ON LIBRARIES – Inquiring Minds

from The Purposeful PreSchool

Inquiry-based learning is embedded in our National School Library Standards. As the Key Commitment of the Shared Foundation, Inquire states, “Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 67). Inquiry is where learning begins, and we work hard to develop it in our students. In the business world, leaders are continually searching for “what’s next.”  They know that they can’t afford not to anticipate what is coming. They have to be ready to shift their business model, and sometimes we do, too.

Inquiry, or curiosity, is essential to lifelong learning.  And as role models for lifelong learning, we need to model it in our daily lives. Too often we have a passing curiosity about something new and because of time pressure we don’t Explore (another Shared Foundation) it, and we lose the opportunity to “discover and innovate” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 103).

Curious minds keep growing, and as I and many others have said, “You are either growing or dying.” To be a successful leader you need to curious about the world around you in large part because, as I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago you are more than your job, however much that defines you.  Keep an eye on what’s happening outside the world of school librarianship, beyond education. Connect to what interests you as often as you can.

Obviously, curiosity is another quality of leadership and it is time to cultivate that mindset. The challenge is to do it when you are so busy just keeping up.  Once again, the business world has faced the same issue and offers a solution.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan explain What Happens When Leaders Lack Curiosity?  Interestingly, their first observation is that those with intellectual curiosity are more open to new experiences. They are more likely not to pre-judge people.  They are more tolerant and able to see beyond the narrow frame of their own perspective. They are, simply, more successful.

Tolerance for others is part of our Shared Foundation Include which has as a Key Commitment, “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 75). When you reach out to collaborate with teachers, do you choose the ones who are most like you?  Or do you recognize those with different backgrounds and interests can add a deeper dimension to the learning experience – and be a model for students?

Another characteristic of curiosity is being able to deal with ambiguous situations and issues. Although your roles as a school librarian are clearly spelled out in the National School Library Standards, how this plays out in your school setting is not always so clear.  Every day you are faced with people who think they know what you are to do and while they are usually right about part of your job but often doesn’t take in the whole nor see how the pieces all intersect.

One of you may have an administrator who is so enamored with technology, he or she wants you to focus on that exclusively.  Another is totally committed to literacy and only wants to see that in the library. There is nothing wrong with technology in the library and certainly reading is one of our Common Beliefs.  What you do is follow the directive you have been given.  And then you get creative. You support your Makerspace or STEM programs with books that stimulate thinking.  You read stories to the kids and have a display of nonfiction related to what you read.  You blur what you were told to do so you can deliver a comprehensive library program. In doing so, you make your students curious as well.

Most of all, Chamorro-Premuzic and Swan say curious people have a “hungry mind.” They are not committed to creating a plan and sticking with it no matter what.  They accept that things change and changing direction can improve the outcome. Indeed, that’s a concept we would like our students to develop around their research.

copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

In March, I blogged on building students curiosity.  We need to cultivate it as well, no matter how busy we are.  To me, it seems librarians are naturally curious as a group.  We need to know – and we love knowing.  We can’t let the demands of our job keep us from this vital leadership quality. I hope you find lots of ways to indulge and enjoy your curiosity this summer

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ON LIBRARIES: Makerspaces – A Lesson In Leadership

When Makerspaces burst onto the scene several years ago, it was the public libraries that led the way.  Proactive school librarians seized on the idea and, after a slow start, they are now in many schools, although not always in the library.  On the whole, it seemed to be an easy advocacy tool, increasing a positive perception of the library.  But not everyone has been happy with Makerspaces.  A few places have reduced or eliminated them.  Is this the new trend?  Were Makerspaces a fad that is fading?  Not really, but the reasons behind some of the dissatisfaction with them provides a good lesson on leading.

The first school librarians who incorporated Makerspaces were leaders, as early adopters usually are.  Most often they moved into it slowly, minimizing the risk of investing too heavily in a project before knowing the pitfalls.  You do have to be careful when blazing a trail, but those following shouldn’t assume the path is clear.

At the initial obstacles were financial, but eventually, the spaces became about more than expensive equipment like 3-D printers. Vendors, seeing a growing market began, producing affordable kits that were a natural for Makerspaces.  And they thrived and grew. Contributions and expansion into what had been seen only as hobbies and crafts made it easier to develop Makerspaces on a shoestring.  The kids were creating, problem-solving, and having fun.  The tie-in to STEAM which was a growing education trend made it even more appealing.

