Transforming Your Community

Transformation can be deliberate and powerful, advancing your mission and your library’s status in the community.

Every part of our lives has been transformed by the pandemic, but it is important to remember that not all transformation is beyond our control. There are ways to make deliberate transformations, but you need to be clear and specific about what you want to change and why. On a small level, it could be to change teacher attitudes toward collaboration. On a larger level, it could be an ongoing and deliberate change to the school culture.

Communities are formed by a group of people having a common interest or location. A school qualifies in both senses. But strong communities generally have a central point. In towns it may be Main Street or the “Green.” In more urban areas it might be a park or playground. What is the center of your school community? What would it be like if the library were the center–the heart of the school? Can you imagine how it would feel? How would it look? What would it take to have the library and you be the first place everyone goes when they need help, information, resources, or a good book?

Merriam-Webster defines “Transform” as: to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character or condition. As applied to your library, the first two could be about redesigning your space. Looking at your library, besides complying with new safety requirements, is there anything further you want to do? To change character or condition applies if you want to change the school culture. What is valued? Is reading at the center? Are (or were) sports the biggest focus? Does it truly feel like a community?  

Plan your change strategically. Start as always with your Mission and/or Vision. How would the transformation promote either or both?

Next define your Goal. Don’t worry about the size. Choose something that you feel strongly about and which will lead to lasting change. For example, you might want to transform your school into a learning/collaborative community. That is a huge project, but your first step could be to create a reading culture.

Now create the Action Plan that will get you to your Goal. Keeping with creating a reading culture, to achieve it you will need to make as many people as possible interested in, engaged, and actively reading. There are many ways to move forward, including:

  • Caught Reading:
    • Create a display of a variety of books for students.
    • Take pictures of teachers, students, administrators, reading.  Be sure to include yourself.
    • Post the pictures around the school with the support of the principal – and hopefully a picture of her/him reading. Having the pictures outside the library encourages the idea that reading is for everyone, everywhere. If your school is all remote, look for a way to put it online, using avatars, if necessary, for student pictures (they can design their own – maybe the art teacher has an idea for this!).
  • Buttons
    • Start wearing a button that says “Ask Me What I’m Reading.”
    • Hand out buttons to all who are interested.
    • Carry a book with you wherever you go – including as you begin a class.
    • Have a book in reserve to check out to the “right” reader.
  • Hold a one book-one school event.
    • Check your PLN for ideas on how to run one.
    • Choose a book, possibly with the help of a small committee (great way to get teachers and parents involved).

Complete your Action Plan by identifying who you will need to help you and obtaining any permissions necessary. List the steps in sequence, including a start and an end date, if needed, and then move forward. 

Remember to include interim assessments so you can tweak the steps and timeline as needed. This also gives you an opportunity to send updates to administrators and others. At the conclusion, reflect on what was achieved, what worked and what didn’t. Where will you take it next? Then start developing your next Action Plan that will get you to your Goal and create the transformation you want.

Libraries transform communities. With clarity, focus, and action, you can transform yours. 

Be a Flexible Leader

In these continually uncertain times, I’ve decided we need a new word: Pro-reacting. What does it mean? It’s when you can be proactive and further your library’s mission even when you have to be reactive to the changes coming at you from teachers, administrators and situations you can’t control. It’s important to be responsive, but it’s equally important to be a leader. Pro-reacting is a way to do both.

When you are asked to change directions, take time to think about how you will carry them out. You may discover that what you need to do fits with your goals, even if it’s not the way you originally planned. When you are given non-library tasks and responsibilities, consider how to tie them to the library. How can you demonstrate the connection in what you are now doing?   Be flexible – pro-reactive – and use lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking is defined as taking a creative approach to solving a problem or facing a challenge. It requires not only thinking out of the box, but a growth mindset to discover alternative paths to a goal. You can find techniques (and a very fun video) for breaking out of the box with Success as School’s post Examples of Lateral Thinking Skills. Lateral thinking is a mental version of a physical exercise. You stretch.  You bend sideways. Stretch some more and now you’re able to reach further. Lead the same way and you become more flexible.

