The Centrality of Trust

image from Wavetop via Canva

Trust is the foundation of relationships. And we are in the relationship business. It is through relationship we build the collaboration with teachers – and administrators – which engages students in meaningful learning. Building trust requires trusting yourself and the willingness to trust others.

We have had many successful experiences that began with us not knowing everything necessary to do a task. In those cases we either get the information through our research or from the knowledge of our colleagues either locally or in social media. We may not know the answer – but we can find it. This builds our trust in ourselves

Trusting others is somewhat more difficult, but relationships are a two-way street. Most people have had an occasion where someone violated their trust. To build a relationship, you have to give trust even before it is accepted. This is not about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. It’s letting people know who you are as a person and following through on what you say, which makes it safe for them to share themselves with you.

In How Successful Leaders Build Trust with Their People Lolly Daskal discusses “trust-inducing behaviors” which build relationships.  You probably exhibit many if not most, of these, but it is helpful to be aware of what you are creating. Work on any you find challenging. Many of them weave together. Here is her list of eleven behaviors:

  1. Being accessible – Of course you are… except for when you are feeling rushed and harried. You can’t always just drop everything, but you can ask when you can get back to someone. Being honest about where you are, combined with being available when you say you will be, builds trust.
  2. Being confident – It’s not arrogance. It’s being efficacious. When you are confident, teachers and students know they can count on you to help them. People come to you for what you know or what you can do to support them. Be willing to show them they’re right to trust you for this.
  3. Being credible – We build credibility when we are willing to share both our mistakes and our successes. Acknowledging our goofs, large and small, along with our wins lets people see we are human. Admitting we are wrong doesn’t make us less in the eyes of others. It makes usmore worthy of trust.
  4. Being honest – There are times when we might want to skirt an unpleasant truth but telling hard truths builds trust. People know when you’re avoiding saying something. Instead, pause to choose your words and give honest feedback.
  5. Being supportive – Others make mistakes, too. If theirs has a direct effect on you, it might be hard not to jump on them for it. Go for “being honest,” and acknowledge it happens to us all (“being credible”). Look for the lesson you both get. If they are sharing something that doesn’t have to do with you, be prepared to listen (“being accessible”). If they ask, you can help them find a solution or fix. Your support will build trust.
  6. Being dependable – Keep your word. When you make a commitment, see it through. You build trust when you can be counted on to do what you say.
  7. Being consistent –We are known by our actions. Our actions must match our words. Students – and teachers – need to know how you will react. If you allow them to behave one way on a given day and then rebuke them for it on another, they will not trust you.
  8. Being open – Listen to others. Show by your actions that you see and care about them. Give them the space to give you honest feedback. When people know you listen, their trust will grow.
  9. Being empathetic – Everyone is dealing with something. We try to put it aside when we get to school, but it is there, and sometimes it is significant. Despite what they are showing on the surface, be attuned to the body language and behavior of others. It will help in your dealings with them, and when you’re “being open” and “being supportive”, they will share as needed, further building trust.
  10. Being appreciative – Acknowledge the success of others. In collaborative projects, give them the limelight. Emails or, even better, hand-written notes brighten someone’s day. They also realize you see them.
  11. Lead from within – Take trust very seriously. When you display the previous ten behaviors, people feel safe in having a relationship with you because you are trustworthy. This allows you to be an effective leader.

Good leadership begins with trust. Leadership is not something you take on when you want to get a project done. Leading is how you interact with people every day. By acting in the ways listed, people recognize you are a leader and someone they can trust.

Communication Not Information

Our days are filled with conversations, text messages, social media, and the myriad of other ways we send and receive messages. When we talk about communication, we are usually thinking of these. And while we occasionally make missteps in haste (and hit “Reply All” when we want to send to one person) mostly we are aware of what we are sending and receiving. But what about the silent messages we send. Those are often the most important ones. They are constant in any face-to-face interactions, and can be present in phone calls. If we are not attuned to them, we may make blunders far more serious than “Reply All.”

In What My Time in Theater Taught Me About Corporate Communication, Monique Maley referred to the conversations we are aware of as Information not Communication. It was a novel way for me to look at what is happening during our silent communications. So much can be gained or lost without our being conscious of it occurring.