Click on the image to read the article at Knowledge Quest

All was going well until a few blips appeared.  Some librarians reported problems with Makerspaces which was an uncomfortable thing to share because everyone was still talking about how great the spaces were. Because only a few were having difficulties, the issue was ignored. People were too excited about this new “toy” and it’s embarrassing to have a problem when the vast majority are being wildly successful. But the truth is, there is a growing challenge to having and maintaining this aspect of your program.

Makerspaces had trouble when they were suggested to the librarian instead of by the librarian.  The fact that administrators loved the concept when librarians introduced it was a plus for the movement.  But when Makerspaces are implemented under the principals’ direction, they lose much of the advocacy opportunities, and how it is put into the library can have a negative effect on the program.  What has happened in some districts is that the administrator puts all the focus on the Makerspace to the exclusion of nearly everything else including literacy activities.  The principal believes he/she has a cutting age library program when in reality the true 21st teaching is being lost.

Makerspaces also tend not to be successful when the librarian plunges into it believing the simple existence of one makes it an advocacy tool.  If all you do is read the “contents” of a Makerspace and come close to duplicating it, you won’t have a successful program.  Leaders know planning is the key to success.

And planning always begins by reviewing your Mission and Vision (and possibly your Philosophy). How

From https://www.chiefoutsiders.com/blog/not-screw-up-value-proposition

will this addition help further these? In what way?  Who are the stakeholders?  How can you spread the word to the community?  Is there a way to involve them so they know and possibly participate in the aims and achievements of the Makerspace or whatever you are promoting?

Programs do not exist in a vacuum.  They need to be tied to something and your Mission and Vision helps you define their purpose and their ultimate goals. Planning should also remind you that nothing stays the same.  It either grows or dies. You don’t put a Makerspace into place and then just keep repeating it.  You need to assess what is happening with students.  Where do you want to take them next? How can you help them think deeper, bigger, and more critically?

Makerspaces can be wonderful. They are truly student-centered, promote inquiry, and creativity.  They can be tied to literature as well as STEAM.  They can be an important component of your advocacy plan.  BUT you have to plan.  It’s what leaders do.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Successful?

I suspect many of you would answer the title question in the negative. I hear from many librarians who are feeling frustrated and exhausted, and while I understand their reasons, it causes me great concern.  These symptoms, if prolonged, lead to burnout and that in turn results in not giving your best to your students and teachers.

But what can you do when you are overworked and under-appreciated?  The answer begins with changing your mindset. When you change your mindset, you can start recognizing you are far more successful than you think. I am not saying you aren’t working under stressful conditions, but it’s how you react to them, how you internalize them, which can make all the difference in the situation.

Our new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries refers to having a “growth mindset” which is the antithesis of a “fixed mindset.”  It is defined as “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.  This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (p. 276)

And you definitely need resilience to deal with what is on your plate.

You certainly believe that a growth mindset is important for your students. But how about you? You are working hard but are you working towards your mission, your purpose? Are you only seeing what you aren’t accomplishing and the negatives around you? That will only move you into a downward spiral.

I challenge you to define what success would look like.  What do you think being successful with your students looks like?  With teachers?  With administrators? Your list likely has places where you haven’t achieved what you consider success.  But look a bit more closely.

You are undoubtedly more successful with your students than you are giving yourself credit for.  Has a student thanked you for your help in some way lately?  What about any relationships you have developed with teachers?  Has one of them expressed any appreciation for something you have done? Have you made any inroads with your principal?

I recently read an article by Jillian Kramer entitled 4 Myths We Are Taught about Success. This comes from the business world but there are strong connections to what we are dealing with every day.

Her first myth is one I have discussed before, “If You Are Good at Your Job, You’ll Get Promoted.”  You are good, and no one is noticing you.  True in the business world and true for us.  And what does she recommend to change this?  Build relationships – and focus on your next step.

The second myth, “You Must Start Young,” doesn’t seem to connect – but it does.  The point is yesterday doesn’t matter.  It’s what you do today.  Where do you want to go? How will you get there?  And then, start NOW.

The third is “You Must Kill Yourself to Succeed.”  Some of you are trying that route.  It doesn’t work.  You feel like a martyr and you have nothing left for what’s really important in your life.  Working late everyday is not a recipe for success.  Try my mantra, “Everything will get done. It always does.” This really means if it’s a priority, you will make it happen.

