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.

ON LIBRARIES: I See You

It’s a busy world – our task lists are huge and the distractions are many. We hardly finish one thing when we are on to the next, barely looking up as we move on.  Our devices with the lure of email, social media and games pull at our limited attention and time.  It feels as though it connects us, but on a personal level we usually aren’t. Taking the time to stop, see, and connect with the people in your life, whether they are family and friends, work colleagues or casual acquaintances may be more important than ever – and it builds your leadership abilities.

Leaders need to see the people around them.  They need to read emotions and to engage others in whatever is being planned by administrators or faculty. This skill is even more vital when it’s time to acknowledge the diverse members – and needs – of our school communities. Marlene Chism, whose post I discussed in last week’s blog, talks about the importance of making these people-to-people contacts, suggesting 2 Skills to Increase Connection in 2020. She says, “The desire to connect is at the core of what it means to be human.”  The underlying truth is that humans are social organisms.  We need the person-to-person contact for our well-being.

Chism’s first skill is developing Super Vision. Her explanation of this is powerful and the steps are clear:

Decide to notice the brilliance of others. Notice your neighbor’s ability to do carpentry. Recognize your grandmother’s love of crochet and see her genius. Observe your physician and lean about what it took to get through medical school. Realize the talent of your friend who plays in a band.

Now do the same for your employees in noticing their interests and talents, but don’t stop there.

Verbally acknowledge what you notice. Find the interest and appreciate what it took for them to do what they do. This skill takes practice and repetition, so do the same for your colleagues and boss. If you don’t see a skill or talent what about their character? Their sense of humor, their patience, their willingness to give 100%.

When you really start seeing others, your whole world and your heart expands.

As your Super Vision improves, you will see the special qualities your colleagues bring to their jobs and their lives. Acknowledge them and let them know you appreciate what they do. The same is true for students. With Super Vision, you’ll notice their gifts in and out of academics. In both cases, don’t focus only on the work they are doing. See what brings them joy as people.

The second skill is Letting Go of Judgement.  Chism goes into detail on how judgement limits us and writes:

Seeing others as separate is a form of ostracism born from unconscious bias. It’s easier to judge “them” instead of entering into dialogue to find the connection. When you see others as “just like you” then, even when they are misguided, you can offer some grace, and make a connection.

Too often when we look at people, we categorize them, putting them in a box as though it’s the sum total of who they are. We note their age, their weight, their style of dress, and any other number of meaningless classifications. And then we judge them based on that.

I’ve written about my experience at the recent AASL Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, when I met an African American man with an incredible number of dreads, wearing a white tunic that extended below his knees.  I smiled at him and said, “I love your hair.  I can’t do much with mine.” From that we got to talking about libraries and librarianship and our purpose in life.  His was bringing kindness to the world.  We parted when I told him I needed to get to the keynote, and he responded he was the keynoter, Dr. Adolph Brown.

For his presentation he removed his fake dreads and the tunic and spoke of how some librarians asked if they could help him, implying he didn’t fit.  Security guards approached him believing he had no business at the conference.  I was honored he referred to our meeting especially when he said, “She saw me.”  He exhorted us to not let our brains take over our mouths.  Too often our brains have a picture of what something should be when we have no evidence to corroborate it.

We all want to be seen for who we are and what is the best in us. When those moments happen – they light us up. We remember them. Good leaders know this and help to bring it out in the communities with which they interact.  By using Super Vision and Letting Go of Judgment, you will find new ways to enroll others to support your projects and ways to collaborate with them.

Who have you seen lately?

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Team Players

Leaders need to know how to be team players.  They can’t succeed in a vacuum.  And for those of you who are still leery of stepping into leadership, learning to be a valued team player is a good entry into leading. Being part of a team means you listen carefully, evaluate critically, and offer suggestions and alternatives. When you contribute in this way you are showing leadership while you build your confidence to propose plans and ideas of your own.

When you are a team player, you lead from the middle which means, according to Hildy Gotleib in her article Leading from the Middle: Bringing out the Best in Everyone: “bringing out the best in others, so that they can realize and step into their own potential to create change.” This is an important and results oriented form of leadership that allows you to have a voice in what is working as well as what is not working for your program and students.

