ON LIBRARIES – A Don’t-Do List

How long is your to-do list?  Whatever system you use to keep track of your ever-growing lists of tasks – both personal and professional – it has probably gotten too long.  And despite all you are doing, you probably feel you are still behind, which adds to the strain of an already grim situation. Something has to give. You don’t have to get the virus to get sick.  Stress takes a toll on the body.

To manage the situation differently, you need to acknowledge two factors that are making things difficult. First is the dramatic change to your workday. It is more complicated to teach and collaborate online, and you may have more meetings than you used to, sometimes daily. This, along with requests from teachers and parents, keep coming. The second factor is the pandemic itself. Television and social media are bringing continual updates, frightening stories, and conflicting information all mixed into a divisive political climate. You fear for yourself, your family, and your friends and you have the challenges of the new schedules of the people with whom you are at home.

Since it will be awhile before either of these factors change, it may be time to find some things you can stop doing so that you can feel successful going through this time.  The Ebling Group blog recommends Three Things to Stop Doing This Week. Targeted to the business world, the advice holds true for us as well.

Stop Sitting All Day; The medical profession has said that sitting all day is dangerous. Without your usual commuting time and reducing your regular shopping and errands, you are walking much less. You brain and your body needs the stimulus of movement.  For me and many others, walking is a refresher. I’ve even taken to doing laps around my house on bad weather days. It clears the mind, opens up ideas, and focuses you on something else besides your tasks and your fear. (Although you should consider having a mask on if you will be passing people.) Fitbits give users reminders, or you can set an alarm on your phone.

Stop Making Every Meeting a Zoom Call: Zoom and other meeting platforms have been invaluable in allowing us to get our jobs done.  We can stay in communication with students, teachers, administrators and parents while having the added benefit of seeing familiar faces.  But several articles have made note that one Zoom meeting after another is even more draining than a series of face-to-face meetings.  It may be following the various faces or finding everyone on a large call or underlying worry about how you look or sound since you can see yourself as well as others. When possible look for ways to limit these meeting/calls. Obviously, there are ones that can’t be changed, but reach out to your PLNs to see what alternatives are being used to reduce your time on Zoom.  And see if you can get up and walk between calls.

Stop Holding on to Your Original Plan: What did you imagine you would be doing when you were told schools were closing and you would be teaching online?  Whether it sounded scary or like something you could handle, it probably hasn’t turned out the way you thought. And remember when you thought you would have a chance to get to those tasks around the house you had put off because you didn’t have the time.? Yeah, most of us aren’t getting those done either.. None of this could be anticipated – neither the workload nor the emotional toll. In addition to everything else we don’t know, we can’t predict how productive we will be on a given day. Some days you’ll make progress and others will be a battle for every inch. Do what you can to be unceasingly kind to yourself no matter what.  You’re doing your best even as your best changes from day to day (or hour to hour).

I’m not sure of a lot right now, but I do know librarians have flexibility and resilience. We use both these characteristics all the time.  We adjust and we persevere.  Just remember to put these three things on your Don’t-Do Lists.  Keep making time for yourself, move, and breathe.

ON LIBRARIES: Scoping the Future

We are starting our seventh week of social isolation and distance learning, and everyone is looking to see when it will end and “life will get back to normal.” Prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork but no one knows what our future will look like. The question is, how do you plan for an unknowable future?

A method I developed when my district added a wing to the high school including a new library may help you get through this with a minimum of fear and a readiness to take on the next stage. I call my method Microscoping, Periscoping, and Telescoping.

Microscoping is what you do first. You only focus on what is happening and possible in the here and now.  It includes the things under your immediate control.  You do whatever is next and it allows you to feel grounded in the moment. This can mean planning tomorrow’s lesson, creating a video to send to teachers or families, or doing laundry.

Telescoping is how to plan for the future. It’s done rarely, but is still important. This happens when you look down the road to see what’s ahead. It allows you to make your best estimate of what needs to get done in order for you to be back in your library working with students and teachers or what’s necessary to end the year online. It keeps you aware of the steps in between today and the future.  At this point, you can’t spend too much time on Telescoping, but you can create lists and steps for what will most likely need to be done.

