ON LIBRARIES: Easing Into Leadership

This blog is often about the importance of being a leader, but I know that for some (maybe many) of you, taking that first step and then building on it can be the biggest part of the challenge. Moving out of your comfort zone might feel like too great a risk.  Perhaps you haven’t gotten tenure yet.  Or for any number of reasons, your job may not be secure.  In all of these cases, this is when being seen as a leader is the most important. So, how can you be ready to make that initial move? Try “managing up”.

Managing up is a term often used in the business world.  For me, it’s similar to being a team player.  I also think of it as leading from the middle. Leaders are a presence in the building.  They are recognized for being able to get exciting things done. You can become a presence – at least to the administration – and help get exciting things done if you learn to manage up.

When you manage up, your aim is to further the goals of your administrator.  The concept is core to any strategic planning for your program.  If your principal (or superintendent) recognizes that the library program helps achieve his/her aims, he/she is more likely to support that program.

In my last school district, the superintendent and the principal wanted to move to a 4×4 block schedule.  This meant that class periods would be twice as long, and students would complete a year’s work for each course in one semester.  For example, they might take English 10, World History, and Chemistry in one semester and Spanish II, Algebra II, and Creative Writing the second semester. Although there were numerous objections from teachers, it was clear from the beginning the plan would go through. It was what the administration wanted.

Once it was clear this was happening I proposed that I be given $500 extra in my budget to buy supplemental materials to help teachers use a block schedule in their subject area.  My principal quickly complied.  I made certain the teachers were aware of the resources I had for them. The teachers weren’t thrilled about the change but felt, at least from the library, they were getting needed support.  The administration was grateful I aided in calming down the negative emotions. The $500 stayed in my budget the next year. And that’s how managing up works.

When you manage up you are less “exposed,” and it’s not that difficult to incorporate it into your work life.  Joel Garfinkle offers business people 5 Tips for Managing Up. The advice, with very little tweaking, works equally as well for school librarians.  Here are his five – with my modifications:

  1. Know What Matters – This is the first step and is probably the most difficult and important. What does your administrator really wants to accomplish?  What does he/she focus on at faculty meetings? What does he/she look for when doing observations? Knowing this is critical for the success of your program since you want to show how the library can help make it happen. In the process getting to the core of their goals, you will develop a “big picture” view.  Your principal keeps an eye on district targets and sometimes larger ones as well.  By figuring these out, you gain a broader awareness of how to position your program.
  2. Connect Broadly – Your big picture view will help you tune into what administrators are focused on. In the middle and high school, it can mean department chairs and subject coordinators. If it does, make certain you are working with the people in charge of those areas, showing how the library is a resource for them.
  3. Garner Support – You want to have people in your corner. In one school where the new library was one of the additions planned for the building, the cost of air conditioning became a concern.  Because I supported him over the years, the Athletic Director said he was willing to forgo a new weight room if that meant the library was air-conditioned. The bottom line is, be ready to help others.  You do this naturally for students and teachers.  Now do it for administrators.
  4. Keep Stakeholders Informed Never blindside an administrator. Don’t try to hide bad news or cover it up.  It always gets discovered, and you have left the administrator unprepared. I once had a School Board member who was retired and liked to drop into my library.  As soon as he left, I would contact my superintendent and let her know what he said and what I said. If it came up at the Board meeting, she was prepared.
  5. Build Personal Relationships – You find out teachers’ personal interests as part of building relationships with them, Do the same with administrators. Knowing their likes and perhaps their hobbies and outside interests gives you new ways to connect them with your program and occasionally reasons to reach out.

Two Do Nots and One Do

  • Do not become a “brown-noser” – That will destroy your relationships with teachers. It’s important that you don’t carry tales or go along with everything even though you know it’s wrong. You don’t sell out your principles.
  • Do not manipulate senior management. – Be open and above board in your interactions.  If there is something you want, figure out a way to propose it so it gets heard. This is no place to be passive-aggressive.
  • Do – Promote teacher activities with administrators. Use your connection to be a voice for teachers.  That will strengthen your connection with them.

When you get to be proficient at Managing Up, and start to notice the benefits, hopefully, you will find it has become easier to step into full-fledged leadership.

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ON LIBRARIES: Tickets Please

Exit tickets as an assessment surfaced several years ago and have been getting increasingly popular.  They mostly are a summative assessment where you get instant feedback as to what kids learned. Depending on what you ask, they are also formative assessment as you can discover what’s on students’ minds, where and what they want to explore further, and where they may be confused,

As I thought about exit tickets, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything about entrance tickets.  The idea took hold during my walks.  Entrance tickets could be one solution to classroom management.

The library is a classroom, among other things, but it looks and feels much different from the rest of the classrooms in the building. Other than the gym, it has the largest space.  It has places where it’s easy to hide.  Since students aren’t in the library every day, there is always something new to look at.  All these are distractions, and distractions keep students from settling down.