To add depth to their performances, actors are highly aware of the importance of silent communication. They portray emotions beyond their words. With the right skills, they can tell us, without a word, that they cannot be trusted. I can remember seeing Alan Rickman in Dangerous Liaisons. In one scene his body was absolutely still, and then he moved one finger. The audience knew he was lying and about to do something abhorrent.

Maley offers the following thoughts and advice to those of us who aren’t actors:

  • We are perpetually in dialogue – Anytime we come in contact with others the conversation begins. Although you are both sender and receiver of information, most frequently it’s your role as receiver that is most important. The speaker/sender is using many parts of their body, and you need to be attuned to them.

Maley talks about noting their energy level. I’ve recognized that most often in students. They are like a shaken can of soda and any one thing can cause it to pop open. You can spot it in their finger and eye movements. Does the other person seem distracted or impatient? Does their smile reach their eyes?

When you read the silent communication, you are able to tailor your response so it’s more likely to be received. While doing so, consider the message you are silently sending. The receiver may not be aware of the signals, but they will respond to it.

  • We must be fully present – When you allow something to distract you, you break the communication. That break may cause you to miss a turn the conversation has taken and picking up the thread can be difficult. This can give the other person the impression that you are not interested, or they are not important.

Maley recalls playing Cordelia in King Lear when the lead actor suddenly spoke lines from Hamlet. Being fully present allowed her to bring him back. If the person speaking to you is distracted, they might go off on another topic. The sooner you can detect that shift, the quicker you can return the conversation to its initial direction. It also gives you the ability to see if they are present to your words or if your message isn’t landing. Maley states, “Being full present isn’t just a skill; it’s a muscle that needs to be built up and practiced.”

  • Our verbal and non-verbal communication must match – When our words say one thing, but our body language says another, we are perceived as insincere. The receiver may not know why they feel you are not giving them the truth, but they will sense it. Maley writes, “Mastering this skill helps ensure that you don’t unintentionally make people defensive, destroy your credibility or harm their perception of you.”

Your mindset is critical in keeping your body language aligned with your words. For example, it’s not enough to meet the kids in your toughest class with a smile and cheery greeting.” You can prepare yourself with the thoughts of, “We are going to have some fun together” and then show them that belief.

Putting these together allows your communication to focus on engagement. Being conscious of the silent communication of others will ensure that the message you want to send gets through. And perhaps, the next time you watch television or a movie, notice the non-verbal language of the actors to learn from them how you’re communicating at all times.

You Are Not Lazy

photo from Canva

It’s been another tough year (okay, is there ever not one?). There’s more to do than ever, and everybody seems to be doing more than we are. Any time we take away from getting things done if it’s not we studiously scheduled for self-care is considered wasted. We think it’s “proof” we are lazy.

A piece of advice, which I sometimes need to remind myself, is “Don’t judge your inside by someone else’s outside.” We see what others are doing, but we don’t see what they are not doing. Their lives and task may have some similarities to yours, but are actually very different. We judge ourselves when we compare, and our judgements are usually harsh.

Give yourself the same generous support you would give others. Doing nothing for an entire evening or taking off a whole day, even when that’s not what you originally planned doesn’t mean you are lazy. Could be that you are very tired. Or overwhelmed. Or haven’t truly given your body and mind time off. In these cases, allowing yourself to not do what you planned is probably the best thing you can do to be productive and effective. If you don’t let yourself have down/away time, you will burn out.

You don’t want your exhaustion to cause you to take more and more time off. That’s usually a sign you’re heading for burnout. Albert Costill explains How You Can Become Productive – Even If You Are Lazy. He presents the following ten tips for doing it:

