ON LIBRARIES – Take Time To Replenish

How did you spend this long weekend?  Running around to complete a long list of tasks? Did you do things with family and friends that still involved stress – even the good kind such as hosting a gathering or making sure everything was loaded for a short vacation?

So, are you rested now?

Most of us are like hamsters on a wheel.  Whether at school or at home, we don’t stop running.

Some of you have now completed the school year.  The rest of you will be doing so within a month.  What are your plans?  Will you still be on the hamster wheel?  And how and why should you get off?

Back in December, I wrote a blog entitled “Make Room for Joy.” In that piece, I urged you to make time for family and friends, doing things you loved. Today I want to take this thought in another direction.

We need to take time for solitude and reflecting.

We live in a very noisy world.  It’s filled with people we like – and love – and along with those who annoy us.  Much as we enjoy what we do most of the time, we are spending so much time doing and giving we are exhausted.  If we are not careful are well of caring just might run dry.

What happens when your well starts to run dry?  You become increasingly irritable. You snap at family and possibly a student. You wonder when will it be your turn to be taken care of.  Most of the time we aren’t aware of this shift in attitude.  We are so focused on getting the thing done, It’s not till we get a reaction such as our kid crying because of something we said or a “conversation” with a spouse turning hurtful that we realize we are in overload.

I can remember driving home from work one day and shouting in my car, “I don’t want to be a wife, a mother, or a librarian.  I want an air-conditioned cave lined with books and my meals delivered.” My well was running dry.  I loved being a wife, a mother, and a librarian.  I just felt pulled in so many directions I wanted to tune out for a while.  I was on to something but didn’t fully realize it. 

What can you do to replenish your well? Anyone who has young children is familiar with giving them a “time out.”  We remove them from the situation that has caused them to overreact and have them sit quietly until they can find the calm that allows them to return to being themselves.

We need to find the best way for each of us to have that “time out.”  Some people are good at meditation and that restores their inner calm, replenishing them.  Yoga can work for others.

Some school librarians are putting coloring books on tables – sometimes as part of Makerspaces.  They have discovered that kids—and teachers—are loving them. They can sit quietly, concentrating only on what area to do next and what color to choose.  It has become a national craze.  I think it’s a form of meditating for some people.

You have to find what works for you.  I can’t seem to meditate. My mind starts whirling. And yoga doesn’t seem to be my thing.  Those coloring books don’t attract me, but I do love to walk.  When I walk I can greet people walking their dogs and continue my way. They don‘t want me for anything, not even a conversation.  I watch the seasons change, and it fills something inside me. I do think, but the thinking is so different from when I am home working on my computer. This thinking helps me put things in place. When walking, it doesn’t bother me when my thoughts are interrupted by a beautiful tree or a friendly dog. If I don’t get back to my original train of thought, no problem.

I decided on this topic because I was in danger of having my well drained.  I had a super busy month and there were personal stresses as well. As a friend of mine used to say, I was a Human Doing, not a Human Being.

Memorial Day was created to be a time of quiet reflection, noting those who gave and gave the ultimate sacrifice.  I hope you used it to replenish yourself.  If not, look for times to do it now.

What is your chosen method for giving yourself a much needed time out?

Meanwhile, I am going for a walk.

ON LIBRARIES: Role-ing Through Your Day

It is mind-boggling, and more than a little exhausting, realizing how many roles we play.  Away from our job, we may be wife, mother, friend, parent caretaker, and any number of others.  These roles carry assorted responsibilities and a myriad of duties.  We may love these tasks or feel some are draining, but we carry on.

It certainly doesn’t get any less complex in our libraries. In the years since I first became a librarian I have held many “titles.”  First I was a teacher-librarian which is what I was called in my first certification.  Then I became a school librarian as my state changed what the certification was called.

I went on to be a school library media specialist. That is such a cumbersome title we use the acronym SLMS. My state certification also offers an 18-credit concentration for which you get an Associate School Library Media Specialist certification which is even more of a mouthful.

Throughout the country, I’ve discovered there are more names for what we do.  Library Teacher is common as we strive to remind our colleagues that we have an important role as teachers.  Some places use Information Specialist.   Library Technician is another. I knew someone who billed herself as an Information Generalist, claiming “specialist” was too limiting since we cover so much territory.

At one time there was a growing movement for “Cybrarian,” highlighting our skills using the web. One of the newer titles that has emerged is Innovation Specialist.  I suspect it will last as long as Cybrarian. It’s nice, but vague in a time when we need administrators and others to understand and appreciate the value we bring.