Jon Lokhorst suggests another way of being flexible in Take Your Leadership to the Next level: Lead Well in All Directions. Like a compass, he gives four directions where you should lead:

  1. Lead Yourself – You are the first person you lead, but first you must know who you are.  What are your core values? What is your Vision? Your Mission? What are your passions? Your strengths?  What do you see as your weaknesses?  Know what motivates you – and what stops you.

How do you deal with success? How do you deal with failure? When and how do you get sidetracked, and what do you to get back on track? How do other people see you? Is it a fair judgement? If not, what about you is giving them this perception?

  • Lead Up – Stretch your leadership arms straight up. Continue your flexible leadership by leading with your principal.  Successful library leaders have strong relationships with their principals and other administrators. In too many schools, principal began with little or no idea of the benefits a school librarian could bring to them and the school community. You have to lead them to this knowledge.

First, find ways to make the principal look good.  They make reports to the Superintendent. By knowing what is being looked for on the district level, you can supply your principal with information showing her/him to the best advantage. Then move on to the Superintendent who reports to the Board.  Be sure your principal knows what you are doing when sending things further up with leadership.

  • Lead Across – Collaboration is vital to the library program.  How can you lead already stressed teachers to work with you? The answer is by first building a relationship with them.  Make it as personal as possible to develop trust which is the foundation of relationship. We all generally extend ourselves for those we care about.

The second step is to ensure the teachers you have targeted recognize you will do the heavy lifting.  It won’t involve extra work for them. Finally, promote them in the collaborative project when you communicate with your principal.  This combines leading across with leading up.

  • Lead Down – How do you lead those for whom you are responsible?  The most common situation is with your students. Having them become engaged, critical thinkers requires you to lead in a way that guides but does not direct them. 

Making those you lead feel valued, worthy, and successful is the best way to lead. Make them feel welcome, heard, and understood. You become a role model to them for leadership. If you understand how you do it with students, you will be more able to do the same when you are leading across and up.

In addition, think about how you lead parents. This group is either across or up, depending on the situation. With the pandemic, you are likely to have more opportunities to reach out to them.  Lead them in discovering how they can help their children, and they will become advocates for the library.

To stay in shape as a leader, flexibility is a requirement.  Start stretching. We need the library in all parts of our lives.   Find the opportunity when you’re asked to make a change, be pro-reactive, and you can advance the library program no matter what situations you face.

Finding New Approaches to Effective Leadership

Leaders have go to responses that support their success in projects, challenges, and interactions, but with all that has been happening in the last several months, you may find that what worked in the past isn’t getting the results you want. If you’re experiencing this, the solution may be to try an opposite but equally effective approach.

A post on the District Administration site by Michael Moore, Rethinking Leadership, Plus 6 Tips to Improve Effectiveness, asks us to consider what he refers to as the “polarities” in leadership styles.  If what you’ve done isn’t working, he suggests being ready to move to the opposite pole. It will be unfamiliar at first, but the results will be worth it.

Consider these six polarities among the nine he offers:

  • Act – Plan – In a new situation, do you go into action mode first? Or do you wait and take time to plan? Both have advantages and if one is what you always do, considering trying the other and seeing what results you get.  
  • Think- Feel – It’s easier to respond to people’s ideas, but it’s important to be able to identify their underlying feelings.  Which is your go-to style and can a switch give you a better result?
  • Confident -Modest – Leaders need to be confident, but children and adults respond well when you let then know about your failures and challenges.  If you are too confident, no one will see a need to help, and you may find yourself doing everything.
  • Just-Compassionate – Is there flexibility in your structure? When there are library guidelines instead of rules, then changes can be made based on equity and unexpected circumstances. It can make decisions less clear-cut, but ultimately you will take better care of people that way.
  • Answer -Ask – Notice how you respond when people come to you with questions. Do you need to have an answer? Are you willing ask more questions or say you don’t know? (related to Confident-Modest)
  • Solution – Problem – Similar to the Act-Plan polarity, do you move quickly to find a solution or take time to explore the roots of the problem and learn if there is something deeper creating the situation? Sometimes the problem can tell you more.

