Giving Effective Feedback

Two weeks ago, I blogged on When Feedback Hurts. We have all experienced those painful moments (they can be the hardest to forget, unfortunately). As a leader, we recognize that receiving feedback is important if we are to grow, but we also need to consider how we give feedback to others.

We may not always be aware of all the instances we give feedback. It is worthwhile to notice the comments and criticism we offer. A teacher is late bringing in his class. You note the lateness, and unbeknown to you, he is thinking you don’t understand what is involved in getting this group organized and ready to go to the library. With this negative feedback, will he be as willing to schedule his class in the future? Will he be open to collaboration?

The IT department has not responded to your request to address an issue. You are justifiably frustrated and send an email, copying the principal, saying the delay is affecting student learning. Do you think the IT department will be more or less responsive to your next request?

You give feedback to students all the time. Perhaps a group is supposed to be working on a project and is obviously more interested in socializing. You tell them it’s time they settled down and got back to work. Are they now more or less engaged?

It’s not that these issues shouldn’t or can’t be addressed, but words count and so does the delivery. Consider these alternate approaches:

  • If you said to the teacher, “Let me get them started. You can probably use a breather after getting the kids here today,” the teacher will feel taken care of, not criticized. You’ve let him know you’re aware of the challenges he faces. And he’s more likely to start the process of getting his class organized earlier so they’re not late in the future.
  • If you sent the IT department a message (not including the principal) and said, “Help! I really need you. I appreciate how very busy you are, but I hope you can make this a priority,” their response is likely to be far different from that annoyed email where they were embarrassed in front of a superior. And you’ve shown you understand their workload.
  • If you said to the students, “Now that you have completed the preliminaries, where are you planning to go next?” Because they need to respond, they are more likely to focus on the task and start working.

While it’s important to let people know you’ve noticed them doing something that doesn’t work, there are ways to move from that information toward something that is helpful to you, them, and the relationship you want to have with them going forward.

Be SpecificThis allows people to be focused. You can tell the teacher in advance what the class will be doing, which can support them all to arrive prepared. The IT department will appreciate as much specificity as possible. Telling them it’s important to you, doesn’t make it important to them. Let them know how their work will have an impact. Your next question with students should direct them on how to start.

Be Timely –The more immediacy you bring to giving the feedback the better it will be. The teacher knows he is late. The IT department is buried in requests for tickets and doesn’t usually think yours is special. The kids are going to have fun until you show them there is fun in the task. Once you’ve pointed out the situation, move on.

Be Prescriptive – What can they do to improve and how can you help? Once the class is going, ask the teacher if he could use a brief reminder early in the day about the impending visit. Ask the IT department how they determine priorities and if there’s anything they need from you in the future, since your request affects so many students. Tell the students you are looking forward to seeing whatever it is they are to do next (a reminder here to be specific).

Be Encouraging – Let the teacher know you recognize the challenge of getting kids to the library as scheduled and are glad to help. Assure the IT department you are aware of their workload and appreciate all they do. Tell students the project is challenging, and you are looking forward to seeing their creative solutions. And the second part of this is to recognize changes. When the teacher arrives on time, say you appreciate what it took to get this done. Thank the IT Department every time they are responsive. (This is the time to copy the principal.) And, if possible, make a positive specific comment to the students when you see what they have accomplished at the end of the period.

So often (maybe even more often) it’s the little things that count. Leadership is not just huge projects with big outcomes. It’s what you do every day to encourage, support and work with the people around you.

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Fielding Tough Questions

We live in a confrontational, polarized world. Tough questions—and charges—are a part of it. If you are a leader, chances are someone is going to challenge you. It happens to every president, CEO, director and head coach. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a leader, people know you lead the library. If someone has an issue related to the library, you are going to be challenged. What you do next defines you as a leader.

A story I have told before occurred when I took a new position in a school and a teacher came storming into the library and started haranguing my clerk. I came over immediately, indicating if there was a problem, the responsibility was mine, not the clerk’s. It was in the early days of automation, and the practice had been to use teachers’ social security numbers for their barcodes. The teacher was opposed to this. I listened to what she said and apologized for not being aware of the policy. It was my library, and I was responsible. I told her would return all her books, issue a new barcode for her, and re-check out the books to her. At the end of the school year, we changed all teacher barcodes.