I faced a situation that called for being a team player when administrators suggested changing to a block schedule for our high school. By doubling the length of classes, students would take one year of a course in a single semester.  The lab science teachers loved it. The world language and English teachers hated it. Others had mixed views but generally were opposed. I liked it because it increased time to do research.

But it didn’t matter – I knew it was a done deal even though the administrators presented it as though it was a possibility.

The challenge was how to respond. Since, the decision was already made, there was nothing to be gained by presenting alternatives.  On the other hand, outright support for block scheduling would pit me against many teachers.

My solution was to suggest I be given a one-time budget supplement to purchase materials to support the teachers as they learned to prepare lessons that lasted 90 minutes. The funds were immediately approved.  I bought the material and set up a special section in the library for the teachers to work there or they could make arragments to take the information home.

The teachers were grateful for the help I got them making this a win-win for the school library.  Even better, when I got my budget for the next school year the money that had been added remained there for me to do with as needed.

As usual, the business world offer suggestions we can use to learn to lead from the middle. In her blog post, 5 Ways to Build a Leadership PathwayMarlene Chism writes that you can “build your own pathway to leadership by becoming the best possible employee.”  Some of thewse you already do. See which ones you still might need to put into practice.

Ask for clarification – This has two parts.  When you learn of a change or new situation, don’t assume you understand exactly what your principal wants. Try to recognize the intended purpose of the plan and if you don’t know – find out. (My administrators wanted to change the method of instructional delivery.) After you know the what and the way, do some negotiating. If too much is being put on your plate, ask for advice on what has priority.

Using this particular approach shows that you are an active listener and aware that decisions have many parts and reasons.  Your administrator will recognize you are focused on achieving positive results. In the process, you might save yourself some work.

Master the skills – On the one hand, this is a reminder to keep current with technology, standards (including the AASL National School Library Standards), and the latest approaches in education which would interest your administrator and support new initiatives. Chism also talks about mastering soft skills as well.  You want to hone your relationship building skills and be aware of how you are being perceived.  If you detect negatives, do your best to change them. Consider getting a mentor to help you.

Become resourceful – Propose solutions to challenges you see whether it’s about the school library or other areas.  Never bring a problem to an administrator without having a potential solution to offer. They don’t appreciate being put on the spot and might very well come up with a method that doesn’t work for you.  By being pro-active you make it more likely your approach will be the one used, although there are likely to be tweaks.  Administrators want to let you know they can think on their feet, but you have already paved the way.

Take ownership – This is about your commitment to what you do. Your school library reflects your values. You take responsibility when something isn’t working and seek to fix it.  Leading from the middle (or the top) also means that you spotlight and acknowledge others who worked with you on a program or unit.

Seek accountability – Chism says ownership is about mindset and commitment while accountability is about measurement. Always assess. Whether you do a formal one for a large project or informally evaluate a lesson, always take time to review, reflect, and assess. By doing this you will also come to notice that your successes outweigh by far the ones that didn’t go as planned.

Actively and consciously being a team player means that your work strengthens the whole team. This can be an important way for the library program to be viewed as vital to the success of the school as a whole. Your input, support and knowledge will be an asset and you will be known for being a leader.

ON LIBRARIES – Feeling and Fighting Fear

Being a leader is a job requirement, and because of this, you can’t afford to let fear take over. Most of the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t be leaders have fear as their underlying cause. We fear failing.  We fear making fools of ourselves. We fear being judged.  When fear paralyzes us we don’t move out of our comfort zone. Most everyone feels nervous and unsure in situations where you will stand out or do something new, but you can’t let that stop you..

Every leader knows the sensation of fear, myself included.  Even after years of giving presentations, I still worry about getting to the site and having all technology work. To manage these fears, I plan, first by always arriving early and the second by arranging in advance for someone to handle the tech for me. Does it always work? Of course not. I once needed to give a presentation when we lost power.

You might not be able to let go of your fear, but you can take a first step by moving from fear to nervousness. That may not sound like much of a solution, but since fear tends to freeze you, being nervous can be more of a call to action giving you the strength you don’t always realize you have.

In an internet post, John Baldoni says Nervousness is just another word for fear: Deal with It!  His four-step approach directed to the business world works just as well for us.