After explaining the polarities and how a switch can support your success, Moore offers six tips for becoming a more effective leader.

  1. Tell People Why – Transparency in decision-making gives others a chance to contribute. Their input may sometimes save you from a serious error, and their involvement builds relationships.
  2. Be Clear About Specific Behaviors You Want – This applies most often to your dealings with students, but it could include teachers with whom you collaborate. When explaining what you want, include the why so your audience better understands your decisions. You can also consider giving them a chance to discuss how they see it working.
  3. Build Networks of Support – I have long recommended you use your PLNs but also build support with others in your school and district as well, particularly your principal. This will help when faced with sudden changes or unexpected absences.
  4. Lighten the Load – Collaboration and delegation are the secret to effectiveness.  I once worked in a school where each teacher in a grade level created the unit in a specific subject area (ELA, social studies, science, math, health).  They would then exchange their work across the grade level. Look for ways you can do this. If there are other librarians in your district, reach out and get creative.
  5. Measure and Track Results – Incorporate informative assessments into projects so you can accurately tell whether you are achieving your goals or need to change something. Be willing to make changes as necessary and celebrate successes.
  6. Vary Your Pace –You can’t be effective if you are overwhelmed and exhausted. Build in time-outs so that if a crisis comes, you have more energy. Those who exercise or weight lift are advised to change up their pace.  It is strengthening.  You will get more done. 

No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be more – the next project, a new challenge or a change in administrators.  Before automatically using the same techniques, take time to see what’s effective and what’s not working as well, then decide what you can do to support your success. Leaders are willing to try new approaches.

Your Self-View Lights the Way

It is a new year, but has anything changed? If you are back in school, whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual, and are still frustrated and tired, it’s time to take a fresh look at yourself.  Unless you change yourself, you won’t be able to change anything else.

This isn’t about self-care. It’s about your self-view.  There are some important questions to ask to check in about this:

  • How do you see yourself in relation to your colleagues? 
  • How do you believe they see you?
  • Is your Vision still alive or out of reach?
  • Do you feel no one recognizes your value as you are constantly being given tasks outside the scope of librarianship?
  • Does the thought of last week’s blog, “Your Leadership Journey” and following the Yellow Brick Road seem beyond your capabilities? 

Although the Christmas season is now past, I give you a new mentor.  To help with your self-view, instead of Dorothy, emulate Rudolph. Skip Prichard presents 5 Success Lessons You Can Learn from Rudolph. The success inherent in these lessons starts with changing how you approach the world. When you change that, you can lead the change to much more.

Here are his lessons (with my interpretations):

  1. Don’t Let Someone Else Define Your Value – Rudolph’s worthiness wasn’t seen initially, and certainly not by the other reindeer (co-workers?). You know what you do and what you can do to contribute to the school community. All too often we let other people’s assessment of the value of a school librarian affect how we react to others – and think of ourselves. 

Look at it the way you would a non-reader.  It’s just someone who hasn’t found the right book.  The person making disparaging or ignoring comments about librarians hasn’t been given the opportunity to see what we can do – yet. 

  • Be a Light to Others, Even If They Hurt You – Rudolph never struck back at his detractors.  It’s not worth the effort, and it won’t change their mind.  Actions like being kind and reaching out stand a better chance of turning someone’s opinion around. This is not to suggest being a doormat because you don’t let them define your value.

As a librarian, part of your job responsibility is to have at least a professional relationship with everyone.  You can’t shut your door. When in a challenging situation, consider what that person likes, what might be putting them in a bad mood, or whether they may have been offering feedback rather than criticism (see Criticism vs. Feedback). Identify and respond to their needs, and you begin to develop a relationship.

  • Your Uniqueness Is Your Gift to the World–Rudolph’s red nose, the object of scorn, saved Christmas.  You have unique abilities. In addition to the ones you have as a librarian, you have other abilities and interests that make you the person you are.  Share them.

Some of you are crafters, whether it’s quilting or jewelry design, you make wonderful creations. What hobbies are you passionate about?  Photography?  Gaming?  Are you into yoga? These all contribute to your uniqueness.  If you incorporate them into your work world, it will help you reach people you wouldn’t have otherwise. You never know when the PTO might want to host a Craft Fair or if the teachers would want to come in early for some yoga stretches.

