Time and Task Management

Being able to manage available time is a critical skill. There’s always more to do, so there’s always more to learn about how to find and use new techniques. Two weeks ago, I blogged about Diffusing Pressure and discussed knowing the difference between urgent and important. Another time management skill is knowing how take into account the time to complete a task and when it’s best to do it. This combines time management with task management.. Some tasks require a great deal of time. If you are creating a presentation, you need to stay focused on what you are doing.  You can’t jump in and out of doing it without wasting time reviewing it each time you return to the task. On the other hand, sending overdue notices while being careful not to violate student privacy, takes somewhat less focus but a sizeable block of time. 

The key point is to be aware of the amount of time it takes to do the tasks on your to-do lists. This must be looked at in connection with whether a task can be interrupted and restarted without losing much time in getting back to where you were. Going through email or regular mail is one of the best illustrations of this.

Knowing the differences between these projects and when you can do them are the mortar that hold the bricks of you time management together and help you become more productive. For example, you have finished that big report and have nothing on your schedule for the next half hour.  You could just let your brain breathe, especially if your creative juices are dry.  Or you could use those few minutes to clear through some email or junk mail. Those tasks are neither urgent nor important (unless there is something in email), but still need to get done.

About that drain of creative juices. That’s something else you need to think about. What is your best time of day to do creative tasks?  For me it’s in the morning.  If I tackle it later in the day, it takes me longer to complete.

Make a spreadsheet to help you see how to organize your time; In the first column put the task. Then have three columns for (1) approximate time it will take, (2) urgent/important, (3) creative (yes/no). Use this for several days and see what you learn and how you are able to manage your time. If it works, in a few weeks, you will probably be able to allocate your time without it.

Another thing that helps with task management is knowing your very quick items and getting them done at the right time. Crossing items off your to-do list always feels good. Naphtali Hoff offers his approach on How to Productively Knock out Those 2-Minute Tasks.  He quotes David Allen’s Two Minute Rule: “If it takes less than 2-minutes, do it now.” We all get these thoughts of some quick thing that needs doing and can lose the idea quickly if we’re enmeshed in a bigger task. If it’s an interruptible task, handle the quick one immediately, and get it off your plate. You’ll get the added boost of a sense of accomplishment which energizes us when we get back to what we were working on. 

The downside is dealing with 2-minute tasks can get you off-track if you’re working on something that you shouldn’t be distracted from. To determine whether you should address the 2-minute task, Naphtali offers these three methods to aid your decision:

  1. Only work on two-minute tasks that relate to the larger assignment that you’re working on Is there someone who you need to call about an item in your report?  Did you wonder if there was a quote that could capture an idea in your presentation?  Search for these now.
  2. Set aside a larger time block for your two-minute tasks – Note those brief tasks on one list and deal with all of them at once.  This accomplishes two things.  You get them done, and because there are so many of them, you can relish seeing all those items disappear from your to-list.
  3. Immediately decide your next stepsNow what?  You are feeling great about your accomplishment. Use your positive mindset to power you onwards. What is your next priority? Get back to a bigger project or more on to another item on your list? Note the items in your Urgent/Important list with a “yes” and see where those fit next.

As best you can, keep distractions away from your uninterruptible tasks so that you use that time well and learn which items on your to-do list are doable when there are interruptions. Plan those tasks when you’re more likely to be disturbed. As an added bonus, look to use this with your personal tasks as well.

Time is a precious and limited commodity. The clearer you are about what you need to do and how you need to do it, the more effectively and efficiently you can manage.

Are You Listening?

We have so much on our plates and too many distractions. We’ve got a huge to-do list and not enough time. People check their phones during meetings – live or virtual. We’re focused elsewhere during Zoom calls without the other participants noticing, and, sadly they’re likely doing the same. Unfortunately, it damages our abilities and interferes with being a leader.

All too often if I am in a rush, when a person on my Zoom meeting is restating what they or others have said, or because I have something I want to say and am waiting for the right moment to jump in I discover I haven’t been listening. Being aware of my tendencies, I can usually stop myself before my tuning out to the speaker lasts more than a minute, but it’s a challenge.

