ON LIBRARIES: Advance Your Communication Skills

Leaders are skilled at communication.  A seemingly simple statement but one that is, in actuality, endlessly complex. I discussed the basics in my blog post last March, Keep Your Communication Channels Clear, pointing out the importance of the three parts of communication (senders, message, and receiver), and reminding you to be sure you are aware of how the different channels affect those parts. Yet even those who are skilled can make errors. And communication errors can be damaging.

It doesn’t take much to do damage.  At one of my libraries, teachers were always comfortable gathering in my workroom to talk and vent.  One rare calm day, a teacher came in and was voicing her frustrations to me and my co-librarian. My co-librarian said in response, “You teachers…” and I could feel the gulf opening between the two of them.  I spoke with my co-librarian about what I heard and saw.  She hadn’t realized what she had done. Anyone can make an error, but if you don’t recognize it happened, the effects can destroy any connections you are trying to build.

In another instance, I was the one who almost made an unwitting mistake.  I was going to send a memo to my Assistant Principal.  I can no longer remember the matter, but I was concerned about a problem and wanted his help.  Fortunately, before sending it, I showed it to the teacher who was responsible for our School to Career program.  (He shared space in my library and gave me the tech he got with his grants).  He encouraged me not to send it, explaining how a man would read it and react.  I re-wrote the memo with his oversight and got the results I wanted. I’m not suggesting you always check before you send something to a teacher or administrator who is not your gender, but you might find it enlightening to have a spouse or friend look something over.  You might be as surprised as I was.

Clear communication is an ongoing art form. A recent online post by Nick Morgan, How the Communication Rules Have Changed, presents five new rules which will help you do a better job of getting your message out.

Your “Less” Is Their “More” – Morgan points to the barrage of information we receive each day and how our tolerance for reading long texts is decreasing. In the past, I have reminded librarians not to give administrators background about requests or problems.  (This connects to the gender issue – see above). Get to the point immediately.  Offer details if requested.  We have a tendency to “bury the headline.”  By the time your administrator hears or reads what you want, his/her mind has gone elsewhere – and that’s assuming s/he gets there at all. Morgan also suggests you think your idea through the other person’s perspective and “tell them what they need to hear, not what you’d love them to know.”

We Experience Our Lives Chronologically, But That’s Not How Other People Want to Hear Them This relates to the previous rule. We want to give our “receiver” a complete picture.  They don’t have the time or interest to listen.  You need to grab attention quickly.  I love Morgan’s reminder that Homer started the Iliad at the end as the two sides headed into the final battle. Having captured your interest, he backfills the story itself. You, too, need to capture the receiver’s interest first.

The Body Language of the Virtual World Is Self-Defeating There is no true “body language” in the virtual world.  Even in Zoom or Skype meetings, you don’t get the same degree of body language as you do in person. We have developed new habits based on this, and it carries over into our face-to-face meetings. One result is that our manners have slipped. Have you ever been on a webinar and checked your e-mail or played a computer solitaire game?  We bring that behavior into our face-to-face meetings. Unless the gathering is very small (and even then), you will see people checking their phones. It is not only rude, it means you have stopped listening. I can’t remember leading or attending a large group session where a sizeable percentage of people weren’t texting. Leaders need to be active listeners. 

Because People Aren’t Paying Attention, Their Contribution Standards Are Crumbling – If you are not listening, you are not contributing. Don’t be the person who sends texts during a meeting. All studies show multi-tasking doesn’t work. To fight your own urge to look at your phone, take notes. It will keep you focused, and you will be a better contributor to the meeting – and it will be noticed.

The Pause is Still the Greatest Secret Weapon a Communicator Has – This is one I need to work on. Whether it’s stepping up to the mic at a large meeting or responding to something said at a small one, take a moment before talking. It’s an attention-grabber and will focus people on what you want to say. It also gives you just enough time to remember to begin with what the others want to hear ((see suggestion #1).

All this is a reminder that we are always communicating —often without any thought of how it is received.  And yet, it’s vital that our stakeholders receive the message we intended to send.  I have reached the conclusion you can’t learn too much about communication.  There is always room for improvement.

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ON LIBRARIES: Managing Stress

The stress. It’s back. You knew it would happen, but maybe you were hoping it wouldn’t come back quite so quickly. At the beginning of the school year I blogged about this (Stressed Out) and I made mention of the distinction between being stressed and distressed. A recent article I read, and the fact we’re at the beginning of a different type of year, made me think it might be a good time to look at this challenge again.

Stress can simply be having a lot on your plate, but you know what to, how to do it, and in what order to do it. If you are like me, that kind of stress is exhilarating. It’s an adrenaline high. I’m getting things done with ease, moving from one task to another. I feel like a superhero. If it goes on too long that level of stress is exhausting, but it feels great at the time.

