ON LIBRARIES: Understanding and Using Culture

What is your school’s culture?  What is your library’s culture? Both affect how you do your job, how you present yourself, and whether you are regarded as a leader. I blogged on this topic back in January, but a recent article made me want to revisit the topic.

Readers may recall I worked in two districts with dramatically different cultures. The first voted down twenty budgets in the twenty-two years I was there. The second district passed every budget in the nine years I was there.  This district prided itself on its history and its ability and willingness to support the school system. They viewed themselves as a lighthouse district.  Indeed, pride along with diversity are still present on the district’s home page, mission, and superintendent’s vision.

Knowing the culture of the two districts affected how I proposed my annual budget requests and projects. At the first school, everything was couched in terms of how my request(s) would be cost-saving. (Every dollar spent in the library affects all students.)  I overheard a business teacher speaking to her department chair saying, “We don’t need new textbooks as long as Hilda’s library is up-to-date.” In the second school, I promoted my requests and ideas as a means of moving the school forward. In preparatory discussions with administrators, I would compare what I was seeking with what was happening in other leading school districts and libraries. I could be asking for the same thing in each school, but I framed it differently to fit the culture.

So if you’re (still) struggling with working within your school’s culture, you may appreciate the idea s from an article in Harvard Business Review where John Coleman discusses the Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture. Although he is addressing the business world much of what he says relates or is adaptable to education and the school library.

Coleman starts with Vision. He states, “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement.” I have been promoting this for years. Your Vision and/or Mission must guide every decision you make. It sets the tone for everything.  Don’t have one yet?  Get started.  You won’t be able to successfully advocate for your program without it. Also, make sure you know the vision for your school or school district. The more in line you can be, the easier your advocacy.

Next is Values.  According to Coleman, “A company’s values are the core of its culture.” This ties into your Philosophy which probably includes a statement that the library “is a safe, welcoming environment for all.”.  We also have our Common Beliefs as given in the National School Library Standards. As librarians, we have our ALA Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics.  To enhance your understanding, you might also reflect on your school’s and district’s values – both stated and unstated

Third is Practices. “Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices.” How many times have we heard administrators say, “The library is the heart of the school,” only to see them eliminate the budget, close the library for numerous occasions, and in other ways indicate the statement is a platitude, not a reality. (This speaks to those unstated values). You can support this by truly doing all you can to carry out your Vision/Mission and Values. If this is something you are struggling with, how can you change this or get help?

People is (are?) fourth. As Coleman says, “No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values.” These “people” are your advocates.  Are there teachers who share your values and value the library? What about your administrator? Any outside volunteers? This is why you need to communicate your Vision – and your Values.  And are you showing you value the contributions of those around you? If you need support on this, go to the National School Library Standards portal, clicking on Administrators or Educators to get the appropriate resources.

The fifth contributor to an institution’s culture is Narrative. This is where the power of emotions comes in.  You need to tell your library’s story and embed it in the awareness of your stakeholders. Use emotional content and visuals to reach your audience. Where have you seen your program making a noticeable difference in the lives of students? Why is it not only valuable but indispensable? Have students worked on college applications at the library? Try to get pictures when they’re accepted. Have students put something they’ve learned in the library into action (such as a community garden)? Make sure to show the connection – and the excitement. Do quarterly reports highlighting student learning using various tech resources such as Canva, Piktochart or your favorite site. Get your narrative out into the community with social media.

Finally, there is Place.  The look of your facility is the first thing greeting all who enter.  What message is it sending? Is it aligned with your Vision and Values or is there a disconnect? I’ve written about a list of rules being the first thing people see and how that can be a barrier. Where is the visual excitement of your space?

You create the culture for your library.  By taking stock of how yours measures up to these six components, you can make it a strong statement of who, what, and why you are.  Also, match these six to identify your school culture.  How well is the library culture aligned with the school culture? Again, is there a disconnect?  If so, develop a strategic advocacy plan to make inroads on the school culture so that it will embrace the value of the school library and make certain you are using your awareness of the culture to support your initiatives.  A challenging culture doesn’t mean you won’t get what you need. It means you’ll have to look for or develop new ways to success.

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Farewell to a Friend and Leader

On Friday, September 7, the library world lost one of its stars, and I lost a friend with the passing of Ruth Toor.  Although Ruth withdrew four years ago from being an active presence in that world when Alzheimer’s made her unable to continue, her contributions were extensive and deserve to be celebrated, and I am honored to be in a position to do that.