  1. Arrest Your Laziness Culprit – Identify what is causing your need to take time off. Is there a task you hate doing? Maybe you can delegate part of it. My best method is to get it done first so it doesn’t wear on me all day – or distract me as I do other things. Remember, your inner critic isn’t helping. Talk to yourself like a friend.
  2. Find Meaningful Work – Or make your work meaningful. Sometimes we approach tasks like robots. Do this. Then do that. Ask yourself why you are doing it. Why does it matter? Connect your tasks to your Mission and Vision so you see their purpose.
  3. Surround Yourself with Success – Costill suggests listening to a motivating TedTalk. Find the things that work for you. Stay away from colleagues who spend time complaining. I like keeping a success journal to remind me of what I accomplished in a day.
  4. Play to Your Strengths – You know what you are good at. Costill suggests drawing on them to help you accomplish a task. Your strengths make you confident in what you are doing and allow you to be more productive.
  5. Make It Difficult to Get Distracted – Okay, during school hours this might be nearly impossible, but even if it is only for a half hour, have or create a space where you can stay focused. Have everything you need before you start and minimize your distractions. Turn off your phone or put it on vibrate.
  6. Procrastinate – Yes, there is a time and place for this. You can’t go from one intense task to another one. Do whatever works for you to clear your mind. Meditate. Go for a walk or run. Read a few pages in a book. The space you gave yourself will often allow new creative thoughts in and have you more ready to take on what’s next.
  7. Do a Victory Dance – You don’t need to do this literally but find a way to congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. This connects to #3 and surrounding yourself with success. Teachers used to give students gold stars. How many did you earn today? This week? Notice your forward momentum and celebrate it.
  8. Try Gamification – Big tasks take a long time to complete. Sometimes the end seems so distant it is hard to believe it will get done. Break it into its parts and give yourself “points” for achieving each “level.” If a job took you an hour last week – see if you can do it faster this week. Find ways to have fun with the progress as well as the goal.
  9. Relax and Do the Things You Enjoy – This is a reminder to give yourself time to the things that give you pleasure. As with Procrastinate, it will allow your creative energy to emerge. Positive feelings bring positive results.
  10. Recruit Support – Is there someone who can work with you on part of the task? Remember, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” If that is not an option, draw on your ever-available PLN. They are always there for advice and support.

There is so much to do – chances are you doing much more than you realize and only noticing when you’re not working. Be kind to yourself. Try a reverse of the Golden Rule and treat yourself as you would treat others. 

Move Closer to Your Vision

You live your Mission every day. You incorporate your Core Values or Philosophy into all you do. But what about your Vision?

Your Vision is your aspiration. It is how the library will be perceived in an all-perfect world. Although the world is not and will never be all-perfect, if you aren’t moving toward achieving it, your Vision can’t come to pass. It remains wonderful words. A dream that has no hope of becoming real.

So how do you incorporate a goal that won’t completely happen? As always, start small. Develop a plan to take you one step closer to achieving it. When that’s done, review your Vision and determine the one part you will focus on next.

Consider this sample Vision:

The Blank School Library Media Program is the center of collaborative learning, producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.

First, identify the key concepts of your Vision. In this example, these would be: collaborative learning, creativity, literature appreciation, critical thinking, respect, and possibly activism. It’s a formidable list.

Since collaboration is needed for so much, this is one good place to begin. What do you need to have the library be a center for collaborative learning? Look around your library. Does it promote collaboration? How is the furniture arranged to encourage that? Are there resources that would help? How can you showcase them so teachers and students will use them?

Now that you know what you want to achieve, create a plan to get you there. Will there a be a cost associated with it? Can some of the work be done for free? Can you fundraise? Who are your logical allies? Who will you need to convince? How can you sell it?

The three-step process Paul B. Thornton puts forward in Leaders: Clarify Your Ideas Before Communicating Them, with some modifications, can help you turn your ideas for achieving your Vision into reality.

Step No. 1: Clarify your thinking – You begin this process when you determined which part of your Vision you will focus on. Take time to think about what you want to do first. Yes, there is so much to do, but thinking is doing in this case. Get clear about your priorities, what you have time for, and what might make the biggest initial impact (early wins are helpful for motivation!) Then before going forward, test it out with allies and those you trust.

Going back to the earlier example, you might ask a teacher ally if they thought the library promoted collaboration and how it did so.  Speak to one or two students who use the library frequently. Do they think it is comfortable to collaborate in the library? What, if anything, would make it simpler? How close are their ideas to yours? Share what you are contemplating. Do they like it? Have other suggestions? Fold any new ideas into your planning.