The problem is when you are distressed. As in the first instance, you have a lot on your plate but instead of feeling energized, you’re so overwhelmed you move from one task to the next never able to catch your breath. You don’t have time to think about the best order for tackling the jobs. You take them as they come up regardless of their actual priority. Exhaustion sets in quickly, but you still keep moving.

There is nothing good about distress. It keeps you from being your best, and from being a leader. It causes a negative mindset that spirals downward and drains the passion you have for being a librarian.

Making distress worse is that most of the people around you, who all too often include your students, are also in “distress.”  It seems the whole world is overworked, overtired, and overextended. In that state, people get angry quickly and say things they really don’t mean. Which leads to more stress/distress.

Your administrators are frequently in the same situation, which you can usually tell by how they are interacting with you and others in your school. ASCD, the national organization for supervisors, recognizes the importance of stress management and recently ran a column by Chase Mielke in their newsletter entitled The Five D’s of Destressing. Here they are, tweaked for school librarians.

  1. Distract from It – Good teachers and parents know when a kid is getting frustrated or angry, the best intervention is a distraction. You pull the child from focusing on the source of distress and onto something else. It’s an instant change of mindset. Adults need to distract as much as kids. If possible, go for a walk. Open junk mail. Check the shelves to see if any need to be made less tight. Even a short funny video that always makes you laugh can help. Anything that will move you from the source of your immediate stress.
  2. Deal with It – Why would this work? It’s what you were doing trying to do when you became so stressed. The idea here is to really focus. Take stock of the situation. Is it something that must be handled? Now? If so, what are your options? Depending on what the issue is, apply strategies to resolve and/or work with it.

Can it be an opportunity rather than a problem?  Being required to cover a class (or having an extra class come in because of a problem with their room) can turn into an opportunity to introduce them to a new resource or app. If you think, “How can I use this as a teachable moment?” you are likely to come up with a solution.

If a class went badly, and you are beating yourself up about it. Pause. It happens to the best of us. Take a moment to reflect as to what you might have done differently, and then put it out of your mind. It’s over. As Judith Viorst so wisely observed in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, “Some days are like that.”

copyright Judith Viorst
  1. Dispute your Distortions We tend to think in negative extremes when we are stressed. “This was the worst…” “I never get this right.”   Recognize that these absolutes are false.

Mielke proposes you use Martin Seligman’s methods:

  • Review the evidence: Was it really a total disaster?
  • Question the usefulness: How is this getting me to a positive outcome?
  • Check the implications: How does this measure up in the larger scheme of things?
  • Consider the alternatives: What was at the root of the problem?
  1. Discuss It – Bring it to your PLN of librarians whether on a listserv or a Facebook group. They have all been there at one time or another. Get it off your chest where it’s creating a big lump. Journaling is another alternative for many. You might even discuss it with students, modeling how to deal with situations that cause stress.
  2. Develop Frontal Control – When you become highly stressed your brain identifies it as a danger. You go into flight or fight mode. Your limbic system takes over replacing the cerebral cortex. Cognitive thinking flees. The response is automatic. You can’t stop it from happening, but you can shut it down by recognizing it. Take those deep breaths. Review those first four recommendations, especially the distraction solution. Allow the thinking part of your brain to take back control.

The good news is that Mielke’s advice is great. The bad news is that it won’t always work, particularly if your distress has been building. Do your best to turn into your body and your mind right now and then do a little bit more tomorrow. Identify the warning signs so you can institute preventative measures before the situation gets too bad.

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Make Room for Reflection

copyright Disney Company

You are still enjoying your well-earned break and probably are not quite ready to think about returning to school.  However, this is a special moment in time that you can put to good use. To improve your leadership and your program make a resolution (or add to the ones you have made) that you will become a Reflective Practitioner.

The National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries recognizes the value of reflection.  Throughout the book, there are questions for the Reflective Practitioner.  In explanation, it says on p. 25,

“Practitioners at each career stage have a collection of beliefs, examples, and practices to draw upon. These form the basis for initial reflective thoughts. Using these unique previous experiences as points of reference, we can situate ourselves and our practices … and develop the habits of the reflective practitioners.”

From the beginning of January until spring break, students will learn most of the year’s curriculum content. Teachers will be focused on maximizing this time preparing students for the inevitable tests coming in April and May. This is when they need us most. Do your teachers recognize that?  How can you show your value?  What steps in leadership do you need to take?  These are questions for the Reflective Practitioner.

The business world, which I mine regularly for ideas, also sees the value of reflection. In an article entitled Your Leadership Year in Review, Alaina Love proposes eight areas for reflection. With some adaptation, they are worth considering before you return to school.

