ON LIBRARIES: Time to Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay or go?  The decision is yours.

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ON LIBRARIES: You and Your Administrator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES – Staying Curious

There used to be a commercial that had the tag line, “Inquiring minds want to know.” That mindset is what we want to instill in our students.  It is also one that is essential to a leader. In following the rabbit, Alice discovers a new world and a lot about herself. You never know what you will find if you go down that rabbit hole.  How can you develop a vision and take your school library to new heights if you are not seeking out new possibilities? Leaders are lifelong learners, and so are librarians.

What stimulates your curiosity?  Is it related to a hobby you have?  Do games engage your attention? As school librarians, we are constantly helping students search for information on a subject of academic or personal interest.  Do you ever continue to explore it even after the student leaves because you were still curious?

The nature of our profession requires us to be connectors.  We are constantly connecting people with information, but we also connect one piece of information to another.  That is how new knowledge is created.  When we follow the rabbit, we find ideas that can add greater dimensions to our program.

One way to stimulate your curiosity is to read outside school librarianship. I keep an eye on what is happening in technology and what administrators are focusing on. In addition, I look frequently to what the business world is doing.  Their purpose and goals are not necessarily the same as ours, but there are enough commonalities to see how their ideas can make us and our programs more effective.

A case in point is a post from Stephanie Vozza on 8 Habits of Curious People. She suggests that being single answer driven results in our being trained out of curiosity. How can we re-ignite the curiosity we had as young children?  Here is Vozza’s list of habits along with my usual comments.

  1. They listen without judgment – This implies active listening. You need to hear people out.  Sometimes they say something that sparks an idea you would never have considered. A rush to judgment shuts down your thinking on the subject.
  2. They ask lots of questions – If you have that inquiring curious mind, you want to know more. And the questions you ask should provoke a more detailed response and a way to continue learning.  Questions that can be answered with a yes or no will not add to your knowledge or lead you anywhere.
  3. They seek surprise – This one surprised me, and then I realized how true it is. If you look for something different, whether it’s a scenic attraction or an exhibit of technology, you don’t want to find what you have always known. The surprise generates new thoughts and who knows where that may take you.
  4. They are fully present – This is about knowing when to not multi-task but to focus on what is happening in the moment. How many times are we doing something else while someone is asking us a question? Are we really listening to what is being said? Is anything being said?  Why bother being with someone if you are not going to be “fully present?” Conversations with people outside the profession can bring up an idea that has relevance to what goes on in the library.
  5. They are willing to be wrong – This can be scary territory. I was involved in leading a library renovation project that was using moveable bookcases on tracks to make more floor space available. I planned on putting fiction on the counter height bookcases and reference along with the rest of the nonfiction on the tall bookcases.  My co-librarian noted that having heavy reference books on high shelves was not a good idea. She was right, and I made the change.
  6. They make time for curiosity – The suggestion here is to take one day a month to consider what things might be like in three years. You probably can’t schedule a full day to do this (although if you can – do it!), but you can plan time on a Friday at the end of the day to reflect on what isn’t working as well as you like or what is going better than expected, on what the kids seem to be interested in, and then on what can be changed or enhanced to respond to these situations.  You might then explore your thinking further – just because you are curious.

    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
  7. They aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know” – Not knowing is the perfect launch to finding out. It’s giving rein to your curiosity. As librarians we are accustomed to saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Use that in how you respond to something new you haven’t come across before.
  8. They don’t let past hurts affect their future – Don’t live in your previous experiences. Just because you understand them and perhaps have had some bad experiences with pursuing a new course, you shouldn’t shut the door on curiosity.  Learning should never stop.

I challenge you to find one new idea outside librarianship that excites your curiosity.  Follow the rabbit.  Then create a plan for bringing your idea into your program.  It’s what leaders do.