Procedures and routines are an effective way to get students focused from the beginning, and you probably have instituted some that work well for you.  Entrance tickets could give you something more. For example, to introduce a lesson on Newbery or Caldecott winners (which will be announced on January 28, 2019), your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What is the best book you ever read or heard?
  • What makes you like or dislike a book?
  • What do you do if you start a book and don’t like it?

Thinking about books and authors focuses them on what is to come. When you collect the entrance tickets, you can read some or all of them and begin the lesson discussing them briefly. Your exit tickets can then connect to the lesson and/or the entrance tickets.

As with exit tickets, your entrance tickets let you know where kids are and gives you clues as to where you need to take them next.  Depending on the topic, they can serve as a pre-assessment. If you were doing a unit on Fake News, your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What’s one thing you know about Fake News?
  • Why is Fake News a problem?
  • What can you do to identify Fake News?

Although I thought I was very creative for coming up with this idea, I did search to see what else might exist. Among the few I found were two that offered some worthwhile additions. The Teacher Toolkit begins the explanation with a short video of an 8th grade English teacher who uses them then gives directions on how to use them.

Should you decide to try this, it will take some time as students need to become familiar with this new routine for starting class. To help this, the entry tickets should always be in the same place.  Once you decide what you want students to focus on, write the question on the entry ticket or post it for students to see. Make sure to set a time limit for students to answer the question.  When time is up, you can discuss the answers. The site lists the value of entry tickets and has templates for creating entrance tickets at different grade levels.

The second site is from Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.  It is very brief and meant for the college level, but it clearly states the advantages of entrance and exit tickets as follows:

  • participation of each student
  • prompt for students to focus on key concepts and ideas
  • a high return of information for the amount of time invested
  • important feedback for the instructor that can be useful to guide teaching decisions (g., course pacing, quick clarification of small misunderstandings, identification of student interests and questions).

If you have been using exit tickets, consider adding entrance tickets.  If you haven’t been using them, think about how starting this program could support your mission.  It may suggest possibilities for future lessons.  Share what you discover with your principal. The kids’ comments will give him/her a better idea of what you do.

ON LIBRARIES: THANKSgiving

originally posted: November 2014

 Last week I blogged about the giving half of Thanksgiving.  This week my focus in how we say thank you.  Many of you spend some time on Thanksgiving Day reflecting on the wonderful people in your life for whom you are grateful. You also may have expressed gratitude for living in freedom, being free from want, and for having the basic necessities of life which too many people do not have.

As we return to work, consider how often you say “thank you” or have the words said to you.  Most of the time, the words are tossed off automatically.  It’s a matter of being courteous.  While good manners are always important, heartfelt, sincere thanks can make a difference in how someone views their day.  Become conscious of how you react when you receive a true thank you and what it means when you express your gratitude to others.

During my time as a high school librarian, I was thanked often by teachers and by students.  Most often it was of the automatic variety, but I know I went through the day with a smile on my face when a student specifically thanked me, saying they got a good grade because of the help I gave them or a teacher let me know how much she appreciated my going out of my way to do her a favor.

With this in mind, my Thanksgiving resolution (I have just created a new tradition – join me!) is to give more mindful, specific thanks. In the supermarket, I thanked the young woman checking me out for the care she gave in balancing the weight in my shopping bags.  Her face lit up with pleasure.  That, in turn, was a gift for me. I thought I lived a conscious life, but I have discovered there is always a way to take it further.

Our students don’t always tell us of the burdens they are carrying from home situations, complications of friendships, or school pressures. Teachers don’t reveal everything either. The library is often the sanctuary where the whole school population can feel safe and derive comfort.  Add to the welcoming environment you create by becoming aware of when and how you say thank you.

And thanks to all of you who take the time to read my blog and subscribe to the School Librarian’s Workshop.  The thanks I have gotten for what I do motivates me to strive to always do better.

ON LIBRARIES: The Thief of Time

We have all heard that “procrastination is the thief of time,” and “don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”   And yet, we all procrastinate. Then we beat ourselves up for doing it.  Even on our busiest days, we almost always put off some things and waste valuable time. Why do we do it?  Is it possible not to procrastinate?

Newton’s first law of motion may be one part of it. “A body at rest tends to remain at rest…”  There is something challenging about starting.  For example, many of us have experienced staring at a blank page and not knowing what to write.  When Ruth Toor and I use to write The School Librarian’s Workshop, we sometimes agreed to write badly just to get started.

