Reach for Your Leadership Vision

I often write and speak on the importance of knowing your Mission and Vision. Missions focus on what you do. It’s your purpose or your “perspiration.” Visions are your “inspirations” and “aspirations.” They are where you would love to have happen. Both grow from your core values, your philosophy. And you can’t reach your school library Vision unless you have one for yourself as a leader. Without that self-Vision, it is difficult to step out of your comfort zone and the take risks leadership requires.

In Think Deeply About the Leader You Aspire to Be, Art Petty suggests you “mine for early influences and marry them to future aspirations to develop a clear picture of your desired leadership self.” Connecting what you’ve seen and done with what you want can guide you in constructing your leadership Vision using the following four steps:

  1. Start by exploring your leadership inspirations – Look inwardly and widely. Consider the values you hold. What are you passionate about? Who are the people you admire in librarianship and elsewhere? Why do you admire them? Petty suggests you look at the behavior of those people. If they had a direct contact in your life, how did they reach out to you? I became active in school librarianship and began writing because of the people who reached out. Their trust and belief encouraged me to leave my comfort zone.
  2. Spend time reflecting on your best self – Think of those moments when you were proud of something you did as a leader. You may have put together a difficult project or you gave a workshop for teachers, and they were all engaged and participating. Consider what you did to make those instances happen. What aspects of yourself as a person did you draw on? Think of the values that motivated your behavior and/or achievement. Look to the moments when you were proud of yourself and your behavior. It may have been how you connected a reluctant reader to the perfect book. Perhaps you turned a confrontation into the start of a relationship.
  3. Your Leadership AspirationsImagine this was your last year at your current position. You’re either moving on or retiring. What would you hope your students would say about their library experience? How about teachers and administrators? Take time to think about the legacy you want to leave, the impact you want to have, as a librarian and a leader and from that, pull out the pieces you want to include in your Leadership Vision.
  4. What’s most important to you as a leader? Petty recommends answering the following questions:
  • What do I care most about doing and achieving as a leader?
  • How will I guide, teach, and coach?
  • How will I support creating great results through others?
  • How do I want to affect those I come in contact with along the way?

My Leadership Vision is “School Librarians are recognized everywhere as vital leaders.” I know it will never be universal, but I always work to be a force for change. It inspires all I do.

Taking the time to see yourself as a leader and the impact your leadership will have on your library can inspire and should inspire you. Reach high and fearlessly create your own leadership Vision.  

You are Successful Now

Do you see yourself as successful, or do you consider success something off in the distance? Unless you have recently completed a major project, you are more likely to think you are doing well, but nothing special. It’s not negative thinking exactly, but it certainly isn’t positive.

We tend to see and find what we are looking for, and we train our brain to confirm our thoughts. If you believe what you do is ordinary but find other librarians’ creativity and knowledge remarkable, you won’t see your ongoing achievements. As a result, you won’t feel like a leader or present yourself to others as a leader.

The truth is, you are successful. I can prove it. You are successful when you teach, and when you find that perfect book. You are successful when you help a teacher out. You are successful when you see a student stop and look at a display or bulletin board you created. When you make a difference, no matter how small, you have been successful. There may be many successes you’re missing. When you take the time to notice, you find what you’re looking for – this includes success. One thing I do to help me notice these moments is writing daily in a Success Journal. Every success is a step in the right direction and seeing it written out can help you own it.

In his post, Tracking Your Accomplishments: Why to Do It, What to Document And How to Follow Through, Joel Garfinkle echoes my recommendation about recording your successes. He has even more reasons for doing so. Among them are:

  • You will forget – Of course you will especially when you don’t even notice many of them – and when the next problem/crisis/need is grabbing your focus.
  • Everyone else forgets – When you keep track, you’ll be able to share the specifies of your success when it’s time for your annual evaluation or when someone asks why you think a project will work..
  • You will be interview ready – No position is 100% secure, and even if you’re tenured, a change in administration could have you wanting to move on. Having a record of your successes allows you to be prepared – and remember the reasons you’re valuable to the schools you work for.