Periscoping is what keeps you from missing something important. In Periscoping you pop up and look around.  What is the next step you can take in connection with something you identified when Telescoping?  Is it coming up soon?  Does something need to be altered or changed?  Once you’ve taken a look at what’s happening around you, Periscoping helps you adjust your daily Microscoping to ensure you are staying on track.

We can never forget that the truth is we are still living through a crisis and don’t know how the ripple effects are going to play out. Becky Robinson says A Crisis Is Not a Marathon — But It Is a Call for Endurance.  She acknowledges four ways this crisis is different.

  • This crisis is not predictable– Unlike a marathon we are uncertain of the distance or the route we need to take. Different states will make different decisions and some are having a harder time than others.
  • We did not train for this – As a profession, we are good at tech, but no one was ready for full-time distance learning, supporting both teachers and students and dealing with the trauma they (and we) are living with all while dealing with other things happening on a personal front. Many of you are doing double duty on distance learning as you help your children as well as support the needs of your school.
  • We are isolated from our support crews – We miss the daily interactions with our students and teachers. Some of you didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.  You went home on Friday and were told over the weekend not to come back. And I’m sure many of you hoped for a return before the end of the school year. This separation is a huge challenge. I hope you’re finding ways to use your PLN’s Facebook groups as a source of information and strength as well as finding ways to stay connected with friends and family who can give you support and strength.
  • We can’t see the finish lineThis is much like the first on the list. It’s not only that we can’t see it, we have no idea of where it is. We can hope and plan, but not knowing when restrictions may ease up is a huge challenge.

These key differences add up to a great deal of stress – both personal and professional. Robinson’s recommendations on how to face this call for endurance are very similar to my approach. She cites Ryan Hall’s book Run the Mile You Are In reminding us that you cannot look to far ahead. If you see how far you have to go, or notice that you can’t see the finish line at all, you will want to give in. It’s not unlike trying to lose a lot of weight. If you focus on 50 lbs it can seem impossible. Instead, you must take it in small goals, daily challenges, and doable steps.  It may not be a perfect solution, but nothing is.

This pandemic more like runnng a marathon on a treadmill. Lots of energy required but not getting anywhere – or so it seems. To get to the future, we can only manage the now. Keep a close focus on what we can do today, how we can be there for each other, and what we need personally so that when the finish line finally comes into focus, we’re as ready as possible.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Reversing the Energy Drain

Feeling drained and exhausted?  You are not alone. Even though you’re not commuting or doing as many before and after school activities, the things that energized you – including seeing the teachers and students – are missing. But while you can partially attribute the feeling to cabin fever, the major energy drain is due to fear and there’s no getting away from it.

Acknowledging the fear and knowing it’s going to be a part of our lives even after the virus is contained (and hopefully cured) is a good first step. But what else can we do to minimize the energy drain so we are at the best we can be now and going forward? In Maximizing Your Energy During COVID-19 Nicholas W. Eyrich, David Fessell and Gretchen Spreitzer offer three ways to accomplish it. (NOTE: There’s a survey at the end of this article which requires personal information at the end.) They recommend:

Identifying and using your signature strengths – Consider both your people and professional skills. How good are you at lifting the spirits of others? Often helping someone else feel better gives you an energy boost.

How much of a techie are you?  Working one-on-one with a teacher (online, of course) to demonstrate a resource will help you focus on doing something positive.  When they use it their teaching, they will invariably let you know. Another feel good experience that helps restore energy.

Those of you who are artistic or crafty can create something to share online. The act of creation, particularly when you tune into it is an energy boost. Bringing beauty to others adds to your pleasure and that too adds to your energy.

And since energy carries over, think about your strengths and joys outside of your job. Do you like cooking, baking, knitting, gardening or singing? Spend some time purposely doing those things. It’s okay to enjoy yourself.

Keeping your purpose ever-present – This is probably my theme song.  Your Mission – or purpose – is what keeps you on track.  It’s all about your Why.

Why did you become a librarian? What powers you when you are in your library?  What can you bring from that into your new environment?

What values are important to you?  Note where they are still present. Acknowledge yourself for when and how you further Mission and demonstrate your Why.

Lean into high-quality connections – As always, keep checking in to your PLNs.  You don’t only have to use them for advice on how to do something.  You can also open up and let them know you are feeling.  By sharing your fears and anxieties, not only do you release them (fear hates when you shine a light on it) but you may learn methods others have used for dealing with the same concern or your disclosure could help someone else feel stronger and in good company.