The fact that no one seems to be immune to procrastination suggests it is normal. According to an article on The Neuroscience of Procrastination—Why It’s So Hard to Get Things Done, we have been doing this since civilization began (although it’s a little hard to picture cavemen/women sitting around drawing with coal rather than getting work done). The neuroscience explanation is:

“procrastination happens when the primitive,  pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding limbic system acts too quickly for the rational pre-frontal cortex to catch up. In this way, procrastination is described as the art of making intentions that get overridden even if this is disadvantageous.”

Apparently, my limbic system loves to play Klondike, but there is work to be done.  What is necessary is to find some balance, giving ourselves some time for procrastination but not so much that we find we are scrambling to meet deadlines.

It helps to know yourself.  What tasks are you most likely to put off? Which ones do you get to with no problem.?  I teach an online course for pre-service school librarians. I love starting my day checking my university email (not many messages), reviewing my students’ posts on the Discussion Board, and grading their papers because I enjoy the “conversation” with them.

I am more likely to put off starting this blog. As with all writing, it requires a degree of creativity. And again, there is that blank document staring at me, waiting for me to put something on it.  Maybe if I play one more game of Klondike, I will know where to get started.  Or I can look at my Gmail account….. Guess what?  That never really works.

It’s usually the bigger more serious tasks we put off.  Partially because it is big. Sometimes it carries with it an element of uncertainty.  We don’t know exactly how to get it done.  And then there is the low-level (or high-level) fear of failure, so our ego protects us by avoidance. What we need are strategies that get us past that “body at rest” stage and the sudden desire to see if there is anything important in your email or on social media.

The internet has loads of articles on the topic.  Business is always concerned by this issue since procrastination reduces productivity.  Of all the ones I looked at, I found that MindTools offered the best suggestions on How to Stop Procrastinating: Overcoming the Habit of Delaying Important Tasks.

The first two steps, Recognize You Are Procrastinating, and Work Out WHY You Are Procrastinating are important, but easy to get clarity.  I think most of you know when you are procrastinating, and the why’s are usually connected to fear, uncertainty, newness, levels of importance and our own insecurities. The clearer you can get on the why, the easier these next strategies will be for you.

The eight strategies listed under Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies are:

  • Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past – As you notice you are procrastinating, don’t start beating yourself up. That will just spiral you down. Tell yourself what you are doing and then move on to the task at hand.
  • Commit to the task – Write it down. If you keep a To-Do list, it’s already there but give yourself a realistic amount of time to work on it. When it’s a writing task, I vary between giving myself a certain amount of time or a number of words.  Very often I exceed what I set which gives me a boost.
  • Ask someone to check-up on you – When we tell someone we will get something done, we are much more likely to accomplish the task. In my Weight Watchers group, we have noted that people who have a “partner” do much better. Accountability can be very motivating
  • Act as you go – It’s easier to get a task done as soon as it’s given. Back to “Don’t put off until tomorrow ….” First determine the priority, however. Don’t do something that will cause you to put off something that should be done now.
  • Rephrase your internal dialogue – This is about mindset. If you are thinking, “I have to…” you are taking on a burden. Instead, say “I want to …” or “I choose to….” When we notice how our actions support us, it becomes easier to follow through.
  • Minimize distractions – Oh, there are so many of these. Put your phone away so you don’t get distracted by incoming messages. If you have a television on, turn it off.  Work on a desk with no computer. If you can, turn off your social media and email.
  • Aim to “eat an elephant beetle” first thing, every day! – Look at the picture of one of those! They’re kind of horrifying. Do the most difficult, uncomfortable or least desirable job first. Then you can feel positive about yourself and go on to complete whatever else is waiting for you. When you have eaten that beetle, congratulate yourself and consider some reward. (A bit of procrastination can help you to switch gears.)

And when your favorite procrastination behavior surfaces, remember fact that it’s normal. Take a breath, refocus and get on with the tasks that will help you feel great at the end of the day. There will be time for Klondike (or Candy Crush, or Words With Friends…) later.

ON LIBRARIES: To Be a Leader

Yes, we’re back to one of my favorite focuses (advocacy being the other): What does it take to be a leader? Sometimes the list of qualities and abilities seems endless. And although countless books and articles are written on the topic, most of the time they end up repeating each other.  When I discuss leadership qualities and skills at a workshop, the responses I get show me librarians are aware of what it takes and when leadership is absent.

Given the repetition and the awareness, why aren’t there more good leaders?  I have discussed the barriers, most recently in last week’s blog, When in Doubt, but beyond the fears and negative self-talk, there is also a lack of specific directions on how to be a leader. It’s like being given a list of ingredients for a recipe but no instruction on how to assemble the meal.

Lolly Daskal offers ten steps in This Is What You Need to Learn to Become A Successful CEO.  If it works for CEOs, it can help you too.  As the head of the library, you are its CEO.  The school library reflects the personality, mindset, and philosophy of the librarian. As such, you have more control than you think, and by being aware of Daskal’s ten steps, you can more easily step into being an active, positive leader.