  • Find Someone Who Believes in You – Although it took a while, Santa recognized what Rudolph could do and had him lead the sleigh.  Mentors are great, but be sure yours believes in you all the way. Self-doubt is natural. We all have moments–sometimes very long moments—when we are filled with it. Having someone who believes in you reminds you of your value and worth, keeping you motivated and moving forward.
  • Difficulties Are Always Opportunities in Disguise – If it weren’t for that “very foggy Christmas Eve,” Rudolph might never have had the opportunity to show how special he was. It’s easy to be disheartened and overwhelmed by difficulties.  Life will always hand them to you.  How you react is what matters.

The Corona virus has been far more than a “difficulty,” but the opportunity it presents is equally large.  Teachers, administrators, students, and parents are all searching for how to get through the new landscape.  You are a leader.  You have unique abilities. Show your community how you can make their lives easier.

Mentors and lessons are everywhere. Today, consider using the steps that enabled Rudolph to take his place at the head of the pack.  Let your light shine and blaze a trail in the new year.

Your Leadership Journey

As one year ends and another begins (can I get a cheer?) it’s a good time to look honestly at where you are on your leadership journey and think about where you want to go next. The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu supposedly said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even if it’s only a small step, what matters is that you have begun, and that you continue. Where it will end you cannot foresee, but the farther you go the more lives you will impact and the richer your own experiences will be.

Thinking of the leadership journey takes me back to my August 24. 2020 blog Follow the Yellow Brick Road. The Wizard of Oz has a lot to teach us about growing and learning in a time of stress and ambiguity. You might want to watch it through the perspective of a leadership journey. Much like you in your initial foray into leadership, Dorothy places a tentative first step onto the road.  With encouragement, she moves forward. (NOTE: If you’re starting out – I hope you have a mentor and if you’re further along, I hope you’ll look to be a mentor to those early in their journey.)   Her path begins as a spiral, coming back on itself but getting larger and more distant from the center each time. So it is with leadership. You take on small things. Slowly you move out of your comfort zone, even if it is still close by.

Eventually the path widens and there is a large vista in front of you. Your old comfort zone is behind you, but now the risk of everyone seeing your performance and potentially judging it can inhibit you from continuing the journey. Every leader deals with this, and to bring Lao -Tzu back, you won’t reach the thousand-mile mark unless you keep going forward. The good news is, the steps you’ve already taken will support your success.

As you move onto this larger road, you need to hone the skills you have developed and use them in a focused way. In a post for SmartBrief, Jonathan Dapra offers advice for Navigating the Road from Doer to Leader. The article speaks to the balance of being a manager (doer) while also being a leader.

Dapra proposes these five steps.

  1. Create a Vision and Share It –Managers work to drive their Mission; Leaders move forward to realize a Vision. I hope you have created a big Vision of how you want your library program to be and be perceived. The second half of Dapra’s advice is equally important – share it.  Post it on a wall in your library. Have it on your website. Put it in the signature of your work emails.
  2. Build Mutually Beneficial Relationships – Relationships are our business, and we need to develop them. This takes the concept to a new level. As a manager, you have undoubtedly included collaboration as part of your Mission. As a leader, you want to be more strategic.  Who are the influencers in your building? There are always teachers who are more respected. Is your principal a genuine leader or does s/he only have the title?  Is the secretary the real power?   These are the people with whom you must build relationships.  Note the term “mutually beneficial.”  What do they need? How can you give it to them?
  3. Be a Master of Feedback – Leaders create more leaders. They do so by empowering others and helping them grow. Feedback is an important element of that, but to master feedback you might want to review last week’s blog. Criticism vs. Feedback. Ensure that what you think is a supportive comment is not taken in as criticism.  Although Deprak doesn’t mention it, you also should seek honest feedback about yourself and use it. Leaders put what they learn into action.
  4. Know Your Business – Our profession has long been about rapid changes, which has been accelerating as part of our response to the pandemic. Staying current is challenging, but professional journals such as AASL’s Knowledge Quest and ASCD’s Educational Learning along with the library-related social media will keep you on top of new tech and important issues. You want to be the one people turn to when they need to know something, secure in the knowledge that you can help them or find the help they need.
  5. Walk the Talk – No matter where you are on your leadership journey, be a model of what a great leader is.  Be trustworthy and empathetic. Give help and be strong enough to ask for help.  Dorothy did and look where it led her.