Here are her eight:

Accountability:  This is where you take responsibility for your work. It means you accept you make mistakes and don’t blindside administrators (tell the bad news fast). While quarterly and annual reports may not be required, submit them anyway. Don’t make it text-heavy.  Use video clips and/or photos of students at work, and as much as possible spotlight those teachers with whom you collaborated.

Advocacy: This is natural for us, but think of it in the larger sense.  The best way to get advocates is to be one.  Can you promote the art program by displaying student work in the library?  Which teachers/departments are feeling unrecognized? Find a way to publicize them.

Intellectual Curiosity: Another natural for us.  In this case, some focused curiosity is helpful.  Are you reading/scanning teacher magazines and online newsletters?  What about administrators?  Do you read Educational Leadership? Keep abreast of what your principal is (or should be) reading and make brief comments on how the library program is doing it as well.

Inclusiveness: The second Shared Foundation in the National School Library Standards is Include. We tend to make friends with people like us.  Consider reaching out to a faculty member or parent volunteer who is of another culture.  You both will gain from it.

Commitment to Brand and Culture: Do you have your Mission Statement?  Does it reflect what you are doing now?  How are you demonstrating it to all your stakeholders?  What else can you do?

Contemplative Thinking:  Reflection is not only just before the start of the new year. It needs to be incorporated into your daily practice. (I need to take this advice myself.) Put it on your to-do list.  You can do it on your commute home if necessary.

Transformative Mindset: This is similar to having a growth mindset. It embraces failure as an important component of success. I find it helpful to acknowledge to myself and others what I have learned from failures. Remember the quote attributed to James Conant, “Behold the turtle who only makes progress by sticking his neck out.” If you never fail, you haven’t really ever taken on a challenge.

Passion:  This is possibly my favorite leadership quality. It’s contagious.  What parts of your job are you passionate about?  How are you communicating that passion?  The better you get at it, the more people will want to work with you to attain your vision.

In a few days, you will be fully back to your usual routine, trying once again to get more and more done in less time.  Putting reflection into your day will not take an appreciable amount of time, and in the long run, it will make you more efficient.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Resolutions

I decided to take my own advice and make time for fun (yes, that’s a professinal resolution. Read on to see that one) – and more time for me. My blog for this week is a repeat of the one I did for January 2, 2017.  I am also going to take next week off.  I deserve it.  And you deserve your time off – take it.

So if you weren’t following me back then or if you need a refresher on the resolutions I suggested, here is the blog once again. Choose whichever one speaks to you – and maybe the one that scares you a bit.

Build Your Relationships

Start a new relationship with a teacher or other staff member. Remember we are in the relationship business. Consider deepening an existing relationship.  Get to know what that person’s interests are outside of school.  You may find you have common ground, discover an “expert” who might help you with something you are doing or just simply add a dimension to someone you already know.  Are there any students who are library “regulars” whom you don’t know?  Strike up a conversation with them. Learn what their favorite app is or whether they are into gaming.  I have found my students have been some of my best teachers. Don’t limit yourself to just the school scene.  Is there a relative or friend you haven’t spoken with in some time.  Is your only contact with them on Facebook? Try an email and set up some face time. Resolve to add at least one person a month to your relationship sphere.  (This is one of my resolutions for the year.)

Keep Up with Trends

Read one professional article every month. Vary it. Don’t only look at library literature, be familiar with what administrators are saying. You can find blog posts and articles online.  Find and explore one new tech resource or app each month and think about how it can best be used. Would it be helpful for a classroom teacher?  Which ones?

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

It’s so easy to get locked into doing what you have always done, but you don’t grow unless you try new things.  A favorite quote of mine attributed to James Conant is “Behold the turtle who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”  Whether you decide to launch a book club for students or tackle an Hour of Code, you need to something that makes stakeholders aware of the contribution your program makes to the school community.  Even though you may be doing a Makerspace or have another project going you need to do something more.  Once something is in place for a while people take it (and you for granted).  If you can’t think of something you can do, put out a request for ideas on your state association’s listserv, on a Twitter chat, LM_NET, or join my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group and ask there.  Choose the approach that works best for you, but whatever your choice you will be amazed at the suggestions you get back. (I am doing this as well.  I will be giving my first AASL webinar this spring. This is new for me.  I will announce the date as soon as I know it.)

Volunteer for Leadership

Technically this comes under the heading of stepping out of your comfort zone, but it needs special mention.  Too many of you feel so burdened you can’t see how you can fit a leadership job into your life. You haven’t explored the possibilities.  No one is saying you have to run for president of your state association (although that’s a goal to have for the future).  You can .volunteer for a district committee. That will bring you into contact with a broader group of people—and give you an opportunity to “build your relationships.”  Can you help with an initiative your state association is taking on? Again, you don’t have to be the chair. Being an active, contributing committee member is a good start.  The same is true for national associations, which also now permit virtual members on many committees.  One AASL committee that I am on does all its business via conference calls.

