gave and afterward said to me that I saw him.

In his talk with us, Dr. Brown said, “Stop believing everything you think.  Any time you have to deal with another human being, challenge your brain. What you think about others says more about you than them.” We do make judgments about people based on their looks and other surface indicators – and then we act as though they are correct. Instead, try Dr. Brown’s purpose and work at “bringing kindness to the world.”  It’s a world that needs it greatly.  Your students and teachers will certainly benefit from it – and so will you.

In her Harvard Medical School post, The Heart and Science of Kindness, Melissa Brodrick gives seven ways to give and receive kindness.

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself – You’ve heard this many times.  But you can’t be kind when you are being hard on yourself.  And certainly, it is difficult to do if you are working so hard, you don’t take care of yourself.

We feel happier when we act in service to others – The old adage, “It is better to give than receive” is at play. Being kind to someone gives you an inner glow that helps you through the day.

Choose kindness – Most of us would respond with “Why wouldn’t you”, but the truth is kindness needs to be an active choice, and when you are having a stressful day or in the middle of yet another crisis, the choice isn’t just a good idea, it’s an act of courage.

Give to give, not to receive – If you give with an expectation of getting something, it’s a trade not an act of giving. Let the giving and the possibility that creates be your reason.

We become kinder with practice – Like choosing kindness, being kind is a practice. The more we remember to act with kindness the easier and more automatic it becomes. The result is a library where people expect and act with kindness.

Kindness begets kindness – When an act of kindness makes someone’s day a little lighter, they feel better about themselves.  In turn, they are more likely to be kind to someone else – or to themselves.  This is how we change the world.

Kindness is lasting – Melissa Brodrick recalls someone telling her forty years ago that she has a pretty face.  That simple act of kindness stayed with her all these years.  We often think someone is wearing a nice blouse or whatever. If I think that, I say it. Invariably, I get a smile in return and sometimes a conversation starts.  I love making someone’s day.

An online post I read (can’t remember where now) suggested a good question to ask students is “How were you kind today?”  Now I ask you, “How were you kind today?”

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Space

In the aftermath of another school shooting, I felt this was an important topic to revisit because it is clearly an ongoing struggle. For learning to happen, students need to feel safe. Equally important, they need to feel welcome. It is our charge as librarians to create a space where both exist. Doing this is vital to your program’s success.

The way you have arranged your facility, the furniture, the displays, and how you greet students show them the library welcomes them.  To truly make all students feel safe and give them a sense of belonging requires a more concentrated effort. It starts with a collection that reflects a diversity of culture, ethnicity, and race of your students as well as the various lifestyles they lead. Even if your school is culturally homogenous, there is a need to show students what the larger world looks like. In addition, it’s important to be aware of differences that may not show so that these can also be addressed.

For example, how are socio-economic differences and physical disabilities being acknowledged in your collection? We need to pay attention to how these students access information, making it as barrier-free as possible. In creating a safe environment, you need to continually learn about those who are “other” in some ways and work to make them feel recognized, valued and welcome as well.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Against a backdrop of differences and in a time when differences continue to face suspicion and prejudice, librarians need to develop a collection policy that consciously pays attention to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).  While the three terms seem similar, they encompass important differences. Understanding them helps you be more attuned to your students’ needs.

Equity is often confused with equality. Equality is giving everyone the same thing, i.e. all students get a Chromebook. Equity is ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity. If a computer is needed for homework, do all students have access to one at home? Can they access the internet? If not, then you don’t have equity.

An illustration appearing on many websites explains the distinction. Three boys of different heights are trying to watch a baseball game from outside a solid fence. Equality shows them now standing on boxes of the same height. The tallest boy has an excellent view. The next one can just see over the fence. The shortest one still cannot see the game. Equity gives the boys boxes of different heights, so they all have a good view.  A third panel shows the boys viewing the game from behind a fence with an open weave. This takes access to a higher level by completely removing the barrier for all.

Diversity is usually thought of as referring to the various ethnicities, religions, and cultures, but it includes far more. Gender, gender identification, socio-economic status is part of diversity. So are physical and emotional challenges. Diversity is so all-encompassing it can be hard to wrap your arms around all the differences. Adding to the challenge is that so many of these differences aren’t observable, certainly not on the surface. Despite that, libraries must strive to meet the needs of all these students. Lower check out areas for students in wheelchairs. No fines so as not to penalize those having financial challenges or spending time in two households. Books which represent different challenges, choices, and traumas.