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Leader in You

If you saw the title and thought “Hilda’s writing about being a leader again” my response is – absolutely. I will likely never stop. I honestly believe every one of you is a leader.  You just may not be revealing it to yourself and others. It’s time to let your leader out for the sake of our students, teachers, and our profession. And just as you must continue to discover, practice, and improve your leadership skills, I must cheer you on, providing as much assistance as I can. I hope as this school year gets underway you challenge yourself to engage in one demonstration of your leadership.

The Vision of AASL speaks to what I have been saying for many years, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”  The only way we are going to stop losing school librarians is by being valuable leaders in our school communities.  Those of you who are leaders have two tasks: become even more visible as leaders and help the school librarians in your district and state to become leaders.

A Google search yields scores of definitions of what a leader is, but the one I like best is from Vocabulary.com: “A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”  You are leading when you work with your students and engage them.  You are being a great leader when they feel they can really do what at first seemed like an overwhelming task.

The same skills can apply in your dealings with others.  Joel Garfinkle, writing for the business world, identifies and explains 8 Traits of Great Leaders. Many of these you are using with your students. It’s why your lessons work.  The next step is to think of how you can use these traits in throughout your school and beyond.

  1. Great leaders have integrity – It’s why your students trust you. And your teachers do as well. They know you keep confidences. You also uphold the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Great leaders have intelligence –It’s why you can help others. You know your stuff.  This intelligence is also social and emotional intelligence.  You have empathy. This is what, along with trust, helps you build relationships.  Don’t forget to show how you can help your administrator. What is his/her vision?  What do they want to accomplish? Use what you know to help them achieve it.
  3. Great leaders have high energy – It’s why you keep coming back. You can’t be a school librarian without it. Even on a fixed schedule, you can’t predict what demands will be made of you during the course of the day. Your high energy communicates to others your enthusiasm for what you are doing. Don’t forget to build in “me time” to avoid overwhelm and stress which will sap that energy.
  4. Great leaders bring stability – It’s why you can stay cool in a crisis. (You may choose to fall apart later.) This calm inspires confidence in you and your program. It is a reason for people to look to you for help when things get crazy. It’s why they will follow your lead.
  5. Great leaders have high standards – It’s why you have a Mission Statement. This works in addition to the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. It represents what you see as your purpose and what your school library program is determined to deliver. Everything you do is related to that statement.
  6. Great leaders have a strong inner voice – It’s why you can stay focused. You trust your intuition and your gut to help direct you in your decisions. This is part of why you are calm in a crisis.  It is powered by your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  If you haven’t taken the time to create these, do so.  That inner voice will serve you well.
  7. Great leaders are confident in their decisions – It’s why you can get back on track. You may always feel very strong in this trait but trust your inner voice, standards, intelligence, and integrity. Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing you will grow from it. Your confidence, like your calm, contributes to having people follow you.
  8. Great leaders invest in their own growth – It’s why your program keeps getting better. I have always felt strongly about this. You are responsible for your professional development.  There are so many opportunities from webinars, Twitter chats, professional journals, and, of course, conferences.  (I am an unabashed conference junkie.) You must be a member, preferably an active one, in your state library association.  You should also join—and participate- in at least one national association.  Working at that level will bring out your leadership skills.

As the subtitle of my most recent book for ALA Editions, Leading for School Librarians says, — There Is No Other Option.  Take on making the AASL Vision a reality by performing as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Confrontation

No matter who or how you are, at some point someone is going to get angry with you.  How you respond is a demonstration of your leadership skills. Your ability to manage the situation will affect your relationships and possibly your reputation. The “attack” can come from any direction –a teacher, and administrator, a student.  There are basic strategies to deal with all of them as well as some specifics. Knowing these in advance will help you through a stressful situation and potentially result in a positive outcome.

When someone comes to you angry at something you supposedly did, pause before responding.  Let the other party fully express themselves. That is likely what they most want. To be heard.  As they talk, take time to breathe.  Depending on your personality, your natural response will be to attack or defend and neither is a good solution. It will only escalate the confrontation.