When someone says, “You are not listening to me,” they are probably right. Whether it’s an adult or student we are being disrespectful. In Effective Listening as a Key Skill for a Better Leader, Emma Coffine writes about the importance of this skill for those leading teams in the business world, but their tips are equally important in education. Here are her 7 ways to improve your listening and why they are important.

  1. Get to Know Them – To build relationships, you need to know the person, student or colleague, beyond the superficial that is often our norm. When you know them, you see them as whole people, not just their job persona. That knowledge aids you in paying attention to what they are saying and making sure you are understanding it. When starting a collaborative project, look for ways to put relationship before the task. Checking in to see how the other person or persons are feeling may sound like wasting time, but it smooths the way for what follows. It shows you care and value them.
  •  Make This a Priority – Knowing something is essential and making it a priority are different things. Improving your listening skills is not something to fit in when you have time. It affects all your interactions. Each encounter is a way to build a connection. Coffine notes that making it a priority affects your mindset. As you recognize the importance of truly listening, you see the other person in a larger context. You enter the conversation focused on what is being said, not on your own plans.
  • Keep Distractions Away – Our phones are almost another appendage. Think about your reaction if you are speaking and see one or more people looking at their phones. Your reaction is likely to believe they aren’t interested in what you are saying—which may not be true. Make a point of removing as many distractions as possible when you are talking with someone. The distractions will be there later – the person may not.
  • Care – Remember that saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care?” We need human connection. Our experiences with the pandemic prove it. Listening and focusing on the other person is a simple way to show you care about them, what they are saying and what they are experiencing. This connection goes a long way in the moment – and in future interactions. It also gives you an opportunity to learn more about who they are and not only what they might want.
  • Be Empathetic – As much as we wish we could, it’s nearly impossible to always leave your problems at home. That’s not a problem. Whether you have staff to manage, teachers to collaborate with, or students to teach, we are there to support each other, and we can’t do it unless we know how they are doing. Some days you’ll be the one who needs help. Sometimes it will be someone else. By being empathetic, you can give and receive support and relieve some of their burden on those bad days.
  • Body Language – Not everyone is comfortable sharing personal matters. This is where it becomes important to observe people’s body language. This includes your students. Conversely, people are also reading your body language. You may think they are unaware that you have tuned out, but they can see it in your eyes and how your body is reacting – or not – to what they are saying.
  • No Judging – When we judge, we aren’t listening. We’ve jumped to a conclusion and are holding that belief rather than connecting with the other person. People come from so many different experiences and perspectives that it’s important to stay open to who they are without our own filters interfering as much as possible. As Coffine writes, ‘if you want to listen effectively, you need to stop judging and be more compassionate.’

Leaders succeed by building relationships which builds support. Listening attentively is how you build both. Look for new ways you can pay attention.

Diffusing Pressure

We are all under pressure. The bad news is, it’s not going to get better. The worse news is, if you don’t do something about it, the pressure will (and undoubtedly has) affected you physically and emotionally. The good news is you can learn to manage pressure. You can develop strategies that reduce its hold on you. Mostly, it’s about how to reframe and change your mindset.

When we’re under pressure, we feel an adrenaline surge. This surge gives you the energy to stretch your physical, creative, and/or emotional drive. Unfortunately, the crash that follows depletes you, and you still have more on your plate.

Strategies for developing the right mindset can help you from escalating pressure and lowers the anxieties you are feeling. Theodore Kinni in Leading Under Pressure offers Dane Jensen’s four-step technique for diffusing pressure. It applies to the business world, the world of athletes, as well as your professional and personal life.  