Recognize when you are feeling drained. Identify its cause.  Most of the time fear will be at the root.  Choose one of the three suggestions to help you restore your energy or let me know others that are working for you. Most of all, be kind to yourself no matter where your energy is. Accept that there will be days when you don’t accomplish much, and don’t expect to give maximum effort all the time.

ON LIBRARIES: Crisis Leadership

For most of my career I have discussed leadership and its importance to school librarians but leading in the pandemic requires another set of skills. Crisis leadership necessitates the traditional leadership skills of confidence, empathy, and vision – but on steroids. You can see these skills at work in the governors who are getting respect for managing the pandemic in their states.  They stay calm, reassure but tell the truth, and seem to have a plan for getting through and past these surreal times.

The Leading Blog zeroes in on Dealing with the Two Fronts of Every Crisis—Issues and Fear. The post quotes Harvard Business School Professor Herman “Dutch” Leonard’s definition of a true crisis as “there is no precedent for it, there is no playbook for handling it. There is no script for managing it.”  Sounds familiar.

You are accustomed to being flexible, adjusting to the mini crises that are part of managing a school library but this is unprecedented. On the Issue front, although you are just attempting to do your job in a different environment, you really are in uncharted territory. You need to invent answers to managing it as you go. The clearest way to deal with the situation is to define a process and make it work as you go.

To create this process, the post suggests you first identify all the concerns or priorities. Next, get information on the crisis focusing on who has information relating to your concerns.  It could be the school district, or it could be resources from ALA. Finally, knowing the priorities, you develop a plan for getting things done.

You may have already done this but are still feeling harried.  What likely is draining you is the second front of Crisis Leadership – Fear.  The article presents four ways of dealing with fear in a crisis.

  1. Always Keep the Big Picture in Mind – Leaders always need to look at the big picture. Don’t be pulled away from what you are doing by the latest news, the newest curation, or the most recent outpouring of free resources. The news needs time to be validated as do the curations and free resources. Don’t let them immediately distract you.

Instead, use your Mission Statement as your anchor.  Too much is happening too quickly. Keep your direction in mind. Sift through the new and only deal with it if it moves you in the direction you want to go. Is the curation or resource worth your time to explore? Are they of immediate value to your students and teachers? Is it information you need to share with an administrator? If not, let it go.

  1. Educate to Bring Clarity – Being able to communicate clearly is a core leadership skill. In a true crisis there is continuous confusion (have you noticed?), and people need help in dealing with their fears and their insecurity about what they are doing and if they are doing it right. As teachers cope with how to do their jobs online your expertise as a tech integrator can support them and their students.  You can share the best resources to guide them through this uncertain landscape or offer to do an online tutorial.
  2. Remain Steady – If you look at those who are best regarded and trusted during a crises, you see they remain calm even as they refer to uncertainties. Part of a crisis is there is so much no one knows. Instead of adding to fear, look for positives.  Acknowledge your teachers and your students for where they are successful. Look to your PLNs to acknowledge you and take time to cheer for others.
  3. Make People Agents of Something Positive – Along with acknowledging, leaders empower others. In crisis leadership this is more important than ever. We are often reminded that together we are stronger (the needs of social distancing not withstanding). Consider creating a newsletter of sorts to highlight the great things being done by teachers, students, and parents. You might even give a boost to your administrators.  Encourage people to email you contributions. It’s a wonderful chance for your community to see how it is working together.

Iron is forged in a super-heated fire.  The pandemic is our fire. Crisis leadership needs a cool head and the ability to alter course quickly. You have what it takes to be a crisis leader. Follow your Mission and priorities. Take time to get clarity before acting. Do what is necessary and don’t try to do everything. Lean on others even as you lead the way and remember to take time for yourself.

ON LIBRARIES: Lemonade and Lateral Thinking

Here’s to all you are doing to support your teachers and students during this crazy time.  It’s clear from the School Librarians Workshop Facebook page you are all researching, curating and sharing resources. And you’re doing this while under your own set of non-work stresses. Clearly you’re making lemonade out of lemons – but at some point, you just don’t want anymore lemonade.

