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.

Reviewing Leadership Skills

No matter how well you know a subject, it never hurts to review and sharpen your skills. This is true with leadership as well. And like re-reading a favorite book, when you go back, you’ll probably find something you didn’t notice the first time and you may even find something new to enjoy.

An unexpected source of leadership information comes from American physicist Richard Feynman who was also a popular teacher at the California Institute of Technology. There he taught eight classes which have become well known and play a strong role in the tenets of leadership.  In Richard Feynman’s Lessons for Life (And Leaders) John Baldoni calls out the core of these classes and adds his own comments. I’ve added applications to librarians.

  1. Work hard – Baldoni says, “discipline is essential to mastering your craft.” I would add to remember to work smarter rather than harder. Know what is important. Before diving into a project, ask will it advance your Mission? What return are you going to get for your investment of time?  Does it need to be done now?  Can/should you get help? Answering these questions will enable you to work hard and smarter.
  2. What others think of you is none of your business – Don’t let opinion and hearsay distract you. Instead, keep in mind it is vital that others see you as important to their success. They must value the help and resources you provide. Don’t become preoccupied by those who steadfastly resist every attempt you make to collaborate with them. Focus on strengthening the connections you already have. 
  3. It’s OK not to have all the answersLeaders don’t know it all. But as the saying goes, “the librarian knows where to find it.”  It is more important how you bring the answer.  Make sure you empower those who want to answer questions, especially since most people feel foolish for not knowing. If you make the teacher feel like a co-discoverer for raising the question, you pave the way for improved relationships and collaboration.
  4. Experiment, fail, learn and repeat No one is successful all the time. We can’t let the fear of failure makes us hesitant to experiment.   We have an opportunity to model this for teachers and students and offer others a valuable lesson. They will become more confident in their own process when they see ours.  
  5. Knowledge comes from experience Lessons come from success and failure. How you react to and learn from a failure is a measure of your leadership and future success. You will show others the kind of leader you are when you accept that your project/experiment didn’t work and, rather than hiding from it, take the lessons you learned and use them to go forward. 
  6. Imagination is importantGood leaders create a safe place for others to think big. Creating a climate of “wondering” is essential to what the library provides to all its users and makes it safe for them to consider the possibilities. Allowing your imagination loose is necessary in creating a Vision for your library. This is your chance to think big!  Think outside the box – or imagine that there isn’t any box at all.
  7. Do what interests you the most – In this Baldoni is urging us to set goals that inspire us. Although you need to do your job, you can play to your interests. We are fortunate in that our job requires many skills and roles.  Where is the heart of your passion? Are you a techie? Is reading where your heart is? While you won’t ignore the range of responsibilities you have, you can put emphasis on what you care about and enlist others in the aspects of the job you like less. Volunteers are hard to come by, but if you are specific about your needs, you might find some.
  8. Stay curious – Curiosity keeps our imagination engaged. This is a place where libraries and librarians excel. We are role models for lifelong learning and what is curiosity but the beginning of learning something new. Being curious is good advice when it  comes to building the relationships which are necessary for our success.  Be curious about others.  Letting them know you are interested in them as people gets communication going.  Collaboration can then follow.

These eight life lessons may all be things you knew but are they things you’ve practiced? If there is one that inspires you today or if one is feels new and exciting, then I hope you’ll put it into practice to strengthen your leadership skills. The best lessons never get old and always deserve a good re-read.

Leaders Must Be Strong Communicators

Communication is as natural as breathing and just as constant in our lives. Unlike breathing, however, there is so much room for error, it needs our focus and attention. Leaders need to be clear in their communication. When people receive a clear message, they are more likely to support, trust, and follow you. Taking time to improve your communication skills makes you a more successful leader.

In a post on SmartBrief, Want Real Leadership Growth? Focus on Strengthening as a Communicator,  Al Petty writes “too often, we ignore the centrality of communication effectiveness to effective leadership”. He goes on to say, “everything important in our careers and working lives takes place in one or more challenging conversations, and every communication encounter is critical if you lead.” There is a direct correlation between your success as a leader and your effectiveness as a communicator.

Petty notes that every failed professional situation in his career was proceeded by problems in communication. Poor communication inevitably has a negative effect on desired outcomes. For example, when a plan isn’t working, before changing the plan, check to see if everyone is clear on what to do, who’s to do it and why it’s being done. On the flip side, good communication produces even greater positive results than expected.