  1. Ask yourself what’s not at stake – When you focus on a big project, a deadline, a chosen or imposed job change, remember to pause. Take the time to identify what in your life is not hinging on this one thing. Intense focus may be needed, but it also blocks out everything that’s not in our face. We cannot see the complete picture. Stop and took for what is good in your life, personally or at work. This hasn’t changed. These things will to be there however this one big thing plays out. The perspective can help you breathe easier.
  • Avoid the anxiety spiral – We have overactive brains which usually jump to the negative. We tend to escalate things. It’s a form of catastrophizing. A simple example might be when your principal asks to speak with you. Immediately, your brain goes to, “What did I do wrong?” “Are they going to eliminate my position?” “Did a parent complain?” You haven’t learned the purpose of the meeting, yet you assume something is wrong. It could be something positive, but you are already in a panic about what might be coming. The energy wasted is enormous. Your stress is high for no reason. This is another time to pause and remind yourself that until you know, you don’t know. You can’t deal with an issue that is still unknown. Wait for further information.
  • Let go of ego-driven stakes – This usually applies when we’re leading or initiating a big project. Maybe you launched a “One book, One School” event. Perhaps you are planning to genre-fy your collection. You’re out on a limb and everyone is looking at you. Besides the anxiety spiral of “what if it doesn’t work?”, you may also find the Imposter Syndrome has taken hold. “Why did I try this?” “What was I thinking?” With support from your PLN and others who have done this, you will get through it. Plan to get help and share credit. Leadership involves risk. The more risks you take, the more successes you have as compared with projects that didn’t meet your expectations. What did you learn from it that you can use next time? Whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world – or your career.
  • Gauge what is truly urgent – Too often we expend time and energy on what is immediately in front of us. Using Jensen as a guide to deal with this, ask yourself, “What might happen if I rush to get this done?” Then ask yourself, “What will happen if I delay for a while?” Not everything that lands on your plate is urgent. How does it relate to your Mission and Goals? What/who is the source of this task/request? Is there a due date on it? If it is immediate, does it make sense to request a delay? Focusing on the high priority items in your to-do list, however you keep track of your tasks, reminds you of what needs doing first. I use a star and sometimes multiple stars.

We don’t need to eliminate pressure. Pressure is not the problem. It can, in fact, be useful. It powers us to go beyond ourselves and do better than we knew we could. However, the anxiety pressure causes drains us. By developing the strategies to reduce the anxiety, we gain the benefits of pressure with fewer negative effects of accompanying anxiety.

Beyond Either-Or

Not all our colleagues hold the same views as we do, but we can’t afford to lose our relationships with them based on those strongly held opinions. This is not only true when politics comes into the workspace but also when we seek budget funds or have other issues with the administration. We need to listen even as we disagree with their occasionally erroneous views of school librarians and libraries. Can we hear what their truths are? Unless we can, we won’t be heard.

Disagreement can be helpful unless we assume there are only two approaches or ideas– ours and the wrong ones. As librarians, part of our work, hopefully, includes not suppressing one point of view because we disagree with it. While we champion our beliefs, we must also listen to the other side. We need to hear the elements of truth in what the other party says and then hopefully come up with a solution that incorporates more views.  

Sociology, psychology and philosophy have all wrestled with this challenge and determined that sometimes the best way to manage when there are two disparate ideas is to keep conversation open and flowing until a new interpretation or understanding comes about. Referred to as dialectics, Science ABC explains, dialectics is “a process that makes use of contradictory statements or ideas to reach an ultimate truth.” The challenge is to be able to go beyond our views to arrive at one that works for more people.

So, how do we get to this ultimate truth? In her article Kristin Hendrix in When We Find Ourselves Stuck, How to Find the Third Option,  Kristin Hendrix discusses the “Fallacy of Either/Or Thinking? and proposes four ideas:

Look for Another Perspective – Since experience and our personalities conditioned us to see things one way, get an additional perspective on an issue by talking it out with someone else—without heat or hostility. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” Since you initiated the discussion, it will be easier to listen intending to understand, which will serve you in such situations in the future. Talking out an issue can help you see where you’ve gotten yourself boxed into one way of thinking and help you arrive at the third – and unifying – option.

Find the “And” – Is there a way to incorporate both concepts/ideas that seem, at first, opposed? What are the two goals?  Can you do both if you can do one at a time? Considering the possibility opens up to new ways of thinking. In the process of looking for an “and,” you might find another solution entirely.  As Hendrix writes, “What option would combine the benefits of both and offset the challenges?”