Most of the time this blog is about ways to help you go further and do more, but at this point I’m concerned that most of you are doing too much as is.  So, while I was on one of my daily walks, I challenged myself to think of something I could suggest that might help you. The phrase “lateral thinking” came to mind.

Lateral thinking is about approaching a problem from a different direction.  It’s not just out of the box thinking; it’s beyond that.  In the words of Joyce Valenza, “What makes you think there is a box?”

A recent article from Repost Leadership Don’t Make Lemonade: A Better Approach for When Life Gives Us Lemons was particularly timely. The author told the story of Marshall Pickney Wilder, who passed away in 1915.  He was 3 ½ feet tall.  Wilder didn’t take the obvious path in his day for someone who was extremely short (lemons) and join a circus or something similar (lemonade). Instead, he to become a noted actor and wrote three books.   Rather than making lemonade, he built his own lemonade stand.

The story is an excellent example of lateral thinking. For the moment, forget that your home base is in a library within a school.  Think of your Mission or purpose as a librarian. An example I often use is:

  • The Blank School Library mission is to empower and inspire all students to apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, to experience individual and team success, and to become responsible, contributing members of our community.

Nowhere in that Mission Statement does it refer to the physical space of the library.  Even if you add, “creates a safe, welcoming environment for all,” it doesn’t require a physical library.  Only the feeling.

If you were to design your program from that Mission in a world where all your students, teachers, and administrators were not in physical contact, what would it look like? How would you connect and collaborate with teachers?  How would you work with students? Keep your administrator informed?

For the past several years I’ve been an online instructor, and I love the fact it’s asynchronous. My students respond when they are available, and I do the same. They have an email to reach me with questions.  I can set office hours if I want. How much of that could you do with your students?

Think of whom you could collaborate with now that you are not impeded by the schedule and the bell.  Could you do a joint lesson with the nurse – especially given the current crisis?  How could you work with Art, Music, and even Physical Education teachers?  There’s a unique opportunity to go beyond collaborating to co-teaching.

Looking further outside the school, think how much easier it may be to call in outside experts.  Many of them are working from home as well.  They might appreciate the break or change and the chance to contribute.

As you work with teachers in new ways, you will build new and/or deeper relationships. The relationships you build now will endure when we eventually come out of the pandemic.  Life will return to a new normal, and you will have changed the normal in a positive way.

Doing things differently gives you a new perspective.  Hopefully, it will get you energized while so may other things seem to sap our energy and outlook. Be inspired your Mission (and if you haven’t written it – this is a terrific time to do that!).  Consider the ways you can create your virtual library program and have fun while you build your lemonade stand.

ON LIBRARIES: PLN’s and Advocacy during COVID-19

We are approaching two weeks into most of the school closures with the likelihood of at least another month.  From the first, librarians have been doing what we do best, getting information for ourselves and then out to our communities.  Many of you quickly tapped into your PLNs and began asking for and exchanging information, but this influx of resources has created an information overload that is adding to already existing stress. What can we do to meet the needs of our teachers and students without becoming more overwhelmed?

A good place to start, if you haven’t done so already, is to make a list of your priorities. Stop and think:

  • Are you doing any teaching? If so, you need resources for that.
  • What types of help do your teachers need? How can you be a resource?
  • Are your providing parent support?
  • How are you communicating with your administration and beyond?

In a Google doc, or whatever format you prefer, keep separate files/folders for the different topics. Go for quality rather than quantity. Even before this crisis, teachers frequently ignored what you showed them if you offered too much information. Now they are more overwhelmed. Keep things focused and brief. Add (and delete) to your lists as necessary.

Besides what you create for teachers, keep a separate file with the highlights of what you are doing. Every so often, send this to your administrator, website, and consider posting to the appropriate places on social media. This can be an important opportunity for advocacy.

Advocacy is about building partnerships with others who support you since you helped them. By showing your contribution, others will recognize that the library program is invaluable to the school system, even with the students can’t go to the library. You are the lifeline teachers and students need.  Parents and administrators need to see this as well.

And don’t forget to make time for yourself. I saw one meme showing a librarian working on her computer and saying, “I have this feeling that if I just curate everything, I can stop the virus.” While we are working hard to serve, we cannot forget the rule about taking care of ourselves first so we can do our best.

To practice what I preach, I am keeping this blog shorter than usual.  Less for you to read and me to write.  And since I have been sitting for an hour, and it’s too rainy for me to go out, I am going to walk 250 steps in my house.