He suggests tracking the following:

  • Comments from your boss, clients or other stakeholders – For you this includes students, teachers, parents and perhaps other librarians as well. Take note of how they see your work and contribution.
  • Successful projects – In addition to writing the details of what happened, take pictures for your record (or portfolio). Add any comments you received (was there media coverage or postings of an event?).
  • Positive results from your efforts – Be clear about what goal(s) was achieved – intentional and unintentional, expected and unexpected. Make notes on the impact that you and your work made.
  • Regular responsibilities you have fulfilled – It isn’t only the big things that demonstrate your successes It’s also the successful day-to-day functioning of your library. Getting through that routine is definite accomplishment. And, back to the earlier comment, your principal is not likely to be aware of all you are doing unless you tell or show them.

Yes, tracking your successes might feel like one more thing for the to-do list, but as you see your successes add up, you might look forward to doing it. Find a time of day or location that works best for you. I keep it by my computer and track as I achieve something positive. This has the added benefit of giving me a boost of joy and motivation to tackle the next thing on the list.

Take the time to discover how successful you are. It will change your mindset. And that will change how people see you. Me? I’m going to put “wrote my blog post” on today’s success list. What’s going on yours?

The Centrality of Trust

image from Wavetop via Canva

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Librarian and a Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Either-Or

Not all our colleagues hold the same views as we do, but we can’t afford to lose our relationships with them based on those strongly held opinions. This is not only true when politics comes into the workspace but also when we seek budget funds or have other issues with the administration. We need to listen even as we disagree with their occasionally erroneous views of school librarians and libraries. Can we hear what their truths are? Unless we can, we won’t be heard.

Disagreement can be helpful unless we assume there are only two approaches or ideas– ours and the wrong ones. As librarians, part of our work, hopefully, includes not suppressing one point of view because we disagree with it. While we champion our beliefs, we must also listen to the other side. We need to hear the elements of truth in what the other party says and then hopefully come up with a solution that incorporates more views.  

Sociology, psychology and philosophy have all wrestled with this challenge and determined that sometimes the best way to manage when there are two disparate ideas is to keep conversation open and flowing until a new interpretation or understanding comes about. Referred to as dialectics, Science ABC explains, dialectics is “a process that makes use of contradictory statements or ideas to reach an ultimate truth.” The challenge is to be able to go beyond our views to arrive at one that works for more people.

So, how do we get to this ultimate truth? In her article Kristin Hendrix in When We Find Ourselves Stuck, How to Find the Third Option,  Kristin Hendrix discusses the “Fallacy of Either/Or Thinking? and proposes four ideas:

Look for Another Perspective – Since experience and our personalities conditioned us to see things one way, get an additional perspective on an issue by talking it out with someone else—without heat or hostility. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” Since you initiated the discussion, it will be easier to listen intending to understand, which will serve you in such situations in the future. Talking out an issue can help you see where you’ve gotten yourself boxed into one way of thinking and help you arrive at the third – and unifying – option.

Find the “And” – Is there a way to incorporate both concepts/ideas that seem, at first, opposed? What are the two goals?  Can you do both if you can do one at a time? Considering the possibility opens up to new ways of thinking. In the process of looking for an “and,” you might find another solution entirely.  As Hendrix writes, “What option would combine the benefits of both and offset the challenges?”

For example, you are asked to cover a physical education class when the usual teacher is absent. To do so you must close the library. If you bring the class into the library and have them work on a topic related to physical education (or health), you have covered the class, AND the library stayed open.

The Calm in Acceptance – Hendrix recognizes sometimes you face two bad options. Fighting the truth of that becomes a constant frustration, affecting everything in your life. Choose one and accept that you made a choice.

A friend of mine in the corporate world, hated her job. Her only option for a new job was out of the state. She didn’t want to leave the state because her mother needed her. She decided to stay where she was and reduced the extra hours she was committing to the job. Once she knew why and how she was remaining, it was easier to live with it.

From Scarcity to Abundance – When you think there are only two opposing options, you have little to work with. Hendrix points out this is functioning from a scarcity mindset.  By considering that there may be other paths to get to where you want to go, you move to an abundance mindset. Change your mindset and allow possibilities in.

Out of the box thinking – or better yet thinking there is no box – is a more creative approach to dealing with how to look at a given situation. Find ways to resolve disagreements so you continue to strengthen your relationships and become a better problem solver in the process. Take the time to look for what third option might solve the issue. 