I urge you to look for ways to reach the wider road on your leadership journey.  Get involved in your state school library association. Become active on the national level. Start conversations on library social media sites to contribute to and learn from your peers. When you continuously take one step at a time, you can make that journey of a thousand miles.

Criticism vs. Feedback

No one wants to hear they did something wrong.  It feels like failure. The first time (and perhaps every time) we have a negative comment on an observation, we want to protest.  Our first reaction is to defend, even if we only do this mentally.  At that point we’ve shut down.  We can’t take in anything beyond the statement that hurt, and sometimes what is offered as feedback is taken as criticism. The reverse can also be true, but it happens less frequently.

In a blog post, Dan Rockwell offers advice on How to Respond to Unfair Critics Without Bloodshed. I appreciate his observation that “criticism is a leadership opportunity.”  Remembering this will help you do a better job at managing your responses. Here are some of his recommendations:

  • Reflect don’t retaliate – Pause and think. The “critic” may be right, in which case there is something important to learn. Focus on the message, not the delivery.Taking a moment to pause will help. What caused the critic to come to that conclusion? How could you have prevented this? Is there something the other person missed or was unaware of?
  • Compliment don’t criticize – By acknowledging the critic, you take the sting out of their words and change the relationship dynamic. You acknowledge the value of what they offered as well as the person offering it. As a result, you may create an ally.
  • Perceive, don’t pontificate – A critic’s words say more about them than they say about you. Instead of responding, you can use this as an opportunity to learn about the critic from the criticism. You may hear what the person is passionate about and that will give you clues to working with them in the future.
  • Fuel up, don’t fall down – Embrace the learning opportunity and move forward. Why give someone the power to make you retreat? You know you’re a leader. Just because a program or a project wasn’t perfect is no reason not to continue.

When you offer a comment on a project, think of how you are being perceived as the sender.  You may believe you are providing feedback, but that might not be what the receiver hears. The results can affect your success as a leader.

Consider what happens when you give feedback to students. Pressed for time, you may not remember to choose your words carefully.  You might say, “Refer back to the directions I gave the class.” You meant for the student to take more time before plunging into the task, but the student heard was criticism that they didn’t read closely enough. Their reaction, whether voiced or unvoiced, maybe anger and resentment or they feel crushed. Whichever it is, you have stalled their learning. Instead, offer a response aimed at support such as, “I love your eagerness. Do you think reviewing the directions again will help you be more successful?”

Angry students want to get back at you for causing them hurt. Crushed students decide they are incapable of learning and retreat.  And while one incident will not create lasting harm, repeated ones will. You may not know what else is going on for a student, but you do have an opportunity to create a supportive dynamic when they work with you.

You need to be equally watchful when speaking with teachers. Although you would never criticize a project they want to implement, if you attempt to suggest too many changes/additions to improve it, they are likely to hear implied criticism.  They won’t be back. The same is true if you become impatient with their struggles with new tech. Stay focused on what they are trying to achieve and where they want your help. Support their needs rather than changing them.

A good leader also asks for feedback. Be careful, however, to be certain you’re not really looking for compliments.  Asking a teacher, “How do you think this lesson went?” sounds like a request for feedback, but if all you want to hear are positive comments, it’s a setup for both of you. Instead, trust yourself and be brave enough to ask, “What do you think I could have done better?” You will get a more honest response.  One that you can use rather than one that makes you feel good.

Feedback is important. We need it to learn and grow. To be a strong leader, be aware enough to give feedback, not criticism, and look for ways to take criticism as feedback.

Practice Positivity

Has anyone else had a moment (or two or three) of wanting to smack the next person who says, “We need to stay positive.”? I’m sure I’m not alone in being frustrated with the phrase, but I also know that it can not only be an important part of leadership, but can be a way to help ourselves and others.  