My favorite example of diffusing a nasty interchange occurred when I had started a new position as the high school librarian in the early days of automation. A teacher stormed into the library and began haranguing my clerk.  I stepped in immediately and asked the teacher to come into my office.

The tirade slowly ended. In between the “how dare you,” and “you had no right to,” was the core of the complaint which stemmed from a system the previous librarian created. My first thought was, “I just got here. It’s not my fault.”  Rather than engage that way, I let her know I would fix the problem as soon as possible.  I also consciously relaxed my body during the conversation. This added to my personal sense of calm and allowed me to stay focused on the teacher’s concern.   By dealing with the message rather than the method of delivery, I was able to calm her and fixed the situation. Ultimately, the teacher became one of my strongest supporters.

On another occasion, the confrontation wasn’t loud, but it was challenging.  In the late ’90s was the leader for the district librarian and was meeting with the assistant superintendent who began by stating my repeated requests to flexibly schedule elementary librarians was ludicrous. He had observed one lesson where the librarian used a filmstrip on how a book is made starting with a tree.  He felt a classroom teacher could have done the same, and it was a waste of valuable time.

Once again, the person on the attack had a point.  I agreed it was an unfortunate lesson, and my agreement took the wind out of his sails.  He was prepared for an argument.  I said it showed we needed proper professional development opportunities so we could deliver the program students needed.   I earned his respect for that one.

My recipe for managing confrontations:

  1. Pause
  2. Listen to the whole complaint/concern without contemplating your response.
  3. Use the time to relax your body and calm yourself.
  4. Respond to the core of the issue.

Anne Rubin authored a post on The Principal’s Guide to Angry Parents which contains good advice for librarians as well.  Her recommendations are similar to my own.

  1. Stay Calm – Meeting anger with anger is a guarantee you will lose.
  2. Cut It Off – Recognize when the person had gone beyond acceptable limits. Change your body language. You can raise your hands to indicate, “stop.” Then try something like, we can’t resolve this now.  I will get back to you on the issue.  Using email will help you document the interchange if necessary.
  3. Protect Others – I stepped in quickly when the teacher was berating my clerk. You are the leader. Any problems are your responsibility.
  4. Don’t Take It Personally – It rarely has anything to do with you. It’s usually a situation that for some reason has frustrated the teacher or administrator at this time. Find the reasons and you’ll be able to change the situation. This is usually is true for why a student became angry with you.
  5. Know When Enough Is Enough – This is very much like Cut It Off. You can say, “This is not the best way for us to deal with problems. Let’s find another approach.” Your composure could make them angrier if they’re not ready to work with you and still want to be mad or right, but if you maintain it, you will bring the discourse to an end.
  6. Create Guidelines for Behavior- Rubin suggests principals create guidelines for others’ behavior. Since you can’t do this, you can do it for you.  Be aware what your limits are so you know when to “cut it off” and when “enough is enough.”

Most people don’t enjoy confrontations, but we all get caught up in them. The only thing you can control in this situation is you so the more tools you have, the better. Look to understand what is fueling the other person and how to tone down the rhetoric.  People will come to realize that you know how to manage these stressful interchanges.  It makes you more trustworthy and demonstrates your leadership ability.

ON LIBRARIES: Time Management – Truth and Lies

The school year has just begun, but do you already feel as though you’re behind? Our job can easily be overwhelming. Every school librarian I know wrestles with time management. It affects you and how you do your job. It can be what stops us from introducing a new program, starting a project, or stepping into leadership positions in our state library association. How can we possibly fit it into our schedule?

The fact is, we can’t.  There is no room.  As I blogged in Making the Most of Your Time, there are only twenty-four hours in a day. No one gets more (I’ve asked).  If you want to add a new task, you first must discard one.