Inclusion means that all are a part of the whole.  It seeks to keep students in age-appropriate classes. Students are not judged to be inferior for any reason. Ever.

Another recent image going around social media captured the distinction among the three terms in this way: “Accessibility is being able to get in the building. Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. Belonging is having your voice heard at the table!”

Although EDI is the phrase used most of the time to describe what we are trying to achieve, a better visualization of what this means is the phrase Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors as coined in an essay by Rudine Sims Bishop. Mirrors are the stories that show students they are not invisible in the library collection. Bishop notes if children only see themselves, they develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance. These same books offer other students windows – the ability to see and better understand their peers and the challenges that they might face.

By now we are all aware of the importance of having books so that African Americans, Latinx, and Islamic students and others can see themselves in our collections. Many of you have acquired titles about LGBTQ+ kids and families while others face challenges to this step. But diversity goes beyond these areas.

The library’s collection needs books that include kids who have physical disabilities as well as mental and emotional problems. You also need stories about students who are homeless, have a parent or close relative who is incarcerated, or a parent who is in the military and is in an active war zone. Even Sesame Street, which has always worked to be diverse, currently has Muppets who have autism and are in foster care.

How do you do it all – particularly when your budget is small? There is no simple solution. Do your best to tune into the diversity that exists in your school population and make that your initial focus. Look for materials to meet them. And then check for grants. There may be an organization that offers grants to your school district.

It’s not easy and it takes time, but we all agree our students are worth the effort.  With windows and doors, we make our libraries safe, welcoming spaces for all.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Should Have – Could Have

Do you give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing?  Our days are jam-packed.  Many of you stay late to complete tasks that can’t fit within the regular school day.  By the time you get home, there are more things that need to be done.  You are tired, cranky more often than you like, and are feeling worn out.  And as it is now November, you’re facing getting ready for the holidays.

We are experts at finding fault with ourselves, but it doesn’t help us do better. More often it becomes a type of self-sabotage because these thoughts make us believe we are failures. Too often we speak to ourselves in ways we’d never speak to another, focusing on our weaknesses and believing everyone else does or achieves more. Of course, this isn’t true. We know we have had successes, but when all we can hear is the negative self-talk, none of that matters.

So I ask you again – Do you give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing?  Probably not. You are

most likely mentally beating yourself up with “Should Have” and “Could Have.”  You should have gotten more done. You could have if only you were more organized.  If only… you fill in the blank. I’m sure you have a list. What would support us better is go through the important process of deciding what priority, what isn’t, and do what we can to stop listening to the rest of the noise that’s distracting us.

Kristin Hendrix reminds us of the power of self-talk in her article Words Matter, Choose Carefully. We tend to be aware of that with others, but don’t treat ourselves with the same consideration.  As goal-driven people, we have a lot of “need to’s” in addition to the “should have’s” and “could have’s.”  It’s important to take a realistic look at what you have been saying to yourself and consider whether it’s really true.

Very often, negative self-talk is a story we tell ourselves, and it keeps us from focusing on what is important and remembering where our strengths lie.  Hendrix suggests you begin by looking more closely at the “need to’s” that have been swirling around in your brain and ask yourself – Is this true?  Do you really need to do it, or is it something you would like to do?  Is it a priority? What level of importance does it have – honestly?

If it isn’t a high priority, you might not need to do it.  If it is, then take the time to look at why you haven’t made the commitment yet.  Is fear behind it? If you’re unsure if you can do it, maybe you need a mentor. Or if the project is too big, perhaps you can delegate part of it.  Be honest with yourself and get you’ll find it easier to either move forward or delete it for good.

How many times do you say, “I should…?”   Unless you figure out if this is true, you will continue saying it and make yourself feel unworthy because of it.  Should you exercise more? Take a course related to librarianship? Maybe the answer is yes, but the answer could be ‘not yet’. Whatever it is, do your best to be honest (and kind!) with yourself. Too many times things are on the list because we’ve bought into the belief that they should be (ironic, yes?) on the list. They aren’t our priorities yet we’ve taken them on. Taking the time to look at the truth then accepting what’s true for you can go a long way in stopping the negative self-talk.