Feeling Like an Imposter

You know the feeling – you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and begun questioning your decision. You probably are thinking:  What did I get myself into? Is this beyond my skillset?  What if others can do this better?  If those or similar thoughts have entered your mind, you are suffering from the Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome afflicts successful people as well as those who are just moving into leadership. You question your qualifications and are sure you will be exposed for not measuring up to the task. But if you succumb to it, you will never try anything new and will miss opportunities to learn and grow.

The first step is recognizing that the Imposter Syndrome had arrived. Once you realize it’s not you but the Syndrome, you can take steps to deal with it. The internet is filled with suggestions on how to combat Imposter Syndrome. Most use mindset which is always helpful if somewhat difficult to achieve at times. Gemma Leigh Roberts’ has developed a slightly different approach in Boosting Confidence and Conquering Imposter Syndrome. These tips allow you to embrace its value while not letting it take over.

Apply the Benefits of Imposter Syndrome – Roberts points to focusing on humility, reframing fear as fuel, and building resilience as ways to use Imposter Syndrome to support you rather than hold you back. Being humble helps us build relationships as well as develop “an authentic and unique leadership style.” Using fear as fuel draws on the adrenaline fear creates and has you making sure you are thoroughly prepared. This in turn builds resilience. Every time you successfully get through a bout of Imposter Syndrome, you build a foundation to draw on in the future when it comes back. (And it will.)

Accept the Feeling Roberts states, “Feeling like an imposter doesn’t make you one. No one succeeds at every new endeavor without making any mistakes.”  This is part of the process – like it or not. Fighting it drains energy, energy you need to use the fear as fuel. The arrival of the Imposter Syndrome is an important reminder – it means you are being a leader. You are growing. Once you have completed this challenge you will have accomplished something that powers you to the next step.

Keep a File of Positive Feedback – Each time you step out of your comfort zone, move through Imposter Syndrome, and grow as a leader, hold on to the positive feedback you received. Don’t let compliments go unremarked. You earned them. Savor them. Bank them for days when the going gets tough. They are the energy drink to use on those days.

Chat to Someone in Your Support Network – It’s important to have people we turn to when we need someone to talk us off the ledge. It may be one person you trust or a social network group for librarians. They will understand and listen to you. There will always be a few members who can give you the advice and encouragement you need.

Use an Experiment Approach – If you regard the challenge you have undertaken as an experiment, you can reduce some of the anxiety you’re feeling about it. Whatever happens – you’ll learn something you can use in the future. Reframing the situation helps you keep successes and setbacks in proportion. No matter what, you’ll gain something from what you’re trying which will help as you go forward. You may expand on it – or not. This approach should help you breathe easier.

You will always have to deal with the Imposter Syndrome, but you don’t have to put on boxing gloves to knock it out. Accept its presence and know it’s proof that you are learning and growing. Consider it a badge of honor.

Leaders Are Always Growing

You are a leader, but leading is more than administering a program. Leaders work consciously and continually to improve their leadership. Education is going through what might be a revolutionary period and while different areas grow and others shrink, you want to be an area that grows.

From Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education, to your own school district, the conversation happening is about implementing the lessons learned from this pandemic. How do you ride the tide to become one of the leaders, integral to the success of new approaches?  You seize the opportunity to expand your leadership. You’ll probably need to move out of your comfort zone. It’s worth it. Risk brings its own rewards.

Art Petty explains how to do it in “Here Are the Habits of Employees Who Lead Without a Title.” These five habits are as helpful in business – which is his focus – as they are for us.