When I’m in this situation, I base my decisions on my purpose (or mission) and my priorities.  What will I achieve by adding something to my list?  Is it worth it?  Do I really want to do it?  Why or why not?  Once I determine the new task will move me forward in a direction I want to go, I have to look at what I am already doing and decide what I want to drop. This is typically harder.  Everything that’s on my list needs doing. The first thing I do is see if anything is almost done and if I can speed up the work to complete it. Sometimes I can get a partner and minimize my contribution.  The process isn’t easy, but it’s do-able.

You have all read numerous suggestions on how to manage your time better.  Variations on to-do lists are common.  I use one and can’t function without it. The blog post I did has thirteen ways to become more efficient with your available time.  They are all good suggestions, but in some ways, I wonder if they may have added to your stress about time.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests you may have been setting yourself up to fail. She offers 5 Lies You Have Been Told About Time Management. She offers a worthwhile – and calming—perspective on the topic. The five lies she identifies are:

1.     If You Were Better at Time Management You Could Do It All – No, you couldn’t. If you actually tried to fit everything in, you would be in constant motion.  It’s unrealistic.  Thinking “doing it all” is an achievable goal only makes you feel you are not as organized or capable as other people.  I sometimes forget this.  I look at colleagues who are getting so much done and think I have no time for all that.  True, I don’t.  But they don’t have time for all that I am doing.  It’s back to making the decision about what is really important to you.

  1. There’s One Perfect System – No, there’s not. But chances are there is one that works well for you. I love paper and pen to-do lists to keep me on target. Others like organizing by priorities. Some prefer to keep track digitally. My daughter sings the praises of the bullet journal. It may take some tweaking and changing until you find your best system, but if you focus on how you like to think and organize, you’ll find one that’s right.
  2. You Can Learn Time Management in a Day – Or Even an Hour – No, you can’t. Workshops may help. I give one on the subject, but I don’t expect participants will be able to implement their ideal approach as an immediate result. Instead, my goal is that they leave with ideas they can try to find what will support them best. It takes trial and error to determine what does work best for you in part because there are habits to overcome. These have been ingrained and can be hard to kick. I’ve learned to do my high priority work first because I am most creative and focused in the morning.  Except on the days I am lured into my emails. Or I decide one game of Klondike (or 10) will jump-start my thinking. Even if you are proficient in time management, there will be days you waste more than you’d like.  Don’t beat yourself up. That’s definitely a time-waster.  Accept that sometimes your brain and your body need a rest and move on.
  3. You Can Be Tightly Scheduled 24/7 – No, you shouldn’t. That is like “you can do it all.”  It’s unrealistic. Your brain doesn’t work that way.  You need breaks otherwise you’ll burn out, and you definitely don’t have time for that. I go for a walk after I complete something- like this blog.  If you don’t plan breaks – and fun – into your schedule, you will take them anyway and likely not notice or enjoy them. It’s like the difference between choosing a dessert you enjoy and mindless eating that happens without your notice.  One is calories without satisfaction, the other is time loss without any benefits.
  4. You’re Hopeless – No, you’re not. Some people are naturally more organized just as some people are naturally neat.  When something is important you can learn it.  It just might take you more time to master it. You will improve as you go along and you’ll learn from your setbacks. Thinking you are hopeless gives you an excuse to do nothing which will keep you from improving in your time management. Given your roles and responsibilities, that is not an option.

It’s never a bad time to discover the time management techniques that work best for you and begin implementing them. Talk to people who you think do this well. Ask if they have recommendations. Then as you feel more confident, choose a project or job that will move you further into leadership – and practice your new skills by deciding what you can postpone, delegate, or drop.  You’ll be giving yourself the time to shine

ON LIBRARIES – Building Relationships with Students

Students are our priority. No matter what else we do, what programs we create, what books we choose, everything we do in some way should further their development as lifelong learners, users, and producers of knowledge. We build relationships with teachers because they are the gateway to the students, but we also must build direct connections to students.

