ON LIBRARIES – The Fine Art of Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Communicators

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

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

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

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

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

Peterson-More offers the following three tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – The Relationship Building Blocks of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: I See You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who have you seen lately?

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Team Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES – Feeling and Fighting Fear

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

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

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

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

From Pixar’s “Inside Out”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: How Leaders Learn

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: Being Charismatic

According to John R. P. French and Bertram Raven there are five types of power. The fifth type, which they call Referent Power, is the power of charisma. Different manifestations of power can contribute or detract from being a successful leader. Charismatic leaders are very powerful, but as history has shown, they can use their power for good or ill. You have undoubtedly encountered charismatic administrators and teachers in your schools.

Watching these people in action is amazing.  Everything around them seems to flow so smoothly. People—students and colleagues—respond to them easily, and things get done apparently effortlessly.  While it may be true that some people are naturally charismatic and born leaders, all is not lost if you don’t have the ability naturally.  You can learn to be a leader, and you can learn to be charismatic.

Charisma is a rarely discussed soft skill, but as with many soft skills, it is more effective than knowledge and skill.  When combined with knowledge and skill, it results in great leadership.  You have the skill sets, now build your charisma.

Loue Solomon explains 6 Ways to Learn to Radiate Charisma If You Don’t Have It at First. If you click to the article, you’ll read that it’s directed to the business world, but the method works very well for us.

  1. Be attentive – This advice keeps recurring because it’s vital, and we don’t always do it well or consistently. When someone is speaking with you, are you thinking of the next thing you have to do? Sometimes we are stopped at an inopportune time, and we are twitching waiting for the person to complete whatever they have to say so we can get on with what we were doing. They will get the message. Why should they want to be with you when you have no time for them? Instead, be honest. Tell them you want to hear what they have to say but now isn’t a good time then let them know when you can listen more attentively.
  1. Recognize humanness before rank Although phrased in terms more suited to the business world, it applies to us as well. There is a hierarchy in schools, and some of us lose opportunities to build important relationships when we react to people based on that hierarchy. You are working with a student and a teacher comes in with an important question. How you handle this will speak volumes to the student. Rather than telling the student to “wait a minute,” address the teacher and ask for a minute or two to complete with the student.  A variation on this is when an administrator comes in while you are working with a teacher or student.  The one you are with deserves your attention.  If you have to wrap it up quickly, show you know and will be back to check if there are any questions. 
  1. Draw people out- Be curious about others. Compliment them on something you admire or notice.  Ask questions. People enjoy talking about themselves.  When they do, a connection forms—as long as you are listening. The more you know about someone, the more you know and understand their wants and needs.  Knowing that helps you meet them better and they come to appreciate and value who and what you are. 
  1. Notice your second language–By now you are well aware of the messages you send (and receive) non-verbally. Smiling is always a welcoming invitation to others. It doesn’t mean you have a broad smile all day long. It would look ridiculous. Rather, have a soft smile as you walk the halls and as you work. Then when someone approaches you, your smile widens in welcome. You look the person in the eye, letting them know you are focused on them. With the smile on your face, as long as your mind isn’t going elsewhere, your body will follow in extending the welcome. 
  1. Show strength in your vulnerability–This is tough. It feels risky because it can be, but it’s about honest human contact. Share personal stories as appropriate. It opens the avenue of communication. Whether the stories are funny or show a mistake you made, it shows others you are human. Not perfect, but open to always learning. 
  1. Never try to fake it–When you are interacting with others, faking it never works and it will result in the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Becoming charismatic is not about manipulating people. It’s about connecting so you can work better together and accomplish more.

Practice these steps in your personal life as well.  Charisma should not be something you just turn on at work. Make your life easier – radiate charisma. And I’ll trust you to use your power for good.

ON LIBRARIES: Who Are You?

The great philosopher, Socrates, said in the 400s B.C.E. “Know thyself.”  Truly words of wisdom. Do you know yourself?  In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.” If you don’t know yourself, it’s more than a little difficult to be true to yourself.  Strong, confident leaders must know themselves and be true to themselves. It is one of the reasons people follow them.

This starts with being honest with yourself about who you are. You may not imagine yourself better than you are, but it is equally dishonest to consider yourself as less. Remember, leaders know their strengths and weakness and look to others to fill in where they need help. They accept their mistakes and where they struggle even as they work to improve.  But the imperfections don’t detract from their confidence.  It’s part of their self-awareness.

Laurie Ruetimann’s post Self-Leadership is Self-Awareness points out there is no leadership without self-leadership, and self-leadership begins with self-awareness. She addresses these three components of self-leadership:

Self-awareness of Personal Values – This goes back to your philosophy. You have a professional and a personal one. As a school librarian, you should hold the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and its Code of Ethics as core values.  It means we stand up for intellectual freedom and access to information.  It may mean that when faced with a job situation that violates your personal values, you recognize it as such and make a decision as to whether you leave.  If you stay, you know why you made that choice and accept it honestly.

Self-awareness of Intentions and Behaviors – Your word has value. Leaders know their goals and work toward achieving them. They recognize they are the ones ultimately responsible, so they take responsibility for what goes wrong they don’t blame or look to others to solve the problem.  It’s on them. In addition, they praise others for their successes because they know success doesn’t depend on one person.

Self-awareness of Personal Perspective – An emotionally intelligent leader accepts bad days and failures as part of life, not as a sign of failure or a reason to give up. When these days happen, take a short while to be upset with what went wrong but don’t dwell on it. Instead, look for solutions.  What can potentially be done to make the situation better?  What should you differently next time? Knowing your personal perspective allowed you to move forward not get stuck in the past.

How can you become self-aware? Laurie Ruetimann lists 10 questions for you to answer?