For example, you are asked to cover a physical education class when the usual teacher is absent. To do so you must close the library. If you bring the class into the library and have them work on a topic related to physical education (or health), you have covered the class, AND the library stayed open.

The Calm in Acceptance – Hendrix recognizes sometimes you face two bad options. Fighting the truth of that becomes a constant frustration, affecting everything in your life. Choose one and accept that you made a choice.

A friend of mine in the corporate world, hated her job. Her only option for a new job was out of the state. She didn’t want to leave the state because her mother needed her. She decided to stay where she was and reduced the extra hours she was committing to the job. Once she knew why and how she was remaining, it was easier to live with it.

From Scarcity to Abundance – When you think there are only two opposing options, you have little to work with. Hendrix points out this is functioning from a scarcity mindset.  By considering that there may be other paths to get to where you want to go, you move to an abundance mindset. Change your mindset and allow possibilities in.

Out of the box thinking – or better yet thinking there is no box – is a more creative approach to dealing with how to look at a given situation. Find ways to resolve disagreements so you continue to strengthen your relationships and become a better problem solver in the process. Take the time to look for what third option might solve the issue. 

Words of Praise, Words of Encouragement

We know compliments are important.  They can make a person’s day, but we should be more conscious of the ones we give.  Too often we praise students saying, “good job,” but our words fail to make much of an impact without specifics.

If you tell me I did a good job, I’ll be glad to hear it, but I probably won’t think about it again. However, if you said, “that story you told to make your point really resonated with me,” I will remember.  The difference between the two?  The second compliment offered something specific. It showed you weren’t making an offhand, polite statement. You noticed what I did and how I did it.

Making your compliments specific takes time and requires that we “see” the person.  We go beyond the surface and recognize what the other person has done. Telling a student that the design of their presentation had a professional look then going on to ask how they learned to do it will make an impression and a memory. 

Encouragement is also best when specific.  When we say, “You did much better with this assignment,” the student will appreciate it.  But pointing to the examples of the improvement and noticing what they learned will mean much more.

Even better than giving someone a verbal compliment or an encouraging word is to write it. I have been known to copy/paste and print comments my students have written to me at the end of a course so that I can refer to them, especially during those times of Imposter Syndrome.  It means a lot to know I reached them and made a difference.

In The Value of Mailing Encouraging Notes to Students, John Tiersma takes the concept a step further by making a commitment to send a handwritten note to each of his students every year. The results have been long lasting. Tiersma tells the story of a former student who displayed his note, written seven years earlier, on her dorm room wall. His reasoning on why this works is:a

Feeling Important Is Important – Our inner voice is a harsh critic.  Sometimes it’s all we hear. The school dynamic may compound that sense of not being smart or worthy.  A note is a physical representation that you are seen as being of value.  Having positive skills and characteristics recognized is a motivator to build on them and become engaged in learning. Tiersma stresses the importance of making your words “specific, genuine, and true.”

Another Way to Connect – For those of you who cannot do handwritten notes, Tiersma suggests “authentic compliments”, which I discussed earlier, and he encourages having “non-school conversations.” It’s how you get to know the person, not just the student. 

These conversations are also an effective relationship building approach with teachers.  They are not their job.  We only see a portion of our colleagues and students if all we see are their job-related personas.  As you connect with praise or encouragement, you may be surprised to learn what you have been missing.

With everything already on our to-do lists, starting small is probably the best approach.  Pick a student who has been looking bedraggled or one who has been showing improvement, then send them a handwritten note. Or, set a goal to have at least one to two “authentic conversations” each week. Tiersma suggests focusing on someone you don’t know well.  Learn their interests and hobbies.  I built a relationship with one teacher when I learned she liked fly fishing. I don’t share that interest, but I was able to get articles to her she might otherwise have overlooked.

As we deal with students who have been traumatized because of the pandemic or for other reasons, consider how offering praise and encouragement this way will help you to expand and develop your relationship building skills and make a difference in your work.  And remember, this doesn’t only have to be with students. Teachers need this as well. The old expression “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” reminds us how important it is to connect with the people.  True connection, like clear praise, makes a difference. It can even change a life.