According to Petty you need to put these three tactics into operation to improve your communication skills and avoid the fumbles that detract from your leadership:

Listen Harder – There is almost nothing more powerful you can do to benefit your communication than to be a great listener. Unfortunately, in our eagerness to respond to what someone is saying or to get our point across, we stop listening. Our brain is busy constructing what to say as soon as the other person stops talking. We may think we are paying attention, but in this situation, we are, at best, hearing only the surface information which means we are more likely to miss the core of the message. Petty states, by “focusing intently on the person in front of you, you are projecting empathy, showing respect and gaining critical verbal and nonverbal insights necessary to truly communicate”. All of these increase your ability to be an effective leader.

Slow Down and Respect the Persuasion Cycle – Being eager to get to the end goal, it is easy to keep pushing for a response. When we do, we are apt to be faced with the other personal stonewalling and resisting what we’re suggesting. A good maxim to remember is, “No one wants to be sold. Everyone wants to buy.” The challenge is to make someone want to buy.

Petty explains the “Persuasion Cycle” as moving a person from

  • Resisting to Listening,
  • Listening to Considering,
  • Considering to Doing,
  • Doing to Being Glad They Did.

Knowing what the other person wants and needs helps you frame your message, so they move from resisting to listening. When you actively listen to their response you can elicit their willingness to consider your message. They now are interested in doing.

The final step in the cycle is the important piece. When the person is “Glad They Did” you have a supporter and advocate. The next time you approach them, your conversation is more likely to start at Considering or Doing portion of the cycle.

Design Your Critical Communication Messages – When the message is important, it is worth time and effort to get it exactly right. You don’t want to have any words that detract from it. Each word counts and has weight. Writing, rewriting, and testing it with a mentor or trusted colleagues will help you get it clear.

According to Petty, you need to have “three or four core drivers behind your core message.” The drivers are the foundation for why the message is so important. In the library world, one core driver is the students. They are the emotional tie that brings the most response. Test results are another driver. School and district goals are powerful drivers if you connect to them. Budget can be another.

Illustrate your core drivers so your audience understands them as clearly as possible. Pictures, graphics, and videos are more quickly internalized than text. Use the language your receivers understand. If you are talking with administrators in schools, they know the educational terms but not library terminology. If necessary, change from the terms you use to the ones they do.

If you review your past success and challenges, chances are you will see a correlation with the strength or weakness in communication. Taking the time to work on your communication skills – listening, persuading, designing your message – will exponentially increase your success. The better your ability to communicate, the better your ability to lead.

Social and Emotional Leading

You have become adept at incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into your library program, but you also need to consciously integrate these tools when you are leading. The social aspect is more obvious. We are in a relationship-based business, and you can’t build relationships without social skills. It’s the emotional leading that requires a rethinking.

In a profession where women are in the vast majority, it’s important to remember that, with awareness, emotions can be appropriate and important, rather than avoided or dismissed. Understanding and managing your emotions is the key to successful leadership. Emotion is a neutral term that encompasses an immense range of responses. In Social and Emotional Leading, you need to draw on the positive ones and recognize and reduce the negative ones.

In her blog post, Essential Decision Making Emotions: Are You Using These?, Kate Ness presents five decision-making emotions to incorporate into your leadership and five to manage. Starting with the positives, here are her first five:

  • Showing Respect – Recognize the value of others. You do this when you don’t interrupt work with a student to respond to a question from a teacher. If you must, you explain that you will be back. In our world of text messages, we shouldn’t forget the importance of “please,” and “thanks” becomes a perfunctory “thx.” Be more conscious of the little civilities. They make a difference.
  • Expressing Empathy – Recognize what others are going through. Use your ability to read body language and their tone of voice to reach out to them. Send a quiet note. Offer to be a listening ear if they need one. Do it with all the lives you touch, from students through administrators – and parents.
  • Considering Human Impact – Ness’ post references laying people off. We don’t do that, but we do see it happen to others in our educational community – and too often to us. This pandemic has led to all sorts of losses. In any difficult situation you come across, offer help where you can and empathy where you can’t. Let them know you are there for them at some level.
  • Recognizing and Appreciating Talent and Effort – When you inform your administrator of a successful project, highlight the important contributions of people who were a part of the project. When you’re offered suggestions, acknowledge them, and show you are considering it. When you give this type of respect to students, you give them voice and choice and further make the library a welcome place.
  • Valuing Altruism – Look for ways to give back – and acknowledge ways that others are giving. Suggest and lead projects that help the community or an individual. These are hard times. We need to work together to stay strong.