What worked when I was challenged? I listened without getting defensive or arguing that I wasn’t the one who put the practice in place. I came up with a satisfactory solution. The result – she became one of my strongest library advocates.

The tough questions are getting tougher, the challenges louder and more fierce. To help us be prepared, Allison Shapira has some answers for you When a Tough Question Puts You on the Spot. Here are her four points.

  1. Prepare in Advance–You can expect to have questions and accusations directed at you for books in your collection and displays in your library. Don’t be caught off guard. Be familiar with the Library Bill of Rights and be able to quote key sections. (You might keep a copy on hand). Have a Selection and Reconsideration Policy in place. This ALA toolkit will get you started if you don’t have one yet.
  2. Pause and Breathe–Being confronted is scary. Your body goes into fight, freeze, flight response. While it is trying to protect you, the process shuts off your cerebral cortex–the part of you that thinks. Allow yourself a moment to respond and get your (hopefully) pre-planned response into action.
  3. Express Sympathy and Honesty–This is what I did with that teacher. When a parent comes to you with a challenge, acknowledge their awareness and their concern. Explain how you don’t seek to override their decisions for their child. Once things have stopped escalating, explain that other parents have the right for their children to have access to those subjects.
  4. Acknowledge the Uncertainty–This is often at the root of challenges and frustrations, rather than true animosity. A teacher is angry and wants to know why the material they requested for inclusion in the library last year is still unavailable. A principal wants more data on the impact of your Makerspace and you hadn’t thought of that before. Be honest about your lack of knowledge, assure them you will look into the matter when possible, and give them a date by which you’ll have an answer.

In some of these confrontations, you need to take a stand and that can be difficult. Shapira recommends you use this PREP framework:

  • Point: State one main point.
  • Reason: Provide a reason behind it.
  • Example: Give an example that supports your point.
  • Point: Before you start rambling, re-state your main point.

You will have to face tough questions and never know when. As with any other aspect of leadership, planning is key. Knowing what you will say when it happens will put you in the best position to handle the challenge and help you trust yourself in difficult, emotional situations.

When Feedback Hurts

We know feedback is important, but when it’s negative, no matter how kindly it’s said and even if we know it isn’t intended as criticism… it hurts. Knowing where and when something isn’t working is the only way to make changes. Positive feedback feels good but doesn’t suggest any way to improve. We have to find a way to hear the negative so that we can use it.

There are occasions when we have to seek out the negative. For example, when you collaborate with a teacher and look for feedback on the lesson, asking “What did you think of it?,” chances are you will only give you platitudes. (“It was fine.” “The kids liked it.”) Asking, “What could I have done better?” “What didn’t work well?” will give you the truth. Great. Feedback you can use to improve. In these cases, you are prepared for the comments and can handle them (even if you don’t like them).

It’s harder, however, to handle feedback when you didn’t seek it. Your principal makes some negative comments about your classroom management techniques. A teacher says your attempt at using an old book to create art could use a lot of work. How do you handle it? Criticism and feedback are two sides of the same coin. Yes, the teacher comment was negative, but the point was still there. It’s your choice how to receive – and respond to it. What do you do?

Mary Kelly offers these 5 Tips to Help You Take Feedback the Right Way.

Choose to see feedback as an opportunity – Kelly says to reframe it as a positive. Not always an easy thing to do, but chances are you can find the kernel of truth in what was said. When you do, ask yourself what can you learn from it? Can you make the change on your own or is there someone who could help you do better at whatever it was? If so, this feedback could not only improve your project, but lead to additional collaboration which is a good thing.

Remember you have only your perspective – This is good to keep in mind with any difficult conversation. You don’t know what preceded the comment. People are struggling with any number of challenging and stressful situations in their lives. They could have just had an argument with someone and are still in a bad mood.

It is also worth considering your perspective. What has your day been like? If a number of little things have gone wrong, you are apt to respond more strongly and for the words to sting. We bring who and where we are to every conversation and overlook that the other person is doing the same.