Ruth became a librarian after her children started school.  For her entire career, she was the school librarian at Southern Boulevard School in Chatham, New Jersey.  She is still remembered there, but because of her commitment to libraries and librarians, her influence went much further.  Ruth was president of EMAnj (now NJASL) and in 1992-1993 was president of AASL.  She also was the recipient of the EMAnj President’s Award given to someone who “has demonstrated excellence and has advanced the profession of school library media specialist.”

During Ruth’s tenure as AASL President, the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund in conjunction with AASL created Library Power which invested $40 million in nineteen communities across the country to transform school libraries.  Schools receiving the funds had to have a school librarian.  Barbara Stripling wrote about the program after it had been in progress for several years.  It showed what we can do when the funds are there.

My connection with Ruth Toor began the summer of 1976 when we both took a course at Rutgers University leading to a Supervisory Certificate for librarians.  Purely by chance, we both chose the same topic, a Volunteers’ Manual, for our culminating project. Our classmates, all of whom were leaders or future leaders in the state found the manual to be such a good idea, they urged us to get it published.

Through one of my volunteer mothers, I was connected to an editor at a subsidiary of Prentice Hall.  He wanted us to go beyond just a volunteer manual. Seeing the possibilities he did, we expanded the book and The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac was published in 1979.  No one had seen anything like it before.  Up until then, there were books on Children’s and Young Adult Literature and tools such as The Fiction Catalog.  No one had ever written about how to do a better job as a librarian.  It was assumed we learned it all in library school.  We were pleased to learn the book even reached high school librarians.

Because of the book’s strong sales, we were asked to do a 10-month newsletter for school librarians and the School Librarian’s Workshop was born. Ruth and I worked together almost once-a-week starting to get out the first issue in September 1980.  At the time, Ruth would do the final typing before sending it to the printer.  I remember how life improved when she, and then I, got our first computers.

Over the years we wrote many more books.  (You can still find many of them for resale on Amazon). The most recent ones we wrote for ALA Editions, and they are still available.  We started presenting first at our state’s conference and then at other ones across the country.  I remember when Ruth went to Alaska to give a week-long course to the librarians there.

These facts about Ruth are familiar to those who have been in librarianship for many years, but not many know about her past.  Ruth was born in Austria as Hitler was rising to power.  Her father wisely decided they needed to flee the country. Arriving with virtually no money, he took a job that paid far less than what he had been making (I believe he had been a lawyer.) and the family started over in the United States. By the time Ruth was fourteen, she had a job of her own working as a typist.  She was excellent at it, as she was with everything she did. And in the days before word processing programs, I was truly envious of her speed on the keyboard.  If I remember correctly, she eventually worked for the governor of Delaware.

Ruth and her husband have always been strong believers in “giving back.”  They funded a literary award at her alma mater, the University of Delaware and have also have been contributors to AASL.  She never self-promoted, and she and Jay live simply.  Ruth has been a role model for integrity and a life of service to one’s communities. Her husband, Jay Toor, has funded the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public Libraries in her honor so that her legacy and commitment can continues

In many ways, I lost my friend years ago when because of the disease, she could no longer remember me, but now it is time for a final good-bye.  Farewell, Ruth.  My life has been richer for knowing you.

ON LIBRARIES: Growth Mindset + Agency = Learning

Growth mindset and agency, familiar terms in the business world, are among the newest buzzwords in education and are part of our new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries.  As a leader, you want to show you understand both terms and incorporate then in how you guide students through learning experiences.

At the heart of Growth Mindset is that old aphorism, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.”  The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset.  The students who feel they are no good at math or the ones who hate books and reading are displaying a fixed mindset.  Unless their mindset is changed, it is an impassable barrier to learning.

Fear of failure is a large part of their attitude.  This may seem contradictory, but if they announce in advance they are unable to do something, they get some justification when events prove them right.  It’s not their fault. They are just not good at doing that task. As librarians, we need to develop and encourage a growth mindset in those with a fixed mindset, and many of your students have that barrier in place.  

By contrast, it’s amazing what can be achieved when students develop a growth mindset.  Consider a young athlete who wants to excel in the sport of his/her choice.  Getting up early to attend an extra practice is not a problem.  It’s a way to master techniques.  They will work on their own to fix any flaws their coach has detected.  Even success is not the end.  They want to get even better.