  1. Trust Building – Trust is the foundation of relationships, and we are in a relationship business. It is built by showing interest in the other person. It grows when you help them make them feel empowered, not foolish. As Petty says, “Trust building is not a tactic. It’s a way of life.” You don’t learn the techniques for building trust to manipulate people. You build them because you care and want to have a bond with the people you are working with. You hold the confidences of others. Their trust allows you to collaborate and build programs that support students and the goals of administrators.
  • Reciprocity Management –When you do a favor for someone, they are inclined to do the same for you. The expression, “I owe you one,” is true. Because you have integrity, you don’t do favors in order to have someone indebted to you. You do it because you want to help. However, it does give you an opportunity to ask for support in return. Don’t build your trust bank too big. If you are always doing favors and never asking or accepting any help in return, people become uncomfortable. This may cause them to avoid you or not let you know when they need help. The trust starts eking out of the relationship.
  • Boundary Spanning – As a librarian your network encompasses teachers on different grade levels and subjects. You are also more likely to have a connection with other librarians in your district or across the state if you’ve been involved in local organizations. Leaders without titles know how to build these networks wherever possible. You may reach out to your public librarian counterpart. You connect to librarians across the country – and world—through social media. These connections increase your knowledge, confidence, and ability to recommend approaches and resources that have proved successful elsewhere.
  • Coalition Building – With the first three habits in place, you can form a coalition allowing you to get more done. Do you have a great idea? You have a cadre willing to join you. The glue that binds these people together is you and the relationships you have built. They aren’t working on the project because they were told to do it. They are doing it, because you asked, and they trust you and the vision you have for the library and the students. They have experience with you and respect you.
  • Gray-zone Leadership – Because you are not in the classroom, not responsible for test results or specific benchmarks, you have a unique perspective allowing you to see opportunities or challenges others may not. You “live between the lines of the organizational chart”. By creating programs to address gaps, you build on the other habits (trust, boundaries, coalitions) to strengthen not only your program but the school. By doing this, you are seen as a vital part of the success of students, teachers and administrators. You become a force for moving your school or district, and thereby your library, forward into where today’s education is heading.

Keep your leadership growing. Developing these habits will not only get you a seat at the table, but it might also give you a seat at the head of the table.

What Do You Expect?

We go through life expecting that things will go a certain way – and then they don’t. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and irritating. Sometimes it’s because conditions changed, but very often the problem is due to the expectations themselves. Being aware of and able to manage expectations makes our jobs easier and our relationships stronger.

Expectations are based on who we are, how we perceive the world, and how we act. In our communications and interchanges, we make the unconscious assumption that other people are like us. We know this is not true, and when we know someone well, we recognize the differences. When it’s a teacher, parent, or administrator with whom we don’t have that higher level of familiarity, we unwittingly assume things that aren’t true.

John R. Stoker asks Can Managing Your Expectations Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? and gives twelve ways to do so.

  1. The expectation that you have been understood – Communication has three parts: the sender, the message, and thereceiver. When something is amiss with any part, the receiver will not get the message that was sent. Did you tailor the message to the receiver? Did you give too much information?  Did you use library jargon which made things unclear to the receiver? Be certain the message was received.
  2. The expectation that people will know what you want – If you’re not clear about what you want, chances are you won’t communicate your needs well. Get clarity before you speak so you know what you want to say. Lead off with your main point and be careful of being either too specific or too vague which leads to a loss of clarity.
  3. The expectation that people will perform the way you would perform – We all manage projects differently. People perform based on their expectations, not yours. In addition, where a project is your priority, it may not be someone else’s. Be aware of differences.
  4. The expectation that people should know what to expect from you – Even if teachers and administrators have expectations about the library, they may not know what they can expect from you. Let them know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. The more they know, the more they will be aware of your contributions.
  5. The expectation that those who are disengaged will take responsibility for their disengagement. For us, this means expecting a busy teacher or principal will eventually get back to you – and even apologize for the delay. Again, you likely have different priorities so cannot expect this. If necessary, create a reminder for yourself to re-send messages, follow up, and make your needs clear.
  6. The expectation that you won’t violate someone else’s expectations – If we don’t know the other person’s expectations, when we haven’t gotten clarity, mistakes are more likely. We don’t like to think we missed the mark, but it happens. As soon as you notice, apologize and then make a plan for going forward.
  7. The expectation that someone will tell you what’s going well and what isn’t – A leader’s job is to “inspire and inspect.”  People tend not to say anything if something isn’t going as planned. Plan to check in every so often to ask how things are going and if they need help. People are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they are struggling.
  8. The expectation that people will know how what they do contributes to the organization’s success. Sometimes it’s hard to see how small projects contribute to bigger successes. It’s important to be aware of this within your program. Then you can let teachers and students know when they’ve made a difference and pass this information along to administrators. This is a great opportunity to acknowledge a teacher or administrator who has made a difference. Specific compliments make a person’s day and will strengthen your relationship with the receiver.
  9. The expectation that priorities are understood by everyone – Even when they overlap, our goals differ from those of teachers and administrators. If your principal doesn’t understand how a program is contributing to the success of students, s/he may ask you to take on something new. When starting a new initiative, be clear with those participating what the priorities are.  Don’t assume. And take time to review as the project continues to be sure you are all on the same page.
  10. The expectation that people will give you personal feedback – You don’t always want to hear praise – you need to know where to improve. People don’t like giving negative feedback almost as much as they dislike receiving it. In discussions with teachers, make sure to ask, “What could I have done to make this project better?” rather than, “Did it go OK?”
  11. The expectation that you know what people need – This is why the “inspect” discussed in #7 is important. We are different. We work differently. And we are different in what we do well and what challenges us. What do people need when it comes to resources, time, support and assistance. When you check in, with feedback not criticism, it allows both of you to be more successful.
  12. The expectation that people who are driving slower in the fast lane will move over – This is about giving and receiving respect. No matter how a project is going, whether communication and priorities are clear, it is important to treat everyone involved with respect. Listen for what’s working and where things are challenging then move forward accordingly.