Pause – And breathe. This is one of the best pieces of advice for many situations. That small moment of time allows you to reframe and think about differing perspectives. It will keep you from going on the defensive – or in some cases going on the offensive. Either response is likely to have a negative effect on the relationships you continually try to build. Taking the pause can lead to better understanding and stronger relationships going forward.

Objectively reframe your response – Kelly says how we react to criticism is a habit. This means we can learn to do it well. The truth is, we will experience it a number of times on the job – and in our personal lives. Learning better responses can improve things in a number of areas.

Think about the points the person raised. Can you see the validity of any of them? Start there. Kelly asks you to consider that you were misunderstood. It’s also possible that you misunderstood what the other person said. Seeking clarity, when necessary, can be helpful

Be kind to yourself, but do not wallow in self-pity – Always take the time to recognize your emotions. Yes, it hurt, and that reminds you that the work you’re doing matters to you, but don’t let the feedback – or criticism—be a reason to beat yourself up. We are all human. We make mistakes. We will never be perfect. If we want to keep improving, we need to be open to handling negative feedback.

Learning how to handle negative feedback is an important skill to master. It makes you a better leader because when people see they can tell you the difficult things, they trust you more. The next step? Remembering this process when you give feedback to others.

Resolutions that Work

The new year has begun. Did you make a resolution, or did you not bother because you never stick to them? In December. I blogged about Gratitude, Reflections, and Resolutions, but the holiday season was imminent. You may not have had the time to make those resolutions or reflect on the past year. Good news – there’s no reason you can’t do it now.

Why am I making such a point about resolutions? It’s because I am a strong believer in goals that get you to where you want to go. I often quote the famous “philosopher” Yogi Berra’s who said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Too many people finish the year “someplace else.”

I have embraced the AASL Vision, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.” For me, this translates into writing and curating ideas and resources to give school librarians techniques and tools to build their leadership. It means I learn as much as I can about new trends as well as challenges so that I can better advocate for librarians with people I meet, making them more aware and, if they aren’t already, making them supporters of school libraries. This is always the focus of the professional goals I set for the year.

In How to Have a Good Year, David Bigman has the following suggestions for making resolutions you actually keep:

Set Better Goals- Having big goals is great, “but boil it down to something really practical that you can measure yourself or notice yourself doing every day, every week, but something that’s tangible.” The vision I embraced is huge. But my weekly goals include finding topics and writing my weekly blog, working on the second edition of Leading for School Librarians, and teaching pre-service school librarians.

Bigman’s blog post cautions against setting too many goals, recommending one professional and one personal goal. Although I have 3 professional ones, they have been ingrained as habits for me. My personal goal is about walking which improves my mindset and my physical well-being.

Acknowledge Tensions – Life is stressful. List the tension areas in your life both professional and personal. The bad news is they won’t go away. You have heard of another “philosopher,” Roseanne Roseannadanna (played by the amazing Gilda Radner) from the original cast Saturday Night Live, who said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

To deal with the tensions on your list, reflect on how severely each impacts your life. What can you do to ease them slightly? Where can you get support? You won’t eliminate them but getting a handle on them will help you stop beating yourself up about not being able to manage them better or get everything done.

Connect with Others – The pandemic showed us how much humans need social contact to thive. Make sure you plug this into your weekly actions. I have lunch with a friend once a month. I have scheduled calls with relatives so that I don’t allow my tasks to cause me to neglect what is so important to my mental health.

Your PLN is also important. School librarians are lonely. Yes, they interact with the whole school population, but no one in the building truly understands the scope and demands of the job. Get a mentor or be a mentor. Serve on your state’s school library association. It will enrich you on many levels. And take time to share your goals and resolutions with peers and friends – you never know where support can come from.

Focus on Certainties – There are so many uncertainties in our life and worrying about them adds to our tensions. Instead, consider the certainties you deal with. There is a certain rhythm to the school year and predictable deadlines. These can help calm us in rougher times.

By managing the certainties as efficiently as possible, you can ease tensions which makes it easier to handle those uncertainties. As the blog notes, “This will really help you do your clearest best thinking about the things that are uncertain and are nebulous and hard to wrap your arms around.”