From Pixar’s “Inside Out”

Prepare- It sounds obvious, but too often other tasks can distract us and we rush our preparation.  Yes, if you are giving a presentation you prepare carefully, but do you do the same thing if you are giving a short workshop for teachers?  How about if you are bringing a proposal to your principal?  As the moment arrives, you become unsure and your fear takes over.

Another way to feel prepared is to be certain you know your audience.  Whether it is teachers, an administrator or a larger group, you need to know what knowledge they have, where they are lacking, and what they are seeking. Then you can craft your message in a way they can receive it.

Deliberate- Much like Prepare, this ensures you have examined all the options. You’ve probably done the research to be sure you are focusing on the key elements but are you also knowledgeable about other aspects? If you are showing teachers a new tech resource, you know its features, but can you give them examples of how to integrate it into their curriculum and let them know how you will work with them?

When dealing with an administrator, have you considered other options in the event you meet with resistance?  I once discussed with my superintendent an expensive purchase I wanted included in my next year’s budget. I knew I had to give something up. I had my best choice and an additional backup choice.  Ultimately, I gave up both items and I got what I wanted.  When I presented my recommendations for a library renovation project to another superintendent, I had costs for doing it in one year and also how to accomplish it in three years. One year may have been my preference, but for the administration, three was better.

Seek counsel- Don’t do it alone.  It’s too easy to miss an important detail. This is the time to reach out to your Professional Learning Network (PLN) whether that’s in person or via social media.  The various library-related groups on Facebook can alert you to all the possible pitfalls. Ask advice from those who have done it before.  What worked? What didn’t?  The more knowledge you have – the less fear there will be.

If you have a mentor, check in with them before and after. You’ll definitely want their advice before launching something that feels big to you.  You also want to work with them to review how you did afterwards.  It will make your next leadership step that much easier.

Persevere- You may fail.  That’s what we always fear, but risk-taking and stepping out of your comfort zone always carries that possibility. The truth is – you can handle it. Take some time to nurse your wounds, but don’t let it keep you from trying again.  In a short time, only you will remember that you didn’t succeed and people will be ready for your next initiative.

If you keep working to grow your school library and make it indispensable to the school community, you will have more successes than failures. Eventually, you will become increasingly confident in your abilities to lead the way.  You will always have to deal with some fears, but you won’t let that stop you from leading.

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – School Librarians Are Transformers

A number of years ago, while attending an ALA Conference (remember – I’m a conference junkie), AASL gave us pins that read: “Ask Me How School Librarians Transform Learning.” If someone saw you wearing that pin and asked you that question, are you prepared to answer it?  You never know when someone will challenge the need for school librarians and school libraries.  You must be able to respond.

AASL produced a mini magazine entitled “School Librarians Transform Learning,” published by American Libraries. Although it came out several years ago, the content is still relevant and it’s available as a free download electronically or as a PDF. It contains six articles and an infographic, all of which will ensure you can effectively answer that challenging question.

As Barbara Stripling says in the opening article, “The vision of school librarians is to enable all students to become independent readers and learners.” She details five ways in which we do so.

  • Fostering Independent Reading – Students learn how to read in the classroom. With a certified librarian and a school library, they learn to love reading.  In other words, we transform readers into lifelong readers and learners.
  • Teaching Critical Information Skills and Dispositions in Collaboration with Classroom Teachers – That’s a mouthful, but translated for the challenging questioner, it means we work with classroom assignments (and the teacher who gave it) to teach students to identify valid, relevant information, so they can create new knowledge. We also help students develop the attitudes that sustain them through the sometimes frustrating experiences of true research.
  • Ensuring Equitable Access to Resources and Technology – The sixth Common Belief in AASL’s National School Library Standards states, “Information technologies must be appropriate, integrated, and equitably available.’ By curating websites and other resources that are aligned with the curriculum and then guiding students in how to use them effectively, librarians support students to develop powerful tools for learning.
  • Creating a Safe and Nurturing Environment – This one is basic to us, but others are not always aware that learning can’t take place when students don’t feel safe. The library is can be a place in the school where some of students who deal with threats to their safety in school or have stress-filled home lives feel safe. We strive to make the library a haven for those who need it.
  • Providing Schoolwide Instructional Leadership – As tech integrators, we bring the latest websites and apps to classroom teachers. We help them incorporate these tools into their teaching and work with them when they have their students use them.