Stay healthy and stay connected.

ON LIBRARIES: Staying Connected

From CNN

Social Distancing is hard. Humans are social organisms, and we need the connection with others. For years we have been using social media and found value in it, but now that we are restricted to it, we are more aware of its limitations.  On the other hand, it is a lifeline for us professionally and personally. At the moment, however, there’s so much information being put out it can be overwhelming. Just like we teach students the differences between a search and research, there are different ways to stay connected, some more helpful than others. For the sake of your sanity, you need to pick and choose what is giving the most valuable information for you as well as where you can make the greatest contribution.

Staying connected is important for our mental health which also affects our physical well being.  When the news seems all bad, we still need to be able to form a positive mindset as often as possible. Michael Lee Stallard and Katharine P. Stallard explain Why Relational Connection Is So Important During the Coronavirus Pandemic. After detailing why its important, they present these 12 actions to take while maintaining physical isolation.

  1. Cultivate a connection mindset – In addition to reaching out on social media, make phone calls to family and friends. I have found it has been a wonderful chance to speak to people rather than text or find out what’s happening to them via Facebook.
  2. Maintain an optimistic mindset – This is not easy, but do what you can to look for the good news. There is always something. Spread the good word.  This doesn’t mean become foolhardy and pretend this isn’t serious, but you won’t help yourself by plunging into depression. And by sharing positive information, you may help others.
  3. Take care of yourself – There’s nothing new in this advice. You can’t help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself.  As a long-time Weight Watcher, I am well aware of the dangers of emotional eating and how it never works.  Find ways to stay physically active and do the things that give you pleasure.
  4. Cultivate practices that produce contentment and avoid excitatory practices – This is the one I need to take to heart. I have to spend less time on social media. It’s an addiction  and habit that is not helping me.  Playing Klondike is a more helpful addiction at this time. It gives me pleasure and keeps me from thinking about the negative (see #2.)
  5. Get creative on how you might engage in activities with others – The Stallards point to the Italians who are singing together from their balconies. You can get a Zoom room for 45 minutes for free and have a “lunch meeting” with your friends or an evening chat if that works better.
  6. Pause to be grateful – This is one of my favorite suggestions. The Stallards recommend thinking of three things for which you are grateful. I have been keeping a gratitude journal for years, writing two things each day. I find that being grateful helps with my mindset by reminding me that it’s not all doom and gloom.
  7. Go for walks – As long as you are allowed to do this, get out there. You know how much I love it.  More people are out walking.  Don’t walk in groups unless it’s someone you live with.  When passing people, I step out into the street if necessary, to maintain six feet distance, but I do exchange greetings.  The most frequent one is, “stay healthy.”
  8. Play music – And dance to it if that’s your thing. I’m one of the rare people who doesn’t listen much to music, but everyone in my family finds it important to their well being. Spotify has a free limited service where there are thousands of hours of music and premium is no more than most music services.  There are podcasts there too!
  9. Learn something new – So many things have become available for free online as a result of COVID19, including tours of famous museums, courses, books, and theatrical productions. You can’t travel, but you can go to these famous locations virtually and learn so much.
  10. Set aside time each day for a quiet period – I have been counting my walking as a quiet time, but I think I will add it specifically. There is so much noise out there, more than usual. Giving yourself some down time can be very beneficial.
  11. Never worry alone! We can quickly go from concern to depression when we are doing this alone. I posted on Facebook that I was becoming a hypochondriac thinking every little bodily change was a sign I had the virus, even though it quickly passed.  It was amazing how many of my friends joined in to say it was happening to them, too. Saying it out loud and then laughing with others helped me get through it.
  12. Serve others – In addition to the two things I record in my gratitude journal each day, I also write down one way in which I give back.  Giving back reminds me that making a contribution enriches the giver and the receiver. It makes me feel good about myself. Lots of funds and benefits have been set up online. Look for your favorite things to support and you’ll probably find a (safe) way.

These are unprecedented times.  We will get it through it together.  I am grateful to you, my blog readers, and the many librarians I consider my friends.  Stay healthy.

ON LIBRARIES – The Fine Art of Feedback

We all know the importance of both giving and receiving feedback.  However, when it’s negative, it doesn’t sound like feedback.  It sounds like criticism. What is the difference? Generally it depends on the giver of feedback and its true intention – and is usually coupled with our own insecurities.