Imagine what this would look like in an academic setting.

In National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries the Key Commitment for Shared Foundation V. Explore is “Discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.”  It is up to you to provide those experiences and times for reflection. Take the time to look at your program and ask yourself what are you already doing, and what do you need to do differently?

Last week’s blog talked about Build[ing] Your Listening Skills. Use those skills to tune into what your students are saying – or muttering. Matt Zalaznick in an article entitled Growth Projections in K12 suggests when a student says, “I can’t do this,” the teacher redirects the remark by saying, “You can’t do it yet.”

When a frustrated student says, “Why can’t I just Google this?”  Say, “Because you are smart enough to know that won’t get you to the best answer to your question.” Prepare some phrases you can use as necessary. “Look how much better you are at doing this. You are on your way.”  “You got the first hard part done.  Now you are ready for the next challenge.” The more we can, we must encourage that growth mindset.

Zalaznick offers 10 Growth Mindset Principles. The last three are to share with administrators. Here is his list and my comments on them:

  1. Use positive language – Watch out for absolutes, e.g. “You always…, You never …”
  2. Let students assess their own work – Rubrics let them know what the important aspects of the project are and guide them into self-evaluation
  3. Let students choose daily class activities – Have a list of possibilities. You will learn what your students’ interests are very quickly. As well as what they might be avoiding.
  4. Allow students to retake tests – If the purpose is having them be successful, why not?
  5. Try to reduce the number of F’s and zeros given – That shouldn’t be an issue in the library.
  6. Recognize students have diverse backgrounds, and this is not an obstacle to academic achievement- That affects your growth mindset. Too often we make judgments about what kids can achieve based on their background.
  7. Establish personal trust with students – Trust is the foundation of all relationships.
  8. Make honors and other advanced classes more inclusive.
  9. Make homework optional, but show students the connection between practicing skills and passing tests.
  10. Include more administrators, teachers and other staff in building and district decisions.

When you build a growth mindset in students, you create the path for them to develop “agency.” That is, they become the directors of their learning rather than the teacher. In essence, they have ownership of their learning and meaningful and lasting learning is the result.

Mark Wagner explains in What Does Student Agency Mean? that when agency is present students are “making, creating, doing, sharing, collaborating, and publishing in ways that are meaningful to them, using real-world tools.”  This sounds like our new standards, which means it typifies a dynamic school library program.

Makerspaces are the tip of the student agency iceberg.  It shows what happens when students take charge of their learning.  Agency also is the result of a well-designed inquiry-based unit. To be truly inquiry-based, students must use the topic to develop their own questions to research.  That puts them in charge.

And don’t panic if the terms seem new. The truth is, many of you have already been doing all this.  The process is at the heart of good teaching and already at the core of your vision and mission.  To build connection and community, let your administrator know our new national standards supports developing a growth mindset and student agency, and you are prepared to work with teachers on integrating it into the curriculum. Show him/her ways you are already doing this and whatever plans you have for the coming year.

ON LIBRARIES – Build Your Listening Skills

Are you a good listener?  I am much better than I used to be, but it’s a skill I know I need to keep improving.  To be a successful leader you must be a good listener, hearing what is said – and not said and become an active listener. Active Listening contributes directly to building strong relationships.  As a quick review, Employee Development Systems Inc. gives these 6 Elements of Active Listening for Improved Personal Effectiveness:

  1. Letting others finish what they’re saying without interrupting them
  2. Asking questions to gain understanding
  3. Paying attention to what others are saying by maintaining comfortable eye contact
  4. Remaining open-minded about others have the right to their opinion
  5. Using feedback and paraphrasing skills
  6. Observing non-verbal signals such as the speaker’s facial expressions and body language

I have finally managed to do #1 most of the time. I do the others as well, but #5 is the one I’m still working on developing.

Click the image to go to the article

Another way to look at how we can change the way we listen is offered by C. Otto Scharmer in an article entitled How Are You Listening as a Leader?  He lists four types of listening.  By categorizing which one you need when, and knowing how to use all four, you will improve your leadership and develop better relationships.