The final myth is, “You Must Play Politics.”  Guess what? In business and in our world, that kind of approach is obvious to everyone. Being a team player is not being a brown-nose. On the other hand, you do need to know what your stakeholders’ goals are, whether you are referring to administrators or teachers. That’s how you successfully connect your library program to what matters to them.

It’s easy to focus on all the negatives in our lives. Obviously, they must be dealt with, but when we bring them to close to our vision, we see nothing beyond it. I counter that habit by keeping a Success Journal.  Each day I record whatever has occurred that makes me feel successful. (Such as completing my blog for the week.)

Learning to take a wider view will help you establish a more positive mindset, which will improve how you see your world and yourself. Ultimately, I hope you will discover you are far more successful than you thought.

ON LIBRARIES: In the Award Spotlight

This past week AASL announced it 2018 award winners.  Next year you could be one of them. Does that scare you? Thrill you? Both? Good!

Now is the perfect time to think about going for one of the AASL awards. School is almost over everywhere.  (Some of you have only a few days left.) You have the benefit of more free time over summer to choose the best award for you and get your application organized. Most of them will be due February 1, 2019. In past blogs, I have alluded to applying for awards as a way to get noticed for what you do.  For those of you who are still unsure about putting yourself forward as a leader, this is a potential first step.

There is one caveat.  You must be a member of ALA/AASL to qualify – and too few librarians belong to our national association. 

Joining has so many benefits – developmental, social, and even financial.  For example, everyone needs to own the new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. The hefty price tag of $199 is reduced to a far more reasonable $99 if you are a member of ALA/AASL, and first-year membership costs $119.  So for an additional $19 you get your membership and the standards.

Going back to the awards options, AASL offers a number of awards and grants and, with some preparation, one will fit with what you are doing. My favorite grant, for several reasons, is the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries. Some of you may know that for more than 30 years Ruth and I co-authored 14 books for school librarians, the last three for ALA Editions.  We also wrote and edited The School Librarian’s Workshop, a bi-monthly newsletter, which eventually lead to a growing, supportive Facebook group over 7,000 strong.

 

The Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries is sponsored by Ruth’s husband, Jay Toor and speaks to something Ruth, and I, have always been passionate about – creating a public awareness/marketing campaign promoting the school library program as a necessary resource.  The grant winner gets $3,000 to carry out the campaign.  Another $2,000 goes to the librarian and an administrator (or volunteer parent) to attend an AASL or ALA conference. It is not one of the simplest grants to apply for, so I recommend it for an established librarian.  It is a fairly large grant, and you should build in many opportunities for widespread coverage of whatever event is part of your campaign.  Whether you get the grant or not – do what you can to carry out the campaign you create (you may be able to find some local funding if you need it) and get you and your program recognition from the administration.

Have you and a teacher worked together on a learning opportunity that was highly successful? One where students created new information and were thoroughly engaged?  If so, you are ready to apply for the Collaborative School Library Award, which is not nearly as complicated. The winner of this award, sponsored by Upstart, receives $2,500.  If you start putting this together now, be mindful that the criteria refer to meet standards in Empowering Learners. I am sure it will soon be updated to require using the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (see, another reason you need a copy of this!)

If your successful collaborative unit is about Social Justice, look at the criteria for the Roald Dahl Miss Honey Social Justice Award.  Your project should “expose social injustice while at the same time inspiring … students to repair the world through justice, service, or advocacy.” Possible themes are genocide, civil liberties, and local issues on the topic. The winner of the award, sponsored by Penguin Random House, receives $2,000. Additionally, there is up to $1,000 reimbursement for travel to attend the AASL Awards at the ALA Annual Conference – and a $5,000 book donation from Penguin Random House. That will boost your collection – and put your program in your administration’s spotlight.

The $2,500 Innovative Reading Grant, sponsored by Capstone, is for a unique program, motivating reading, particularly among struggling readers. Up to four grants are available for the Inspire Collection Development Grant, sponsored by Marina “Marnie” Welmars.  The grants go to middle or high school librarians (grades 5-12) in public schools with 85% or more of the students qualifying for Free/Reduced Lunch Program.