What is positivity?  Healthy Place cites the Oxford English Dictionary definition as “The practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.” It’s not what you are born with, although some people are naturally optimistic. Calling it a practice means it is something you can learn.  Somehow, we need to find a path and make choices that give us the strength to push through with an encouraging attitude.  After all, we are leaders and therefore people look to us to lead the way. 

Leaders project confidence.  That is the first step toward positivity. We have seen a number of leaders during the pandemic do this.  They don’t pretend all is well.  They acknowledge problems exist but also highlight what can be done and how there is a way forward. This positivity on their part inspires confidence in others. Suddenly all is not bleak.  It’s not perfect, but we will get through it.

To do the same for the people you lead, reflect on what techniques you used to build your confidence. Recall previous successes. Remind yourself of your areas of expertise, your skill sets, and the leadership qualities you have.  Add anything that helps you.  Putting on makeup and dressing nicely is something I do decades after retiring. It gives my confidence a boost, which helps with whatever I have to do.

In his Edutopia article How to Lead with Positivity Matthew X. Joseph notes, “Positive leadership is not a topic of conversation just because of Covid-19, but the drastic shifts we’re all facing due to the pandemic are reminders of just how important positive leadership strategies are. Shifting from the difficult and challenging to the positive and inspiring brings out the best in ourselves and others, and that’s how things move forward. He goes on to write. “… positive leadership makes a difference in productivity, satisfaction, and happiness at work. Leading with positivity also helps to build trust among colleagues, and it becomes safer to open up to change.” Practicing positivity will not only help us through this difficult time, but it sets us up for future success. We need to come out from this pandemic stronger than before, not only with a seat at the table, but at the head of the table (or close to the one who is). 

There are several “why’s” behind the importance of practicing positivity. Keeping them in mind gives you additional motivation to continue. The optimism in positivity is contagious.  You lift people up, and they lift up others. Another benefit is knowing when you are optimistic, your resilience increases. (See my November 30th blog.)

Joseph also notes that optimism promotes problem-solving for individuals and groups.  In the word of the old truism, “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”  By bringing your positivity to the various teams you work on, you improve their attitude and their ability to solve problems.  This in turn makes you a valued member of the team.

As an additional contributor to an upbeat mood, remember to celebrate all wins, big and small, personal and professional.  We need all the celebrations we can get. Celebrations make people smile, and we definitely need more smiles.  Even when we are masked, the eyes are smiling, and the happiness is there.  Celebrations increase optimism, which increases problem-solving resulting in more celebrations.

Be confident and courageous. Your teachers, students, and administrators need what you bring. You have done it before.   You are a leader who is becoming a bigger leader.  And the positivity you bring and encourage today will lead to even greater benefits as we head into the future.

ON LIBRARIES – What is Leadership?

I was recently asked this question by the president-elect of my state school library association. With all that I have written over the years, it should be easy for me to answer, and yet I didn’t have a ready response.  How would I define leadership?

After much thinking, I decided that leadership is the ability to move people and programs in a specifically chosen direction with a goal in mind. The answer is as simple as the question but raises additional and more complex questions. What are the behaviors and skills needed to move people in that new direction?

Visionary – If you are going to move people and programs in a new direction, you must know where you want to go.  In the words of the immortal philosopher, Yogi Berra, “if you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to arrive at someplace else.”  You can’t be a leader unless you are a Visionary.

Hopefully, you have a Vision Statement for your library in addition to a Mission Statement.  That will always be a guide for you in planning.  While this sounds like it must be huge, you are the one who has the Vision, and it can be any size that meets your needs. It’s the Vision – and your commitment to it – that matters.

Communicator – To accomplish your Vision, you need to get others to support it. Whether it’s an administrator’s approval or getting people to work with you (or both of these), you must convince and inspire them to see the value of your Vison. How well you frame your message, to whom and how you send it, depends on your skill as a Communicator.