  1. Define your character I think this is a great start. It includes many of the qualities of a leader such as integrity, visionary, and “empowerer.” Your philosophy of what a school library should be, also affects your character.
  2. Act as the brand and ambassador You are the face of the library program. A teacher doesn’t represent the entire subject or grade, but you represent the library. If you live in the town where you work, you meet your students and their parents in the supermarket and local restaurants. And they see it as meeting the library. You must carry your character and your belief about the library program into the world. It brings great returns.
  3. Create a thriving organizational culture – At first, this would seem to be out of your realm, but remember the library reflects who you are. Is it a safe, welcoming place? Does it promote collaboration and discovery? If you get this right, the library can become students’ favorite place in the building — and for teachers as well.
  4. Communicate consistently and with candor – You need to use all your tech expertise and your emotional intelligence to reach all your audiences. This includes the design and content of your website as well as your social media accounts and how you interact face-to-face with all who come into the library and those who primarily visit it digitally (parents, some administrators, school board members, etc.).  You need to find the most effective ways to reach all of them. For the library program to be successful, all stakeholders need to know what the program provides them.
  5. Under promise and over deliver For those of you who are afraid to take risks, this is a no-brainer, but don’t under promise so much that your project/idea seems unimportant. When you do deliver (or over deliver), praise all those who helped.  You take responsibility for mistakes and share successes.
  6. Stay curious Another no-brainer for librarians. We are endlessly curious.  We have to be to
    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

    keep up with the latest in resources, apps, technology—and books. Build relationships with those who have different interests so you can learn new things from them. You will gain new knowledge, and they will be flattered they can help.  This includes learning from students.

  7. Embrace change We do this continually. I do hope you are embracing the new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. I have met a number of librarians who have not yet bought their copy and begun to dig into them.  You need to do this or risk being left behind.  We don’t teach with yesterday’s technology or yesterday’s standards. Change feels hardest at the beginning. Like an exercise routine, consistency will make it second nature – and maybe even fun.
  8. Implement diversity In the business world, this refers to those you hire. In our world, it means our collections.  Students need to see themselves in the books they read.  And students need to develop understanding and tolerance by reading about those whose lives are different from theirs.  Don’t limit diversity to ethnicity, sexuality or gender issues. Think of students who have a parent in the military who is serving in Afghanistan, or those who are homeless.   We don’t always see what is happening in our students’ lives. Books are an important window as well as a mirror.
  9. Manage relationships We are in the relationship business. Even after you have built relationships with teachers, students, and the administration, you must continue to look for places to build more.  With parents.  With the community.  The more people you reach, the more successful your advocacy will be.
  10. Lead by example We are role models for lifelong learning. Let students and teachers know about what you have learned recently, the book you are currently reading or even the YouTube creator you discovered.  By giving respect to all students, you not only get respect back but also encourage tolerance and respect in your students.  It’s not what you say that counts.  It’s what you do.

Look over the list.  Which of these come easily to you?  Which are difficult? Become aware of how you are implementing all of them and observe how your leadership abilities grow because of them.

 

ON LIBRARIES: When In Doubt

It takes a certain amount of courage to be a leader.  If you read this blog regularly or attend one of my workshops, you’ve heard me say leaders must take risks and move out of their comfort zone. That leads me to my question – do you doubt you have the kind of courage necessary?

For some of you, the idea of taking a risk is paralyzing.  It’s natural to want to keep your head down and continue doing what is working.  You may have some good reasons for not taking a chance.  Librarian positions have been drastically cut not only in this country but worldwide and those that remain are frequently overloaded. You may be covering more schools and lost any staff you had. There is no time to add anything to your schedule.

So the doubt creeps in.

If you take a risk and get it wrong, you could be putting your job on the line. At least that’s the story you tell yourself. Seeing this in print may remind you of a blog I did in 2015, The Stories We Tell Ourselves or the one I did last February, More Stories.  Since we all have a tendency to fall back into old habits, it bears repeating.

The self-doubt is tied to Imposter Syndrome which I have discussed in Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Option.   Imposter Syndrome is the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it. You don’t know enough.  You will fail. It may even be there when you succeed, telling you this was a onetime thing. There are probably a number of other negative things this voice is telling you and when you listen, it’s keeping you from taking that risk, from moving out of your comfort zone.