Why all these different names for what we do?  No one has ever suggested changing what teachers are called.  They have been teachers for thousands of years. They need different skills than they did even fifty years ago, their classroom configurations have changed drastically since the middle of the last century, but they are still teachers.

The name changes have been caused by our ever-evolving roles as librarians. While we haven’t been as successful as we need to be in communicating what we do to our administrators and boards of education, our state certification departments have recognized some of it – hence those name changes. Librarians have done the same in an effort to show what we do.

Nope – you can’t read this. There’s too much crammed in to one space!

I have come to believe, along with AASL, that we have confused people more than we have clarified what we do. No one title seems to cover the entire territory.  I now embrace the title of School Librarian and feel we must show what huge, complex, and vital roles that encompasses.

In Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (2009), AASL identifies four roles of School Librarians:

  • Teacher
  • Information Specialist
  • Instructional Partner
  • Program Administrator

The first role places us similar to classroom teachers, and we use many of the same skill sets as they do in executing this role. But at the upper levels, our students are frequently disbursed throughout a facility far larger than a classroom and we need to be managers, able to encourage them to explore while keeping them on track.  And at all levels, visitors or teachers might drop in while we are teaching.  We need to juggle competing roles at that point, knowing when we can leave students to proceed on their own so we can attend to the interruption.

In the second role, we are tech integrationists futurists (isn’t that a mouthful).  We work diligently to stay current with the newest tech resources incorporating those that meet needs of our teachers and students. We are also mindful of the values and the dangers of technology. From preparing out students to be safe in cyberspace to teaching how to identify fake news, this is an unceasing role we play.

As Instructional Partners we are diplomats.  We find lures to entice teachers to incorporate our expertise and resources to develop in our students the habits, competencies, and dispositions to be lifelong learners.  This role often requires much patience and tact.

The final role is far more than the basic management of the library program.  It comes to the heart of us as leaders.  It demands that we have a vision and are willing to be a risk-taker in moving our program constantly forward so it’s not mired in the past. We incorporate the other three roles we have in order to create a program that is viewed as vital and indispensable to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and even the community.

Each of the four roles embodies others.  And I am sure we will be adding to them as new demands are placed on us and the educational community who depend on our program.

In Empowering Learners AASL predicted our first role would become Instructional Partner and then Information Specialist with Teacher coming in third.  What is important is that we do what we can for people to think of all these roles and responsibilities when they hear the title School Librarian. We can keep the name of our position simple as we build on the complex and multifaceted role we play in our schools and for our students and administrators.

Which role do you see yourself using most often? Which of your roles do you need to develop further? And how can I and your PLN help?

 

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Confident

Confidence is a grounding leadership quality. It makes it easier to take risks, speak before groups, ask for help, and develop a vision.  What makes the title question difficult to answer is while you may be confident in how you do your job, once you consider leadership, all that confidence melts away.

How can you build the confidence necessary to become the leader your students and teachers need you to be?  You can start by employing some of the skills I have talked about in other contexts.  The first is having a positive attitude. Pessimists and nay-sayers are not confident.  They retreat by pointing to why something won’t work or why things are bad and getting worse. If it won’t work and everything is going downhill, there is no sense in doing anything differently.

Leaders don’t think that way. No one follows a pessimist. They may join in as justification for their own attitude but that’s not following.  Change your mindset and it will change your perspective. Look for the “chopportunity” or the positive challenge that can be found in almost every negative. For example:

  • Losing staff? Look for ways to enlist student help (and if you are in an elementary school you may be able to get high school students to help as part of their community service).  Identify what jobs could be eliminated and discuss with your principal. In the process you will be expanding his/her understanding of all you do. And he/she might come up with another suggestion.
  • New administrator who doesn’t see value of librarians? Use highly visual resources such as Piktochart to create reports featuring students at work and to make infographics. Invite your administrator to see a project you created with a teacher. Depending on the end product, you might see if one or more of the students’ work can be displayed in his/her office.
  • Heavy emphasis on STEM minimizing library use? Incorporate the many STEM-based programs into the library.  For example, connect a Makerspace to books and a research project.

Start a personal “Success Journal.”  Keep a small notebook at your desk.  Record each personal success.  Jot down when you get thanks from a teacher or student. Note when students show they really got a particular lesson or loved the book you recommended.  Once you start doing this you will be amazed at how many times you are successful during the day.

Back in September, I wrote a blog on Dress for Success. It suggested that if you dressed more like an administrator you were more likely to be treated like an administrator.  Dress also can build your confidence.  When you feel that you look good, your mindset shifts and you feel more confident.