The most challenging award to apply for and the one requiring the most developed programs is the National School Library Program of the Year. Sponsored by Follett, it is meant to showcase exemplary programs. As such, they ensure that “the students and staff are effective users of ideas and information. These programs empower learners to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers and ethical users of information.” Winners receive $10,000 and a lot of attention, starting when finalists get visits from the award committee.  If you want to tackle this award, you will not only need to start early but, as the guideline suggests, do check the rubric. (Also use the National School Library Standards, not the old standards.) 

Look over these awards and grant and see which one you might win with an investment of time and a bit of risk-taking.  There is a link to the past/current winning entry for each of them so you can see what was previously submitted and impressed the judges. Consider emailing the librarian if you have questions. Next year you could be honored at the AASL Awards luncheon.

 

ON LIBRARIES – Community Outreach

So you’ve have been working hard to be a leader in your building.  The teachers have come to rely on you and, hopefully, you have made your administrator aware of what you have been doing to improve student achievement, guiding them to being critical thinkers and lifelong learners. That is wonderful!

And it’s not enough.

Budget shortfalls can have a devastating effect. You need community support behind you and your library program.  The time to begin is now, not when the crisis hits. Remember, advocacy is not about you advocating for your program. It’s about getting others to advocate for it.  To recognize your value and that of your program.

You need to reach an audience beyond your school to build advocates who have discovered what a school library program means to students, teachers, and the community as a whole. Remember, in many places the whole town votes on the budget.  Some won’t want to support your program, particularly if they don’t have children in the schools. In addition, when most people think of school libraries, they picture the one they had when they were in school.  To their mind, it seems rather dated.  What can you do to change the picture – change the story about school libraries they have in their head?

Slowly become a presence in your community.  Start with the public library.  You can build a collaborative/cooperative program with them. See if they will allow you to showcase student learning happening in your library. Display student-produced work. You can return the support by posting information about the public library in your school showing the students how this additional resource can help them.

Next, consider the many groups in your town.  Is there a Historical Society? A garden club?  Perhaps they would like to do a display in your library – and you can augment it with material from your collection.  Get your local news outlet – newspaper or cable – to cover it.

Are there local businesses who might be able to contribute to your Makerspaces?  Either supplies or leading a session or both?  If you are in a high school, could they do a special program talking about what they want from interns or employees? Consider holding the event in the evening so that parents can come as well.

Just don’t tackle everything at once.  That will overwhelm you which leads to giving up, and you don’t want that. Have a goal then consider slow steps to achieve it.  To help you be more successful in your community outreach, ALA has to the School Library Health and Wellness Toolkit.  After an excellent explanation of advocacy and how it must be approached, it provides a systematic 5-step way to build support, including helpful resources.

In Step 1, you are directed to identify your stakeholders. The list starts with students and continues with parents, teachers, and administrators, ending with community members and legislators. For each stakeholder, the toolkit offers “sample issues, concerns, priorities, and needs.”

Step 2 has you think about ways to solve stakeholder problems and concerns through library programming. It reminds you when considering stakeholder priorities that your efforts need to be about their priorities, not the “library needs and wants.” Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them.

Step 3 briefly points to the need to market to your stakeholders and “educate” them about the library program.  Once again you need to consider to whom you are sending the message and what is the best way to deliver it.

Step 4 focuses on evaluation and evidence.  You need to measure how successful you are being so you can make adjustments.  And you need evidence to show what libraries do. Focus “on data that shows contributions to educational goals.  In particular, have data showing contributions to student achievement and the development of 21st Century work and learning skills”

The final step is sharing your findings. Don’t wait to be asked. “Sharing positive data and evidence before a situation is critical is key to preventing cuts. Make positive messages and proof of student learning part of the culture of the library program.”

A list of “Quick Tips” follows along with links to a number of resources including a Sample Library PowerPoint Presentation “Powerful Library School Program.”  And don’t forget the ALA initiative Libraries Transform. Scroll down to the colored boxes with their powerful slogans.  Clicking on each gives you more information to back up the statement.

Like Leadership, Community Outreach is not an option. It must be included in your strategic advocacy planning.  Again – start small, use the online resources as your PLN (including our Facebook page) and don’t stop.