We want the library to be viewed as a safe, welcoming environment for all.  For students to feel safe and welcomed a relationship needs to be in place.  Students need to see you as a trusted adult with whom they feel safe in asking questions of all types.  Students (and adults as well) tend to avoid displaying ignorance and so may shy away from asking for help.  We know it’s in the questions that we all learn and grow so creating a place where they can ask is important.

To begin, smiles are an obvious way to welcome all. It’s not just for the opening week but how you want to always greet students and teachers.  Think positive thoughts as you do so to ensure your smiles are seen as real.

Using proper names is a good next step.  Unlike smiles, these can be a challenge for librarians because we have the entire population to learn.  In a large school, it is probably impossible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep working at it. Try to add at least five or six names each week.

Sometimes we get help. Elementary librarians should have rosters for their classes.  Mark it with the correct pronunciation and students’ preferred nicknames.  You can use tents, fixed seating, and other similar techniques for the first few weeks until you learn names.

For middle and high school librarians who see students mainly as teachers bring their classes in, you can have them introduce themselves the first time.  There are a number of mnemonic tricks online to help you remember but apologize in advance because you will be asking them to repeat their names as you work to learn them.  You will soon know any regulars by name. And show your willingness to not know something by asking students to repeat their names when necessary.

Brief conversations can also help you remember names. Orientations are a good time to start.  Don’t ask kids what they did during the summer.  Some had terrible ones and are thrilled to be back where it’s safe. Instead, ask, “What do you want to learn this year?” It’s an excellent way to learn about their interests. Use their names in conversations to help you learn.

In ASCD’s May issue of Educational Leadership, Mary Ann Ware and Jodi Rath wrote an article entitled “4 Must-Haves for Positive Teacher-Teen Relationships.”  Although targeted toward high school, their recommendations work with even the youngest students.  You are probably implementing some of them even unconsciously. Their four must-haves are:

Consistency – Students need to have routines and boundaries.  It makes them feel safe if they can count on how you will react to situations and their behavior.  It helps them develop their own self-discipline.

Respect – Everyone deserves it. You will never get it if you don’t give it. Kids will reflect back to you what you demonstrate towards them. Be mindful of interrupting a conversation with a student in order to respond to an adult who came into the library.

High Expectations – Show you believe in students by letting them know you expect them to perform well.  You are still there to guide and coach them to reach their goals, but you don’t make things easy.  There is pride in completing a difficult task. This builds their self-confidence and motivates them to continue tackling other challenges.  Acknowledge their achievements specifically including their perseverance when things didn’t go right.

Kindness – The world is a tough place, and school is often no different. There are articles now about burnout in kindergarten. Be observant and note when a student seems distressed and, if possible, quietly ask about it. They may need to just be by themselves for a bit or sometimes talk to someone.  Your noticing and taking the time to reach out is how the library becomes a sanctuary and safe haven for so many students.

Your students are your priority and your advocates.  How you treat them and how they feel about you becomes known to their parents and teachers.  But most importantly, by building positive relationships with them you help them become global citizens who embrace learning and growing.

ON LIBRARIES: The Price of Perfection

You want your colleagues to see you as vital and hopefully indispensable which means you work very hard to get things right.  But are you working towards excellence or perfection?

Excellence means something stands out because it is well done.  It achieves its goals. This is true of projects and people. Perfection is an unachievable standard that sets you and those around you up for failure because it cannot, by definition, be reached. Seeking the elusive and impossible is not a good use of your resources – personal or professional. Those who want perfection tend to struggle with accepting help or delegating because they are concerned that the work of others is never up to their standards.  Frequently, perfectionists don’t even believe their own work meets their standards, making them work even harder, never feeling success.

Sometimes, we can’t help but measure ourselves against a mythical Perfect – what we believe others are doing easily and flawlessly – and when we do, we have to fall short. Missing that mark leads to feelings of self-doubt which was the topic of last week’s blog, as well as losing self-confidence.  All of which adds stress and keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone and being a leader.