He calls the first one Downloading.  At this level, what you are hearing is information you already know.  It reminds me of so many faculty meetings.  You can tune in with one ear while you plan the tasks you need to do once you leave the building.  Of course, if this is how you are listening when a teacher or student is speaking to you, you will not connect the way you should so downloading should only be used when appropriate and not as the first one.

The second level is Factual Listening. The focus here is on data transmittal, and we are listening for where what we are hearing confirms or goes against our expectations.  In education, this kind of listening is likely to occur when the focus is on changes in scheduling and other areas during testing situations. Scharmer cautions that this is where we need an open mind and to not make judgments.  For example, you may (rightfully) become angry at what will happen to your program during the days devoted to testing.  Rather than be resentful, contemplate how you can make it work for your program (as long as you aren’t proctoring) and offer it as a suggestion to your administrator.

Empathic Listening is when we reach out to another’s person’s feelings.  It’s at this level that relationships are built and your colleagues, student, and administrators come to trust you as a leader. By understanding and recognizing what is motivating another person, you are better able to understand their point of view.  While you don’t have to agree with the view offered, this knowledge puts you in a better position to respond in a way they can hear you.

Finally, there is Generative Listening. When you are at this level, you and others are creating.  This is where innovation begins. You are ready to consider what is possible while giving others the space to come aboard and join with you.  You are not enforcing your will or ideas, but rather collaborating as the best from each participant is allowed to be heard allowing the result to be far greater than you could have imagined.  In the end, everyone has contributed to a project or program’s creation and success.

Click image to go to the article

Why do we have so much trouble listening? Dan Rockwell in his Leadership Freak blog post in March suggests the following reasons for “shallow listening.”

  1. Desire. Listening is such a bother.
  2. Ignorance. You might listen if you knew how.
  3. Time. Hurry up. The clock’s ticking.
  4. Energy. You don’t have the energy to listen deeply.
  5. Discipline. On a list of “hard things to do,” listening is near the top.

I am discounting #2 because I am sure you have heard much about Active Listening besides what I have just discussed.  For most of us, #3 is probably the main reason.  And after a long day, #4 takes over.

We change our habits when we recognize that making the change is worth the time and effort. Then it becomes a priority.  Listening is a leadership quality. Scharmer says, “Listening is probably the most underrated leadership skill. How you listen can be life-changing; not just business- or industry-changing.”

You can see what a difference it can make in your program and the individuals you come in contact with, where so much of what we can achieve rests on our ability to build relationships.  Listening and continually improving our listening skills deserves to be a priority. It changes our ability to be effective and impactful leaders.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Upping Your Advocacy Planning

I am always thrilled when I hear about librarians showing up as leaders in their building. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and taking on the challenge of leadership. For librarians, becoming a leader carries the implicit requirement for building advocacy for the library program which includes you.

While advocacy is a given, I am concerned that in the conversations I have been having, I don’t hear much about advocacy plans. Without a concrete plan, advocacy will occur in a hit or miss fashion.  And in that case, it will mostly be miss. As the eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

Start by creating a strategic plan which is ALWAYS about advocacy. Whatever you want to accomplish must also build relationships and partnerships for you and your program. All good plans start with your Mission (and Vision).  In brief, your Mission declares your Purpose—showing why the library program is vital.  It’s your “perspiration.

For example:

The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information, but also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.

Or

The Blank School Library mission is to empower and inspire all students to apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, to experience individual and team success, and to become responsible, contributing members of our community.

Your Vision is what you wish to achieve and how you want to be perceived. It’s your inspiration and aspiration.

For example:

The Blank School Library Media Program is the center of collaborative learning producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.

Or

The school library media program is a safe, open, accessible and inviting learning library commons, essential to student achievement, citizenship and support the principles of intellectual freedom. Our students think globally and are capable of creating new knowledge.

Now take the next step.  What would you want to achieve that would strengthen your program?  Who else would benefit? How does it promote your Mission? How long might it take to accomplish?  Whose support are you trying to get?  What does that person (or group) want?

Keep thinking and putting down questions.  Use the answers to create multi-year goals.  You can have one goal that builds collaboration with teachers and another for getting parents more involved with the library.

For every goal you need an Action Plan.  What are you going to do next year to get you closer to the goal?  What resources will you need?  What stakeholders can be part of it? How will you get the word out?  Create a timeline and an assessment for each of the key steps.  At the end of the year, develop your Action Plan for the next year.

