ON LIBRARIES: Saying Yes – and No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ON LIBRARIES: Expect the Unexpected

THIS WEEK GUEST BLOGGER: Rona Gofstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES: More Ways to Be Heard

Last week I wrote about the first five recommendations for being heard – and therefore recognized – in John R. Stoker’s article “How to Achieve Recognition by Results.” These recommendations were:

  1. Continue to do the work
  2. Look to make a difference
  3. Support others in their work
  4. Humbly be right
  5. Offer concrete evidence.

Now, the next five ideas.

Stoker’s sixth recommendation, Be Collaborative in Your Efforts seems almost a waste of time to mention. This is at the core of your work. You have been trying to get teachers to collaborate with you and they haven’t been responding.  In the business world, this suggestion translates as “be a team player.” While you do need to be using ideas to get teachers to collaborate or at least cooperate with you, reach beyond the teachers.

We have seen repeatedly that having a supportive principal is a sure road to working with teachers.  Once you have that support, you need administrators to view you as a team player.  Listen carefully and figure out what your principal and/or superintendent want to achieve.  Then show them how you and the library program can help make it a reality.  Just a word of caution –  you don’t want the teachers to think you are brown-nosing.  You will lose them completely. They may not be as good at showing administrators what they are achieving, so show how your work involves them and any and all support they’ve given.

You may not realize that you need to Explain Why but frequently you do. This is particularly important with any staff you have—paid or volunteer.  When someone offers a suggestion on how to do something in the library and you ignore it because it doesn’t work, the other person feels you don’t value them. Explain to students, teachers, or anyone if you don’t adopt their great idea.  When you explain, you could discover you didn’t understand the underlying reason for their suggestion and a great idea might emerge – in collaboration.

It’s so important to Recognize the Contribution of Others.  Remember the story of my two principals.  As I mentioned in Be Collaborative, every time a teacher does a project with you, let the principal know about it. Focus on the teacher.  Have a bulletin board highlighting the achievements of students (and not just athletes) and teachers.  You might talk about their crafting skills or other talents.  People like to be seen as worthy.

Recognize that schooling and degrees does not guarantee intelligence and the lack of them indicate that someone isn’t smart.  I once had a volunteer who had only an eighth-grade education. Her whole manner seemed to suggest a lack of intelligence.  It turned out she was smarter than many teachers and saw things I missed.  I was fortunate to have her in charge of my volunteers for several years. And yes, I let her know how valuable she was to me.

Be open to advice from custodians, secretaries, and students.  The academic decathlon students I advised were fantastic computer nerds.  When the tech department considered purchasing a new firewall, they had my kids test it out. They broke through it in slightly over a minute.  The tech department was appalled. The kids were quite justifiably proud of themselves.  And I was glad they were on my side.  I applauded their skills although in this case and for obvious reasons didn’t publicize it.

Leaders don’t make followers.  They create Leaders.  Look to Develop Others.  When you commend their talents and help them become better at it, they develop into leaders.  And they also become your followers and collaborators.

Over the years, I have encouraged librarians to take on bigger tasks and many have gone on to do great things in AASL.  I have mentored scores of librarians and I hope that my books – and this blog – offer librarians the courage to step out of their comfort zones and become leaders.

Finally, and obviously, Continue Learning. We are models of lifelong learners but also learn from your colleagues.  Let them know how they are helping you.  I planned to be a high school English teacher.  When I got my first elementary library job, it was the teachers (good and bad) who taught me how to be successful at that level.  When I was transferred to the high school they asked me what I would do there, thinking I was trained to be an elementary librarian.

I learn every day from posts on the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group as well as the other library-aligned Facebook pages. I learn from the e-newsletters I get daily some from ALA and some from business and tech sources.  As I have said, you are either learning and growing or you are dying.

So, ten ways to be heard. I hope you heard that at the core of all of them is building relationships. Remember the quote attributed to John C. Maxwell and Theodore Roosevelt — “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: Can You Hear Me Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humbly be Right, Stoker writes:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Keep Your Communication Channels Clear

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

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

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

The message is another matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: Curiouser and Curiouser

In the opening to Chapter 2 in Alice in Wonderland, Alice describes the events unfolding by saying, “Curiouser and curiouser” going on to comment, “now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!” With this book, those words, and what occurs on Alice’s adventures, Lewis Carroll created a world antithetical to the Victorian education of his day.  In a society where students recited “How doth the little busy bee…” chorusing it by rote, curiosity was not encouraged.