And what about when you’re giving feedback. You are accustomed to giving feedback to your students, but do you do it in the best way possible?  As a leader, you also need to have the courage to give feedback to teachers.  How can you do so successfully?

John R. Stoker is referencing the business world in his post, Managers, Here’s Your Guide to Effective Feedback yet everything he says works well for us in our schools. There are fifteen tips he recommends:

  1. Assess the context – This includes answering three questions:
  • Does this issue need to be discussed?
  • Am I the one to do it?
  • Is this the time?

If you are giving feedback, consider how much of a difference it will make to be clear on the answers to these three questions.  Does it need to come from you or is there someone in a better position to give it? Feedback is best given when there aren’t others around to hear. In receiving feedback, ask yourself if the issue being discussed that important. Is the person giving it knowledgeable enough?  Are you in a place where you can take it in? If not, ask if it can be discussed at a later time.

  1. Prepare the conversation – Think before you speak. Think of the best setting for the discussion and the context you will bring. As a receiver, don’t respond too quickly. Give yourself time to take it in and decide whether the feedback was valid. Then your response will also be valid.
  2. Identify your intent- If you have prepared the conversation, you should know your purpose. Make sure you stick to it. It is too easy to start bringing in other items if it feels uncomfortable. Stay focused.  As a receiver, hone into the message and assess whether the person giving feedback is doing so with a positive intent.
  3. Craft an “Attention Check.” – Be upfront about the topic of the feedback. It tends to put the other person at ease if they know in advance what you are getting at. As the recipient, listen carefully and ask a specific question to be sure you know what the focus of the feedback is. Don’t assume you know what their focus is.
  4. Identify and gather the data – Make sure you have all the relevant information. You don’t want to be giving feedback and discover there were mitigating factors you didn’t know. As a receiver, find out the specifics the feedback is based on. Again, you don’t want to make assumptions.
  5. Craft a respectful interpretation – Words have power. Giving feedback has the potential to cause hurt. Choose your words carefully. As a recipient focus on the message not on the delivery.  Some people with the best intentions have trouble critiquing someone else and so don’t always handle the message well.
  6. Ask questions – To discover any mitigating circumstances you might have missed when gathering data, ask appropriate questions. As the recipient, make sure you are accurately hearing what is being said. Clarity can make a huge difference on either side of this.
  7. Agree upon a mutual plan – This is not always necessary, but if you are in a position to look for a change, such as when you’re working with a student, have a strategy for addressing the issue and any next steps. As a recipient, make sure you understand what you are being asked to change, and, if necessary, by when.
  8. Allow time to process – While you may want to end the conversation as soon as you have had your say, remember being told you have fallen short is never pleasant to hear. Continue speaking so the other person has a chance to deal with what you said. As a recipient, wait to respond.  You need time to take in what you were told. Try not to act on your first responses.
  9. Keep it simple – You never want to deal with multiple issues in one feedback. It will sound as though you are dumping on the person or keeping a list. They will have little time to process, and all you will get is a defensive response.  As a recipient, if you are being given feedback on several items, ask which is the priority.
  10. Allow sufficient time –Know how much time is available for this discussion. You don’t want to rush. Don’t start this when you know you have almost no time before a bell rings. As a recipient, you might ask for the discussion to be postponed to a time when you can properly pay attention.
  11. Consider proximity– Although you want to allow enough time for the conversation, don’t wait too long. Feedback is best when it is given soon after the situation arose. As a recipient, you may want to ask the one giving feedback to refresh your memory if it’s been a while.
  12. Control yourself – As noted, feedback can be painful. If you are the giver of feedback don’t let the other person’s reaction set you off.  And as the recipient, stay calm.  That’s why you need time to process.
  13. Acknowledge great performance – Always look for ways to give positive feedback. If you only critique performances, the other person will have their hackles up as soon as you open your mouth. Don’t mix good and bad feedback if you can help it, otherwise the other person will expect bad news after any good. As a recipient, if the one bringing the feedback has acknowledged you in the past, recognize they have your best interest at heart.
  14. One on one – Unless you are acknowledging someone, give your feedback when others aren’t around. You don’t want to be overheard. It’s not appropriate As the recipient, if things start in an open area, ask to take the conversation to a more private place.