When you start a project, think about your inherent expectations. Are they true?  If not, make the necessary adjustments. You will minimize disappointments and lower your frustration levels. As Stoker says in his conclusion, Part of becoming more emotionally intelligent and a more effective leader is about identifying our expectations and clearly sharing them with others. Doing so will not only eliminate unneeded and potentially damaging emotional reactions but will also greatly improve your results.”

How Membership Became Leadership

I write this as I am attending the virtual 2021 ALA Annual Conference. I am eagerly looking forward to the AASL conference in October to be held in Salt Lake City in person, and come December, I will be going to my state school library association meeting. I’ve been involved with these organizations for over 40 years, and they have impacted my career immeasurably. Without these organization, I wouldn’t have become a leader.

I recognize many of you have chosen not to join ALA or even your state association. I would like to share some highlights of my journey through these professional organizations and what I have gained from them in hopes that you will consider changing your mind and being a voice for libraries in your state and beyond.

My first years as school librarian I was barely aware we had professional associations. I was new and alone. When I returned to the workforce after my children were in school, I met a professor who was checking on the student doing field experience work in my library. She told me I had to join my state association.  I did, it was the best decision I made for my career.

My first state conference opened my eyes to the possibilities of this community. At the time the association was working with the State Librarian on guidelines for school libraries. I joined one of the subcommittees. Within a few years I was on the board and eventually became president.

In 1979, I attended my first national ALA conference, conveniently held New York City which allowed me to commute each day. The size of it was almost overwhelming, but by attending AASL programs I met other school librarians, began to feel at home, and was soon serving on AASL Committees.

Over time, I discovered to my amazement that I could walk up to a leader, ask a question, and get an answer as though I were equally important. In their eyes, I was. They became my friends as did others. Some of them became national leaders, others didn’t. But they are all part of my personal network that continues to grow on and off social media.

In the process of attending conferences and being on committees, my vocabulary evolved and my confidence grew. I could speak knowledgeably on library and education issues. I became aware of trends and “what’s next.” When I had conversations with my principal, my knowledge base showed. I was able to discuss issues that were coming to the table. As a result, I was seen as an asset. My requests were not always granted, but they were taken seriously. And eventually I was the leader other librarians asked questions of.

While I belong to other national associations, ALA/AASL is my home. It is the only national association whose prime focus is on libraries and librarians. It has given us our ethical center with the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics. AASL gives us our National School Library Standards as well as the standards portal with a host of  growing resources to incorporate them (some free, some for purchase).

The websites for ALA and its divisions, including AASL are huge. Members or not, you can find information and resources on Advocacy, Legislation, Intellectual Freedom, Equity and Diversity, and much more. The Washington Office works constantly to further our agenda. The Office for Intellectual Freedom has resources and is a support if and when material in your library is challenged.

We are stronger together. ALA works to promote school libraries and librarians in tandem with AASL. The letter sent to President Biden before his inauguration is just one example. AASL also works with the state library associations. Our state library associations perform the same services as AASL on a smaller level and tailored to more local needs. Conferences have programs showcasing best practices and give you the opportunity to see new vendors and talk with the ones you use. It’s personal.