ON LIBRARIES: Saying Yes – and No

It’s important for leaders – and you are a leader—to step out and take on new challenges. Moving out of your comfort zone is how you learn and grow.  I would venture to say you’ve already done this in so many places in your life, not just in librarianship. My personal leadership journey took a leap forward when I started volunteering in my state association, then called EMANJ now NJASL. Over time, however, I’ve learned when it’s important to step into a new opportunity and when I need to say no. “No” can be a very effective leadership tool.

I learned so much about leadership and leading when I became president of NJASL.  It was a bit scary at the time, but I had a lot of support.  And it built my confidence which was an important benefit. I took another leap forward when my position as president-elect and then president took me to the AASL Affiliate Assembly.  Suddenly I was swimming in a bigger pool.  There were so many leaders with more experience than I had, but they were easy to approach and always extremely helpful.

I also was developing a much broader perspective. I began learning what the other library associations in my region and the country were dealing with and what they were doing.  Many of their challenges were the same as my state’s, others were not.  Occasionally their issues surfaced in my state at a later time.  Not only was I prepared, I knew whom to reach for advice.

From the state level, I moved on to AASL committees. Each one focused on a different aspect of school librarianship.  I have been on so many over the years including an early one on strategic planning, programming for the AASL Conference, the Fall Forum, several Task Forces, and Advocacy.  Committees change over the years, but they were all key learning experiences. Almost every time I accepted an appointment to a committee or task force, I felt I didn’t know as much as I would like to be able to do a good job.  No worries.  The chair knew, and I was able to learn on the job.

I was very secure in my AASL niche.  Then I was appointed as AASL liaison to ALA committees.  Time to step out of my comfort zone. The pool became huge.  I understood school libraries, but now I was working with public, academic, government, and special librarians.  Their world was very different from mine.

When I am on an AASL committee I can count on knowing at least some of the members.  It’s not quite the same when it’s ALA, but the same welcoming response I found in AASL was here as well.  I have gotten to know presidents and past presidents of ALA and other major leaders and have a much larger perspective on how each type of library impacts all the others.

As a result of my ongoing volunteering for ALA and AASL (and I am going back to Affiliate Assembly as my state’s delegate after several years away), my ability to talk to those outside our field about the value of school libraries—and all libraries—has increased incrementally.  I have the vocabulary and the fluency to communicate these ideas. I have often said I should have received CEU credits from what I have learned.

Saying yes to new opportunities is a positive and an important aspect of leadership, but what about saying, “no?” When is that powerful?The answer depends on why you are saying it. I first blogged about “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” in 2015 and have expanded on it.  There are always reasons to say no. But too often these prevent you from becoming the leader you absolutely need to be.  But sometimes a leader must learn to say no.

When you have been a leader for a long time and are accustomed to getting out of your comfort zone, saying yes becomes your automatic response.  But recently I came face-to-face with the need to step back.

As a number of you know, a few weeks ago I had major surgery and for the most part was not able to take care of many of my daily tasks from online teaching to committee work for two weeks.  My natural tendency is to quickly get back to what I was doing.  But I had to accept I couldn’t resume everything at once.  I have to go more slowly.

It’s easy to help others.  It’s hard to ask for and accept help but that’s a component of leadership as well.  In addition to delegating, it’s important to trust others in the different areas of your life to step into the breach. In some cases, it’s empowering.  For example, one of my students took on a leadership role in getting her classmates to continue posting on the online Discussion Board and supporting each other.  In my personal life family members, including extended ones, have been there to help, some in unexpected ways.

I’m still impatient to get up to full speed.  I’m dealing with a steep learning curve with regards to some new (and hopefully temporary limitations) and reminding myself to draw on past successes to maintain my confidence.  Leadership is a continual learning activity, and I expect it will always continue to be one of mine.

ON LIBRARIES: Expect the Unexpected

THIS WEEK GUEST BLOGGER: Rona Gofstein

Last Tuesday, Hilda went to the ER with stomach issues and before the day was out she needed emergency surgery. As of this morning, she’s still in the hospital but will soon be heading to a rehab facility before going home. Needless to say… this wasn’t on her to do list.

As the first person who reads her blogs and then edits them, I offered to write one for her this week, and in preparing to do so I thought about the things Hilda focuses on most often: leadership, community, and communication.  I can tell you all of those things played a part this last week.

When the word went out among her friends and family, people called, sent flowers and a few headed out to the hospital. Community came together. There were comments and posts throughout social media, hopes for a speedy recovery pouring in to Hilda and her husband. There is nothing like a sudden health issue to make you feel alone and isolated. I know Hilda felt the connection of her community who reached out in so many ways to help.