Letting Go and Moving On

Change is hard. Too often it means letting go of something you were good at – or loved to do. Change is also inevitable, so while you might miss what was lost, it may be an opportunity to think in different ways and find new things to love.

In 1995, I took on a position as the senior librarian in a high school. Automation was in its earliest phase, and this library already had converted to an online catalog. But my co-librarian was heavily attached to the shelf list. Even as all our records were now digital, she persisted in continuing the print shelf list record. She had an emotional tie to the familiar and was unwilling to face the logic of letting it go. Because the relationship was new, I didn’t press for the change. As soon as she retired, I got rid of the print record of our holdings.

Moving into the future carries an element of risk, and therefore fear. Librarians are change agents and lifelong learners. While we don’t want to let go of everything just because something new comes along, we need to embrace the changes that take us to the next level. Whether it’s technology, new instructional approaches, or better ways to help our teachers and students, we must be ready to move on.

For help in moving on, Fred Ende says, “Don’t Let ‘What Was’ Get in the Way of “What’s Next..” He offers several ways to do so:

Know when to move on (or surround yourself with others who do) – Moving on has several meanings here. Ende reminds us we need to move on “when simply continuing on a path will do more harm than good or when we won’t be able to accomplish what we need to do unless we change course.” This happened when the pandemic changed how we interacted with students and teachers. The old ways didn’t work. It took ingenuity, creativity and, sometimes, idea from other librarians to help you adapt.

This also refers to the job itself. For example, tenure sometimes binds us to environments that no longer serve us. Take an honest look at your position. Are you still enjoying it?  Do you see any way it can improve?  If the answer is no, start looking for a new opportunity (but don’t talk about leaving until you find a new position).

Embrace obstacles-to-opportunity approach – Focusing on obstacles when doing something new is likely to get you stuck. Consider where this situation offers an opportunity to do something different. What was the original end goal?  What is another way to get there?

,When you look for the opportunity, you open the door to possibilities, creativity, and collaboration. If others are struggling with the issue as well, and you might end up leading the way to a new path. And as the leader, you and your program will be seen as more valuable.

Zoom out- Being stressed makes it hard to lift your head and see past the tasks at hand. Looking at things only on a day-to-day, task-to-task level results in things always being done the same way. Taking a big picture view is essential in being able to see and then let go of what is not contributing to your goals.

Ende suggests looking down the road. Where will this take you in future? Can you picture where you will be in five years with this approach? Is it where you want to be? You may not be right, but you will gain a sense of where this direction is taking you and where you may need to make a change.

There is always “the next thing” coming up. Holding on to the way things were may keep you from recognizing it and incorporating it into your practice. As they say, “When you love something, let it go.” Holding on tight never works.

Feeling Like an Imposter

You know the feeling – you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and begun questioning your decision. You probably are thinking:  What did I get myself into? Is this beyond my skillset?  What if others can do this better?  If those or similar thoughts have entered your mind, you are suffering from the Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome afflicts successful people as well as those who are just moving into leadership. You question your qualifications and are sure you will be exposed for not measuring up to the task. But if you succumb to it, you will never try anything new and will miss opportunities to learn and grow.

The first step is recognizing that the Imposter Syndrome had arrived. Once you realize it’s not you but the Syndrome, you can take steps to deal with it. The internet is filled with suggestions on how to combat Imposter Syndrome. Most use mindset which is always helpful if somewhat difficult to achieve at times. Gemma Leigh Roberts’ has developed a slightly different approach in Boosting Confidence and Conquering Imposter Syndrome. These tips allow you to embrace its value while not letting it take over.

Apply the Benefits of Imposter Syndrome – Roberts points to focusing on humility, reframing fear as fuel, and building resilience as ways to use Imposter Syndrome to support you rather than hold you back. Being humble helps us build relationships as well as develop “an authentic and unique leadership style.” Using fear as fuel draws on the adrenaline fear creates and has you making sure you are thoroughly prepared. This in turn builds resilience. Every time you successfully get through a bout of Imposter Syndrome, you build a foundation to draw on in the future when it comes back. (And it will.)