This week I have two articles which I think offer some great ways to move through self-doubt. I’ve added my comments and connections to our work for each one. First, Jeff Barton suggests four ways to help you get past self-doubt in Why Self-Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Begin to Overcome It:

  1. Self-Reflection Make an honest self-reflection of your strengths and weaknesses. You do have strengths – quite a few, in fact. You might want to work on the weaknesses, but for that first step past self-doubt try a project or take on a task (run for an office, do a presentation) that focuses on and uses your strengths.
  2. Avoid Perfectionism –You will never get it all right. Any author can tell you they proof-read many times. So does their editor.  Then the book (or the blog) comes out, they immediately see an error.  Nothing I have ever done has been perfect.  Reach for excellence and for improving on what you’ve done before.
  3. Comparison to Others – We always see what others do better than us. This is related to focusing on our weaknesses. We don’t look at the corollary—what we do better than others. Our assumption is, if we do it well, others must also be doing it well.  We can’t really know if that’s true. In addition, you can’t know another person’s struggle or process. Comparing yourself is a waste of time and attention.
  4. Self-Compassion – Treat yourself as you treat others. You are kinder, gentler with others than you are to yourself.  We would never say to a friend or loved one many of the things we say to ourselves.

Petrea Hansen-Adamidis gives 5 Steps to Deal with Self-Doubt and Trust Yourself Again. Some of you may never have trusted yourself, but this is a big factor in dealing with self-doubt.

  1. Ground Yourself – The thought of taking risk is likely to have your brain whirling with the many negative comments you are saying about yourself making it hard to go beyond thinking of the potential risk. Notice the noise. Then focus by writing down the pros and cons of a project.  And ask yourself that classic question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
  2. Balance the Negative – Find more ways to answer the negative self-talk with kindness. Keep a journal/log of your successes.  Include any positive comments you get from students, teachers, parents, administrators. Read through them before tackling something new.
  3. Take a Break – Step away from the problem/issue. Do something else. I walk. By the time I get back, I have come up with several ways to deal with it. You may want to knit, listen to a podcast, color, bake.  Get creative – and fun – with the ways you choose to step away from the challenge.
  4. Nurture Yourself – This is like self-compassion, but it can also mean healthy eating and getting enough sleep as I recommend last week in Positive Self-Care. When you aren’t tired and filled with junk food, you are in a better frame of mind which will mute much of the self-doubts. It’s also a way of acknowledging your own importance to yourself and others.
  5. Connect with Others – Who are your cheerleaders? We all have people in our lives who believe in us.  Talk to them. Let them give you a pep talk.  After all, you would do it for them.

Bestselling author Brené Brown, whose work on shame, self-doubt, and leadership is truly inspiring writes, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” Give it a little thought. What’s your choice?

ON LIBRARIES: Positive Self-Care

Last week we talked about knowing your priorities. This week we move on to self-care. You are your most important priority because if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will be doing a poor job with everything else. Maybe you can hold out for a while, but eventually, it’s going to catch up with you. Making the change is going to be hard work.

It’s going to be hard because you are likely resistant to doing it.  There is so much on your plate demanding your attention and the societal norm is to put others first. Even those priorities I discussed last week—your family and friends—can take time away from you.  Finding balance is going to be key.

Recognizing how it affects the bottom line, the business world (guided by psychologists) is working to make their people aware of the importance of practicing positive self-care.  Schools are also dealing with this as they move into Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), but SEL is focused on students. You need to develop your own practices that ensure you are taking care of yourself. 

Elizabeth Scott offers The Top 10 Self-Care Strategies for Stress Reduction. Most are obvious and can be found in many places.  Implementing them, as I said, is the challenge.  Here are her ten with my comments:

  1. Get Enough Sleep – Easier said than done. If 8 hours is out of the question, go for 7. And develop a sleep routine as you would for your children. Have everything ready for tomorrow so you don’t fret about what you have to do in the morning. Read a relaxing book.  I love HEA’s (happily ever after), so I know my main characters will be together by the end no matter how bleak things look. Also, trying to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekend, can be beneficial.
  2. Maintain Proper Nutrition—This one is also going to need a plan. Stress makes you grab for the unhealthy snacks (as Weight Watchers keeps reminding me). Part of your positive self-care is creating a plan that results in healthy eating most days – nobody is or should be perfect. For some of you, this may mean making dinners for the week on Sunday. For others, it’s a matter of planning breakfast and lunch and keeping healthy snacks at work.
  3. Exercise regularly – My personal goal is to walk 12,000+ steps 3-5 times a week which is a huge difference from when I started years ago on an exercise bicycle and all I could do was 5 minutes. Do what you can to choose an exercise you like doing. This could take some time to identify, but if you don’t like it, you won’t continue.
  4. Maintain Social Support –This is what I discussed last week. Your family and friends are not only a priority but are also part of your positive self-care. Make time for getting together.
  5. Find Hobbies—For me, it’s always been reading and I’ve written about how I enjoy my games of solitaire on the computer. I find it’s a good break as long as I don’t overindulge. Walking, much to my surprise, has become a hobby which is true of any sport you like. But it could be yoga, gardening, coloring in the new coloring books, scrapbooking, knitting, or whatever suits your fancy.
  6. Pamper Yourself – I love this one. I joined a local chain (Massage Envy) to ensure I schedule a facial or massage once a month.  Then there’s manicures and pedicures and other spa treatments that you can do at a salon or at home.
  7. Keep Your Mind Sharp – An easy one for librarians. Scott encourages you to see stress areas as a challenge—what I call a “chopportunity.” I have been disciplining myself in reading one article a day in one of my professional journals.  I always end up with new ideas and ways of looking at things (and new blog post ideas!).
  8. Have the Right Attitude – This is all about Mindset. What you think about something conditions how you react which causes either an up or down spiral. You are in control of how you think, and frequently the only thing you can control in a situation is how you respond to it. Take a moment to look for ways to make it work for you.
  9. Process Your Emotions – Be honest about how you are feeling. For example, suppressing anger doesn’t make it go away and instead causes an increase in stress. Acknowledge it. Consider where it is coming from and how you can either deal with it or change your attitude about it. Journaling, which could also be a hobby, can be a way of processing your emotions and so can talking to friends, which connects to maintaining social support.
  10. Maintain a Spiritual Practice–Having belief system that grounds you whether it is a religion, spirituality, meditation, or a firmly rooted philosophy is a resource you can turn to when feeling stressed. This sort of foundational belief can offer strength, grounding, or a place to return to when, once again, stress levels get high and life is out of balance.