Actually crafting an Advocacy Plan takes thought and commitment but it’s vital if you are going to build ongoing support for the library and the library program.  But you are just one person and are carrying a heavy load already.  Good news – there are some places to get help.

AASL to the rescue. Its Advocacy Page provides a wealth of resources for you.  Check out the Tools.  Definitely download the AASL Advocacy Toolkit.  As you go through it, note the Everyday Advocacy pages. Do any of those fit with the goals of your Advocacy Plan?

ALA has an Advocacy page as well. Although much of it relates to the legislative aspects of Advocacy, there is a link to the Libraries Transform campaign which I have discussed previously.  You can get great ideas for slogans from this page.

Finally, use your colleagues.  Ask for help on your state association’s listserv.  Check the various library-based Facebook groups.  Post your questions and challenges.  We are an incredibly supportive group.  You will be amazed at how much information you will get in response.

Don’t put this off until you have time to do it.  You will never have time.  Make the time – and START TODAY.

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Art of Asking

You want to attend a conference or workshop, or you want to purchase something for the library that isn’t in the budget.  Spring and fall are the most common times for state library associations to have their conferences. These are always excellent sources of Professional Development (PD), but many librarians don’t attend because they aren’t given the time and/or the money.

What do you do?  Do you ask anyway?  Many choose not to if past experience has led to your administrator turning you down.  But we know – if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”  Even when you are all but certain you know the answer, you can get heard and receive a different result if you frame your request differently.

The first thing to do is look at how you ask now.  Do you send an email with the information or ask in person? It’s far too easy for an administrator to send a quick refusal via e-mail. You need to meet in person, and you need to plan your campaign in advance.

Before your meeting go to your association’s website and carefully review the programs at the conference.  Which ones are you likely choose?  Invariably it’s those that have bearing on what you do with teachers and students.  Make a note of which ones you plan to attend along with how you hope to implement what you learn.

Check the keynote and luncheon speakers.  What topics will they be covering?  Do these have any relevant connection to what you are doing in your school? Or a connection to a goal of your administrator? Knowing these things and being able to speak to the benefits will support your cause for funding. If you also need to be looking at new purchases for the library, try to find out which vendors will be there.  You can assume that automation systems, some publishers, and database companies will be in attendance.

Prepare a bulleted list, divided by categories such as technology, literature, STEM, and critical thinking. Your list should be in order of what you principal most values. Armed with your information schedule a meeting with your principal.  Studies show that Friday at the end of the day is the best time.  Your principal is least harried then.

You don’t want to take more than ten minutes or your principal is likely to start checking his/her watch. Plan your presentation carefully. Lead with the needs of the students and/or teachers.  For example, you might say, “Our students are having difficulty finding valid pro/con sources for their papers. To deal with the problem, I want to investigate the best and most reasonably priced databases to help them.”  Then mention the conference.

Continue with one or two more items and give your principal the list you prepared.  State that the conference is PD directed towards school library programs, will be of benefit to the whole school. Then ask for the professional day(s).  If you get it, also try for reimbursement.  Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer is always, “No.”

Is this guaranteed to work?  Of course not, but it will certainly improve your chances. Having this meeting shows you are interested in improving the library program and your skills for the school, and when you come back next year and ask again (which you should no matter the answer!!) you very well might get a different answer.

If you are willing, let the principal know this is so important you will take a personal day.  After the conference write up a brief report (no more than one page) of what you learned and how you plan to use it. If you were given the time or funding, make sure to offer your thanks. When you have a lesson that incorporates something you got from the conference, invite the principal and/or video the highlights so he/she can see the benefits in action.

Asking for something larger (read: more expensive) requires even more planning.  Way back in the early 1990s, CDs were the emerging technology.  Encyclopedias and some databases were available in this form.  In order to easily access them, you could get a CD tower that enabled the switching to occur seamlessly to the user.  Unfortunately, the towers were expensive.  (I really think they may have been $20,000 since computers were costing about $9,000.)

I was working in a district that voted down the budget twenty times in my twenty-two years there. I scheduled a meeting with my Superintendent, knowing even my principal couldn’t authorize that much money without doing some begging for me which wasn’t going to happen. I met with her during the summer.  And I heartily recommend you do this every summer – normally with your principal.  This is the best time to negotiate for anything including getting professional days and reimbursement for conferences in anticipation of the upcoming budget preparation in the fall.