You will also boost your confidence if you keep up with the latest ideas in school libraries and in education Be on the Facebook pages that will help. Read articles in education journals such as Educational Leadership.  Just seeing what the monthly themes are will give you a clue.  Being on state and national committees will do even more to keep you abreast of trends.  This keeps you ahead of the curve which will do much for your confidence.

Being informed in your field will also help you speak confidently.  Your ability to do so reinforces your growing confidence. Do be mindful as to whether you have picked up the habit of raising your voice at the end of a sentence as though you were asking a question instead of making a statement.  It makes you sound less sure of yourself, and mentally you pick up on that as well.

Another tool is to learn to have a welcoming smile.  “Smile and the world smiles with you” sounds trite, but there is truth to it. People respond positively to a smile, and that, in turn, makes you feel more confident. Let people see your engaged attitude.

Confidence is also linked to self-esteem.  Self-esteem is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Note the words “oneself” and “satisfaction.” It means, on the whole, you like the person you are—and you’re not waiting to like yourself until you become perfect. You’ll be waiting a long time on that one.

People in high self-esteem accept that they make mistakes and have bad days.  They don’t let those things change how they view themselves.  Although some may see confidence as a synonym for self-esteem, it seems to me that it’s more that the two terms reinforce each other. If you are in high self-esteem you exude confidence.  If you are confident in what you do and how you do it, you develop high self-esteem.

So how confident are you?  Do you regard confidence as a leadership quality?  How are you building your confidence?

ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Root of All Learning

“Kids who read succeed,” was a slogan AASL used years ago.  It’s still true. There is a reason why the first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learners  is “Reading is a window to the world.”  It explains “Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”

We can’t ever let reading become an “outdated” element of what we do.  Elementary librarians focus on it, but by middle and high school it often takes a back seat to tech and research.  But are we tuned into how students’ ability to read affects the quality of their research along with their attitudes about learning?

I was on ALA’s Committee on Literacy for several years, and one of the truisms of the committee was “the House of Reading has many rooms, (health literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, political literacy, etc.) but the entrance is through reading.”  And the first Common Belief recognizes all these literacies saying, “The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) is a key indicator of success in school and in life.”   

Because technology is a large part of students’ lives and the school environment, it is easy to forget that being a good reader is at the core of effective use of tech (even if students and adults prefer to learn by experimenting rather than reading instruction). Our students—and we as well— often turn to Google for a quick search rather than delving deeper.  Then they open the first two results and use it.  Whether it is only partially on the topic and not as relevant as it should be.

Remember reading is not limited to fiction.  While it’s my favorite recreational choice, many students and adults prefer nonfiction.  Magazines are still reading.  So are comics and graphic novels.  Indeed, the last two require readers to combine both visual and text literacy to make meaning.

I am not telling you anything new.  As librarians, we are all aware of the importance of reading.  I raise the topic today because I have gotten the sense that many middle and high school librarians are not making time for it. They have heavy teaching responsibilities, virtually all of which are tied to research or teaching use of new tech resources.

It’s not easy to carve out space for reading.  But you owe it to your students to do so. Middle school students are still likely candidates for a Battle of the Books competition.  Book clubs have been proven to be successful in many places. But you usually must find a hook that will attract students. While reading is a solitary activity, most readers enjoy sharing what they read as shown by the success of Good Reads and other such online groups.

Have a “Books for ….” Club.  Use an interest group or pick a theme and, with your guidance as necessary, let students choose what they want to read on the topic. Then they can share it with the others and discover how they all inter-relate. This is another way to connect with the “specials” teachers that I mentioned in my blog last week. “Read with The Principal/Art Teacher/Gym Teacher/etc” can be a fun way to have these teachers and professionals use books as a way to connect them more with the students.  You could also consider an “Eat, Read, Stay” club with students bringing their lunch and reading while eating. (Do make cleaning up afterward a requirement.)

School-wide reading programs can be effective- again you need a hook at the upper grades.  You could consider connecting it to a fundraiser. Whether it is a give-back to the community or for something the school needs (not the library), students respond well to being able to give back when it’s fun.  And that promotes good citizenship.

Some librarians have been successful with “Caught Reading” campaigns.  They photograph teachers and students who are reading and post their pictures in the halls.  To get kids interested, you need to spotlight those from the many different “groups” in the school.

It’s pricey at $199, but with ALA’s Read  Design Studio starter pack you can make your own Read posters featuring student and a book they selected and favorite must have read.  Consider having it a Makerspace activity where students use it to create Read bookmarks and posters and whatever else appeals to them.