As for communication,  being able to communicate clearly with doctors and other care providers is very important.  Hilda has worked hard this past week, starting when she was arrived at the hospital, to be clear about what was wrong, how long the problem existed and, now that she’s in a patient room, what she needs to be comfortable and support her own recovery. This includes asking for the support she needs to take regular walks, get what she needs for pain management, and reaching out to family for things she needs them to bring (I can tell you, her Nook was at the hospital almost immediately).

Then there’s leadership. What to say about leadership?

I think John Allen Paulus said it best with, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.”  There is no way to avoid surprises whether that’s a class showing up in the library unexpectedly, a beloved principal retiring, or  your car not starting at the end of the day. It’s rarely fun; it’s frequently unsettling; and there’s no getting away from it.

As a leader, it’s important to use what skills you already have – and frequently these include communication and community – to make the situation into one which doesn’t take you away from your long term goals and mission. In fact, I think Hilda would be quick to remind us this is one of the marks of a strong leader, and one of the benefits of being clear on your mission and vision. If you know where you want to end up, then the unexpected won’t have the dramatic or long term results that they might other

I know you’ll join me in wishing Hilda a speedy recovery. And as we writers say, when life throws something unexpected at you, yell “PLOT TWIST” and keep moving forward!

 

ON LIBRARIES: Can You Hear Me Now?

Sometimes it seems as though what you say keep falling on deaf ears.  Whether you are explaining to a teacher that Google is for searching not researching or sending emails to the administrator, somehow there is a disconnect and your message is not received.  It’s as though there’s no reception on your phone and you’re standing there asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Some solutions for business leaders were offered in John R. Stoker’s article entitled “How to Achieve Recognition by Results.”  With some tweaking, the 10 approaches he recommends can be applied in the education setting and may offer you ideas to help you get you heard. I’m going to discuss the first five this week with the conclusion next week.

First and foremost, Continue to do the Work. Of course, you will, but the important part of this step is to watch your attitude.  You need to maintain a positive mindset.  Not an easy task when you feel disrespected.  If you have Mission Statement (which is your purpose and that of your program), keep it in mind to motivate you.  I am always surprised to see how many librarians don’t have one – nor do they have a Vision Statement which can inspire you to push on and help when negative thoughts become overwhelming.

Stoker’s second suggestion is Look to Make a Difference. Yes, that’s what you have been trying to do all along and what is likely frustrating you.  However, in this case, it’s also about doing it differently. You know the classic line from Einstein about repeating the same action in hope of a different result.  Stop driving yourself crazy.   Instead, try new methods.  If you have been sending e-mails, try a handwritten note to teachers in a grade level or subject area. In an age of digital communication, the personal touch is more likely to be welcomed.  And again, don’t attempt too much.  Just enough to see if it works.

I have long recommended you Support Others in Their Work. While this is your goal and where you are likely feeling frustrated, there are two ways to handle this. First, get to know them as individuals.  As their trust in your builds, so will their willingness to come to you for support.  In addition, try to discover what kind of help your teachers and administration actually want, don’t assume.  This way what you suggest comes across more easily as support rather than criticism.

From listening to conversations in the school (remember, this is one of the reasons to take your lunch where the teachers do), try to discover their next unit of study, and then ask the teacher to stop by for coffee and maybe a snack because you have something special for them.  That’s when you can show the database that will make their students more successful. Offer to locate resources for any future unit.  Notice, you didn’t send out an email blast.  You made it personal.

Humbly be Right, Stoker writes:

If you come up with a solution that is a resounding success, keep your mouth shut. Let people draw their own conclusions. If you go out of your way to celebrate your individual success, rather than put the focus on the team effort, people will look for ways to discount your contribution, identify your weaknesses and let it be known what an arrogant and pompous individual you are. That also means that you do not want to go fishing for compliments. Let your results speak for themselves and let that be the end of it.

I once had a science teacher who kept explaining her curriculum was too tight to bring her students in for me to teach them the research process. We had a friendly relationship so I was able to cajole her into bringing her students in for one period.  The kids were incredibly successful. This was not the time for an “I told you so”. Instead, I said we could do it again whenever she wished.  At the end of the year, she told me the lesson in the library had affected all the rest of their research and the following school year, she brought them in for three days in a row to get them started.