Leadership is sometimes uncomfortable, but by knowing how to handle difficult conversations, you will increase people’s appreciation of your ability to help them be more successful. Giving and receiving feedback well helps us to build the relationships that make our programs stronger.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Communicators

It’s such a simple statement – “Leaders Are Communicators” and, typical of communication, there’s a wealth of implied information underneath it and a vagueness that makes the statement less significant.  If I wanted to be clearer, I should have titled this blog, “Leaders Are Effective Communicators,” or give you a push by saying “Librarians Must be Effective Communicators,” but even this only scratches the surface.  Most days it feels as though we are in some form of constant communication.  While some are important and significant, much of it superficial. Yet it’s in the daily superficial communication that we lay the foundation for how our important communications are heard.

In our daily interactions we tend to pay scant attention to our verbal conversations and a bit more to the written ones.  Both send important messages about us and our abilities as a leader. We are busy—even harried—which means too often we don’t focus our attention on the person with whom we are speaking. We want to get the conversation finished so we can get on to the next thing. We also want to make certain we get our thoughts in, sometimes even interrupting the other person.

If this sounds like you, it is detracting from your leadership. Leaders must pay attention to others.  They “see” them and welcome their thinking and information. You don’t want your teachers and students to think you don’t have time for them.

We do pay somewhat more attention to our written communication, especially if it’s to an administrator but how often do we check our emails (and definitely our texts) for misspellings and phrasing that may not be as clear as we intended.  The recipients notice.

In her post, 3 More Communication Tips to Implement Today, Diana Peterson-More says, “Clear, concise, and intentional communication is the key to successful relationships — even more so in today’s workplaces, when miscommunication leads to misunderstanding.”  You can never forget that we are in the relationship business. It’s key to developing collaboration and to building advocacy.  It is why leaders need to be effective communicators.

Peterson-More offers the following three tips:

Communicate in different methods or modes – How does the recipient like to receive communications.  We are all drowning in e-mails.  Is sending another one the best idea for the person you are trying to reach?  How long are your emails?  I know I have inadvertently missed important information because I didn’t read to the end of a long email.

In-person conversation tends to be more effective, but even here you must be alert. Is the recipient listening to you or are they too busy to hear what you are saying?  If the information you are trying to impart is important, let the other person know you recognize this isn’t a good time, and see if you can meet at a later time.

Peterson-More observes that some people like to hear the information once while others prefer that you restate it in different words. It’s a good practice to start by making your point succinctly, clearly stating what you want from them, then asking if they want more details or information.  In dealing with students and teachers, going into more detail is sometimes necessary because they don’t have a complete foundation, the information is new.

Check for understanding: Was the communication clear? Was it understood? – Don’t assume your message got through. What seems obvious to us is not always clear to someone else. Even within education, each of our disciplines use different words and phrases.

Be careful about buzzwords.  They tend to blur meaning. My New Yorker Day-by-Day calendar shows a comic of a man doing a presentation and saying, “Enhanced branding metrics drive robust solutions for scalable monetization of jargon.”  I have heard all those words often. Do I understand completely what they mean?  No.  It’s important to speak for clarity not to impress.

When you are the receiver of the message make sure you have understood it. You can restate what you believe you heard or ask for more clarity.  It will ensure that you don’t miss the mark in your response.  You certainly don’t want to misunderstand what a teacher wants to have their students do or what an administrator needs to reach his/her goals.

Use the subject line on emails effectively: Get the message out – As noted earlier, we are drowning in emails. Many of us delete that don’t seem very important without opening them based on the subject line.  Or I open them and do a quick scan – and perhaps miss something.  Use the subject line to grab attention.

Peterson-More suggests including all important information in that subject line.  You can be fairly long and no one will skip over it.  Do you need a reply?  Ask for it there.

Her final recommendation is to change the subject line when a long thread develops.  I have never tried that.  I think if the subject is specific to a meeting time, it might be a good idea, but in general it seems best to me to keep the original one so everyone knows what is being discussed. It can be helpful if a secondary subject has come up and needs people’s focus.

Communication is a pathway we travel every day.  The more we learn about keeping it clear the better our relationships will be.  The better our relationships are, the more likely we will build advocates for our library and realize the vision we have for our programs.