And the five you want to avoid when building relationships are:

  • Anger: Anger is a valid emotion, but you don’t want to speak or act out of it. Most people don’t think clearly while angry which can undo much of what you have achieved when using positive emotions. Remembering to pause will do much to get you back on track.
  • Panic – Panic also stops you from thinking clearly and leads to poor decisions. Once again, a pause helps along with taking time to breathing more deeply. Slower breathing leads to a slower heart rate and a clearer mind. You will get through it. You always do.
  • One-sided Compassion – Avoid being immersed in one emotion and not letting yourself see where there are other forces at play. Be sure you are seeing the whole picture.
  • Fear of Conflict – Fear of causing anger and disagreement is understandable, particularly in today’s very polarized world. But you can’t lead if you keep stepping back. Use your positive qualities and all your emotional intelligence to look for ways to respond in a non-controversial way.
  • Uncontrolled Passion – Being passionate about your work and your core values is necessary for leadership. However, overwhelming people with it is not. People feel you are battering them and that there is no room for their interests and priorities. Find ways of sharing your values and abilities without it sounding as though you demand to be heard.

Emotions are everywhere and always with us. They are powerful but can work against us when we’re not aware. Recognize and work with your emotions and your leadership skills will improve.

The Ins and Outs of Negotiation

Don’t neglect this important leadership skill which can strengthen your program.

In the education world, where the library is only one small piece of the pie, knowing how and when to negotiate can grow your program and result in your being more valued. If you are like most school librarians, you rarely think consciously of how and when to negotiate. You are likely not to recognize when you have employed it, and as a result may not have achieved your aims. The business world, however, recognizes it a vital skill, and school librarians need to do the same.

One of my most successful negotiations came in the early stages of the tech explosion. I had just been responsible for building a new library wing in our high school, a huge expenditure. Now, I wanted to get the latest digital tool –  a CD-ROM tower. It cost $20,000. Obviously, if I put that in my budget for the next school year, it would be turned down. I knew what I wanted, why I wanted it, and what I could and couldn’t sacrifice to get it. I made an appointment with my Superintendent of Schools during the summer.

The Superintendent’s first response to my request was to refuse, as I expected. I briefly summarized the benefits and offered to make cuts elsewhere in my budget. When she suggested eliminating my periodical budget, I explained why that would be a problem, and proposed slashing my book budget. Ultimately, because of my determination, clarity and willingness to negotiate, I got the CD-ROM tower – and didn’t lose anywhere near $20,000 from my budget.

You have more opportunities to negotiate than you think. You can use negotiation to propose a collaborative or cooperative unit with teachers or you can negotiate with your principal to modify your non-library duties so they relate to your program. The idea is to be open to the possibility of changing what is to something better.

To increase this skill, Ed Browdow presents Ten Tips for Negotiating in 2021 that can help you achieve goals you didn’t think possible. Here are his ten with interpretations for school librarians:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – If you don’t ask the answer is always, “No.” Leaders have a vision. Go for yours.
  2. Shut up and listen – Active listening is a must. Don’t rush into counter what is being said and be perceived as pushing your agenda. Pay attention so that you know what is at the root of the resistance.
  3. Do your homework – Know what the other person’s needs are. What is challenging them? How is what you want to do going to help with that? See where you can align with their priorities.
  4. Always be willing to walk away – Know when to stop. If you continue pushing when the other person is firm on their position, you are only going to increase resistance for the future. Not every negotiation ends positively.
  5. Don’t be in a hurry – While this means prolonged negotiations in the business world, for us it can mean not to give up or be upset if an appointment with an administrator is cancelled, a teacher needs to reschedule, or you are told they need time to think it over. Most negotiations are part of a longer process, not a quick yes or no decision.
  6. Aim high and expect the best outcome – Don’t second guess what is achievable. You want to lay out where you want to go. At the same time, this is a negotiation, so be prepared with your Plan B. And your Plan C.
  7. Focus on the other sides’ pressure not yours – This is where doing your homework counts. You want to present why what you are planning is beneficial to the other person whether it’s a principal or a teacher.
  8. Show the other person how their needs will be met – Related to the others sides’ pressure, if you can show where your request/suggestion/need supports them as well, you’re more likely to get the answer you want.  Be ready to be specific as much as possible. The best negotiations end with both sides feeling as though they’ve won.
  9. Don’t give anything away without getting something back – In our case this means being watching out for little landmines. For example, I had to be prepared for my Superintendent to seize on my offer to slash my book budget without giving me the tower. Had she suggested it, I would have pointed out that without the tower I was forced to make do with what I had on hand and so could ill afford my budget to be cut.
  10. Don’t take the other person’s behavior personally –This is about what you are trying to get but is influenced by the pressures and needs of the other person. Listen for the message rather than its delivery. Staying calm is a top tactic in negotiations.