Go for a Grant or an Award

You get a lot of positive attention when you receive a grant or award.  Even small grants such as those given by your local education foundation make your administration more aware of you and what you do. They always appreciate it if you can bring in “free” money.  Then there are the ones from the national associations.  Here again is the link to the grants and awards from AASL. You have one month to apply for this year’s awards since most have a February 1 deadline.  Don’t think they are out of reach.  See what has won previously and pick one to try for this year.  If you can’t make it by February, work on the application for the next year.

Get Healthier

This is a typical new year’s resolution, but it also applies to you and your leadership abilities.  Do you need/want to lose weight? Kick a habit? Exercise?  Stop saying you don’t have time.  Make time. It’s a priority.  And once you have chosen what you will do, make a plan to ensure you stick with it. Join Weight Watchers (my favorite) or another program.  Sign up at a gym and take a class. Find a yoga or a dance group and join.  Choose something that appeals and doesn’t sound like punishment.  Enlist a friend to join you.  You will be more successful that way. The healthier you are, the better you will like yourself, and the easier you will find it to deal with others who are your priority.

Make Time for Fun

Don’t spend your life being a worker bee.  You are a human being, not a human doing.  Always make time for your hobbies, personal reading, and going out with family and friends, or whatever you love to do.  This will rejuvenate you for all the things you have on your plate.  Put it on your to-do list if you can’t “remember.”  As I said last week, you need to make room for joy in your life – and it won’t happen unless you make it a priority.

Be Accountable

Resolutions are easily made and forgotten even more quickly as life intrudes. You don’t have to all these resolutions, but you should pick at least two – plus the last two.  Then keep track in print, on a spreadsheet, or a Google doc to record what you have done.  How many times did you exercise?  Which relationship did you develop? If the resolution was important to make, it’s important to keep.  The record will help you hold yourself responsible.

Make use of the break in the school year, to get re-inspired, recharged, and re-focused.

Happy Holidays everyone.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Easing Into Leadership

This blog is often about the importance of being a leader, but I know that for some (maybe many) of you, taking that first step and then building on it can be the biggest part of the challenge. Moving out of your comfort zone might feel like too great a risk.  Perhaps you haven’t gotten tenure yet.  Or for any number of reasons, your job may not be secure.  In all of these cases, this is when being seen as a leader is the most important. So, how can you be ready to make that initial move? Try “managing up”.

Managing up is a term often used in the business world.  For me, it’s similar to being a team player.  I also think of it as leading from the middle. Leaders are a presence in the building.  They are recognized for being able to get exciting things done. You can become a presence – at least to the administration – and help get exciting things done if you learn to manage up.

When you manage up, your aim is to further the goals of your administrator.  The concept is core to any strategic planning for your program.  If your principal (or superintendent) recognizes that the library program helps achieve his/her aims, he/she is more likely to support that program.

In my last school district, the superintendent and the principal wanted to move to a 4×4 block schedule.  This meant that class periods would be twice as long, and students would complete a year’s work for each course in one semester.  For example, they might take English 10, World History, and Chemistry in one semester and Spanish II, Algebra II, and Creative Writing the second semester. Although there were numerous objections from teachers, it was clear from the beginning the plan would go through. It was what the administration wanted.

Once it was clear this was happening I proposed that I be given $500 extra in my budget to buy supplemental materials to help teachers use a block schedule in their subject area.  My principal quickly complied.  I made certain the teachers were aware of the resources I had for them. The teachers weren’t thrilled about the change but felt, at least from the library, they were getting needed support.  The administration was grateful I aided in calming down the negative emotions. The $500 stayed in my budget the next year. And that’s how managing up works.

When you manage up you are less “exposed,” and it’s not that difficult to incorporate it into your work life.  Joel Garfinkle offers business people 5 Tips for Managing Up. The advice, with very little tweaking, works equally as well for school librarians.  Here are his five – with my modifications:

  1. Know What Matters – This is the first step and is probably the most difficult and important. What does your administrator really wants to accomplish?  What does he/she focus on at faculty meetings? What does he/she look for when doing observations? Knowing this is critical for the success of your program since you want to show how the library can help make it happen. In the process getting to the core of their goals, you will develop a “big picture” view.  Your principal keeps an eye on district targets and sometimes larger ones as well.  By figuring these out, you gain a broader awareness of how to position your program.
  2. Connect Broadly – Your big picture view will help you tune into what administrators are focused on. In the middle and high school, it can mean department chairs and subject coordinators. If it does, make certain you are working with the people in charge of those areas, showing how the library is a resource for them.
  3. Garner Support – You want to have people in your corner. In one school where the new library was one of the additions planned for the building, the cost of air conditioning became a concern.  Because I supported him over the years, the Athletic Director said he was willing to forgo a new weight room if that meant the library was air-conditioned. The bottom line is, be ready to help others.  You do this naturally for students and teachers.  Now do it for administrators.
  4. Keep Stakeholders Informed Never blindside an administrator. Don’t try to hide bad news or cover it up.  It always gets discovered, and you have left the administrator unprepared. I once had a School Board member who was retired and liked to drop into my library.  As soon as he left, I would contact my superintendent and let her know what he said and what I said. If it came up at the Board meeting, she was prepared.
  5. Build Personal Relationships – You find out teachers’ personal interests as part of building relationships with them, Do the same with administrators. Knowing their likes and perhaps their hobbies and outside interests gives you new ways to connect them with your program and occasionally reasons to reach out.

Two Do Nots and One Do

  • Do not become a “brown-noser” – That will destroy your relationships with teachers. It’s important that you don’t carry tales or go along with everything even though you know it’s wrong. You don’t sell out your principles.
  • Do not manipulate senior management. – Be open and above board in your interactions.  If there is something you want, figure out a way to propose it so it gets heard. This is no place to be passive-aggressive.
  • Do – Promote teacher activities with administrators. Use your connection to be a voice for teachers.  That will strengthen your connection with them.

When you get to be proficient at Managing Up, and start to notice the benefits, hopefully, you will find it has become easier to step into full-fledged leadership.

ON LIBRARIES: Tickets Please

Exit tickets as an assessment surfaced several years ago and have been getting increasingly popular.  They mostly are a summative assessment where you get instant feedback as to what kids learned. Depending on what you ask, they are also formative assessment as you can discover what’s on students’ minds, where and what they want to explore further, and where they may be confused,

As I thought about exit tickets, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything about entrance tickets.  The idea took hold during my walks.  Entrance tickets could be one solution to classroom management.

The library is a classroom, among other things, but it looks and feels much different from the rest of the classrooms in the building. Other than the gym, it has the largest space.  It has places where it’s easy to hide.  Since students aren’t in the library every day, there is always something new to look at.  All these are distractions, and distractions keep students from settling down.

Procedures and routines are an effective way to get students focused from the beginning, and you probably have instituted some that work well for you.  Entrance tickets could give you something more. For example, to introduce a lesson on Newbery or Caldecott winners (which will be announced on January 28, 2019), your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What is the best book you ever read or heard?
  • What makes you like or dislike a book?
  • What do you do if you start a book and don’t like it?

Thinking about books and authors focuses them on what is to come. When you collect the entrance tickets, you can read some or all of them and begin the lesson discussing them briefly. Your exit tickets can then connect to the lesson and/or the entrance tickets.

As with exit tickets, your entrance tickets let you know where kids are and gives you clues as to where you need to take them next.  Depending on the topic, they can serve as a pre-assessment. If you were doing a unit on Fake News, your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What’s one thing you know about Fake News?
  • Why is Fake News a problem?
  • What can you do to identify Fake News?

Although I thought I was very creative for coming up with this idea, I did search to see what else might exist. Among the few I found were two that offered some worthwhile additions. The Teacher Toolkit begins the explanation with a short video of an 8th grade English teacher who uses them then gives directions on how to use them.

Should you decide to try this, it will take some time as students need to become familiar with this new routine for starting class. To help this, the entry tickets should always be in the same place.  Once you decide what you want students to focus on, write the question on the entry ticket or post it for students to see. Make sure to set a time limit for students to answer the question.  When time is up, you can discuss the answers. The site lists the value of entry tickets and has templates for creating entrance tickets at different grade levels.

The second site is from Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.  It is very brief and meant for the college level, but it clearly states the advantages of entrance and exit tickets as follows:

  • participation of each student
  • prompt for students to focus on key concepts and ideas
  • a high return of information for the amount of time invested
  • important feedback for the instructor that can be useful to guide teaching decisions (g., course pacing, quick clarification of small misunderstandings, identification of student interests and questions).

If you have been using exit tickets, consider adding entrance tickets.  If you haven’t been using them, think about how starting this program could support your mission.  It may suggest possibilities for future lessons.  Share what you discover with your principal. The kids’ comments will give him/her a better idea of what you do.

ON LIBRARIES: THANKSgiving

originally posted: November 2014

 Last week I blogged about the giving half of Thanksgiving.  This week my focus in how we say thank you.  Many of you spend some time on Thanksgiving Day reflecting on the wonderful people in your life for whom you are grateful. You also may have expressed gratitude for living in freedom, being free from want, and for having the basic necessities of life which too many people do not have.