And as a reminder of how easy it is to fall back into your bad old ways, see Cammy Pedroja’s 7 things that are good examples of self-care, and 7 things that aren’t.

Remember Positive Self-care is you focused on you to ensure you are in the best possible frame of mind to take care of others as well as do what needs to be done. If this is new for you, I recommend picking two from the list and integrate them into your daily life – maybe one that sounds easy and one that seems like a stretch.  Once you feel you have incorporated them into your life, pick two more and see how it goes.

 

ON LIBRARIES: What Are Your Priorities

The last section of Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Other Option is called “Maintaining Joy.”  I discuss ways you can keep yourself fulfilled. The four chapters build on each other, starting with “Writing and Presenting” to prove your value to yourself and others, followed by chapters: “Delegating” so you don’t do it all; “Giving Back” which gives you more than you gave; and finally, “The Gift of Time” which is what I want to focus on today.

I can hear you saying, your schedule is packed. You don’t have time. I’ve been there. I understand and it wasn’t until I made it important to live my priorities that anything was able to change.

I spent most of my adult life being task-oriented. I loved my job as a librarian and worked hard at it. It was important, and it deserved all that attention. What I didn’t see was my beliefs and actions were in opposition. I would tell you my family was my first priority, but that’s not what my behaviors indicated. As a result, even when I was present with my family, my mind was somewhere else. I missed a lot.

I eventually realized what I was doing to myself and the people I cared most about. I developed a mantra that I kept repeating, “Everything will get done. It always does.”  And it did. If it was a priority and important, I did get it done. Sure, some of the lesser tasks got pushed down and some minor ones never got done. But no one noticed anything lacking. By contrast, I truly enjoyed my time with my family and friends.

Today, while I am nominally retired, which is to say I no longer work in a school library, most of you are aware that I teach an online course, write books for school librarians, and am active in my state association and at ALA/AASL. And I still make time for what is truly important. I have a monthly lunch date with a friend. I take long walks 3-5 times a week. I shut my computer off at 6 p.m. When my son drops in, I stop what I am doing—even if I am in the middle of writing a blog. I spend the evening with my husband. Somehow, it all works. My life is richer, and most importantly, not only am I happier but I can see how my change has had a positive effect on those I care about.

You need to devote time to what matters most. You can fit in a massage once a month. You are worth it. You can take the weekend off to be with your family and not worry/think about Monday. You can do what I did – find a mantra, a saying, even a song that reminds you to look at your priorities and schedule your time accordingly.

The business world agrees with me. In an online article entitled 5 Myths of Work-Life Balance Debunked by an Entrepreneurial Dad,  James Sudakow speaks to dads with big jobs who “lament” missing important events in their kids’ lives and other family times. Their work-life balance has become seriously skewed toward work. As the title indicates, he rebuts five myths.