Retake Some Time – Try doing a time audit. How much time are you taking for your various professional and personal tasks? Do they really need that much? How can you cut back on some so that you can give more time to your priorities?

If you set a time limit for going through email, you might find you can get it done faster and just as well. Do you really have to stay as late as usual or on as many days? Leaving early at least one day a week could strengthen your relationships outside of work and give you needed mental break. Finding places to reduce the time you invest in a task makes you calmer and feeling more successful.

So where do you want to be next January? The “resolutions” or goal you set today are the best way to help you get there. From my resolutions to yours – I’m wishing you a great year!

Opening a New Door

Happy New Year! I’ve got a tough question for you – is it time for a new position?

Last week I blogged on Gratitude, Reflections, & Resolutions. In reaching your resolutions, you identified what you don’t want in your life and what you do want. Some of you may have faced an uncomfortable realization. What you don’t want in your life is what your job in your district has become, and what you do want is to be in a school where you have the opportunity to grow and be all you can be.

In the last few years, being a librarian has become more stressful, and you all have been stretching and leading as you do whatever you can to make the library essential to teachers and students. In some places that hasn’t been enough. The administration thwarts every idea you have and gives you more tasks far removed from your Mission and Vision.

If this is your situation, it is time to consider an exit strategy. That’s a scary thought. Naturally, adages such as, “better the devil you know” and “out of the frying pan into the fire” jump into your head. On the other hand, remember your two lists from last week. To decide if it’s time to “read the handwriting on the wall”, ask yourself, “Is there any chance the situation will improve?” If not, recognize the cost of continuing where you are. It is likely your relationships with your family will suffer, you’ll face each day with dread, and the joy you once had in being a librarian will be gone.

When I was in a situation with a horrible principal, my saving grace was a very supportive superintendent of schools. When she announced she was retiring, I got busy job hunting. I knew eventually this principal would become superintendent. My prediction proved true, but by then I was happily in a new district where I had more opportunities to take a good library program and make it better. All I lost after 22 years in the district was my sick days.

Consider these steps to make this change as successful as possible:

Planning to Leave – Update your resume. Prepare an e-portfolio of your accomplishments. Quietly let any vendors who visit your library know you are job hunting. They often hear about potential openings first. Check your state library association job board. Check in with your peers -and me – on the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group.

Zeroing in on Your Target – When you learn of a possible position, research the district. Does the school’s website match their stated Mission? They may say academics are important but do they only show pictures of athletic success? Check the library’s webpage. Use social media to learn about the administrators. What can you learn about their budget? Call the librarian and talk to them in advance of the interview.

Preparing for the Interview – Check websites such as Elementary Librarian Interview Questions or the School Librarian Interview Guide. Prepare a list of your questions for the interviewer(s). Remember – you’re interviewing them, too. Ask what they like best about the library currently and what they would like to see in the future. Their answers will tell you how much they know about the library.

Acing the Interview – If possible, take a test drive to the location so that you’re comfortable with the drive. On the day of the interview, arrive early. Dress nicely but comfortably. Shake hands with the interviewer(s). Position your seat to give you the best possible view of them. (This also gives you time to calm yourself.)  Pause before answering questions and ask for any clarifications you need. Listen for what they are saying and not saying. Make sure you have a chance to see the library and look around. What messages is it sending? During the interview, never criticize your current school. Focus on the positives of the one you hope to get. You might say you want an opportunity to work in a forward-looking district.

After the Interview – As soon as possible follow up with a thank you message to the interviewer(s). Email is fine, but handwritten ones are better. Be sure you have the correct spelling of names.  Chris Littlefield details the steps in How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview. Some highlights are:

  • Referencing something said that was of significance.
  • Reminding them of your interest in the position.
  • Keeping it brief. Don’t add too much detail.
  • Making sure there are no typos, and the grammar is correct.

In closing, note you are looking forward to hearing from them. The value of the thank you message, as Littlefield explains, is that it helps you stand out from the crowd. You remind the interviews of who you are and what you said. It shows your people and communication skills.

Leaders take risks. Sometimes the risk is knowing when to leave and find something new. Whatever your new year brings, I wish you a great one!