Then there is the One Book, One School program.  Go online and look for success stories to see the best way to launch one.  Or post it as a question on LM_NET and the other places you go to for help from your colleagues. Some towns do this a well – there may be a way to link with your public library for this and get parents and administrators involved.

By making reading a focus along with the other components of the language program, you bring it into kids’ awareness. They, too, have been inundated with the demands school places on them.  Help them incorporate reading into their lives.

Have you kept reading a part of your program?  What have you been doing?

ON LIBRARIES: The Myth of the Lonely Librarian

I have written about the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from being the leaders we need to be, but there is one other that too many librarians believe.  They see themselves as isolated.  As the only librarian in the building, there is no one who understands what they do and what their challenges are.

As with the other stories, there is a surface truth but it is far from the whole story.  What’s more, believing it turns you into a complainer.  Even if you don’t express your thoughts to your colleagues, you unwittingly communicate your attitude and it sends them a negative message.

Yes, you are likely the only librarian in your school.  Perhaps you have multiple schools for which you are responsible. Possibly you are the only librarian in your district. But you are alone only if you choose to be.

There are others who are “alone” in their jobs.  The school nurse is one.  At the elementary level, the art, music, and physical education teachers have no else doing their job. Then there is the computer teacher—and the principal.  Have you ever considered reaching out to them and seeing if you can collaborate on a unit?

Years ago, I worked in an elementary school where the “specials” selected a theme and each of us worked with all the grades, bringing our area of specialization to having students explore the topic in great depth.  One of the projects was on marine life.  While I had classes research different aspects of the subject, the art teacher had them making murals and paintings of underwater life, the music teacher taught sea chanties and other sea songs, and our very creative physical education teacher devised a series of game and activities dealing with the underwater realm.

We had fun planning together.  It was a great opportunity to find out more about my colleagues as people as well as their individual knowledge and discover how it could all be brought together. The complete project culminated in an evening presentation that utilized the halls and gym.  The walls were covered with student art and along the way, students performed and shared their new-found knowledge of marine life. In the gym, there were exhibitions of the activities they had learned. Parents were enchanted and the students loved it. I met a number of them later when I was transferred to the high school and invariably mentioned the “special projects” they had been involved in over the year. I am sure they remembered these far more clearly than any class assignment they had.

You don’t have to do something on this scale although perhaps you can build toward it. Choose one of these teachers whom you think would most probably want to take on this type of project.  See if the nurse has a health-related project he or she would like to do. It could include decorating the nurse’s office.

The same is true with the computer teacher.  What specific applications is he or she is teaching students.  Can you come up with a real-life project where students would have to use those applications to present or track their findings?

And then there is the principal.  Granted it’s harder, but administrators in small schools are likely to be the “only” one doing the job, and it’s a tough one.  Could you help?  You both see the big picture, knowing all the students and teachers and the curriculum. Perhaps you can offer to do any research he or she needs. If you read Educational Leadership, the journal of ASCD (the high school should have a subscription or check your periodical databases), you can keep current with the trends in education.  Then share any information you get on those topics.

But what about how you do your job?  Nobody in your building gets that.  But your librarian colleagues do.  Social media has made it simple to connect to them.  There are a host of school library-related Facebook groups from LM_NET to Future Ready Librarians, to my own School Librarian’s Workshop.

Your state association is likely to have a Facebook group as well as a listserv.  Be part of it. Ask for help when you need it. Your state association’s conference is another important way to connect with colleagues. And if you venture out further there is the AASL biennial conference and ALA Annual. If you haven’t reached out before you will be amazed by how willing librarians, including the leaders, are to help others in the profession.

If you feel lonely in your job, it’s because you aren’t making use of all the potential connections.  What are you doing to connect and show you are part of your educational and library communities?

ON LIBRARIES: Giving Back

I know many of you take part in community service activities. You also give of your time to support functions at your school. Giving back is putting your thanks in action. It’s how you demonstrate your appreciation and your caring for others. Giving back to our profession is also important, and not enough of librarians do it.

(EDITORS NOTE: Much of this post comes from Hilda’s book, Leading for Librarians: There is NO Other Option from ALA Editions)

In becoming a leader you were helped along the way. A librarian mentored you or gave you some good advice. Your state and national organization provided resources from which you learned. No one emerges full-blown as a leader all on their own.
Once you have demonstrated your leadership abilities, are being taken seriously, and your program is regarded as vital to both student and teacher success, it is important to give back. Those starting out in our career need a trusted mentor. No one else in their building can do the job. Teachers and administrators assume new librarians learned everything they needed to know in library school. You know how far from the truth that is.