Hendrix notes that we complicate this problem by saying we don’t have time.  We can’t because we’re too busy. As I have written in past blogs, this, too, is a story we tell ourselves.  It has an element of truth as we are exhausted by the time we fall into bed (or long before we fall into bed), but it’s far from the whole truth. When something is important and we know and can feel why it is important, we take the time to do it.

For years I said I should exercise.  I didn’t. When I made it a priority, I was able to fit it into my life and it’s off my “should have” list. I also make it a point to turn off my computer by 6 p.m. each day. Maybe I should continue.  If I did maybe I could have finished the task.  But turning the computer off is the priority because it gives me the time I need in the evening to be with my husband and do other things for myself.  And I don’t think about those “should have’s” or “could have” because I’m clear about my priority.

Do I manage to stick to my priorities every day?  No.  Some days I goof off.  Too many games of Klondike (my weakness as you know). But I have learned not to beat myself up for it.  Rather than fall into negative self-talk, I know there’s a chance I needed the day off, and I can get back to my priorities tomorrow.

The golden rule of treating others the way you wish to be treated may need to be revised.  We need to treat ourselves the way we treat others.  We are much more understanding of the shortcomings of others than we are about our own self-styled failures. Be good to yourself this week. Notice where the negative words are draining you. Take a breath, look for the truth, and let the rest go. Honor yourself and your priorities, leave the shoulds and coulds behind, and – one more time –  give yourself credit for all you are accomplishing.

ON LIBRARIES: Being a Leader Takes Practice

Professional musicians and athletes practice regularly to keep and raise their skills to the highest level. But all professions and crafts require practice.  This means being attentive to what you are doing and repeatedly assessing your performance. You probably do this as a librarian, but you may be not reflecting on how you are practicing – and improving – as a leader.  Making regular checks on your leadership practices will increase your skills and make you more successful.

The needs of your program keep you very busy but you cannot overlook how you are doing as a leader. As I have often written, you are either growing or dying.  There is no stasis.  And school librarians must be leaders – there is no other option.

Are you content to lead only in small ways? Anything is better than nothing, but you need to keep growing.  What plan do you have to do so? Do you go to your state (and hopefully national) conferences?  Have you taken webinars? It’s easy to complain about time, but that is a story you tell yourself.  Remember none of us have time.  We make time. When it’s a priority in your life, you find a way to do it. And leadership must be a priority.

As a quick check, think of how many times in the course of the day were you a leader? With teachers?  Administrators? If you can’t come up with instances, you need to do more to focus on your leadership practice. John R. Stoker’s post Are You Working on You? Questions for Improving the Quality of Your Leadership is a good way to take stock and expand on how you lead and how you are perceived. He puts forth ten questions that build on each other. If you’re struggling with the first few, you’ll be challenged with later questions as well.