Gratitude, Reflections & Resolutions

The December holidays are pretty much done. You (hopefully) have time to relax before New Year’s and the return to school. In this quiet space, it’s a great opportunity to take some time to think, focus your mindset, and be ready to bring your rejuvenated self to being the best leader and librarian you can be for the remainder of the school year. But where to start?

I am a great believer in gratitude. The daily stress and crises of life, both personal and professional, can drown out the good. Life will always happen, but we need to savor the happy moments. To do this, find a quiet spot. Take a notepad or your tablet with you and give yourself time to think. What do you have in your life that you are grateful for? Family and friends. Home, food, coffee, jobs we enjoy, the people who make our lives easier. Start listing them. As you continue to think, your list will get longer.

Reflect on the joys and celebrations you have had this year. I keep an “All Good Things” canister on my kitchen island. I record whenever something good happens to me or a family member on a sheet of paper from a small pad I keep in the cannister. Then I fold it, write the date on it, and put it back in the canister. On New Year’s Day, I empty the canister and put the folded sheets in chronological order. As I read through them, I can remember what I great year I had.

With those two steps completed, you are ready for the traditional writing of New Year’s resolutions, intentions, or goals. Knowing how often these are made and quickly broken, consider Dan Rockwell’s suggestions in A New Year – A New Focus and do it differently.

His novel idea is to start by making a “Don’t Want” list. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you’ll write this. We are quite clear about what we want less of. Follow it with a short explanation of how to keep it out of your life (or minimize it.)  For example, you may not want to feel so tired. So, you will need to go to bed earlier. Perhaps you don’t want to be always going from task to task like the Energizer bunny. You will have to prioritize your commitments and learn to say, “no.”

Rockwell says to then consider what you do want. Think about what you want more of in your life and then ask yourself what it would take – what would the steps be – to have that in your life. If you want more time with your family what will you need to do? What will you stop doing to give yourself more time? On the professional level, you might want to collaborate with more teachers. Who can you reach out to? (You don’t want to tackle too many. Remember you are prioritizing your commitments.) What’s the best way to connect with that teacher? How can you build your relationship with them?

With these two lists, you now have a clearer idea of where to focus in the New Year. Reflect again. This time on what went well this year. How can you improve on what didn’t? How can you take your successes to the next level? How can you let go of what didn’t work or didn’t serve you?

And lastly, Rockwell (and I heartily agree) asks “How do you want to bring value to yourself and others? You have noted how much you have to be grateful for. Now it is time to focus on the ways you can give back. You are a leader. What do you need to do that will strengthen and grow your community? But do maintain balance in your life. It will be a matter of priorities.

Quiet time over. You have set your direction for the New Year. Now enjoy the remainder of your vacation.

Leadership Power

Making your Vision for your library a reality requires two things: leadership and power. Power has many faces. Some comes from a person’s title, like principal or superintendent, but at its core (and by definition), power is having or making people do what you want them to do. The best kind of power happens when the person with power inspires – rather than forces – people to follow.

The strongest and most effective leaders don’t only have power, they are visionaries. Your Vision Statement is just a dream unless you keep it in mind and work toward it, however slowly. In addition, you can’t accomplish your vision on your own. You must make connections with others who help bring it with you to fruition.

As an example, look at this Vision Statement, “The Blank School Library 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.” It is uplifting, as all Vision Statements need to be. At the same time, the importance of others being a part of it to make it a reality is embedded in the statement with phrases including: “collaborative learning,” “appreciation of literature” and “critical thinking skills.”

Bringing your vision to life requires you to work with teachers at all levels and in all subjects, as well as creating the safe environment that welcomes all, allowing them to produce their best work. To achieve that, you need to be clear on where you are going and have a positive mindset about getting there. Alaina Love in her post, Do You Have the Kind of Power That Really Matters? guides you with these five questions to ask yourself.