I blogged about Mentors in August of last year, but I will review some of the highlights.
Once you decide to become a mentor, you need to find a mentee. The first place to look is in your district. You know it’s vital that all the librarians are seen as leaders. If there is someone new, let them know you are available to help them over the rough spots.
If your state association has a mentorship program, join it. If it doesn’t propose one. You can get help in setting it up from other states that have done so. Go on AASL Forum and ask –or use LM_NET (or my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group). Get copies of Mentor/Mentee agreements to ensure that all participants understand their individual roles.

 

Your state association depends on volunteers even if they have a paid director and/or other positions. If you haven’t served on a committee as yet, volunteer to do so. If you have, step up to chair one. You might even consider running for an office. In addition to serving the librarians in your state, you will get recognition from your administration.
As a member of the board, you become aware of the state level political situations that affect librarians at the building level. You will see the scope of the challenges librarians are facing and become part of the campaign to make changes. Although you are doing this to give back, your own leadership abilities will grow as a result and it will impact your students and teachers.
Now take a deep breath and consider doing this on the national level. I am a very active member of ALA and AASL but you can also volunteer for ISTE or AECT if that’s your preference. I know some librarians who are active in AASL and ISTE, and they are recognized as leaders nationally as well as in their home states and school districts.
Working at the national level might seem intimidating at first but you will find everyone is welcoming and eager to help you settle in. It’s an eye-opening experience. You discover where challenges are similar across the country and what situations are developing that you haven’t seen in your state but now can be prepared to deal with them should they arise.
One of the unexpected benefits of serving at the state and even more so at the national level is what happens to your vocabulary. You develop a fluency in talking about the value of school librarians and what a strong library program brings to students, teachers, and the educational community. In talking with administrators and others you sound like the expert you have become. And you are taken much more seriously.
Some of you might have reservations about volunteering at this level because of the time and financial requirements. ALA has two meetings a year, Annual and Midwinter. ISTE and AECT have one. Their locations vary from year to year but inevitable require travel and sometimes days off from your job.
I consider the expense a professional expenditure, part of my job, the way I look at the cost of commuting to work or having an appropriate work wardrobe. For those who are already operating on a tight budget, ALA has a possible solution for you. You can become a virtual member and not be required to attend meetings in person. Much committee work these days is conducted on conference calls to get major tasks completed before in-person meetings.
These are all serious and important commitments as well as ways to give back on a larger level. Two quotes to keep in mind as you consider stepping up. The first is anonymous or attributed to several people with variations. “If serving is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.”
The second is also anonymous but was most recently attributed to Elizabeth Warren. “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu.”
How do you give back? Are you serving at the state or national level? If you are not, what’s holding you back? What help do you need from mentors or other leaders?

ON LIBRARIES: The Many Layers of Diversity

An unquestioned tenet of librarianship is that the library collection will encompass diverse materials to meet the needs of all users.  Sounds good, but in practice this is not always easy to accomplish. There are challenges librarians must face along with difficult choices.

On the surface, a diverse collection contains fiction and non-fiction and all genres are represented in as many formats as possible. While it took a while in some places for graphic novels to be accepted, they now are in most if not all libraries. But there is far more to diversity.

As the liaison to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) from ALA’s Committee on Professional Ethics, this topic is on my mind frequently. Currently, IFC has a draft resolution in the works on Library Bill of Rights Interpretation – Equity, Diversity, Inclusion. In fully defining what those terms encompass, the draft is a strong reminder of what libraries stand for—and the challenging decisions implicit in this stance.

Here are some highlights of the document:

  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. In a school library, this means you can’t be limited to what the jobbers make available. If you need books in languages other than English (and Spanish), you need to seek out those publishers who have books for whatever ethnics are represented in your school. Fortunately, this information is becoming more widely available. Your collection should also include materials representing difficulties many students face such as homelessness, a parent in prison, a parent serving the military, foster homes, learning and physical limitations of self or siblings, and the stressful situations.  It’s important they see themselves reflected in the collection.  Those who have more traditional lives benefit from being made aware of their good fortune as well as developing empathy for their classmates.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Although those working in parochial schools which have a strong doctrinal view on certain subjects do not have to adhere to this, public school libraries are expected to follow this principle. Among the “current” issues that can cause a school librarian to pause before ordering would be climate change and evolution. In some places a sizable group does not accept the general scientific viewpoint.
  • Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment. This another area where it gets difficult for librarians, particularly those who are the sole librarian in their school. You are charged with meeting the needs of everyone in the school.  This means those who have same sex parents or are LGBTQ.  In some communities these topics are a red flag and are likely to bring forth challenges. It is easy to just not purchase them.  Who would know?  Your budget is limited in any case.  You can’t afford to put your job at risk.  All true statements. Each librarian needs to make a personal decision between doing what our ethics and philosophy require or taking the safe route. I can’t condemn their choice. But I do applaud and acknowledge those who face this head on.  We are supposed to create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all our students.  Our LGBTQ students struggle to feel safe, in and out of school.  Countless adults have told stories of how important their school library was in giving them a measure of security and acceptance.
  • A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. This is one is obvious, but it harkens back to the days of segregation. It’s important for students to know our history – the bad as well as the good- so they see injustice can be corrected. There is much nonfiction on the subject, but it’s in fiction—including picture books –that students can discover what it was like in those days, and develop empathy for those who lived then and extend it to those now who are targeted as being “other.”

It’s incumbent on every librarian to be familiar with the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors. Protect yourself and your students by having a Selection Policy approved by your Board of Education. You can get help in doing so from the Workbook for Selection Policy Writing.

Also, celebrate Choose Privacy Week May 1 -7, and Banned Books Week September 24-30.

Have you been faced with a difficult choice in purchasing a book for your collection?  What did you do?  How do you make your library a safe, welcoming environment? What help do you need or can you offer to others?

ON LIBRARIES: Speak Up

Fear. It’s the biggest roadblock to leadership.  Whenever there is an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, your head starts running scenarios of what can and undoubtedly will go wrong.  It’s what’s underneath the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

When I blogged about it in October 2015, I acknowledged that speaking to colleagues, your administrators or in front of parent groups is not the same as teaching students.  You fear you will sound shaky, your knees will wobble, and everyone will know you are a fraud.  Certainly not a leader.

In that blog I was reassuring, pointing out the fear of public speaking is common and surveys have shown people fear it more than death. You don’t have to speak to large groups to become a leader.  There are many quiet avenues to leadership.  All that is true, but the more you become a presence in your school and district, if you step up to volunteer on the state or national level, at some point you will inevitably have to address a large group.

Before discussing strategies for coping with this fear, it might help to become acquainted with what often lies under the fear.  It’s something called The Imposter Syndrome and it mostly strikes high performing people—women more than men.  I have experienced it personally, and I know many of my colleagues who are regarded as leaders have moments when it hits them as well.

The Imposter Syndrome is the voice in your head that says, “What am I doing?  I am such a fraud, and everyone will know it.”  It happens when you get up to speak before colleagues and think, “Everyone knows all this.  Why should they listen to me?”  I heard those words in my head when I started writing books for librarians and thought, “Why would anyone take my advice?  I don’t have a doctorate degree. I have no formal research to back up what I am saying.”

The American Psychological Association in a post described it as it affected graduate students. They offer six ways to deal with it:

  • Talk to Your Mentors – If you don’t have one, speak with a trusted friend about your uncertainties. They will point to your achievements and remind you of why you have reached the place you are now in.
  • Recognize Your Expertise – In addition to what your mentor or friend said, reflect on your journey to this point. Recall what you have learned, the challenges you faced, and the solutions you found.  Others will benefit from your experiences when you share your knowledge.
  • Remember What You Do Well – We all have our strengths. It can be using social media or being ahead of the curve on current with technology. Me, I have learned a lot about leadership and advocacy.  We all have something to offer.
  • Realize No One is Perfect – You may see one of the leading librarians and think I am nowhere as knowledgeable. Yet that same leader has undoubtedly felt the Imposter Syndrome at time. As someone once said, “Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides.”
  • Change Your Thinking – Your mindset controls much of your actions and behaviors. Remember, “If you think you can or you think you can’t –You are right!” Reframe how you are approaching the public speaking experience.  The audience wants to hear what you have to say.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there.
  • Talk to Someone Who Can HelpThey recommend speaking with a therapist if the Imposter Syndrome is crippling, but I believe if you start small – doing a professional development workshop for your teachers or talking to a parent group, you can become more confident and trust that the Imposter Syndrome is just background noise you need to tune out.

But how do you deal with the basic fears you have about public speaking? There are loads of websites with advice on how to deal with it, further proof you are not alone.  Here are my tips:

Know Your Audience – In preparing your talk, consider what your audience already knows.  What do they need to know about the topic?  You neither want to overwhelm them with information above their heads nor do you want to talk down to them.  Think about how you prepare a lesson for your students. You always know where they are and where you want to take them next.