1.     What am I good at? – Be honest with yourself.  List both your professional strengths and your personal ones.

2.     What exhausts me? An interesting question. It’s not just the physical tasks. It could also be dealing with certain people. Again, look personally and professionally.

3.     What is the most important thing in my life? This list should include personal ones first, in my opinion.

4.     Who do I love? Be sure to put yourself on the list.

5.     What stresses me out?  This is close to #2, but not the same. Working to meet deadlines can stress me out, but it’s not what exhausts me.

6.     What’s my definition of success? Another interesting question, and one that should take your time to answer.

7.     What type of worker am I? Team player? Self-directed? Over-achiever?

8.     How do I want others to see me? Trustworthy? Helpful? Knowledgeable?

9.     What type of person do I want to be? Is it different from #8?

10.  What things do I value in life? Similar to knowing your personal values, but consider looking at what you value in others.

 

Ruetiman’s final question is “Does it feel awkward to be self-aware? Her answer – “Probably at first.” We tend to be so focused on looking outwards, we don’t spend enough time looking inwards. We have come to realize the importance of reflection.  Self-awareness is part of that.  And remember the advice of Socrates and Shakespeare.

ON LIBRARIES: Being a Leader Takes Practice

Professional musicians and athletes practice regularly to keep and raise their skills to the highest level. But all professions and crafts require practice.  This means being attentive to what you are doing and repeatedly assessing your performance. You probably do this as a librarian, but you may be not reflecting on how you are practicing – and improving – as a leader.  Making regular checks on your leadership practices will increase your skills and make you more successful.

The needs of your program keep you very busy but you cannot overlook how you are doing as a leader. As I have often written, you are either growing or dying.  There is no stasis.  And school librarians must be leaders – there is no other option.

Are you content to lead only in small ways? Anything is better than nothing, but you need to keep growing.  What plan do you have to do so? Do you go to your state (and hopefully national) conferences?  Have you taken webinars? It’s easy to complain about time, but that is a story you tell yourself.  Remember none of us have time.  We make time. When it’s a priority in your life, you find a way to do it. And leadership must be a priority.

As a quick check, think of how many times in the course of the day were you a leader? With teachers?  Administrators? If you can’t come up with instances, you need to do more to focus on your leadership practice. John R. Stoker’s post Are You Working on You? Questions for Improving the Quality of Your Leadership is a good way to take stock and expand on how you lead and how you are perceived. He puts forth ten questions that build on each other. If you’re struggling with the first few, you’ll be challenged with later questions as well.

  1. Are people motivated to follow you? – You can’t be a leader if no one is following you. When you propose a program—big or small—how is it greeted?  If you can’t enroll the necessary stakeholders to go along with it, you are doing everything alone.  Not only are you not leading, but you are also more likely to become overwhelmed.  If this sounds like you, think of how to reframe your ideas so it appeals to the needs of the people you want to join with you.
  2. Do people seek your perspective or insights? You should be known as someone who knows a lot about technology and how to incorporate it into teaching. People should recognize you as an expert in literature for your students.  If your advice isn’t being sought, why do you think that is?  Perhaps you give the impression you are too busy. Being approachable is an important part of being a leader.
  3. How open am I to different perspectives about tough issues? Now more than ever, we need to be models of civil discourse. Teachers and administrators may have different views on what you add to the collection. While you must be true to your philosophy and professional ethics, how you hear their feelings and react to them will affect their perception of you as a leader.
  4. What situations or feedback cause me to get defensive? When we get defensive, the other person tends to react badly as well, and we are certainly not behaving like a leader. Listen for the message rather than focusing on the delivery method. Respond calmly, once again showing how well you can engage in civil discourse.
  5. Why do I take certain situations personally? This is an excellent self-analysis question. We usually react personally when it touches on old feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Even if you never stop the internal reactions, being aware of why it is a trigger will help you put it in a proper perspective and move forward positively.
  6. How does my communication style affect others? This is big. In talking with others, there is what we actually said, what we intended to say, and what the listener heard. Ideally, they are all the same, but they may be three different things.  Tune into the body language of the person with whom you are speaking and ask for feedback to ensure your communication was clear.  If you are communicating by email, re-read before sending it.  You may not realize how your words will be received.  If it’s very important, ask someone you trust to read it and tell you what they got from the message.
  7. How does my mood or state of mind influence the decision-making of others? Your mood affects your body language. If you are tense, angry, or frustrated when asking for support, those negative feelings will be communicated (making the answers to Questions #1 and #2 more likely to be no).   In that case, you will probably not get what you seek. Breathe and check your mindset before initiating the conversation.
  8. Do people view me as negative and cynical or positive and passionate? This is basic to being a leader. No one wants to be around someone who exudes negative emotions and is always finding fault and complaining.  If people don’t want to be around you, how can you be a leader?
  9. What personal characteristics of others bother me the most? This is an interesting question. Sometimes it’s people who exhibit traits you are sensitive about in yourself such as being overly talkative (this is one of mine). Other times it’s those negative attitudes of the previous question. When you are a leader, you need to be able to get along with everyone at some level. They don’t need to be your best friends but look for other qualities they have and speak to those.
  10. Do I make negative assumptions or judgments of others, or do I give others the benefit of the doubt? Although similar to the previous question, there are differences. When I was an elementary librarian, I had a volunteer mother who struck me as being somewhat slow mentally. Over time I got to realize that although she wasn’t well educated, she had a keen analytic mind and could often spot things in my plans that I had overlooked. I had to get past my judgments.

At the end of each month, reflect back on your accomplishments and challenges.  What did you do well as a leader?  Where can you improve?  Practice may not make perfect, nothing does, but it does make you better.  And remember to speak as kindly to yourself while you’re learning as you would to your students