  1. What is the over-arching purpose I am here to achieve? The word “purpose” provides the answer. It is your Mission Statement. Your Mission Statement is what grounds you and keeps you focused on what is truly important so that you don’t get distracted –or not for long—by tasks that don’t further your purpose.
  2. What are the outcomes I am hoping to manifest today? A prioritized to-do list has you working towards that over-arching purpose in manageable steps. The pleasure we feel at being able to cross off these tasks keeps us motivated to continue in our always busy world. Love recommends keeping track of your successes as a reminder of what you are achieving. Seeing progress is an incredible motivator.
  3. How do I need to show up for others to get these results? For librarians, this means listening to the people in our community and learning what teachers are doing – and struggling with. When your library is a safe welcoming environment, they are more likely to share their worries and stresses. Offering your help and doing the heavy lifting brings them back. They will see you and the library as a vital resource toward their success.
  4. What needs to shift in the environment I create to allow others to be more successful? Your first thought may be to look at the physical arrangement of furniture in your library. That’s one place but go further. You can invite teachers to put their student projects on display highlighting the success of many. You might also assess if you can make it easier for teachers to talk with you and/or schedule their classes into the library. Is there a place in your library where you can talk privately? Environment is about more than how a place looks. It’s about how it feels when you’re there.
  5. Where do I need to demonstrate more authenticity in my interactions and communications? Establish yourself as someone who can be trusted. Be comfortable sharing what you know – and what you don’t. In addition, be open to feedback, valuable part of leadership. is tough but necessary. After a project is completed, be willing to seek the truth from the people you worked with. Ask, “What do you think worked best?” “Where did you feel most supported?” “What could I have done better?” “How could I have helped you more?” “What changes would you like to see if we repeat this project?”  Asking may make your feel vulnerable, but you will have built trust. And trust is the foundation of relationships.

You want to be the kind of leader who stays in your power and impacts others positively. With your Mission Statement and Vision to guide you, you can work continuously and successfully to make your Vision a reality because others will want to be a part of what you’re creating.

Building Relationships With Everyone

As I’ve written about many times, we are in the relationship business. Without them, we’re out of business. And if the library is going to be a welcoming place for all, we need to be in relationship with everyone in our building. The challenge comes when we must work with those who we find difficult to connect to – because it doesn’t matter. We need to build a relationship with them and provide them with the same services and resources we give everyone else. We don’t need to be their friends, but we must create the connection that shows we are there for them.

So how can we build these connections? Amy Gallo offers guidance on how to handle tricky waters in Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). Her five suggestions should get you going.

1. The definition of a “difficult person” is often informed by bias – Take note of why you might consider this person difficult. Gallo says, our interpretation is often informed by our own biases and prejudices. The author suggests you ask yourself: “If your colleague was a different gender, race, sexual orientation, would you make the same assumptions? Would you be willing to say the same things or treat them the same way?”

Even if you have become aware of your implicit bias towards BIPOC – or possibly LBGTQ+ people, there are other types of implicit bias we hold. Do you innately believe your Athletic Director is a non-reader and/or someone who wouldn’t be interested in libraries?  Do you unwittingly assume that custodial staff members are less intelligent? What biases do you hold about people who are very overweight, much older (or younger) than you, or those who your friends don’t particularly like?  We make judgments without being aware we have done so. Stop to consider this when looking at the relationships that challenge you.

2. Your perspective is just one perspective – It’s not only our implicit biases that shape our perspective. How we see the world is not necessarily how others see it. Our attitude towards so many things unconsciously affects our decisions about others. In my family, we often interrupted each other in our enthusiasm to communicate our ideas. I have a friend who considers it rude. There is no right or wrong here. Only different perspectives that deserve understanding. To deal with this, the questions to ask yourself, says Gallo are, “What assumptions have I made?  How would someone with different values and experiences see things differently?” By stopping to ask yourself this, you’ll have the chance to connect.

3. It’s not just negative relationships that need attending to – Your positive relationships may be affected by your negative response to others. Colleagues you don’t like or who annoy you add stress. You bring that stress with you into all areas of your life. And it’s important to recognize that not all relationships fall neatly into “good” or “bad”. There are those which are more ambivalent, and which also need our attention. You may not have a problem with the person, but if you’re indifferent, you really don’t “see” them. As a result, you remain unaware of their needs and don’t provide the same support and resources that you do with your positive relationships. Also remember that relationships aren’t fixed. Good ones can turn sour without care.