This starts with knowing the preferred communication method of the receiver of your message. Show how your concept will fit into their wants, needs, and possibly their vision. Have your plan ready to go.  Consider what supporting information you will need, but don’t inundate the receiver until you get agreement.

Relationship BuilderYou can’t lead if no one follows. Unless you give orders based on your position – such as a principal – people follow those with whom they have a relationship.  Leaders reach out to others regularly. Trust and empathy are integral to their behavior.  They hone it as a skill, knowing its value.

Library leaders recognize the importance of cultivating relationships across disciplines.  The broader the range of people with whom they have relationships, the easier it is to launch a project and get support. Those taking part know their work will be appreciated and acknowledged.

Flexible – Leaders are planners, but they are also flexible.  They recognize that the larger the project, the more chances there are for things to not go as expected. The vision they are holding is about the outcome, not necessarily how it specifically will look during the process.

I have worked on two library renovation projects and was expected to lead the way on the design and implementation.  Neither of them looked the way I had expected when it was completed, but both functioned as I had intended.  They met my Vision.

Courageous – Good leaders lead from the front.  It means everyone is watching you in some way, and yes, that feels risky. There is no guarantee of success.  In fact, you are bound to fail sometimes.  Whether in small parts which flexibility can fix, or with a project that doesn’t materialize, a leader takes responsibility for the consequences.

But leaders are also aware that the only failure is quitting.  How you react to setbacks is an indicator of your commitment to leadership. You clean things up as best you can. Commend the work of any participants.  Assess what went wrong and what you learned. And after taking some quiet time to lick your wounds, you try again.

Leadership can be scary, but it’s far better than having others direct your path. These behaviors and skills can be mastered in slow stages and grown over time.  Start small and build. You will learn as you go. Find mentors. Ask for help. The most important first step is making a commitment to being a leader and then following through.

ON LIBRARIES: Connecting With Administrators

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Over the years, too many librarians have told me their principal has no idea what they do. My reply is, “It’s your job to let them know.” A good part of the reason we have lost so many positions is because those in charge don’t know what a librarian does. It’s clear from what I’ve read on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that librarians have played an important part in keeping teachers and students going during this pandemic. Does your administrator know? 

Yes, keeping her/him in the loop is one more thing for you to do, but it may well be the most important thing. Administrators, both principals and superintendents, are under extreme pressure. When budget constraints are mandated, they are the ones making decisions that impair, reduce, or eliminate your program and possibly your job. It’s up to you to find an approach to forestall and/or alter those scenarios. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  Your administrator will not seek you out if there has been no previous connection.  You have to create connection and that requires a plan.

Take it one step at a time. First, make a record of all you are doing and categorize it by the recipient. You can keep this general (students, teachers) or be more specific (grade, subject level, ELL, etc.) If you make it into a grid, you can also show what type of services you are providing: instruction, tech help, reading promotion, collaboration.  If you find yourself amazed to see how much you are doing and how many people you are reaching – think of how your principal will react.

Because administrators are swamped make certain anything you send to them is clear and to the point.  If you are wordy, they are less likely to respond. Try sending a message with the subject line, “One Good Thing” and then adding a specific reference such as, “One Good Thing: Teachers are successful with the Platform we are using.”  In the body of the email, explain what’s working and how it’s helping – briefly.  If all your messages are “One Good Thing,” it will tie them together, reminding your principal this all comes from you. They will recognize your emails and, hopefully, look forward to what you share.

You should also take time to consider and identify your administrator’s challenges.  Do you know her/his priorities? What are they trying to accomplish?  What difficulties are they facing? What is working? What isn’t? Once you know at least some answers think of how you might be able to help your administrator manage or mitigate any of these.  Because of how you interact with everyone, you have a big picture scan – just as your principal does.  You may not realize it, but you see things from a similar perspective.

After you’ve identified places where you can help, create one or two solutions and reach out. Again, use the subject line of the email to draw them in “How the library can support….” Diversity/Access/Test Success.  Whatever it is. Let them know you have an idea and ask for 5 minutes to speak – in person if possible, Zoom or other visual if not.  If you have no alternative, phone and email can work. Once you have your time, stick to it. Don’t go over. Your principal will appreciate you keeping your word and your focus. Lay out your plan, ask if he/she has questions and then follow up with an email or other documents as appropriate.