  1. You won’t kill your career by setting firm boundaries between work and life. The tasks will get done. I find they get done more efficiently and better because I come to them refreshed with a positive attitude. Even if I have to scramble as a deadline approaches, that mindset powers me to complete what’s on my plate and give it my best. How many days are you staying late? It shouldn’t be more than one a week unless you are in a new position. Even then, three days is the outside limit.
  2. You can put family first. Not just “can” but “must.” You can’t say family is your priority if that’s not how you are choosing to spend your valuable time. Since we all have the same 24 hours in a day, you need to prioritize more honestly. I find if I am just focusing on tasks, I am also likely to allow more time-wasters to creep in from checking emails too many times to playing solitaire on the computer.
  3. “Work-life blend/integration” is not the only viable solution (despite what many say). Here Sudakow refers to allowing work to “blend” into your life. He says it’s better to compartmentalize. I agree, although there are occasions while my attention is focused on my family or my own rejuvenation activities, I come up with an answer to a work-related question that was troubling me. It most often happens while I am walking, but it has also occurred while getting a massage. Jot it down – go back to your family.
  4. Work-life balance is not a 50:50 proposition. No one is suggesting you divide out your day evenly between work obligations and family time. It’s what’s most important now that helps set the balance. Some days you need to be at your kid’s game and watch the whole thing without working on your cell or laptop. Other days you may only be fully present at dinner. If family is at the much lower end most days, you are not balancing well.
  5. Work-life balance comes down to hard choices we haven’t forced ourselves to make before. The discussion of the other four de-bunked myths shows how true this is. To stay on course, remind yourself you will never get back time lost with family – and friends. The work never goes away. Which memories do you want to look back on—time spent with your family or the hours spent working?

And remember to make yourself a priority. Positive Self-Care, which I’ll be talking more about this next week, is critical to your long-term success. You are what matters most, because if you don’t feel good about yourself, if you are not taking care of yourself, you will be drained, frustrated, and frankly cranky and I know that’s not what you want to bring to your library program or your teachers. Take a little time this week to notice how you’re using your time and where your being guided by your to-do list over your priorities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Leader or a Manager

I apologize.  The title is a trick question.  You must be both, but you need to be aware which hat you have on and why. My guess is you have been too busy to think about the question or notice the distinction, and as a result, you may not be using your time and energy efficiently. To understand the difference between the two, it helps to know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Strategy is a big picture concept. It represents a large goal.  Strategy is tied to your Vision.  Ultimately, it is what you seek to accomplish.

Tactics is how you get to that goal.  It is what you do day in and day out.  While Strategy is tied to your Vision, Tactics are aligned with your Mission.  Focusing only on tactics is like building a house when you have no idea what it should look like when done.

What does this have to do with being a leader or a manager?  Leaders hold the Vision.  Managers carry out the Mission.  If you still don’t have a Mission and Vision you are likely to work very hard and not have a sense of accomplishment.

With your Mission and Vision as a guide, you are both a manager and a leader—but not simultaneously.  When you organize your day, teach your classes, collaborate with teachers, or do your book order, you are being a manager.  When you develop a budget, organize a school-wide project, plan to genre-fy your collection, you are being a leader.

The business world recognizes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as the leader, and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) is the manager.  But even corporate America is becoming aware that some blending happens and, in some businesses as with school librarians, one person does both.

An often-cited brief distinction between the two roles is that leaders have people follow them and managers have people work for them.  At first glance, it would seem you have neither.  But when you plan a project, you enroll people to join in and follow your vision for it.  Having people “follow’ you is at the heart of advocacy.  If you are fortunate to have clerical help or volunteers, they obviously work for you.  In a more limited way, as you direct/guide students on their tasks they are doing the work you have given them.

ResourcefulManagement.com has an infographic comparing 17 traits distinguishing leaders from managers.  I’ve talked about several of them in earlier blogs but there are others I think it is helpful to consider such as:

Tells vs. Sells The manager says, “This is what I want you to do, and this is how to do it. The leader says, “I have this great idea and I know it will work if I can get you to be part of it.” You are leading when this is how you approach a new project.

Minimizes Risks vs. Takes Risks – Managers follow the status quo.  Leaders take the program in a larger direction.  I remind you frequently that you need to take risks.  Small ones at first and larger ones as you prove your worth.

Sees a Problem vs. Sees an Opportunity – It’s easy to see (and complain) about obstacles and problems.  A leader recognizes problems are an opening into new territory. It’s called a “choppertunity” – a challenge that presents an opportunity.  How creative can you be?  What risk will be needed?

Follows the Map vs. Carves New Roads –This is similar to which one takes risks, but the reminder is you won’t get far if you keep doing only what you have been doing before.  You are either growing or dying. First, understand the map, then look to find the places to create new roads.

Establishes Rules vs. Breaks Rules – Once again, there is an element of risk in the difference between the two roles.  How many of you will allow food in the library?  Allow kids to borrow books even if they have overdues? And those are the most common rules.  Where are rules keeping your program from growing? Where are rules keeping your program running smoothly? Shine a bright light on these rules and see which ones are serving and which are holding you back.

Assigns Duties vs. Fosters Ideas – As a librarian, you strive to foster ideas from students doing assignments, but have you looked at ways you can foster ideas from teachers about improving your program? The end users often have ideas of what they want, what they like, and what they don’t like.  Involve them in taking your program to the next step.