The Infographic follows Stripling’s article and it’s worth reproducing and hanging in your library. Among the great facts it showcases are:

  • Students equate research with Googling.
  • Use search engines instead of more traditional sources.
  • Lack the ability to judge the quality of online information.

The Infographic has many more such supportive facts.

Barbara Stripling also wrote the next article, “Reimagining Advocacy for School Libraries.”  This is an extensive article and one with solid information on how to advocate for your library.  Rather than go into details, I want to tempt you to read it by listing the headings.

  • Clarifying the Characteristics of the Effective School Library
  • Identifying Evidence of School Library Impact
  • Crafting the Message
  • Developing Partnerships and Delivering the Message
  • Evaluating the Advocacy Impact

In a third article, Kay Wejrowski responds to the challenging question, “Do Kids Even Use the School Library Anymore?” This article grew out of Wejrowski being confronted by a couple at a charity fundraiser.  You need to be ready with a solid response as she was.

Her answer includes how the library builds community spirit (transforming the education community) and is the center for tech skills.  I love this line from her article: “It is our library that often serves as a think tank for evolving ideas and programs and finds solutions to local challenges.” I hope the parents who asked the question were amazed and impressed by what Wejrowski told them.

In another article Daniel Mauchley writes about “Creating Coalitions.” They brought in him after the school district tried to eliminate nearly all the librarian positions, forcing the librarians to advocate strongly for themselves. Mauchley writes about being able to work with teachers as an instructional partner despite having to move between two schools. Many of you are in a similar situation.  You can’t show how school librarians transform learning unless teachers can see it for themselves. As District Librarian Shelly Ripplinger says, “Working with teachers and co-teaching is better for students. And doing what’s best for students, that’s what it really comes down to.”

The final article by Nancy Everhart and Marcia A. Mardis report on “Building Advocacy Before a Crisis” based on the Pennsylvania School Library Study. Their suggestions should add to your knowledge base of how to place your school library in the spotlight as the place where transformational learning happens.

Be prepared to answer the tough questions. Take the time to read the articles in this magazine and look at the Libraries Transform website.  We must get the word out.  Each one of us is responsible for ensuring that students, teachers, administrators, parents, and indeed the whole community is aware of the vital contribution school librarians and school libraries make on teaching and learning.  If you haven’t done so as yet, use this magazine and your own knowledge to create a plan to bring this message to your stakeholders.

ON LIBRARIES: Teen Talk

Whether a teen is well-adjusted – or as well-adjusted as any teen can be – or one dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – they need an adult they can trust. And they need to find the library a safe, welcoming space.  For that to happen, you have to build a relationship with them. This starts with communication.  So, how do you open the conversation and build on it? If you are going to be successful at it, you should like the students and have empathy for the emotional stew in they are living in.

Having just completed the manuscript for my upcoming book Classroom Management for School Librarians, I am mindful of the importance of being able to reach teens.  Among mammals, the young adolescents push at the boundaries, learning their strengths and how far they can go before being stopped.  In our world, there is an underlying disagreement about how grown up they are.  Teens want to be treated as adults in the very areas adults think they are not ready.  At the same time, adults want teens to take on certain responsibilities that teens feel they shouldn’t have to do because they are still kids. It’s an ongoing challenge.

In the school setting, you rarely get involved in the same sort of push-pull tension that occurs between teens and parents.  However, you do have to get past any resistance they may have to you and to school in general. The best way to reach them and create a relationship is to interact with them as adults, while being quietly mindful that there are areas where they are still decidedly kids.

In a post on We Are Teachers, Alexandra Frost explains Four Ways to Show Teens Respect So You Can Earn It from Them.

Treat your students like an old friend you enjoy hanging out with – This is about talking with the students not at them.  A brief conversation when they are in the library, or even smiling as you see then enter creates connection.  You are letting them know you see them as a person.Do be careful here.  You are not their buddy.  You are still an adult, but hopefully one they can trust.

Ask something not “basic” – The conversation may be brief, but it shouldn’t be superficial. “How are you doing?” is not a good opening.  You are most likely to get a one-word answer.  A better question is, “What are you working on?” Or “What is your favorite app?  I learn so much from my students.”  Once you get to know them better, you can ask about upcoming plans or a movie they have seen.