AASL also has support to help you make the connection with administrators. Past President Kathy Root’s  AASL School Leader Collaborative Administrators & School Librarians Transforming Teaching and Learning” is a 2-year initiative. From school librarian recommendations, it selected seven school administrators to serve and they have done a lot including creating YouTube videos and doing a Town Hall on Leading Learning.  I urge you to watch the free archived Town Hall. It’s inspiring to hear these administrators talk about how they rely on their school librarians. 

Repeat any and all of these steps so you build a lasting connection. This is cannot be a onetime thing. Once you have made it, continue to foster it.  Start building your own connection to your administrators. Not only will they know what you do, they will tell others about your program. Having a principal see you as a leader and collaborator will make you even more successful.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You an Ethical Leader?

As librarians we are expected to follow the Library Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics. These are meant as a guide for fulfilling our duties., but they can be difficult, and not everyone upholds them consistently. Ethical is not necessarily easy.

Ethics are tied to a person’s core values.  Ask yourself, what do you stand for?  What is the line you won’t cross? Only you know the answers and no one ask that you reveal those answers, but it is important that you know and tell yourself the truth. If you honor your line, you are likely behaving ethically.  There is also the ethics of leadership. As a school librarian, having people see you as ethical in your dealings has a direct effect on your ability to lead. 

Yonason Goldson presents Six Questions to Ask to Find Out If You’re an Ethical Leader to help you determine just how ethically you are perceived, He makes it easier to remember them by offering the questions as the acronym ETHICS.

Empathy: what impact will my words and actions have on those around me?

Think before you speak.  It is more important than ever to consider what our listener will hear. This is an important issue when we discuss things such as implicit racism. We must ask: Will it be hurtful even if unintentional?

Work to be conscious of the interests and aspirations of others. We are often focused on our own challenges and can unintentionally overlook what our students, teachers, and administrators are dealing with. Being alert to unvoiced messages will make you better able to make honest connections.

Trustworthiness: do I trust others, and have I earned their trust?

Do you keep your word?  Do you keep confidences?  The answer to those are at the core of trustworthiness. You may have many reasons for not following through on something you said, but the message is that you didn’t keep your word. 

What about gossip? It’s easy to join in the fun by contributing, but as soon as you do, you run the risk of destroying the trust you were building, not only with the person whose confidence you violated but also that of others who, by your actions, know you are not safe to share something private with.

Humility: am I interested in what benefits my community or in what benefits my prestige and my ego?

It’s not about you.  It’s about the larger goal.  If you want to build relationships and be seen as an ethical leader, you need to put others in the spotlight. This doesn’t mean false humility. Saying, “It wasn’t anything much,” rings false and minimizes everyone’s accomplishment. Strong leaders take responsibility for what goes wrong and shares the praise with others when things succeed.

Inquisitiveness: do I want to know as much as I can, or do I want to look like I know it all?

When you are trying to look like you have it all together, you are likely faking it.  We are lifelong learners.  We need to be practicing that in our interchanges with others. Even students can teach you something you didn’t know.

All of us have strengths and weaknesses.  Know yours and look for those who can fill in the blanks for you. People love to feel they have contributed. By encouraging them to bring their strengths and talents, you create partners who trust you to lead well.

Courage: am I more afraid of looking wrong or of being wrong?

Either can cause you to not seek help.  This ties to Inquisitiveness.  Asking for help doesn’t make you weak.  It makes you strong.  And it creates relationships. Leaders need to take risks.  Risk-taking requires courage. You can mitigate the chance of errors by checking with others and asking for help.  And when you do succeed, remember your humility and praise others.

Self-discipline: what do I need to improve today so I can do my job better tomorrow?

It’s hard to look at what didn’t work, doing so allowed you to learn and not repeat it. Reflection helps you grow. Take stock of how you are living the other five questions. Which one(s) is/are difficult for you?  What do you need to do to improve it?

Your ethics matter in leadership, and others are watching you. Be the leader you would want to follow and soon others will see you as a leader they want to follow.