  1. Are people motivated to follow you? – You can’t be a leader if no one is following you. When you propose a program—big or small—how is it greeted?  If you can’t enroll the necessary stakeholders to go along with it, you are doing everything alone.  Not only are you not leading, but you are also more likely to become overwhelmed.  If this sounds like you, think of how to reframe your ideas so it appeals to the needs of the people you want to join with you.
  2. Do people seek your perspective or insights? You should be known as someone who knows a lot about technology and how to incorporate it into teaching. People should recognize you as an expert in literature for your students.  If your advice isn’t being sought, why do you think that is?  Perhaps you give the impression you are too busy. Being approachable is an important part of being a leader.
  3. How open am I to different perspectives about tough issues? Now more than ever, we need to be models of civil discourse. Teachers and administrators may have different views on what you add to the collection. While you must be true to your philosophy and professional ethics, how you hear their feelings and react to them will affect their perception of you as a leader.
  4. What situations or feedback cause me to get defensive? When we get defensive, the other person tends to react badly as well, and we are certainly not behaving like a leader. Listen for the message rather than focusing on the delivery method. Respond calmly, once again showing how well you can engage in civil discourse.
  5. Why do I take certain situations personally? This is an excellent self-analysis question. We usually react personally when it touches on old feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Even if you never stop the internal reactions, being aware of why it is a trigger will help you put it in a proper perspective and move forward positively.
  6. How does my communication style affect others? This is big. In talking with others, there is what we actually said, what we intended to say, and what the listener heard. Ideally, they are all the same, but they may be three different things.  Tune into the body language of the person with whom you are speaking and ask for feedback to ensure your communication was clear.  If you are communicating by email, re-read before sending it.  You may not realize how your words will be received.  If it’s very important, ask someone you trust to read it and tell you what they got from the message.
  7. How does my mood or state of mind influence the decision-making of others? Your mood affects your body language. If you are tense, angry, or frustrated when asking for support, those negative feelings will be communicated (making the answers to Questions #1 and #2 more likely to be no).   In that case, you will probably not get what you seek. Breathe and check your mindset before initiating the conversation.
  8. Do people view me as negative and cynical or positive and passionate? This is basic to being a leader. No one wants to be around someone who exudes negative emotions and is always finding fault and complaining.  If people don’t want to be around you, how can you be a leader?
  9. What personal characteristics of others bother me the most? This is an interesting question. Sometimes it’s people who exhibit traits you are sensitive about in yourself such as being overly talkative (this is one of mine). Other times it’s those negative attitudes of the previous question. When you are a leader, you need to be able to get along with everyone at some level. They don’t need to be your best friends but look for other qualities they have and speak to those.
  10. Do I make negative assumptions or judgments of others, or do I give others the benefit of the doubt? Although similar to the previous question, there are differences. When I was an elementary librarian, I had a volunteer mother who struck me as being somewhat slow mentally. Over time I got to realize that although she wasn’t well educated, she had a keen analytic mind and could often spot things in my plans that I had overlooked. I had to get past my judgments.

At the end of each month, reflect back on your accomplishments and challenges.  What did you do well as a leader?  Where can you improve?  Practice may not make perfect, nothing does, but it does make you better.  And remember to speak as kindly to yourself while you’re learning as you would to your students

ON LIBRARIES: On Purpose

I have often written and given workshops on writing Mission and Vision statements for school library programs.  I believe it is the bedrock on which all your planning rests.  What I haven’t discussed is your personal mission, which is your purpose in life.

Although identifying your purpose in life sounds a bit grandiose, it’s something all leaders know and have, even if they haven’t formally written it.  It’s your big “Why.”  Just like the Mission Statement for your library program provides your motivation, your life Mission is what gets you up in the morning (other than a paycheck).

I discovered my own purpose years ago thanks to working with a student.  She was a volunteer in my high school library and was extremely intelligent and diligent.  She was also overweight, not well-dressed, and was on the fringe of high school life.  I first thought of giving her some useful tips. Then I realized, she knew all that.  She didn’t need to hear it from me. What she didn’t know, and struggled to see, was how special she was. I concentrated on letting her know how I valued her and recognized her abilities. As she was finishing her senior year, her mother told me how much everything I said had meant to her.  She went on to become a librarian.

From that experience, I realized it was important to me to let people know what I see in them. Too many of us can find loads of reasons to disparage ourselves but rarely recognize how we are contributing to our world. That hampers a growth mindset and certainly stands in the way of an innovative mindset. (See my blog post It’s All in the Mind.)

By thinking about what I had learned about myself thought this experience, I identified my purpose: “To reflect back to others the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it.”  It’s how I live in my personal life, and it’s how I am in my professional life.  Whether I am writing something or giving a presentation, meeting someone at a conference or teaching a class, I’m invariably trying to show school librarians how special they are and offer tools to showcase (and believe) it.

You may not have experienced an epiphany as I did, but whether you are aware of it or not, you do know your purpose. You just haven’t identified it yet. It doesn’t take long to craft one, and once you do, it will make you a better leader. You will likely discover that it impacts all the areas of your life, in and out of the library.

John Baldoni suggests asking yourself these three questions in his article: Putting My Purpose to Work for Me Now:

What do I most like to do? Make a list. You might start out with hobbies and family connections.  But don’t stop there.  What is it about those things that give you pleasure and make you feel good about yourself? What parts of your job as a librarian brings you joy?  What lights you up? What do you look forward to?