The fifth idea is to Offer Concrete Evidence. There is so much talk about big data and needing to prove results, but despite years of accumulating evidence on how school librarians and libraries affect student learning no one seems to be listening.  Isn’t the data important? Yes, it is, but once again it’s impersonal and has no emotional connection to your building and school until you can show direct application and result.

Data with your students will find a more welcoming audience.   Use evidence-based practice to highlight how key district/building goals are being achieved in the library.  Then you can follow up with the impact studies.  If you state has done one, so much the better.

I’m curious to hear if any of these resonate with you. Are there ways you are already putting this into practice but could make some changes to get even better results?  Next week – the rest of the list!

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Connecting to the Community

How far does your reach extend beyond your school library?  I know you’re likely thinking – I have enough of a challenge getting my reach to extend where it needs to within the school – but it’s something librarians have to consider. I wrote about this several years ago, and while there are new methods for outreach, the reason for it is the same – if you ignore your community, your community will ignore you.  Here’s where leaders recognize opportunity and look for ways to show why libraries and librarians are indispensable.

For years, librarians did their jobs exclusively within their four walls.  Elementary librarians usually had a fixed schedule (and most still do) with teachers dropping off and picking up their students at assigned times. At middle and high school levels they waited for teachers to approach them about bringing their classes in throughout the year to do research.

Infographic from AASL webpage on Advocacy. Click image for link

This pattern created a library program seemingly unconnected with the rest of the school which led to the widespread elimination of librarians as tight budgets forced tough decisions. Since few administrators knew what value the librarian and library program brought to students and staff, it was a “logical” place to cut.  Although many librarians were developing inquiry-based projects in collaboration or collaboration with teachers, great numbers of them were also swept away in the carnage.

The good news is we are coming back. A combination of factors including advocacy initiatives from ALA/AASL, the concern over fake news, and a growing awareness that there is a place for librarians is reversing the trend.  However, the change is happening slowly and there is always the danger of the pendulum going back if we don’t widen the base of our advocates to prevent that from happening.

A reminder about what advocacy means. It is not about you campaigning to keep your job and program.  As defined by AASL, it is an “On-going process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program.”  And why do they support you?  They support you because you consistently supply something of value to them. You and your program help them reach their goals.

You can see it clearly when you collaborate and cooperate with the teachers. Your assistance makes their jobs easier and their students more successful.  That’s what teachers need, and you provide it.  But other stakeholders have different needs you should be aware of.

For example, the public library has also been hit with cuts in staff and budgets.  You are natural partners.  Reach out to the children’s or young adult librarian and talk about how you can help each other.  For example, September is Library Card Sign-Up Month. You can promote it on your website and in the library. At the beginning of the year, hand out and collect registration cards along with any promos the public library has created.

In return, have the public library publicize what is happening in your library.  See if you can do a bulletin board every so often with pictures of the kids at work.  Whether it’s Makerspaces or research, let the community know and see what goes on in school libraries. Maybe some of the students or teachers will join you to set up the bulletin board.

You can also “exchange” space on your websites. You can link to the public library’s site while they can link to yours.  Include it in a paragraph that will pique the community’s interest in going to your website.  This can be a place to use your Mission and/or Vision.  Or you may want to say something like, “See how tomorrow’s citizens are preparing today.”

Consider going even bigger by inviting community groups into the library.  Have the historical society do a display and use library resources to complement it.  Do the same with the garden club and any group that may be able to do something in the library. They will appreciate having the additional forum to promote what they do for the community. You might have the local cable station or newspaper cover it, especially if this becomes something you do regularly. Of course, put links to the groups you feature on your website.

The biggest reach is to the business community.  The Career counselor in my last school was a member of Rotary.  My principal was in Kiwanis.  Through them, and always with the permission of the administration, I was able to give a brief talk at one of their lunch meetings. Today, I would also be showing them my website and other online features. If you are in the high school, this is a great way to find out if these local businesses use interns. Working with the guidance department, you can promote the possibilities to your students, who are likely to let their parents know how they heard about it – thus reaching another group. It may even be possible to get some of these people help out in your Makerspace or other initiatives.

Think big.  Think bigger than your school library.  As you build relationships with the larger community, they will come to see how libraries have changed, what you bring to students and the school community and by extension the whole town (or neighborhood if you are in a more urban area).  Remember, the community votes on school budgets.  You want them to value the school library and support it.