As I anticipated, my superintendent was somewhat taken aback by the price tag. I agreed but reviewed why we need it.  She said I had to cut my existing budget someplace.  After looking at the possibilities that would least impact the program, we ended up cutting some book money, some A-V purchases, and a few other places.

When fall came and I had to submit my budget for the next year, the CD tower was on it.  I made sure my principal knew it was “pre-approved,” explaining that because the cost was so high I wanted to be sure we would all be on the same page.

I didn’t always get what I wanted.  Sometimes I had to modify my requests or recognize it was a lost cause.  But I did get a high percentage because I was prepared, persistent, and flexible. Asking for what I wanted took work and planning, but it was always worth it – no matter the answer. I showed I was a leader and that I was always working to improve the library program to benefit students and teachers.

It pays to ask, otherwise… they are going to say “yes” to someone else.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Empathy – It’s Not Just for Students

After years of focusing solely on the cognitive area, educators have re-embraced the knowledge that learning has its basis in emotion.  We also recognize the need for the library to be a safe, welcoming environment for all.  Our professional journals discuss the importance of diversity in our collections so students can see themselves in books and also learn about those whose lives are much different. To achieve these goals, we want our students to develop empathy.  I just recently posted on my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group a list of picture books that promote empathy.  But there is little out there in library literature about becoming empathetic ourselves.

Empathy is one of the many qualities of leadership.  It’s a part of Emotional Intelligence which I have discussed before, including a blog about being Emotionally Connected. Since that post, it’s become increasingly obvious that we must better at it.  We need it to communicate more successfully with our students, use it to build relationships with our colleagues, and in today’s often highly-charged atmosphere, we need it to ensure we can get along even with those with whom we disagree.

LaRae Quy, whom I have quoted previously, writes Empathy Makes You a More Effective Leader. She makes six points to help you become empathetic starting with Understand[ing] the Meaning of Empathy. It’s not the same as sympathy.  That’s something you offer.  Empathy is about being open to receiving the other person’s emotions or feelings. If you know where the other person is coming from, it is far easier to connect with them.

What blocks most people when they try to read body language is their own determination and commitment to be right.  We have all dealt with administrators or teachers whose attitude is “my way or the highway.”  It doesn’t work. While you never want to communicate in that way, you will need your empathy skills to reach those people.

Quy says we need to Realize Empathy is Driven by Our Brain.   It’s the neurotransmitters in our brains that help us make connections with one another. The brain rewires to adjust to new situations and help us survive. Getting along with others is a survival mechanism that goes back to cave days.  Humans are very fragile creatures.  They quickly learned they needed to be with each other and work together for protection. If you think of a clan living together in the confines of a cave, it is easy to see why we recognized the importance of getting along.

In our schools today, there are bound to be colleagues who don’t think as we do. We aren’t going to change their minds by arguing.  Instead, do what you can to validate their views without violating your own beliefs. Before things get too heated, say something like, “We aren’t going to agree, but I respect your willingness to share your views.”  And say it like you mean it.

As has been often noted here in several contexts, it’s important to Pay Attention. Facial expressions and body movements all communicate what is going on in someone’s mind.  If you are thinking about what you are going to say, or even worse, what you have to do next, you will miss a lot of important information.

We also need to Communicate Empathetically. This begins by becoming aware of the cues others send. The signals we send our read by others.  If you are talking with a difficult teacher, is your body stiff?  Are your lips tight?  That will affect your voice as well.  When you are engaged in a conversation, tune in to yourself as well as others.

Active listening, which supports empathy, is a skill that can and must be learned. It’s one I’ve been working on for years. Do you look up from your computer when someone is talking to you? Better yet, do you stand up and move away from it? Our actions and body language communicate whether we are listening and another person’s willingness to open up is enhanced by our focus.

Finally, there is the tried-and-true Fake It Till You Make It. There may be people you feel you can never empathize with.  It can be done. Quy, who worked with the FBI, tells of managing to fake being empathetic with a child molester, finding that after faking it for a while she was able to develop a bit of real empathy. That is quite an extreme case but shows it can be done.  You just have to be willing to make the effort. Willingness goes a long way.

Looking at the ways we are creating relationships by using empathy – or not using it – can show us where we are succeeding or missing the mark when creating a library and library program which is a safe, welcoming environment for everyone.

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

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.