Jane Perdue says Perfection = an Overrated Waste of Effort.  She observes that it’s boring.  Of course, it is. Imperfections make life interesting. To counter your pursuit of perfection, she propounds nine ways it is overrated.

  1. Most people don’t recognize perfection when they see it. Others won’t recognize that something you created is perfect in your eyes. Of course, the opposite is true as well.  You see the flaws in your creation, but others don’t. Although it sounds counter-intuitive – perfect should be perfect—there isn’t one standard of perfection.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is perfection. Excellence is easy to recognize because a goal has been reached.
  2. Lost opportunity cost. How much time did you lose fixing that display? Working hard to line the books up perfectly? Walking away and going back just to move one part of it a hairline differently? Think about what you didn’t get to as a result of spending time on something that was already excellent and you’ll start to see the cost of perfectionism. It can keep us from having the time we need for the other goals on our plan.
  3. Miss out on simple joys. Those seeking perfection have less time to do the things that matter –like enjoy life. Life is messy and definitely not perfect. Perdue notes it’s “hard to look perfect eating an ice cream cone outside on a hot summer day.” But it’s fun. Having fun makes you light-hearted – and accessible. It gives you a happy mindset that makes other people want to be with you and that is important if you are building and maintaining relationships. Being messy can bring people closer to you.
  4. Present as narrow-minded. If you are looking for perfection, there is only one right way in your mind. Which means what other people do/say is wrong. You may not realize it, but that’s the message perfectionists send.  It’s intimidating and isolating, and it will work against you when trying to collaborate.
  5. Perfectionism feeds sex and gender stereotypes. We know from mass media what a “perfect” woman’s body is like. We know that not only is there “no crying in baseball,” but real men don’t cry either. Perfectionism is limiting and narrow   Embracing the diversity in others and accepting our imperfections creates better relationships which make the library a safe, welcoming space for all.
  6. Being perfect doesn’t automatically provide approval and affirmation. As you can see from the first things on the list, it is more likely to put people off which is ironic since usually people strive for perfection the hopes of gaining approval or positive notice. Your being perfect will not make others like you or create the willingness to work with you. It’s providing others with what they need, being open to them and their challenges which will bring support and cooperation.
  7. Perfectionism will make you sick. In striving hard to be perfect, you wear yourself out. Perfectionism dramatically increases stress, and the worst part is most of it is self-imposed. Depression is a potential result (due in part to the isolationism that goes with perfectionism) as is high blood pressure and poor eating habits.
  8. Fuel negative emotions. What happens when you can’t and don’t measure up to your standards? Self-doubt takes over. The negative noise in your head gets louder and your confidence plummets. In comes the Imposter Syndrome telling you others will see you aren’t worthy. It’s a deadly spiral that can only end once you step away from the lure of perfectionism.
  9. Consumed and paralyzed by fear. When perfect is your goal, you are more likely to fear trying something new because you worry you won’t be able to do it perfectly. You read of what others are doing in their libraries, but you prefer to stick with the tried-and-true because you know how to do that.  If you’re not growing, your program will lag behind and stand a greater chance of being eliminated.

Hopefully, some of the things on this list will help you notice if you’ve made perfect your goal.  When you hold yourself to some imaginary standard of perfectionism, you are more likely to hold yourself back from becoming a leader because taking risks and trying new things become nearly impossible. We are imperfect beings.  In striving for improvement and excellence we learn and grow. We accept our faults and failures as steps along our journey, and by doing so serve as a model for our students.

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Self Doubt

Leaders need to exude confidence regardless of the occasional and perfectly normal feelings of self-doubt.  Fear plays a big role in self-doubt.  Whenever you step out of your comfort zone, you are in risky territory.  As William Jennings Bryan said, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” When you keep taking risks, based on your knowledge and passions, you will have some failures, but you will have so many successes people will quickly forget the ones that didn’t work.