Why do I want to do it? Your purpose, like your library Mission, is your “Why.” In what way do you find it fulfilling. How does it connect to your sense of who you are? Identifying your Why grounds you and helps you get through days that are stressful – whether from the job or your personal life.

What is keeping me from doing it? It’s usually some form of fear from taking risks to feeling vulnerable to fear of failure.  This self-analysis may lead you in a new direction. Perhaps you want to be a bigger influence and need more schooling. Most of us will have have to step out of your comfort zone to live our purpose. In my case, it took a while to be willing to risk telling individuals how I saw them. It sometimes seemed as though I were intruding.  Perhaps they already knew. Now I even do this with the cashiers at my local supermarket and it feels wonderful for us both.

After going through these questions reflect on what you have discovered.  Put it into a few sentences.  As with your library Mission Statement, keep it brief, memorize it, and as often as you can put it into action. If it doesn’t feel quite right, give it a little time and see if that’s about leaving your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to tweak it until you’ve got it. When it’s right – you’ll know.

Being clear on your purpose gives you confidence and direction, both of which are invaluable to you as a leader. You may even be surprised by the ways this tool is useful. My purpose has become helpful in how I organize my life.  I make decisions based on my purpose, passions, and priorities.  If something comes along and doesn’t fit within one of these three, it’s easy for me to say no. Knowing your personal Why will allow you to live your life on purpose.

ON LIBRARIES: Overwhelmed

No fancy title needed.  It’s just what it is. At this point in the school year most of you are feeling this, and so are the people around you especially teachers and administrators.  It leads to short tempers, feelings of not being good enough, and exhaustion. It also affects your ability as a leader.  And while you are in overwhelm you don’t want to even think about being a leader.  It’s just one more thing you have on your plate and no time to do it.

You know the effects of overwhelm, its dangers, and perhaps how to deal with it. Your school may even have done a Professional Development session on this topic to help with times like this. But while you are in it, you have no time to put any tools into practice.  It’s a catch-22 situation. To get to the point where you can implement strategies for dealing with overwhelm, there is one simple remedy which is good, because you need simple at this point.

Breathe.

That’s it. Go to a place in your library where you won’t be disturbed.  Or go to the restroom. Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath in, and then let it out slowly. Take another and another.  When we are tense and overwhelmed, we shallow breathe.  This adds to the problem and ramps up the feelings.

Once you have made this method into your “first response” to feeling overwhelmed, you can employ special breathing techniques such as “square breathing.”  Breathe in for four seconds.  Hold for four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds.  Hold for four seconds.  The effects are immediate. And immediate is also good.

Now that you have a way to deal with those moments, you need a plan to minimize the frequency of attacks.  If you live in an almost constant state of overwhelm, your logical thinking is affected, you don’t bring your best to your family and friends (actually, you probably bring your worst), and your attitude sends negative signals to teachers and students.

Our world seems to be a 24/7 place. Information, questions, and problems keep coming in, and you feel duty-bound to respond—sometimes immediately.  This gives you little time to think and set priorities and the result is becoming more overwhelmed.

Breathe.

We are hardly alone in this challenge. The business world deals with this as well, and the Harvard Business Review offers a post from Rebecca Zucker on How to Deal with Constant Overwhelm. She offers five suggestions. (Keep breathing as you read on.)

Pinpoint the primary source of overwhelm – In the moment, we tend to give everything equal weight, but that’s not reality.  Something is stressing you more than other things. Is it a project? An aspect of your schedule? A personal issue? You may not be able to take it off your plate, but by identifying it, you can analyze why it is weighing so heavily on you, and maybe discover what can be done to reduce the stress somewhat. For example, if it’s a project, break it down into pieces so you don’t feel the weight of the entire thing all at once.

Set boundaries on your time and workload – This is hard for some.  We can’t work late every day and spend weekend hours doing more work for school.  Make sure you give yourself at least two days when you leave at a regular time and one day free on the weekend. You will have more energy and because of this, you’ll be able to produce more in less time.  This is one of those cases when less can lead to more.