Negotiations happen all the time, making this a great leadership skill to develop. Some are noticeable, others are easy to miss. They are present in your work and your home life. If you are aware of when the opportunity shows up and are prepared, you’ll strengthen your program and getting more of what you need.

Communication – Positives and Pitfalls

Online, in person, via text or via social media, we are always communicating. It is the basic tool we use to form relationships, and relationships are the core of our success. As adults, one would think we would have mastered it by now, but it’s not that simple.

Because our interactions with others consist of multiple levels of communication, there are many opportunities for confusion. Most of the time we successfully send our message in a positive way and that is how it’s received. Other times we are not as successful, and we don’t always know why. What can we do to have conversations that produce the desired results?

What can we do to have conversations that produce the desired results?

Lolly Daskal has advice for business leaders, which applies to all. She minces no words in 9 Dumb Things Smart Leaders Need to Stop Doing Right Now. Here is her list:

  1. Stop talking over people – We strive for active listening, but when we’re excited or concerned we have a tendency to interrupt to get our comments and ideas in. When we don’t listen to others, they stop listening to us. (This is one I need to work on – especially when I’m harried.)
  2. Stop thinking you know best – There are knowledgeable, trustworthy people around you. Just because we know better than anyone how the library works doesn’t mean that others can’t offer something important. Their viewpoint can alert us to something that needs changing. Give them the respect of listening to what they say and the tenor of the conversation changes. You also gain a potential ally. Remember, it’s feedback, not criticism.
  3. Stop creating unattainable goalsWhether working with students or teachers, having a large goal is great, but if the receiver of the message feels it can’t be achieved, they will tune out, you will get annoyed, and your body will communicate that message. Instead, break goals down into smaller ones that do seem attainable. You don’t want your goals to add to anyone’s stress – including yours.
  4. Stop trying to control everythingWhen there is too much to do and not enough time, ironically, we tend not to trust anyone to help. We fall back on “you know best,” and it will take too much time to explain everything. Pause. Breathe. Then figure out how to loosen the reins otherwise you will probably come across as bossy and feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and tired. When others can help, we inspire new leaders.
  5. Stop taking people for granted Unless we consciously remember to acknowledge people, teachers, administrators and students. When we recognize their worth, they are more apt to recognize ours. Thank people for their time, support, encouragement, and help.
  6. Stop the hypocrisy – Keep your actions aligned with your words. When it comes to the big things, we rarely struggle, but the small things can slip our minds in a stress-filled day. Be aware of the possibility to keep it from happening.
  7. Stop imposing unnecessary rules – Some rules are necessary, but if they are arbitrary and/or make people’s lives more difficult, then they revision – or they need to go. Don’t set rules that make the library less welcoming. Look to create positively stated guidelines that support your Mission and Vision.
  8. Stop criticizing people in public This applies not only to teacher (and administrators) but students as well. Public humiliation is harmful and can have long-term negative effects. Responding too quickly with a negative comment is damaging. Apologize immediately. No matter how well the person appeared to take the comment, the barb stung, and they won’t forget it.
  9. Stop trying to act alone This is most likely to happen when we are guilty of #2 and #4. Daskal quotes the adage, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

We all have fallen into some of these communication pitfalls. Being mindful of them will minimize their occurrences. We need to ensure we send –and receive—messages positively. It builds our relationships and our leadership.

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.