Rehearse Your Speech.  Don’t memorize it.  You will panic if you forget a line. PowerPoint presentations help keep you on track.  Don’t use text heavy slides, they overwhelm everyone. I mostly use only a few words to highlight the point I am making.  I also have notes for each slide, but I allow myself to digress and add comments that strike me in the moment.

Be Personal. As appropriate, share your personal experiences.  It’s an extension of your relationship building.  By letting them know who you are, they are more accepting of what you are saying.  Think of it as a variation on “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have let my various audiences know about my failures as well as my successes.

Arrive Early – You need time to breathe. Check the layout of the room.  Make sure any equipment you need is set up and working – including internet connections.  Greet those who are there.  This means you won’t be speaking to strangers. They will be rooting for you.

About That Shaky Voice – Once you are past your opening, it will disappear.  And your audience never knows you are that nervous.  Have some water nearby.  Take a drink now and then.  I have had people fall asleep.  I tell myself it isn’t me – they were tired before they got there.

What’s been your experience with public speaking? Are you afraid of it?  Do you have the Imposter Syndrome at times?  When does it show up?

ON LIBRARIES – Are You Future Ready

Leaders look to the future.  They know what is good today won’t be so tomorrow, and they recognize as Jim Collins has said, “Good is the enemy of great.”  If you are pleased with what you are doing but not looking to make it better you can never be great.  With this in mind what does it mean to be “Future Ready?”

Future Ready is not an empty phrase.  It has a solid foundation and is continuing to develop. Launched by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology in November 2014, Future Ready Schools . The homepage urges school superintendents to take the pledge to have their districts make a commitment to implement meaningful change “towards a digital learning transitions that support teachers, and addresses the district’s vision for student learning. Over 3,100 superintendents have made that pledge and you can check to see if yours is one.

The homepage is rich with resources, not the least of which is the Interactive Planning Dashboard which walks participants through a 5-step collaborative planning process. What I particularly like is that this process offers a “comprehensive approach and an action plan for implementing digital learning before purchasing anything, ensuring a smoother implementation and digital transformation.”   The page has the ability for the team to save all their work in a password protected format making it easy to revisit and update goals, strategies, and implementation plans.

What has me excited is on the homepage there is a link to Future Ready Librarians. It says, what we have always known, that “School librarians lead, teach, and support the Future Ready Goals of their school and district in a variety of ways through their professional practice, programs, and spaces. If properly prepared and supported, school librarians are well-positioned to be at the leading edge of the digital transformation of learning.”

Follett formed Project Connect which is designed to help librarians work with their district leaders in creating Future Ready Schools and in so doing firmly position themselves as leaders. To this end they have developed online courses to “promote innovative models of school libraries|, and help librarians “cultivate powerful library and school leadership … with a future-ready approach.”

Future Ready Librarians came into existence in the summer of 2016. Follett is one of its strong supporters, and the indefatigable Shannon McClintock Miller has been named a spokesperson for it. On the homepage you will find a link to her presentation “What Does It Take to be a Future Ready Librarian.” In it, she explores the exciting challenge of Future Ready Schools.

So what does it specifically mean to be Future Ready? The core of it is shown in the Framework, consisting of seven “gears” surrounding Student Learning, which is at the center. (Changed to “Personalized Student Learning” in the framework for Future Ready Librarians—which is what we have been doing all along.) The gears and how they translate into the school library (and I borrow extensively from Shannon McClintock Miller’s  presentation) are as follows:

  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment – You become a partner with educators to design and implement an evidenced-based practice curriculum integrating deeper learning critical thinking, information literacy, creativity, innovation, and technology. (Big job)
  • Use of Space and Time – For school librarians this means designing flexible, collaborative spaces. Learning Commons are perfect for this, but you can achieve this goal in steps by taking a fresh look at your floor plan and seeing how furniture and shelving can be made mobile. Get help from high school design classes.
  • Robust Infrastructure- In the library, you advocate for equal access to digital devices and connectivity in support of the district’s strategic vision
  • Data and Privacy – Teach and promote student privacy.
  • Community Partnerships – In addition to developing partnerships within the school, reach out to the community including parents, public and academic libraries, and businesses to promote engagement and lifelong learning.
  • Personalized Professional Learning – Provides personal professional learning to develop awareness/understanding of the skills needed for success in a digital age.
  • Budget and Resources– Leverages and understanding of school and community needs to advocate for the digital resources needed to support student learning.