Accept the Feeling Roberts states, “Feeling like an imposter doesn’t make you one. No one succeeds at every new endeavor without making any mistakes.”  This is part of the process – like it or not. Fighting it drains energy, energy you need to use the fear as fuel. The arrival of the Imposter Syndrome is an important reminder – it means you are being a leader. You are growing. Once you have completed this challenge you will have accomplished something that powers you to the next step.

Keep a File of Positive Feedback – Each time you step out of your comfort zone, move through Imposter Syndrome, and grow as a leader, hold on to the positive feedback you received. Don’t let compliments go unremarked. You earned them. Savor them. Bank them for days when the going gets tough. They are the energy drink to use on those days.

Chat to Someone in Your Support Network – It’s important to have people we turn to when we need someone to talk us off the ledge. It may be one person you trust or a social network group for librarians. They will understand and listen to you. There will always be a few members who can give you the advice and encouragement you need.

Use an Experiment Approach – If you regard the challenge you have undertaken as an experiment, you can reduce some of the anxiety you’re feeling about it. Whatever happens – you’ll learn something you can use in the future. Reframing the situation helps you keep successes and setbacks in proportion. No matter what, you’ll gain something from what you’re trying which will help as you go forward. You may expand on it – or not. This approach should help you breathe easier.

You will always have to deal with the Imposter Syndrome, but you don’t have to put on boxing gloves to knock it out. Accept its presence and know it’s proof that you are learning and growing. Consider it a badge of honor.

Leaders Are Always Growing

You are a leader, but leading is more than administering a program. Leaders work consciously and continually to improve their leadership. Education is going through what might be a revolutionary period and while different areas grow and others shrink, you want to be an area that grows.

From Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education, to your own school district, the conversation happening is about implementing the lessons learned from this pandemic. How do you ride the tide to become one of the leaders, integral to the success of new approaches?  You seize the opportunity to expand your leadership. You’ll probably need to move out of your comfort zone. It’s worth it. Risk brings its own rewards.

Art Petty explains how to do it in “Here Are the Habits of Employees Who Lead Without a Title.” These five habits are as helpful in business – which is his focus – as they are for us.

  1. Trust Building – Trust is the foundation of relationships, and we are in a relationship business. It is built by showing interest in the other person. It grows when you help them make them feel empowered, not foolish. As Petty says, “Trust building is not a tactic. It’s a way of life.” You don’t learn the techniques for building trust to manipulate people. You build them because you care and want to have a bond with the people you are working with. You hold the confidences of others. Their trust allows you to collaborate and build programs that support students and the goals of administrators.
  • Reciprocity Management –When you do a favor for someone, they are inclined to do the same for you. The expression, “I owe you one,” is true. Because you have integrity, you don’t do favors in order to have someone indebted to you. You do it because you want to help. However, it does give you an opportunity to ask for support in return. Don’t build your trust bank too big. If you are always doing favors and never asking or accepting any help in return, people become uncomfortable. This may cause them to avoid you or not let you know when they need help. The trust starts eking out of the relationship.
  • Boundary Spanning – As a librarian your network encompasses teachers on different grade levels and subjects. You are also more likely to have a connection with other librarians in your district or across the state if you’ve been involved in local organizations. Leaders without titles know how to build these networks wherever possible. You may reach out to your public librarian counterpart. You connect to librarians across the country – and world—through social media. These connections increase your knowledge, confidence, and ability to recommend approaches and resources that have proved successful elsewhere.
  • Coalition Building – With the first three habits in place, you can form a coalition allowing you to get more done. Do you have a great idea? You have a cadre willing to join you. The glue that binds these people together is you and the relationships you have built. They aren’t working on the project because they were told to do it. They are doing it, because you asked, and they trust you and the vision you have for the library and the students. They have experience with you and respect you.
  • Gray-zone Leadership – Because you are not in the classroom, not responsible for test results or specific benchmarks, you have a unique perspective allowing you to see opportunities or challenges others may not. You “live between the lines of the organizational chart”. By creating programs to address gaps, you build on the other habits (trust, boundaries, coalitions) to strengthen not only your program but the school. By doing this, you are seen as a vital part of the success of students, teachers and administrators. You become a force for moving your school or district, and thereby your library, forward into where today’s education is heading.