As we return to work, consider how often you say “thank you” or have the words said to you.  Most of the time, the words are tossed off automatically.  It’s a matter of being courteous.  While good manners are always important, heartfelt, sincere thanks can make a difference in how someone views their day.  Become conscious of how you react when you receive a true thank you and what it means when you express your gratitude to others.

During my time as a high school librarian, I was thanked often by teachers and by students.  Most often it was of the automatic variety, but I know I went through the day with a smile on my face when a student specifically thanked me, saying they got a good grade because of the help I gave them or a teacher let me know how much she appreciated my going out of my way to do her a favor.

With this in mind, my Thanksgiving resolution (I have just created a new tradition – join me!) is to give more mindful, specific thanks. In the supermarket, I thanked the young woman checking me out for the care she gave in balancing the weight in my shopping bags.  Her face lit up with pleasure.  That, in turn, was a gift for me. I thought I lived a conscious life, but I have discovered there is always a way to take it further.

Our students don’t always tell us of the burdens they are carrying from home situations, complications of friendships, or school pressures. Teachers don’t reveal everything either. The library is often the sanctuary where the whole school population can feel safe and derive comfort.  Add to the welcoming environment you create by becoming aware of when and how you say thank you.

And thanks to all of you who take the time to read my blog and subscribe to the School Librarian’s Workshop.  The thanks I have gotten for what I do motivates me to strive to always do better.

ON LIBRARIES: The Thief of Time

We have all heard that “procrastination is the thief of time,” and “don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”   And yet, we all procrastinate. Then we beat ourselves up for doing it.  Even on our busiest days, we almost always put off some things and waste valuable time. Why do we do it?  Is it possible not to procrastinate?

Newton’s first law of motion may be one part of it. “A body at rest tends to remain at rest…”  There is something challenging about starting.  For example, many of us have experienced staring at a blank page and not knowing what to write.  When Ruth Toor and I use to write The School Librarian’s Workshop, we sometimes agreed to write badly just to get started.

The fact that no one seems to be immune to procrastination suggests it is normal. According to an article on The Neuroscience of Procrastination—Why It’s So Hard to Get Things Done, we have been doing this since civilization began (although it’s a little hard to picture cavemen/women sitting around drawing with coal rather than getting work done). The neuroscience explanation is:

“procrastination happens when the primitive,  pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding limbic system acts too quickly for the rational pre-frontal cortex to catch up. In this way, procrastination is described as the art of making intentions that get overridden even if this is disadvantageous.”

Apparently, my limbic system loves to play Klondike, but there is work to be done.  What is necessary is to find some balance, giving ourselves some time for procrastination but not so much that we find we are scrambling to meet deadlines.

It helps to know yourself.  What tasks are you most likely to put off? Which ones do you get to with no problem.?  I teach an online course for pre-service school librarians. I love starting my day checking my university email (not many messages), reviewing my students’ posts on the Discussion Board, and grading their papers because I enjoy the “conversation” with them.

I am more likely to put off starting this blog. As with all writing, it requires a degree of creativity. And again, there is that blank document staring at me, waiting for me to put something on it.  Maybe if I play one more game of Klondike, I will know where to get started.  Or I can look at my Gmail account….. Guess what?  That never really works.

It’s usually the bigger more serious tasks we put off.  Partially because it is big. Sometimes it carries with it an element of uncertainty.  We don’t know exactly how to get it done.  And then there is the low-level (or high-level) fear of failure, so our ego protects us by avoidance. What we need are strategies that get us past that “body at rest” stage and the sudden desire to see if there is anything important in your email or on social media.

The internet has loads of articles on the topic.  Business is always concerned by this issue since procrastination reduces productivity.  Of all the ones I looked at, I found that MindTools offered the best suggestions on How to Stop Procrastinating: Overcoming the Habit of Delaying Important Tasks.

The first two steps, Recognize You Are Procrastinating, and Work Out WHY You Are Procrastinating are important, but easy to get clarity.  I think most of you know when you are procrastinating, and the why’s are usually connected to fear, uncertainty, newness, levels of importance and our own insecurities. The clearer you can get on the why, the easier these next strategies will be for you.