Be awesome in your field – You are awesome, but you need to share it.  If you have found a great website or app, say, “Do you have a minute?  I have something to show you?”  Follow up with “Let me know what you think of it.” Not only will this keep the conversation going, you get clues as to what the student finds interesting – or not.  Give them a book you think they will love. Of course, be there to help and guide as they work on academic or personal explorations.  You are a master in the field, and they will appreciate your knowledge as long as you are not treating them as though they know nothing.

Use courtesies you would with a coworker – Show respect and you receive respect. When you interrupt a conversation with a student to help an adult, you are showing the student they are not as valuable. Be mindful. When you are giving a direction, say “Please.” Offer “thank you” when necessary.  These are small things, but students notice and it sets up positive expectations for future interactions.

That’s four suggestions, but Frost gives one more, and it’s my favorite.

Show them your mistakes – Let them know you are human and show them how to handle mistakes. When you do that, you are also teaching them that failure is a part of life and wise people learn from it.

In your dealing with teens, you want to be a role model for a caring, trustworthy adult.  In showing them the respect they crave, you will make them feel safe and welcome in the library and with you.

ON LIBRARIES: How Leaders Learn

Just as you continue to increase your knowledge of technology, you also need to increase your understanding of what makes a leader successful.  And when this knowledge becomes integrated into your practice, you’re a better leader.  Leaders stand out. When you are a leader, you stand out.  Others watch you.  To continue to be viewed as a leader, you need to up your game.  As you well know, if you are standing still, you are likely are falling behind.

In past blogs, in my books, and at presentations and workshops, I have discussed leadership qualities including leading with integrity, being a team player, having a sense of humor, and being a visionary/risk taker.  No doubt these are basic as are some others.  Working on these qualities do help you become a better leader, but there are behaviors that are also essential.

One aspect of leadership that is rarely discussed is how leaders continue to learn and grow.  Lolly Deskoll whose posts I have discussed before explains How the Best Leaders Invest in Themselves. She offers seven ways for you to do that.

  1. They’re open to feedback As much as we want to know the truth, egos are sensitive things. We don’t like hearing negative comments even when they are objective and helpful. Sure, we ask for feedback, but how do ask for it?  For example, if you say, “Did you like the way the class went?” chances are you’ll only get one-word answers.  It might have gone well, but that is not necessarily the whole story, and if you want to improve, you need to get legitimate feedback.  Instead, say, “What did you think I could have done better?” or “What do you think was helpful and what wasn’t?” And remember – some feedback will be positive.
  2. They’re always readingThis is easy for us, but it depends on what you are reading. Deskoll notes that Bill Gates regularly goes on retreats and reads 20 books.  I get several “SmartBriefs” in my Gmail.  While some are educational, many are business and tech related.  It is from the business ones that I get a new perspective on development (including today’s topic). I also am a member of ASCD.  Not only do I get e-newsletters, I also get their magazine Educational Learning.It’s how I keep up with what supervisors and administrators are interested in. Find new things to read that will inspire you from a new perspective.
  3. They learn from their mistakes – Although we teach our students the importance of failure, it doesn’t feel the same when it happens to us. But you never grow without risks and there’s always a chance a risk won’t pan out. You also can learn from the mistakes of others. I even observe this with corporate America.  The ones who try to cover up their mistakes end up in worse shape than if they hadn’t tried to hide it.  Those who own up to what went wrong and have a plan of action to make changes gain the confidence of their customers and come back from the failure stronger than ever.
  4. They grow their network No one understands what goes into being a school librarian the way other librarians do. The more librarians you have in your PLN, the better able you are to deal with new challenges – and bounce back from setbacks. There are many Facebook groups for librarians.  Join them.  If you are not a member of your state library association, you are cheating yourself and your students from a valuable source of help.  And if at all possible, you need to belong to a national association. As you know, I am very active in ALA/AASL and I continue to learn from it. I know I wouldn’t have become the leader I am without my participation.  I’ve chosen to belong to ISTE as well. I’m not active, but their journal keeps me informed.
  5. They know how to ask questions In general, leaders are big picture people. It’s a necessary part of being visionary. That means they sometimes overlook details, and, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.”  Asking the people you work with to look over your ideas and critique them is not a sign of weakness or even insecurity.  It is recognizing their value and showing you know that no one has all the answers.  Good leaders know their strengths – and also know their weaknesses.  They look to others to fill in the spaces where they aren’t strong. It also creates places for collaboration.
  6. They make time for reflectionI admit this has always been hard for me.  Fortunately, I discovered walking.  When you are so busy, it seems like a waste of time to step away from the tasks at hand, but in actuality it is the pause in the day that rejuvenates and can inspire you. Deepak Chopra once said people who don’t have time to meditate once a day should meditate twice a day. Find a way that works for you such as keeping a journal, coloring or knitting.
  7. They have a coach A coach or mentor is an invaluable resource. I have had a few over the years, although I never put a name to the relationship. I don’t have a specific person now, but I do have a number of “go-to” people I reach out to when I have a question. Who is a leader you admire? Is there someone in your PLN who seems to be very knowledgeable in an area that concerns you? Consider asking that person to be your coach/mentor.  It might surprise you to discover that some of the major leaders in the field are willing to help you.