Digitally generated My brain has too many tabs open

Challenge your perfectionism – Not everything needs to be completed to the same level of “perfect” whether it’s a display or end-of-day cleanup.  If you are working at two (or more) schools, stop trying to do full-time work in all your schools.  Discuss priorities with your administrators letting them know what you think is most important and what you cannot do because of your schedule.  Ask them for their advice and work with it.  (This is related to boundaries on your workload.)

Outsource or delegate – This can be a challenge (but then again, what isn’t).  Can you get student volunteers?  They may be more work at the beginning when you’re training them, but they can help.  Can you incorporate some tasks into your lessons? At the elementary level, kids can learn to put returned books on the cart in shelf order.  Little things help. Or how about a parent volunteer committee? On the home front, perhaps you can hire someone so your weekend doesn’t also have cleaning or lawn care as part of it. Even once a month can make a big difference.

Challenge your assumptions – What would happen if you didn’t do one of your jobs? I used to be upset about having new books and racing to get them on the shelves. Instead, I let teachers and students see them.  If they wanted one, they could borrow it. I would make a note of it and process it when it was returned. It got material out faster and was a lure to be the first to take the book out.

As you start putting these suggestions into practice you may notice many require a change of thinking.  (See last week’s blog). These incremental changes will add up and hopefully lead to fewer times of overwhelm. Just knowing it’s possible can be a good start. But since there is no getting rid of it completely, just remember:

Breathe.

ON LIBRARIES: It’s All In the Mind

The brain handles more than our cognitive functions.  Our emotions are lodged there, controlling our thoughts and actions. Whether we are talking about mindfulness or mindset, our minds are the root of it, and anyone in schools today can quickly find themselves in an emotional minefield. Mindfulness has become an integral part of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and it’s being used with trauma-infused learning.  With so many of our students (and adults) living with trauma, knowing how to create a climate of mindfulness keeps the library a safe, welcoming space. And knowing what mindset to use at what time can be key.

Students with ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) can act out unpredictably. Since you don’t know the root cause almost anything can set them off, and they go into flight/fight—and sometimes “flee” mode. It’s bad enough when it happens in a class. In the library atmosphere, the effects can be magnified.

While your first reaction may be to tell the individual to calm down, recognize that no one has ever calmed down by being told to do so.  You have to be able to connect with the student in order to reach them. As always, it helps if you have developed a positive relationship with them.

This is where to use Mindfulness.  Students in this situation need to be brought into the moment and out of the fear and panic that are driving them. One strategy is to re-direct their breathing. When anyone goes into fight or flight, breathing becomes shallow and rapid.  By slowing the breathing, calm is more easily restored. Rather than instructing the student to take deep breaths, join them.  Say, “Let’s just breathe together for a while. One breath in. Hold. One breath out. Hold.”  Do the breathing with the student.  It will help calm your jittery nerves as well.

Once the student has settled a bit, ask what they need or offer suggestions. Do they need quiet time or do they want to rejoin the class? By giving some choice and not imposing your will, the episode will likely be shorter, and the student will come to trust you. NOTE: This is in general.  Sometimes nothing works, and you need outside help from the administration or security.

Mindset is related to mindfulness.  It’s how you view and react to any given situation. As the saying goes, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  There is much talk about fixed vs. growth mindset, and how to move from the former to the latter. Those with a fixed mindset believe that their traits and abilities are all they have to work with. Believing “I’m not good at math,” puts a limit on how well you will ever be in that subject. A growth mindset, assumes you are able to learn.  “With some practice and a little help, I can understand this mathematical concept.” You can find a good explanation (and an infographic) at  Carol Dweck: A Summary of the Two Mindsets and the Power and the Power of Believing That You Can Improve.

Most of you are familiar with these different approaches.  A growth mindset is incorporated into the AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. The term is specifically used in the Key Commitment for the Shared Foundation Explore: “Discovers and innovates in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.” (AASL Standards Framework for Learners, p. 4)

We work to have a growth mindset for our students and ourselves. It’s a part of lifelong learning. Our own inner battles with finding a positive way to look at a difficult situation help us understand our students’ struggles to do the same.

A growth mindset always struck me as an excellent way to develop a positive attitude toward life as well as learning, and I recently learned something that takes it to a new level. George Couros started with two columns from Carol Dweck’s work added a third- the Innovative Mindset.  His blog post Moving Beyond a Growth Mindset is worth reading.