The eight strategies listed under Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies are:

  • Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past – As you notice you are procrastinating, don’t start beating yourself up. That will just spiral you down. Tell yourself what you are doing and then move on to the task at hand.
  • Commit to the task – Write it down. If you keep a To-Do list, it’s already there but give yourself a realistic amount of time to work on it. When it’s a writing task, I vary between giving myself a certain amount of time or a number of words.  Very often I exceed what I set which gives me a boost.
  • Ask someone to check-up on you – When we tell someone we will get something done, we are much more likely to accomplish the task. In my Weight Watchers group, we have noted that people who have a “partner” do much better. Accountability can be very motivating
  • Act as you go – It’s easier to get a task done as soon as it’s given. Back to “Don’t put off until tomorrow ….” First determine the priority, however. Don’t do something that will cause you to put off something that should be done now.
  • Rephrase your internal dialogue – This is about mindset. If you are thinking, “I have to…” you are taking on a burden. Instead, say “I want to …” or “I choose to….” When we notice how our actions support us, it becomes easier to follow through.
  • Minimize distractions – Oh, there are so many of these. Put your phone away so you don’t get distracted by incoming messages. If you have a television on, turn it off.  Work on a desk with no computer. If you can, turn off your social media and email.
  • Aim to “eat an elephant beetle” first thing, every day! – Look at the picture of one of those! They’re kind of horrifying. Do the most difficult, uncomfortable or least desirable job first. Then you can feel positive about yourself and go on to complete whatever else is waiting for you. When you have eaten that beetle, congratulate yourself and consider some reward. (A bit of procrastination can help you to switch gears.)

And when your favorite procrastination behavior surfaces, remember fact that it’s normal. Take a breath, refocus and get on with the tasks that will help you feel great at the end of the day. There will be time for Klondike (or Candy Crush, or Words With Friends…) later.

ON LIBRARIES: To Be a Leader

Yes, we’re back to one of my favorite focuses (advocacy being the other): What does it take to be a leader? Sometimes the list of qualities and abilities seems endless. And although countless books and articles are written on the topic, most of the time they end up repeating each other.  When I discuss leadership qualities and skills at a workshop, the responses I get show me librarians are aware of what it takes and when leadership is absent.

Given the repetition and the awareness, why aren’t there more good leaders?  I have discussed the barriers, most recently in last week’s blog, When in Doubt, but beyond the fears and negative self-talk, there is also a lack of specific directions on how to be a leader. It’s like being given a list of ingredients for a recipe but no instruction on how to assemble the meal.

Lolly Daskal offers ten steps in This Is What You Need to Learn to Become A Successful CEO.  If it works for CEOs, it can help you too.  As the head of the library, you are its CEO.  The school library reflects the personality, mindset, and philosophy of the librarian. As such, you have more control than you think, and by being aware of Daskal’s ten steps, you can more easily step into being an active, positive leader.

  1. Define your character I think this is a great start. It includes many of the qualities of a leader such as integrity, visionary, and “empowerer.” Your philosophy of what a school library should be, also affects your character.
  2. Act as the brand and ambassador You are the face of the library program. A teacher doesn’t represent the entire subject or grade, but you represent the library. If you live in the town where you work, you meet your students and their parents in the supermarket and local restaurants. And they see it as meeting the library. You must carry your character and your belief about the library program into the world. It brings great returns.
  3. Create a thriving organizational culture – At first, this would seem to be out of your realm, but remember the library reflects who you are. Is it a safe, welcoming place? Does it promote collaboration and discovery? If you get this right, the library can become students’ favorite place in the building — and for teachers as well.
  4. Communicate consistently and with candor – You need to use all your tech expertise and your emotional intelligence to reach all your audiences. This includes the design and content of your website as well as your social media accounts and how you interact face-to-face with all who come into the library and those who primarily visit it digitally (parents, some administrators, school board members, etc.).  You need to find the most effective ways to reach all of them. For the library program to be successful, all stakeholders need to know what the program provides them.
  5. Under promise and over deliver For those of you who are afraid to take risks, this is a no-brainer, but don’t under promise so much that your project/idea seems unimportant. When you do deliver (or over deliver), praise all those who helped.  You take responsibility for mistakes and share successes.
  6. Stay curious Another no-brainer for librarians. We are endlessly curious.  We have to be to
    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

    keep up with the latest in resources, apps, technology—and books. Build relationships with those who have different interests so you can learn new things from them. You will gain new knowledge, and they will be flattered they can help.  This includes learning from students.

  7. Embrace change We do this continually. I do hope you are embracing the new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. I have met a number of librarians who have not yet bought their copy and begun to dig into them.  You need to do this or risk being left behind.  We don’t teach with yesterday’s technology or yesterday’s standards. Change feels hardest at the beginning. Like an exercise routine, consistency will make it second nature – and maybe even fun.
  8. Implement diversity In the business world, this refers to those you hire. In our world, it means our collections.  Students need to see themselves in the books they read.  And students need to develop understanding and tolerance by reading about those whose lives are different from theirs.  Don’t limit diversity to ethnicity, sexuality or gender issues. Think of students who have a parent in the military who is serving in Afghanistan, or those who are homeless.   We don’t always see what is happening in our students’ lives. Books are an important window as well as a mirror.
  9. Manage relationships We are in the relationship business. Even after you have built relationships with teachers, students, and the administration, you must continue to look for places to build more.  With parents.  With the community.  The more people you reach, the more successful your advocacy will be.
  10. Lead by example We are role models for lifelong learning. Let students and teachers know about what you have learned recently, the book you are currently reading or even the YouTube creator you discovered.  By giving respect to all students, you not only get respect back but also encourage tolerance and respect in your students.  It’s not what you say that counts.  It’s what you do.