 

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – The Relationship Building Blocks of Leadership

As the administrator of the library program, you are a leader. However, it is important to stop and notice where you are either not leading or not leading effectively and the first place to look is to your relationships. Do you regularly work on building your relationships with teachers?  Have you established a positive relationship with your principal?

AASL’s Vision sets the path for us. “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.” Remember, a Vision is what we strive to achieve.  It may not be realized yet, but your planning and what you do each day should be focused on achieving it.  To get to the second part of the AASL Vision, we need to work on the first part.

Relationship is the first building block of leadership, but creating relationships requires both a mindset and a skill set.  Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, in a post entitled Leadership That Works: It’s All About the People, aptly defines leadership as, “the art and science of influencing others in a specific direction.”  He states: “You can’t become a world-class leader without being anchored in the fundamentals of your craft, the craft of leading people” and offers the following ten building blocks to get you there.

  1. High-Performance – You work at this every day. But although many of you are coming in early and/or staying late several days each week, not enough of you are letting others know what you are accomplishing.  This isn’t about the hours worked.  It’s about the results that are impacting your students and their success in the school. Librarians must communicate this to teachers so they will look to you for collaboration and to administrators so they will know your importance to the district.
  2. Abundance – Your budget may be small or non-existent, but you have an abundance of knowledge to share. Keep your ear out for teacher —and administrator – needs.  You should share your tech skills and awareness of great websites, apps, and other resources. While it’s an excellent technique to send an email about a great tech resource each week to the faculty, it is far better if you can send one to a particular teacher that addresses a specific need. Or schedule a drop in time for teachers to come try something out and get coaching.
  3. Inspire Trust – Relationships are built on trust. You can’t be in a relationship with someone you don’t trust.  Be mindful to keep teacher comments confidential. Gossip is tempting and schools, like many other workplaces, run on it. But leaders are trustworthy. Don’t repeat what others tell you.
  4. Purpose – This is your Mission Statement. It proclaims what you do.  It should identify what is unique about you and the library.  Create one a fun, noticeable sign for your Mission.  Frame it and hang it so it can be seen by everyone who comes into the library.
  5. Courage – Take chances and introduce new projects and programs. You can get ideas from the many Facebook groups for librarians, other librarians in nearby districts or at state/national conferences.  Being a risk-taker is one of the basic requirements of leadership. Not everything will be successful, but if you do your due diligence by getting advice from your PLN, most of them will take off.
  6. IntegrityYou can’t be a respected leader without it. It is what inspires trust (see #3). It also means standing up for the ethics of our profession. The six “Common Beliefs” of the National School Library Standards are the bedrock of the philosophy underlying our program.   In addition to the fifth Common Belief – Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right – we also hold to ALA’s Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights, along with the Interpretations of it that relate to working with minors.  There may be occasions when it takes courage to stand by our principles, but that’s what integrity requires.
  7. Grow or Die Mindset – My oft-repeated mantra is, “if you are not growing, you are dying.” It’s wonderful to have a well-respected program, but look for ways it can be better. Be innovative. Keep your eye out for what’s next.  Get to conferences as much as you can.  Watch webinars that will take your program in new directions.  Ask questions. Find a mentor. There are many ways to keep your program growing.
  8. Humility –We have only to notice how many school districts have lost their librarians to take the definition of humility (having a modest view of one’s own importance) to heart. In addition, as lifelong learners, we are well aware that someone always knows more than we do about something. And that this someone may be one of our students. Even when we are the resident expert, there are other perspectives which can add to our own. Humility can keep us growing (see #7).
  9. How Can I Help? – The answer to this is likely part of your mission or vision statement. It’s also in the non-verbal message we send daily in our body language and voice, and how we work with students and teachers. We are a service profession which is why building relationships are so important.
  10. Have Fun – I can’t emphasize this enough. If you have been staying late several days a week, cut back on it.  Treat yourself to something you enjoy at least once a week, and hopefully every day.  Make time for friends and family. Rediscover a favorite hobby or learn something new. I guarantee it will improve your leadership skills.

I have been writing and speaking about leadership for most of my working life, and I find there is always more for me to learn. I am confident that you have many of these leadership building blocks, but each of them can be improved.  Every day is an opportunity to learn something new, do something better, and show everyone you are an invaluable leader.