He got me thinking with the first situation he presents on Challenges.  The Growth Mindset (where I was), says “Challenges are embraced, stemming from a desire to learn.”  His Innovators’ Mindset states, “Challenges are sought out as an opportunity to learn and grow.” That’s a very different focus. The remaining four: Obstacles, Effort, Criticism, and Success of Others are equally eye-opening. It’s obvious leaders can’t just have a growth mindset.  We need an Innovator’s Mindset.

Couros’s perspective throughout the article is compelling and memorable. It gives us another choice, another angle as leaders to make the changes and meet the challenges that can support our programs. I know I am going to be working on developing my Innovators Mindset to the work I do.  I hope many of you will join me.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Time to Go?

I have written about the difficult situations in which librarians find themselves and offered strategies and suggestions for dealing with them and improving conditions.  What I haven’t said is that sometimes nothing works. A recent post in the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group regarding teacher bullying made me realize there are times when a job becomes untenable. If that happens, it’s time to consider leaving.

I’ve had this experience and it’s not an easy one. In the district where I was working, I had an excellent relationship with my superintendent of schools but eventually found myself working for a new principal who was determined to keep my program from being too successful, believing that it took away from his own prestige. I managed the situation until my superintendent announced she was retiring in two years.  The handwriting was on the wall, and I wasn’t going to ignore it. I immediately began a job search. Once my superintendent was gone, the principal could act without restraint, and, given the nature of the district, I was fairly certain he would become superintendent a few years later.

Fortunately, I found a position in a short time and was extremely happy in my new school, where I stayed until my retirement. People asked if I was worried about losing my tenure, but I knew staying because of tenure was the wrong decision.  And my prediction about the principal proved true.  Four years after the superintendent retired, he took over the position.

Although the retelling makes the process sound simple, leaving a district is a big step and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As with anything that’s important, you need a plan.  You need to evaluate the conditions, and, if you decide to leave, ensure that the move improves your situation.

To help you evaluate, I recommend using a combination of the analysis tools SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) and SOAR (strengths/opportunities/aspirations/ results.  What are your strengths?  Don’t worry about your weaknesses.  What are your opportunities within your school?  How big are the threats to your program?  What are your aspirations and to what extent does the climate in your school impede them? What results do you hope to attain?

Be honest in your assessment. Eventually, you’ll have to ask yourself two final questions. Have you tried everything possible to change the situation?  Is it impacting your well-being?  If the answer to those questions is “yes,” it’s time to seek another position.

Jobs are not as plentiful as they were when I left a district, but they are available.  Let your school library contacts know that you are searching for a new position. Do not say anything in your school. Ask any vendors you deal with if they have heard of openings.  Check your school library association’s listserv for additional information. It may take a while to find a district that is looking for a librarian but don’t give up hope.  Keep planning for the move while focusing as much as possible on working with your students. If at all possible, don’t put in long days.  You need to limit the time you spend in an environment that is stressing you out.

Update your resume and make sure it doesn’t look dated. Create a portfolio describing the highlights of your program.  Include your Mission and Vision.  Put this on a thumb drive to bring to your interviews. Have enough copies to give to those doing the interview.

When you get a call for an interview, either take a personal day or schedule it for after school hours.  You don’t want to take a sick day for it. Do due diligence on the district in advance of the interview.  What can you learn about their priorities? The library program? The administrators?  What are the demographics of the school system?  You need to have as much knowledge as possible.

Check online for sample library interview questions to prepare you for what may be asked.  Make your own list of questions such as, What do they like best about the library program? (You will quickly find out what they know about the program.)  What don’t they like?  Why is the position open?  What is the library budget? And do ask to see the library.  If you don’t meet the librarian at the time, call and have a conversation with him/her.

At some point in the interview, you will be asked why you want to leave your current district. Do not make negative comments about it.  You never want to burn your bridges, and your response is a clue to the interviewers as to how you will speak of them. This is where knowing your goals for your program will come in handy. You can say you wanted more opportunities to… whatever would fit for the new district.

During the interview, listen carefully.  You want to leave your school, so you will automatically listen selectively for the reasons to think this would be a good situation.  Instead, listen for potential problems.  What would your schedule be like?  Are you teaching classes other than library?  Is the school fixated on traditional approaches or does it embrace a whole child approach?