Collaborative Leadership is an extra gear in the Future Librarians framework.  It requires you to lead beyond the library.  As I have been saying, if you stay in your library, no one really knows who you are or what you do. Participating on district committees is vital. One of the most important is any that sets a vision and creates a strategic plan for digital learning.

What can you do if your Superintendent did not sign the pledge and you are not in a Future Ready School? Talk to your principal. Show him or her the Future Ready Schools site and all the supportive resources it has.  Suggest joining the Future Ready School Facebook group. Offer to do a brief presentation on it at an administrators’ meeting. (Definitely moving out of your comfort zone – but being a leader.)

Choose one or two gears that call to you and start working on them while you advocate for the district to become Future Ready.  Join the Future Ready Librarians Facebook Group and attend the webinar Leading Beyond the Library on April 11.

Are you a Future Ready Librarian?  What are you doing to show it?  If you aren’t, what will you do to become one? How can I and other librarians support you?

ON LIBRARIES – Risk and Reward

Leaders take risks.  You are all aware of that, and that awareness leads to something we don’t like to talk about.  In 2015, I blogged about the Stories We Tell Ourselves. I skipped a big one.

The story we tell ourselves is that if we take a risk we’ll embarrass ourselves so badly we won’t be able to face our colleagues and administrators.  It could even potentially cause us to lose our job. And that story is the secret reason why some librarians avoid taking on the challenge of leadership.

Fear of failure can be crippling.  It keeps you from growing.  Oddly enough, the converse is an equally big barrier—fear of success.  If you are successful, people will expect you to continue to do more.

And just like the other stories, it is only that —a story.  No one is suggesting you suddenly decide to campaign to redesign your library as a learning commons if you have never done anything to make your presence known in your building, but you do need to take some first steps.  You do need to build some “street cred” first.

Start small. Share your knowledge of new web and app resources by sending weekly emails to teachers describing just one, explaining how it could be used, and offering to provide one-on-one help for them to learn it.  Include your principal in the email. You may not get any takers at first, but eventually one will click with a teacher.  Slowly, teachers will begin to recognize the help you can give them.

There is no risk in doing that, but two important little goals have been achieved.  You have stepped out of your comfort zone, and teachers begin to take you into consideration when planning a unit. And those two accomplishments are the first building blocks of that very important “street cred.” Look for other no-risk or minimal risk ideas.

Try a book club.  If you don’t know how to do it, ask your library colleagues on your state association’s listserv or other places where librarians help each other. LM_NET is the big one, but there are many more.  Once you know what you are doing, speak with your administrator before putting it in place. Explain your goal for the program, how you plan to run it, and acknowledge there is no guarantee it will work but is worth a try.

If you launch the club, send updates on activities and accomplishments to your principal. Include videos of the kids discussing the books.  Now you have demonstrated your value to the administration.  And your reputation as a leader begins to grow.

Then it’s time to take a few bigger risks. Gardening projects have proved very successful at the elementary level.  There are connections to STEAM and the produce can be given to the cafeteria, to food banks, or a local shelter depending on what seems best for your community.

Other low- risk projects include starting Hour of Code or a Makerspace. For either of those ideas, you can get all the help you need in organizing it from other librarians. We are an incredibly supportive profession.

These early risks build your confidence and you can begin to look for other possibilities. Are you thinking of genre-fying your collection?  How about a Skype author visit?  What about a joint project with students in another school district—or country? Before long you might even be ready to turn your library into the learning commons that had seemed an impossibility.

Being a building leader is vital.  If you and your program are to thrive you must demonstrate you are invaluable to the entire educational community.  Now that you see that risks don’t result in those disasters you imagined, you can step even further out of your comfort zone.

Take your place among leaders.  There is always room for more.  Choose one of your new successful programs and write a proposal to present it at your state conference.  You may think it’s been done, but there are always librarians who haven’t tried it, and you bring your unique perspective to it. If it’s selected let your principal know.  It will build your reputation even further.

Serve on one of your state association committees.  Better yet volunteer to do the same in AASL or ISTE. Although it’s too late for this year’s AASL Conference IdeaLab, start planning to do it in two years at the next AASL conference.  You would be in a large room with many other librarians all presenting their best ideas. You talk one-on-one with those who stop and want more information.  Totally non-intimidating.

The first step in becoming a leader is deciding to step out of your comfort zone.  Every leader has done so.  I still take on challenges wondering how I am going to do it, but somehow it almost always works.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone?  What did you do?  What was the result? Where do you need help?