Sometimes the doubt comes in the form of Imposter Syndrome. It’s when you begin second-guessing yourself and the voices inside your head say you are not up to a particular challenge. Or you are not that good.  Even very successful people suffer from this on occasion.

We have a tendency to see what others do that we cannot.  Maybe you are using Twitter in a limited away, but you see so many librarians leading Twitter chats and showing all they accomplish. How can you think you are a tech integrator when you don’t know how to do these things? We don’t see the things we do that others cannot.  We assume everyone is doing that. You know, the other thing that we can’t do and what we can do is nothing special.

Recognition is key when you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Once you notice it, you can have a good talk with yourself and work to redirect your thoughts. Make sure you remind yourself of what you have achieved so far which is a good indicator that you can take this new path as well.

Even if you have done something before, the new iteration will bring a challenge which can cause a flare-up of self-doubt. I’m experiencing it myself. I just signed a contract with ALA Editions for a book entitled Classroom Management for School Librarians. The manuscript is due mid-February, and it needs to be about 60,000 words.  I look at the task before me and wonder if I can get this done. I know what I am covering in each chapter, but do I have enough to say about the topic to meet the targeted number of words?  Sure, I have written many books and met both deadlines and word counts, but at the beginning of the project, looking at the road ahead, I can feel the self-doubt creeping in.

I handle it by recognizing its presence and plunge ahead.  One step at a time. I set internal targets for completing the chapters and the word count for each. I know I will never hit them exactly, but this gives me a framework and keeps me from being paralyzed by the size of the task.

Lolly Daskal provides her own solution for dealing with self-doubt in What to Do When You Doubt Yourself as a Leader.  Her eight suggestions are:

Know you’re not alone – When you are mired in self-doubt, it’s easy to believe no one has ever felt that way.  I guarantee just about everyone with whom you come in contact has those moments, days, weeks.  I doubt there’s a single leader who hasn’t experienced it.

Remember that breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs – If you focus on how to get through this time, you may discover you have come up with an alternative that is better than your initial plan. Daskal notes the breakdown may “mean you’re on the edge of a terrific period of growth and discovery.”  It may not feel that way in the moment, but if you keep moving forward you’ll get to that breakthrough.

Ride the wave – It’s what I am doing now. Focus on why you want to tackle the project.  What is the reason you are allowing self-doubt to creep in?  I find beginnings are hard.  There is such a long road ahead.  But I am working on reminding myself, the journey has its own rewards.  I will be learning as I go—and that’s a good thing.

Treat your struggle as the beginning of a success story – If you are a regular reader of my blog and/or have been to my presentations, you know I draw on my personal experiences.  I include failures and successes because that’s life. Everything you do adds to the richness of it.  As a Chinese proverb states, “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”

 Don’t try to go through it alone – A very wise suggestion.  We tend to hide our self-doubts as though it were a shameful secret. Who are the people who always believe in you? If you have a mentor, that’s great.  If not, this may be a good time to get one. These are the people who can give you the positive self-talk you can’t seem to give yourself.

If you can’t change the situation, you have to change yourself – Realistically, do you need to learn something to accomplish the task?  If so, take the time to build the needed skill. At the same time, focus on your strengths to build your self-confidence. Together the learning and the knowing will help propel you forward.

Get outside help – This is much like “don’t try to go through it alone.” When you need someone to talk you “off the ledge” go to your PLNs whether this is your local AASL chapter, on Facebook or other places.  You will find the support you need.

Lead from within – Regain your faith in yourself by being a quiet leader. Support others on their journey.  Be the one to help someone else with self-doubt.  You will be amazed at how this will help cure your own.

Confidence is not a permanent condition.  Life will always bring challenges to chip away at it. Be prepared to deal with it.  You are a leader, a confidence-builder in others. Remember to do this for yourself as well.

ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.