Look over the list.  Which of these come easily to you?  Which are difficult? Become aware of how you are implementing all of them and observe how your leadership abilities grow because of them.

 

ON LIBRARIES: When In Doubt

It takes a certain amount of courage to be a leader.  If you read this blog regularly or attend one of my workshops, you’ve heard me say leaders must take risks and move out of their comfort zone. That leads me to my question – do you doubt you have the kind of courage necessary?

For some of you, the idea of taking a risk is paralyzing.  It’s natural to want to keep your head down and continue doing what is working.  You may have some good reasons for not taking a chance.  Librarian positions have been drastically cut not only in this country but worldwide and those that remain are frequently overloaded. You may be covering more schools and lost any staff you had. There is no time to add anything to your schedule.

So the doubt creeps in.

If you take a risk and get it wrong, you could be putting your job on the line. At least that’s the story you tell yourself. Seeing this in print may remind you of a blog I did in 2015, The Stories We Tell Ourselves or the one I did last February, More Stories.  Since we all have a tendency to fall back into old habits, it bears repeating.

The self-doubt is tied to Imposter Syndrome which I have discussed in Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Option.   Imposter Syndrome is the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it. You don’t know enough.  You will fail. It may even be there when you succeed, telling you this was a onetime thing. There are probably a number of other negative things this voice is telling you and when you listen, it’s keeping you from taking that risk, from moving out of your comfort zone.

This week I have two articles which I think offer some great ways to move through self-doubt. I’ve added my comments and connections to our work for each one. First, Jeff Barton suggests four ways to help you get past self-doubt in Why Self-Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Begin to Overcome It:

  1. Self-Reflection Make an honest self-reflection of your strengths and weaknesses. You do have strengths – quite a few, in fact. You might want to work on the weaknesses, but for that first step past self-doubt try a project or take on a task (run for an office, do a presentation) that focuses on and uses your strengths.
  2. Avoid Perfectionism –You will never get it all right. Any author can tell you they proof-read many times. So does their editor.  Then the book (or the blog) comes out, they immediately see an error.  Nothing I have ever done has been perfect.  Reach for excellence and for improving on what you’ve done before.
  3. Comparison to Others – We always see what others do better than us. This is related to focusing on our weaknesses. We don’t look at the corollary—what we do better than others. Our assumption is, if we do it well, others must also be doing it well.  We can’t really know if that’s true. In addition, you can’t know another person’s struggle or process. Comparing yourself is a waste of time and attention.
  4. Self-Compassion – Treat yourself as you treat others. You are kinder, gentler with others than you are to yourself.  We would never say to a friend or loved one many of the things we say to ourselves.

Petrea Hansen-Adamidis gives 5 Steps to Deal with Self-Doubt and Trust Yourself Again. Some of you may never have trusted yourself, but this is a big factor in dealing with self-doubt.

  1. Ground Yourself – The thought of taking risk is likely to have your brain whirling with the many negative comments you are saying about yourself making it hard to go beyond thinking of the potential risk. Notice the noise. Then focus by writing down the pros and cons of a project.  And ask yourself that classic question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
  2. Balance the Negative – Find more ways to answer the negative self-talk with kindness. Keep a journal/log of your successes.  Include any positive comments you get from students, teachers, parents, administrators. Read through them before tackling something new.
  3. Take a Break – Step away from the problem/issue. Do something else. I walk. By the time I get back, I have come up with several ways to deal with it. You may want to knit, listen to a podcast, color, bake.  Get creative – and fun – with the ways you choose to step away from the challenge.
  4. Nurture Yourself – This is like self-compassion, but it can also mean healthy eating and getting enough sleep as I recommend last week in Positive Self-Care. When you aren’t tired and filled with junk food, you are in a better frame of mind which will mute much of the self-doubts. It’s also a way of acknowledging your own importance to yourself and others.
  5. Connect with Others – Who are your cheerleaders? We all have people in our lives who believe in us.  Talk to them. Let them give you a pep talk.  After all, you would do it for them.

Bestselling author Brené Brown, whose work on shame, self-doubt, and leadership is truly inspiring writes, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” Give it a little thought. What’s your choice?