Once you have signed a contract, and not before, inform your principal and send a letter of resignation to the Board.  It’s tempting to tell them just why you are leaving, but it’s better to keep it completely professional.  The administrators will know why, and again, you don’t want to burn bridges.  You never know if you will have to work with those administrators again, hopefully in a better situation.

When you are in your new job, don’t make negative comments about your old one.  Stick to the reasons you gave in your interview for why you wanted to leave. Talking badly about an old situation doesn’t help to build trust in your new one. Instead, speak about the opportunities you hope to have in this new position and with this new district.

Stay or go?  The decision is yours.

ON LIBRARIES: You and Your Administrator

Your principal can be your biggest supporter or can make your job more difficult.  Most of you work on relationship building with teachers, recognizing it as the first step in collaboration. The same is true with your principal.  Considering how important s/he is to your success, developing or improving that relationship should be a priority goal for you.

To initiate the process, you need to know who they are. Discover what your principal’s interests are, both professionally and personally. What are their goals?  Vision?  Do they have hobbies?  What are they passionate about? Listening to what they say, what metaphors they use, will give you some clues.  Searches on social media and the school’s website will reveal additional information.

Interest is the first step in building a relationship. Do you share any of the same interests and passions? Let your principal know. We are drawn to people who are interested in the same things we are. It doesn’t matter if it’s British mysteries, sports or the importance of literacy.

Follow-through is the second step. Share any information you find about these interests. Again, this works for both professional and personal interests. It gives you another reason to connect and strengthens the growing connection.

Empathy is the third step. Let your principal know you recognize the demands of their position and the pressures they face. While the school may focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), it is likely your principal isn’t doing it for him/herself.  Show when you have something that can help them reach their goals.

Trust is the final step which develops when building a relationship. You can’t have a relationship without it, which means you cannot be manipulative in building this connection.  Although having this solid relationship improves your program, the larger picture is that when you have the principal’s support – and you support the principal – the whole educational community thrives.

When and how you initiate these four steps is also important.  Some will be done in casual conversations which is easy when you have a principal who is a presence in the building.  It’s a bit more challenging with those who stay ensconced in their office or if you serve more than one school.

Brief emails are the most common way to inform your principal about websites and other information you have come across. If you have a hard copy of a magazine or professional journal and want to alert him/her, write a brief note and have the secretary pass it along.  Inevitably, you’ll get some type of positive response.

Once the relationship starts to have a foundation, you can schedule short meetings– no more than fifteen minutes – to discuss a plan or something you are doing for the principal.  Be sure you don’t go beyond the time allotted.  Ending early is best. When you have established your relationship, plan on a summer meeting to share what your goals are for the year and take the opportunity at this time to learn what the principal’s goals are.  It is a slower time, and you have the best chance of being heard.

In an article for Southwestern Musician (yes, this time I went way out of our field as part of my learning) entitled Communicating with Your Administrators, Rick Ghianelli and Jeff Laird offer the following practical advice:

Understanding the role of the administrator: Administrators are under even more stress than you and the rest of the teachers. You can tell by how much turn over exists. Test scores and tight budgets.  Kids with trauma. Developing programs promoting diversity.  All the issues hit their desk—and they are accountable to parents and the superintendent of schools.  As someone once told me, “they are drowning in detail.” Be aware and empathetic.

What are you trying to accomplish? Be focused and get to the bottom line quickly when you are asking for something.  They don’t have time for the details. If they want it, they will ask.

What do they need to know? This is also about focus and will help you keep your meeting/request brief.

Addressing your concerns: I can’t improve on the advice Ghianelli and Laird give here:

  • Be passionate about what you do, but know the big picture
  • Have some suggestions to solve the problem
  • Be patient and understanding

Maintaining support.  Your relationship needs to be ongoing. To get support, give support. Advocate for others and show you are a member of the team. Keep your principal aware of what you are doing in the library. Send a short email of a highlight for the week and make an effort to submit quarterly reports. Look for opportunities where they can participate.

When a principal recognizes the importance of the library program and supports it, the teachers follow.  While you are spending time building relationships with your teachers, be sure you are also developing the most critical one – with your administrator.