Keep your leadership growing. Developing these habits will not only get you a seat at the table, but it might also give you a seat at the head of the table.

What Do You Expect?

We go through life expecting that things will go a certain way – and then they don’t. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and irritating. Sometimes it’s because conditions changed, but very often the problem is due to the expectations themselves. Being aware of and able to manage expectations makes our jobs easier and our relationships stronger.

Expectations are based on who we are, how we perceive the world, and how we act. In our communications and interchanges, we make the unconscious assumption that other people are like us. We know this is not true, and when we know someone well, we recognize the differences. When it’s a teacher, parent, or administrator with whom we don’t have that higher level of familiarity, we unwittingly assume things that aren’t true.

John R. Stoker asks Can Managing Your Expectations Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? and gives twelve ways to do so.

  1. The expectation that you have been understood – Communication has three parts: the sender, the message, and thereceiver. When something is amiss with any part, the receiver will not get the message that was sent. Did you tailor the message to the receiver? Did you give too much information?  Did you use library jargon which made things unclear to the receiver? Be certain the message was received.
  2. The expectation that people will know what you want – If you’re not clear about what you want, chances are you won’t communicate your needs well. Get clarity before you speak so you know what you want to say. Lead off with your main point and be careful of being either too specific or too vague which leads to a loss of clarity.
  3. The expectation that people will perform the way you would perform – We all manage projects differently. People perform based on their expectations, not yours. In addition, where a project is your priority, it may not be someone else’s. Be aware of differences.
  4. The expectation that people should know what to expect from you – Even if teachers and administrators have expectations about the library, they may not know what they can expect from you. Let them know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. The more they know, the more they will be aware of your contributions.
  5. The expectation that those who are disengaged will take responsibility for their disengagement. For us, this means expecting a busy teacher or principal will eventually get back to you – and even apologize for the delay. Again, you likely have different priorities so cannot expect this. If necessary, create a reminder for yourself to re-send messages, follow up, and make your needs clear.
  6. The expectation that you won’t violate someone else’s expectations – If we don’t know the other person’s expectations, when we haven’t gotten clarity, mistakes are more likely. We don’t like to think we missed the mark, but it happens. As soon as you notice, apologize and then make a plan for going forward.
  7. The expectation that someone will tell you what’s going well and what isn’t – A leader’s job is to “inspire and inspect.”  People tend not to say anything if something isn’t going as planned. Plan to check in every so often to ask how things are going and if they need help. People are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they are struggling.
  8. The expectation that people will know how what they do contributes to the organization’s success. Sometimes it’s hard to see how small projects contribute to bigger successes. It’s important to be aware of this within your program. Then you can let teachers and students know when they’ve made a difference and pass this information along to administrators. This is a great opportunity to acknowledge a teacher or administrator who has made a difference. Specific compliments make a person’s day and will strengthen your relationship with the receiver.
  9. The expectation that priorities are understood by everyone – Even when they overlap, our goals differ from those of teachers and administrators. If your principal doesn’t understand how a program is contributing to the success of students, s/he may ask you to take on something new. When starting a new initiative, be clear with those participating what the priorities are.  Don’t assume. And take time to review as the project continues to be sure you are all on the same page.
  10. The expectation that people will give you personal feedback – You don’t always want to hear praise – you need to know where to improve. People don’t like giving negative feedback almost as much as they dislike receiving it. In discussions with teachers, make sure to ask, “What could I have done to make this project better?” rather than, “Did it go OK?”
  11. The expectation that you know what people need – This is why the “inspect” discussed in #7 is important. We are different. We work differently. And we are different in what we do well and what challenges us. What do people need when it comes to resources, time, support and assistance. When you check in, with feedback not criticism, it allows both of you to be more successful.
  12. The expectation that people who are driving slower in the fast lane will move over – This is about giving and receiving respect. No matter how a project is going, whether communication and priorities are clear, it is important to treat everyone involved with respect. Listen for what’s working and where things are challenging then move forward accordingly.