Strong leaders are lifelong learners – something we librarians do naturally. These behaviors aren’t new tasks – they are new places to learn. And always make time for yourself.  Remember you are a human being—not a human doing.

ON LIBRARIES – The Library Ecosystem

Are you familiar with the intertwined roots of redwood trees? Walking in a redwood forest, the size and strength of the trees amaze you.  They have lived for centuries and grown so tall.  And yet, as I learned to my surprise, they have shallow roots. But the reason they can stand and are not knocked down by strong winds is because their roots are intertwined.  Linked as they are, they help each other, and in so doing they are all strengthened.

We are all aware of the challenges school libraries and school librarians are facing, but our colleagues in public and academic libraries are dealing with a similar situation and we should look for ways to connect our roots to strengthen us all. In the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, the Key Commitment of Shared Foundation III Collaborate is “Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.”  We share many common goals with all types of libraries. Together, we are stronger.

On the national level, ALA has the Libraries Transform initiative. The opening sound bite is “Because Transformation Is Essential to the Communities We Serve.”  The statement is true of many libraries.  Many of the other “hooks” are equally universal to libraries. When you click on pieces of the initiative, they all have additional information, perfect for helping you discuss this to anyone. (If you haven’t signed on to the site, it’s worth doing.)

Additionally, the ALA Youth Council Caucus (YALSA, ALSC, and AASL) have launched the State Ecosystem Initiative.  Headed by Dorcas Hand, she offers the following definition and explanation:

A library ecosystem is the interconnected network of all types of libraries, library workers, volunteers, and associations that provide and facilitate library services for community members; families; K-20 learners; college and university communities; local, state and federal legislatures and government offices; businesses; nonprofits; and other organizations with specific information needs.

A patron of one library is the potential patron of any other library at a different time of life or location. No library exists independent of the library ecosystem. When we stand together in mutual support using common messaging themes that demonstrate this interconnectedness, every library is stronger.

So to support these roots, what is your state school library association doing and what are you doing?  Ideally, you should have representation on the board of the state association — and on the state association of ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) and they should have a liaison to your board.  This keeps you aware of what is happening to libraries throughout your state.

You, too, need to create a library ecosystem in your community. First connect with the other school librarians in your district. Together, reach out to the Children’s and YA librarians in the local public library. Build a relationship and start sharing. You can learn handouts are the public librarians giving to their patrons and find out if you distribute them to students.  Would they be willing to post work by your students?  They can then promote them on their website and or e-bulletin they send.  In return, you can report about this collaboration on your website.

You could ask the Children’s Librarian if she would visit and do a shared story telling session with your students and leave information about getting a library card.  Consider having the Children’s Librarian visit before school ends to talk about their summer reading program.

Another possibility is to devote a space in your library to post “happenings” in the public library.  Promote public library events on your website.  If you are doing something special such as “Read Across America,” (Monday, March 20, 2020) have the public library do the same for your program.

Don’t forget the academic librarians. If you are in a high school, reach out to librarians in local community colleges and/or any local 4-year colleges and universities.  Invite them to visit when you are starting–or even in the middle of-a research project. The students who may tune you out could be differently willing to listen to a college librarian who tells them what they can expect.

You want the people in your district to see the libraries as that interconnected strength that transforms the community.  We are all in the relationship and information business. By being present in different venues, parents and other community members will see how we work together and enrich all. Lead the way in building your library ecosystem and become a tall, strong redwood.