4. Escalating is an option that has to be done carefully – As a librarian, this is one you hopefully will never have to use. Going to the administration or possibly the union about a colleague is something that would require an egregious offense. It happened to me only once in my career. I was retiring from a high school library and my co-librarian was a disaster. Through her own careful planning, she managed to avoid being observed so the administration wasn’t aware of her shortcomings. She was up for tenure and slated to replace me. I spoke to the Assistant Superintendent, and while I wasn’t able to change their decision, in my exit interview with the principal, I recommended frequent visits to the library and listening to the staff. They did, and a year later my suspicions proved accurate, and they moved her to another library. The library – and other relationships – were more important. Consider this before escalating.

Sometimes we have to be the adult in the room – As with much of all our relationship-building (in and out of work), and our collaborations, it often seems as though we have to be the one doing the work. There will be times when you need more help from them or wish they’d do more, but ultimately, the only person in a relationship you can control is yourself. These means that to have the relationships we need, we have to accept responsibility for their success, even when (and maybe especially when) it’s difficult.

We need to be in relationships with everyone because the library is for everyone. Yes, some relationships will be deeper than others, some may even become lifelong friendships. What’s important to remember is all of these relationships are important, and the better you are at connecting to your colleagues, students, administrators, and parents, the more likely it is that your program will thrive.

Coping with Anxiety

Anxious, nervous, worried, fretful. So many words to express a state of mind we all experience at one time or another. These days seem to be coming more often. The news, job stress, book banning, and personal issues all find their way into our brain and our internal conversation, only heightening those emotions.

We all have situations that make us nervous. Right now, I’m worried about my upcoming state library conference. I will be giving a presentation tomorrow just before lunch. Me, a conference junkie, and I haven’t been to one in two years. My thoughts are racing. Will I remember to pack everything I need for my overnight stay? What about my presentation? Have I prepared enough? Will it be well received?

Major or minor, these anxiety-producing situations take a toll and keep us from bringing our best to whatever is on our plates. We need tools to deal with the draining effects of anxiety. Marlene Chism has a plan for us in 7 Practical Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Difficult Times.

  1. Challenge Your Thoughts – Notice what you’re thinking and take time to ask yourself – is it true? Our thoughts can be our worst enemy – negative internal conversations where we’re highly self-critical. Or we catastrophize, seeing all possible outcomes in the worst possible light. We won’t ever stop those voices from popping up in our heads, but Chism suggests we note their presence and say, “Thanks for sharing,” then find a way to shift our attention.
  2. Stop Ruminating – You may have a repetitive strain of negative thoughts going on. Chism suggests finding a way to break that cycle before it becomes a habit. To do this, move to a more soothing thought. Instead of constantly thinking, “I’ll never get more budget money” meet that concern with a thought about going for a grant or creating a DonorsChoose campaign.
  3. Eliminate Blame – Chism says blame is about the past and makes you a victim. It keeps us away from taking responsibility and creating change. Recognize your choices and take back your power. Instead of continually seeing the administration as the cause of no new budget dollars, you can look for ways to make the library more visible so the administration is more likely to support your initiatives.
  4. Unplug from the Media – This is a reminder that, “Watching the news or engaging in social media non-stop is toxic to your health, takes up time and wastes precious energy…” Many of us are what’s known as “data responsive.” We can’t help but feel anxious and worried when we hear about the state of things, even if these are things we can’t help. Limiting exposure to this information decreases anxiety.
  5. Create Structure – Reliability and predictability decrease anxiety. Our structures began falling apart during the pandemic. Many of us are still putting new ones in place. Structure affects behavior and builds routines. Routines build habit. Habits build accomplishments. If you make time to recognize the accomplishments, you can quiet the negative thoughts.
  6. Get Organized – Build on the previous step by creating organization in your environment. This is good for home and work. Chism says, “There’s something about the physical activity of organizing that can help you clear your mind, whether at work or at home.” The author further suggests you organize your mental environment by putting all your concerns and worries down on paper and determining how you will deal with them and when you will do it. This will also help you notice some of the other steps – including negative thoughts, ruminating, and blame.
  7. Rekindle Relationships – The pandemic proved that humans are social animals and how much we thrive with connection. We wither when we don’t have contact with others. Yes, we see and work with people daily, but it’s our relationships that refresh us. Sometimes it’s a case of a “problem shared is a problem halved.” Other times, it’s putting your cares away for a time and allowing the freedom of just enjoying being with those you care about. Get coffee with friends. Share lunch with your volunteers. Make your relationships a priority.