ON LIBRARIES: Keep Your Communication Channels Clear

Clear communication is critical in building relationships, and you need these relationships to develop advocates for your program. As a leader, you will communicate with many people in many situations from one-on-one to (eventually) large groups (more about this in my blog on Space Relations). You also communicate with yourself, often as the initial step in reaching others. Communication is a giant topic with extensive subtopics.

In an online article, Marlene Chism identifies three communication mistakes which are at play in any professional situation. She states that “one of the most valuable tools leaders have for driving results and improving performance is conversation.” No matter what channel you choose and no matter your message, there are always three parts: the sender, the message, and the receiver.  If any part is muddled the message won’t get through. 

Obviously, you are the sender.  Unless you are speaking for a group and haven’t made it clear that you are presenting information that is not necessarily your own belief, there is rarely any confusion about the sender.

The message is another matter.

Aside from the need to tailor the message to the medium and the receiver (which I’ll discuss another time), you need to be sure you are not inadvertently bringing confusion. To ensure message clarity, you must avoid mistakes that can affect all communication no matter which method/medium you use.

Lack of focus is the first blunder.  Are you trying to communicate so much that the channel is completely clogged?  If the receiver can’t make sense of where you are going, they often stop listening. Too many examples and too much background information become overwhelming to the person you are addressing.

School librarians often make this mistake in speaking with their administrator.  They are so anxious to be sure the principal understands the basis for the proposal and to demonstrate they have fully thought it out, that not much of the goal gets through.  Administrators are drowning in details as is. They don’t want or need to assimilate all of yours.

To fix this, identify the bottom line.  State what you want from the principal and for what purpose.  Consider it an elevator speech—no longer than a minute.  Then say, “If you need more information, I will gladly supply it.”

Many of us have this same problem with the conversations in our heads. School librarians wear many hats and sometimes it seems they all require attention at once.  In an effort to take care of all it, your brain swirls thinking of one thing then another without following any one them all the way through. It’s exhausting and non-productive.  A solution to this is to stop, separate all the responsibilities and assign priorities to your tasks. Then work your way through them.

Chism refers to meetings that don’t get anywhere. You probably have attended way too many of these. In Leading for School Librarians I discuss “Making Meetings Matter.”  Among the suggestions are for the leader to learn the purpose and intended results, create and send out an agenda in advance and invite feedback from those who will attend, review the goals so everyone knows where you are heading, and close with action steps that need to be taken before the next meeting.  Focus is what makes the meeting productive.

Putting Tasks before Context is the second block to effective communication. If you start dealing with the details before you have explained and solidified the overall plan, no one will understand where you are going. This is related to lack of focus, but in this case, it is about the sequence.

Back to that conversation with your principal.  If you want to launch a Makerspace or a school-wide reading program, don’t begin with the activities you will include in the Makerspace or how you are getting stakeholders to participate.  Start with the goal – why you need the Makerspace.

It’s similar to creating a strategic plan.  First, you look to your Mission and Vision (hopefully you have them for your library).  Then identify two or three goals that will meet a need and promote that Mission and Vision.  Only then do you develop the action steps for each goal.  You need to know the “why” before you begin the “do.”

The same is true for how you are communicating with yourself.  If the to-do list you create in your head or on paper has you going from one thing to next like the Energizer Bunny, you may get them done, but they won’t add up to solid progress because they were not the outgrowth of a solid plan.  It all becomes busy work. You need to talk to yourself – clearly – about why something needs doing and how it relates to the bigger picture before scurrying around to get it done.

Lack of a “By When” is the final communication error.  Whether it’s you, a teacher with whom you are collaborating, or someone on a committee you are leading, if there’s no set completion date people assume they have loads of time.  Time enough to forget about the task.  Anything that is accomplished tends to be slipshod. If you have not communicated any urgency or priority level, the individual/s is left to assign it themselves.  Your listeners have no idea of the task’s relative importance.

In our internal communication, we plan something in our heads (or on our to-do list) without a due date to give ourselves an out. It keeps us from being accountable. You don’t have to meet your self-assigned deadline, but you do need to know if you missed it – and why.

Focus, Context, and Due Dates will keep your Communications clear.  And being a good communicator is an essential quality of a leader.