Step No. 2: Prepare Your Message – As Thornton says, you need to engage emotions and address “heart and head.”  Think about why would your audience want this? What would appeal to them (and what’s the emotional appeal)? Hit the big idea quickly and don’t give too many details. They will ask if they need it.

Thornton also suggests blending optimism with reality. Too much optimism makes you sound like a dreamer. Too much reality, and it’s likely to sound overwhelming. Prepare questions that focus your audience on their values and priorities and show how this will mesh with them. Again, try your message out with your allies and make any necessary modifications.

Step No. 3: Deliver Your Message – You have worked long and hard at this. Let your passion and conviction show. Thornton says to make your idea visible, dramatic, and consistent. Use pictures of libraries that have achieved what you want. On the create a space that promotes collaboration example, you could rearrange the furniture to show what the changes will look like.

Don’t let your Vision be just a dream. When you make a plan, create a lesson, consider a new project, look at your Vision and remember what you are always working toward. Every step brings you closer.

A Librarian and a Leader

If you’ve read my books, my blog or my Facebook posts or seen me speak at a conference you know my most passionate belief: Leadership is not an option for librarians. It’s part of the job description. The National Standards School Library Standards (2018) lists Leader as one of our roles. However, our job description as defined and understood by our districts rarely if ever makes mention of this.

It’s easier to be a leader when your title and description grant you that right. Instead librarians need to create that “mantle” on their own. And we need to make it an ongoing priority. When you are identified as a leader, you are viewed as indispensable. In a world where librarians and libraries are threatened, being seen as indispensable is a worthwhile goal.

What does this mean? It means that when you institute new programs, collaborate with teachers and students on curriculum and tech issues, you look for ways to make certain that the administration and teachers are aware of your role in the process. This way when they think of the building leaders they think of you. Reaching that stage is not simple, but it’s important to work towards it.

Dan Rockwell, “The Leadership Freak”, suggests a possible means of achieving this goal in an internet post on How to Act Like a CEO When You’re Not. This is how I interpret his seven recommendations:

  1. Own your realm: This is about mindset. Of course, you have taken charge of your library and have established your guidelines and decorated to represent your values as a school librarian, but you need to take it a step further. Own the library and the decisions you make as a physical manifestation of how you view the values and worth of the library and you. It is more than a sense of pride. It’s how you present yourself as a leader through the look, feel, and activities of the library.
  2. Set your goals: While you want your program aligned with the school’s goals, it is vital that the goals are significant to you and the library program. Your goal, tied to your Mission, Vision, and Core Values should put your role and the value of the library front and center. Leaders must be visible — even more so when the title doesn’t indicate it.
  3. Don’t threaten higher ups: Never blindside your administrators. When you update them, be brief but keep them informed of what you are doing and why. If they have a problem with what you are doing, it’s best to discover the matter right away. That also gives you the opportunity to discuss it and make adaptations as needed. It also encourages them to reach out to you when and if their priorities change because you are seen as someone they can trust.
  4. Serve six constituencies: Believe it or not librarians do have this many – or at least five. They are: (1) Administrators (You always need to keep them in mind.) (2) Students (Your primary purpose) (3) Teachers (Gateway to students) (4) Parents (So they know what their children are accomplishing because of the library) (5) Yourself (Never forget to “serve” yourself), and (6) And possibly, the outside community- such as the public library—so that more people are aware of the values of libraries and school libraries in particular.
  5. Think big, act small: Your end game needs to be large. Hold as big a Vision as you can for your program. Then map out the small baby steps that will start you on your journey. And then think what’s next after that. And after that.
  6. Spend time with medium-performers: This doesn’t easily translate into our work world. Instead, consider who are your natural allies. Who are the people who like working with you? How can you build on this relationship to develop more allies and get people seeing how vital the library is to their success?
  7. Lead yourself: The oft-repeated reminder to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Your “constituencies” can’t afford to lose you. Make sure you are on your own to-do list.

Next time when you are in workshop and you are asked “Who are you?” I hope you will confidently say, “I am a Leader and a Librarian.”

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.