When you start a project, think about your inherent expectations. Are they true?  If not, make the necessary adjustments. You will minimize disappointments and lower your frustration levels. As Stoker says in his conclusion, Part of becoming more emotionally intelligent and a more effective leader is about identifying our expectations and clearly sharing them with others. Doing so will not only eliminate unneeded and potentially damaging emotional reactions but will also greatly improve your results.”

Email With Impact

In our work world, email is a major communication tool, and we use it frequently. Even before the pandemic, we didn’t see our colleagues and administrators every day. We find other ways to connect. Because we are usually in a rush, we write and send emails without thinking too much about their composition. What we aren’t thinking about is what will happen at the other end of our message.

Communication consists of a sender, a message, and a receiver. The job of the sender is to craft a message appropriate to the receiver and choose the method or communication platform that makes it easy for the receiver to understand it. If you don’t get this right, your message is less likely to be grasped.

Communications is a core skill of leadership. You can’t do much if you are unable to communicate clearly and successfully. Most of you do a good job, but all of us have room for improvement.

Steve Strauss wrote an article on email for small businesses for USA Today. His six rules work well for our communications as well. Here are his recommendations – with my comments on how they translate into the education world.

  1. Think of the subject line as the headline of your story – Like us, our receivers get far too many emails. They quickly scan their inbox to see who sent messages and what they are about. If they can’t figure out from the subject line what you want to tell them, they are less likely to focus on it when they do open it. Sending a teacher an email about a resource with the subject “great link for you,” doesn’t say much. “Resource for upcoming unit” lets them know what they will gain by opening your email. “Outstanding Student Products” will get your email opened quicker than “Library News.”
  2. Short is sweet – Long emails are often not fully read. I have missed important information because they buried it four or five paragraphs down. Keep things short and to the point. If possible, your paragraphs need to be short as well, no more than four sentences is preferable. Remember, your email may be read on a phone or tablet. Large blocks of texts don’t get the focus.
  3. Emojis are Ok – This one surprised me. It turns out they are helpful because we lose so much information when we don’t hear someone and their tone of voice. But use them sparingly. As Strauss cautions, you need to be careful with them. One emoji in an email is probably the maximum to use. And choose that one with some thought. Is it needed? Does it clarify what you wrote or help with the tone? You don’t want your email to sound like a text from a teen. Also keep in mind the relationship you already have with the recipient. Are you friendly? Then the emoji might help. Your principal or superintendent? Not so much.
  4. Use the correct tone – Emojis notwithstanding, the downside of email is the challenge of conveying your tone which would be clear in a face-to-face interaction. You can be casual, but, as Strauss notes, sarcasm and facetious jokes aren’t always received as sent. Many have gotten into trouble for saying something in an email that was taken out of context. Consider the audience for the tone you are using.  This is also true for using formal or more casual language.
  5. Writing is rewriting – We do this for many things we write, but often skip it for emails, especially if we’re in a rush. If the email is important, take the time to review it. To be absolutely sure, copy and paste it into a Word document and note the grammatical corrections. Also, reread the email for flow. You may have gotten subject line correct, but did you begin with the most important part of your communication? Make sure it says what you want, the way you want.
  6. Nothing is private – Unless you are praising, avoid putting someone’s name within an email. You don’t know to whom it may be forwarded. Strauss also warns about the potential for problems with the ever dangerous “reply all.”  This isn’t new information, but it’s important to remember because when we move too fast, we make mistakes. Emails are forever. Even the biggest names in tech have been caught by surprise when old emails have surfaced. Pay attention before hitting send.

Emails that are written well and get read get acted on. In our rush to get the message sent, we may be losing the opportunity to communicate clearly. Think before you write. Ensure that the emails you send connect with their recipients.