Yes, membership costs money, but to me the value and what I receive is more than worth it. Do I agree with all their positions? No. But, as a member, I can work to promote change. Do I want them to focus on my issues more? Of course, and AASL has a structure that allows school librarians to respond to those issues which affect our community.

Not surprisingly ALA/AASL are hurting financially. Membership is shrinking as librarian positions have disappeared. They need our support as much as we need theirs. I would not have the career or become the librarian I did without ALA and AASL. As we are the voices for the libraries in our schools these organizations are our voice on a bigger scale. Every librarian who joins allows these organizations to continue to advocate for us even as it helps them become better professionals. I’m not aware of the organizations for librarians in other countries, but I hope you’ll search out those that can support your success.

If you’ve never visited the ALA website, I hope you’ll take some time during these summer months to do so. If you’ve never joined at the local or state level, I hope you’ll consider it (and look for some funding to help if you need). And if ALA or AASL has made a difference in your career, I hope you’ll share your story with other librarians. It’s an ecosystem that needs all of us acting together to send a common strong message about the values of libraries.

Doing What Works

Managing stressful interactions – even without a worldwide pandemic – is a challenging and important skill for librarians looking to lead. We are in a relationship business which means different personalities, perspectives on education, and personal issues, all contribute to volatile moments. To maintain and build the relationships vital to our success, we need to be able de-escalate these situations quickly, possibly even before they begin. And that starts with seeking to do what works rather than worrying about being right.

When someone comes to us, whether a teacher, a student, or an administrator, we tend to make a decision and predict what is forthcoming. It is often unconscious, but we note facial expression, body language and other visual cues to determine if that person is about to say something critical or supportive. Our own body language then telegraphs a response. If it looks like something pleasant will be said, we stay relaxed and open. If, however, we anticipate a negative comment, our bodies stiffen. Our arms may cross tightly, our shoulders pull together. We are ready and with nothing being said, the conflict has begun. We need to shut down this reaction before it takes control of the situation.

A guiding question is, “Do I want to be right, or do I want it to work?”  Because if you want to be right, it won’t work. Your ego gets invested, and you aren’t listening and aren’t open to other possibilities. Taking an offensive or defensive position is almost a guarantee it won’t work. If you respond offensively, the other person will rise to either defend themselves or shut you down. If you defend yourself, all you get are further examples of your perceived errors.

The solution is to listen. Don’t confuse feedback with criticism,. It’s hard to hear anything negative about our work but focus on the heart of what is being said. Take in what is actually being said not what you fear is wrong. It is related to the axiom: Seek first to understand, then be understood.

I have told the story of when I had started in a new school, and a teacher came into the library storming because her privacy had been violated. In my head I heard, “I have only been here a few months, I barely know you. How could I have violated your privacy?”  Fortunately, I thought to move her to my office, and the intervening moments gave me time to think. Instead of jumping in with my perspective, I heard the specifics of what she was complaining about. Her concerns were clear and valid. I came up with a solution. She was pleased and became a huge library supporter.

If she had been incorrect, a different approach would be needed, but that still wouldn’t include telling her why she was wrong. That would only lead to more arguments. Instead, a better response would be, “I recognize you are upset. How can I make this better for you?”  This gives her time to think, gives her agency in the problem, and the conflict starts deflating like air leaving a balloon.

Another technique to deescalate a situation is to paraphrase what the other person said as accurately as you can –not coloring it with your judgement. This gives both of you time to pause and reflect on the issue. It keeps you from making assumptions, allows you to be clear about the other person’s concerns, and helps you get to the true point of the problem.

When dealing with students, similar tactics work. If you get into an argument – or worse a shouting match – you have already lost. Keeping the library a safe, welcoming space for all, means you treat even argumentative or hostile students with respect even as you deal with their issue. Listen, paraphrase, and as soon as possible move to a more private place to discuss the issue. The same approach works when an administrator comes to your library or you meet in their office. Focus on listening before responding. And then respond, not react.

Listening to the other person, remembering it is important for the situation to be resolved in a way that supports both sides, and not worrying about who’s right, allows you to manage stressful situations and stay a supportive, astute, leader.