Our anxieties won’t go away, but we can keep them under control. As for me, I’m focused on my priorities and to-do list for today and reminding myself that I’ve had many successful presentations in the past, and I can trust that I’m bringing something of value. Best of all, I will be seeing my friends and colleagues again.

Become Confident

Leaders are confident. Confidence is the outward manifestation of your trust in yourself. It is an essential ingredient for leadership. When you trust yourself, people trust you. When they do, they will follow and work with you. That doesn’t mean you believe you are always right. You can question your original decision and/or get feedback from others. But you are still confident and recognized as such.

You need confidence when you propose a new program. You need confidence to deal with students who are acting out. You need confidence when you make changes to the facilities in the library. You need confidence to face challenges to your collection. You need confidence to grow. And if you are not growing, you are dying.

But how do you develop confidence?  The Indeed Editorial Team gives some helpful recommendations in Building Self-Confidence: 10 Ways to Boost Your Confidence.

  1. Attend professional development training – The more you know, the more confident you will feel. Going to your state’s school library conference is an important investment in yourself. In addition to the specific knowledge you gain, you also develop a vocabulary that shows you are informed about the topic. The added benefit of attending PD sessions is the connections you make. Building relationships with other librarians is as important as building relationships with people in your building. They are potential mentors, people with whom you can safely vent, and sources of advice and experience.
  2. Learn new skills – Similar to the first, but this can also refer to choosing a specific course or topic. For example, you may feel you could use more help with time management. Or you want to learn more coding so that you can make recommendations to students and teachers. Searching online for some training in this area will make you feel more knowledgeable and therefore more confident.
  3. Dress for success – This outward step has an important impact on your inner self-assurance. Your dress affects your attitude and mindset. Think of elementary kids on picture day. When they are dressed up, they behave much better. When considering this, make sure your clothing does not restrict you from being able to do your job comfortably. If your day requires you to sit on the floor or a low chair, keep that in mind. The way you are dressed transmits a silent subconscious message to others while potentially empowering you.
  4. Leave your comfort zone – Almost everything on this list asks you to take this step. It is key to professional growth. Giving your first presentation is scary. Getting through it is an enormous confidence boost. The Indeed Editorial Team also notes that doing something like a presentation can open the door to new opportunities. Someone in the audience might note something that suggests a new direction. Confidence lies outside of your comfort zone.
  5. Emulate confident peers – Look for role models. Who do you know who appears confident? How do they do it? The authors of the article suggest observing how these people interact with others and incorporating some of their strategies.
  6. Set goals for yourself – As with #2, start with something you want to learn or do and set small goals on your path to achieving it. Each goal you reach builds your confidence and keeps you going.
  7. Focus on your strengths – There are things you already do well. Can you do them better or can you use these skills more? Don’t look for perfection. Keep your focus on improvement Indeed recommends keeping a list of your achievements. (I keep a journal of what I accomplish each day.)
  8. Learn from your mistakes – Mistakes are a good thing – even though they don’t feel that way in the moment. They are part of growing. Mistakes give you information on what’s not working so you can do things differently. Use this information to move forward.
  9. Eliminate negative language – Notice how you treat yourself. We tend to be our own harshest critics. Change that mindset and look to what your accomplishments are and the goals you are working toward. Keeping that journal will help.
  10. Ask questions – Questions are another important part of the growth process. Pretending you understood everything someone said keeps you uninformed. Everything around us is changing at a faster rate than ever. One way to stay on top of what you need to know is by asking questions.

The Indeed Editorial Team had 3 final tips:

  • Take your time,
  • Be persistent, and
  • Keep developing your mindset.

I would add to that: Keep growing; Recognize the value you bring, and Build your PLN. With practice and awareness, confidence is there for you.