Does Things Right vs. Does the Right Thing – Obviously you need to do both.  Just know when to do what.  Purchasing books you fear might be challenged is doing the right thing.  Showing you are a team player is doing things right. 

For most of your day, you need to be a manager.  But to manage well, you need to know where you, the leader, is going.  And remember this quote by that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: Launching – and Completing – A Successful Project

43895764 – web start up flat style. rocket flight, promotion seo, laptop and launch, vector illustration

No matter where you are on your professional journey, starting out or established leader, there are times and opportunities where you need to take risks and move out of your comfort zone. Frequently this means creating and tackling a project.  Smaller projects, which tend to be shorter term, could include a “one book, one school,” a book club, or starting a Makerspace. A big project might be genre-fying your fiction (and possibly your nonfiction) collection, turning your library into a Learning Commons, or building a new library wing. How do you manage these long-term projects while you are still doing your regular job?  Planning is the key.

Whether the project is big or small you will likely have moments (maybe many of them) of trepidation, concern and even a few occasions of “What was I thinking?!” In a new blog I have been following, Belinda Wasser of RocketGirl Solutions presented seven ideas on How to Launch a Big Project.  These steps work for small projects as well as large ones and are a great way to keep you on track or help you return if you get off course.

no elephants were sacrificed for any of the projects mentioned!

Here are the seven—along with my comments:

  1. Set the end date before you begin. Wasser says it motivates you. I believe it keeps you on track.  Keep in mind the places where you don’t have control over all the parts when it comes to a large project.  For example, contractors don’t/can’t always adhere to the original schedule, and things do go wrong.
  • For small projects, if you don’t have an end date, you are likely to let daily tasks get in the way and the project will not only never be completed, it will start to feel overwhelming and tedious. You won’t meet your goal if you don’t schedule the time to keep moving your project forward.
  1. Break the project down into its parts and create a plan. I have written about my technique of telescoping, microscoping, and periscoping when doing a big project. In telescoping you look down the road to the conclusion of the project as Wasser says for the first step. I also recommend you set additional internal dates for the different parts of the project.  On a day-to-day basis you use microscoping to focus on the current step. Every so often you go to periscoping, popping up the periscope to see what’s next to see if everything is on schedule and what you will need to do next.
  • For small projects, you still need to know the parts but periscoping will be less of a necessity. If you are relying on others for components of your project, such as getting approval for something, be sure to stay on top of it, nicely reminding that person of the “deadline” and the important part their role plays.

3. Schedule regular meetings. I’ve found librarians rarely do this even for a large project, but if you think it can help your progress, do it. This may be especially important if your project is outside of your library, such as for your state association (Zoom anyone?). Regardless of whether meetings will help, keeping people up to date on the state of the project is important and you should send reports to whomever is involved, particularly the administration.

  • In meetings and in reports, focus on the positives.  Report on any problems that are surfacing and how you plan to deal with them, including who will be helping you to take care of it.

4. Be decisive. At some point (or several) during a large project, you will have to make decisions. It often is about making some changes to the original plan. It’s challenging enough to take on a big project.  When confronted by the need to alter it in some way, the tendency is to try to get the perfect solution, and you can spend time getting a lot of advice.  That is what General Colin Powell calls “analysis paralysis.”  You don’t have time to waste.  Give yourself a short deadline for coming to a decision and go with it. Small projects (fortunately) rarely have these decisions.

  • You might change a vendor or product for your starter makerspace or decide to have a theme book club requiring you to have books for participants to choose from. But the decisions shouldn’t take much time.
  1. Be prepared to spend extra time. You already have a full schedule, and there isn’t much you can do when this happens. You will have to fit in extra time for the project. This doesn’t mean you stay late every day or bring home an inordinate amount of work. An idea can be to create a list of responsibilities you can delegate temporarily so that when this happens, you have a plan. Also, remember to allow for downtime with friends and family during the process or you will be drained and exhausted when it’s complete.

    The person turns hourglass isolated on white
  • Small projects need little extra time, but since it can come up be mindful of them.
  1. Don’t forget the budget. Vendor sites and vendors themselves can give you a good idea of some of the costs. Use social media to ask those who have tackled this type of project to tell you how they budgeted, what were some unexpected costs, and how they handled writing RFPs (Request for Proposal).
  • With a small project, many of you will be spending money out of your own pocket. You might buy makerspace supplies or treats for the book club.  While this may be unavoidable, look for other funding sources such as your home school association or small grants.
  1. Visualizing the end. Just as the Vision for your library program serves as an inspiration, visualizing what you will have when you are done will keep you going on the tough days. It will become easier to hold the picture as you come closer to the end. Share the steps with others.  Take pictures of the progress and create a display and/or post on your website.

And one more step from me. Celebrate. Be proud of your achievement, large or small.  You have expanded the library presence and improved student learning through your vision and courage.  It’s what leadership is about.