But Carroll was right. Curiosity lets you open out like the largest telescope. Curiosity leads to innovation and growth for students and for ourselves. We need to introduce curiosity into more subject areas and bring it further into our lives as leaders. Where standardized tests are the “Little busy bee” of our time, curiosity must be cultivated and celebrated.

Schools and libraries have been creating Makerspaces and STEM labs which are giving students the space and resources to follow their imagination. They love the activity and become skilled at problem-solving.  In a Makerspace, students don’t worry about failure.  In that environment, they accept failure as part of the learning process.  It’s like their video games where they die, learn from it, and are then able to use the information to go back then go on to the next level.

In Makerspaces, students are asking themselves, “What if I …?”  “I wonder if …” Those are the questions of the curious, but problem-solving is not just for Makerspaces.  It needs to be everywhere. But what is happening the rest of the day?  What are classes and assignments like?

Unfortunately, there the emphasis is still on success and correct answers. As librarians, we need to lead the shift to have students focusing on and learning to ask important questions. In February 2016 I blogged about Quality Questions and spoke about the role of Essential Questions in creating learning experiences for students.  There is a link at the end to an article in Edutopia on 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners.  It’s still a worthwhile read, but we need to do even more.

Many of librarians use KWL (know, want, learn) charts with students.  I suggest adding a fourth column- “Q” which stands for “Questions I still have.”  Having them complete this final step encourages kids to think deeper and possibly explore aspects of the topic that haven’t been covered in the project.

Inquiry is the first Shared Foundation in AASL’s new National School Library Standards (NSLS).  In the Framework for Learners. The Competency for it under Think, the first Domain, reads, “Learners display curiosity and initiative by: ….”  From curiosity and initiative come the new ideas that will power tomorrow.  But first students must develop the ability to do so.  Our lessons must stimulate curiosity and the questioning that comes with it.

Explore is the fifth Shared Foundation in the NSLS.  In the Framework for Learners, the Competencies for Grow, the fourth Domain, states “Learners develop through experience and reflection by:…”  Reflection is an important word (and is used throughout the standards).  We grow through reflection because we think about what we know – and what we don’t.  And that should make us curious.

We need to give the student time to reflect and come up with questions that begin, “I wonder….?” and “What if ….?”  Questions that can’t be answered by a quick Google search.  And when they come up with these questions, ask them where they can find answers to their question.

As leaders, we must cultivate curiosity in ourselves as well.  It’s how we move out of our comfort zone which is the only way we grow as leaders. Is there a teacher in your school whom the kids love?  Consider asking if you can observe him/her during your free period.  You might learn so much, and the teacher will likely appreciate being recognized.

Reach out to your colleagues at other schools and other grade levels and ask questions. If you are at the elementary level, talk with the middle school librarian to see what students read and research at that level.  If you are at the high school also check with the middle school librarian to see what experiences they have had.  Middle school librarians can go either or both ways.

Be curious about your coworkers and their lives outside of school.  Sometimes we are like the kids who think the teachers sleep in the school because they can’t imagine them having a life past the school walls.  In getting to know the teachers as individuals beyond their subject/grade you begin building trust and relationships which lead to collaboration.

An article from Experience Life by Todd Kashdan discusses The Power of Curiosity.  The fact that curiosity increases intelligence and social relationships is logical, but you may be surprised to see how it increases health, happiness, and other benefits.  I love the ideas of thriving on uncertainty, reconnecting with play, and finding the unfamiliar in the familiar.

Curiosity, in my opinion, is a foundation of a growth mindset.  It makes the world a more exciting place – and you a more interesting person.

ON LIBRARIES: Regarding Teachers

Students are our first priority, but teachers come in at a close second.  For the most part, they are the gateway to the students. If we don’t find ways to reach them, we lose much of our access to students.

Why don’t we collaborate more – or at least cooperate?  We are on the same team?  Aren’t we?  The answer is not simple.  Yes, we should be on the same team, but do you feel and act as if the teachers are on your team?  Do the teachers feel you are on theirs?

Too many librarians believe the teachers don’t recognize what they bring to students, and this is often the case. If they are not working with you, they have no idea what you are doing.  And they certainly can’t imagine what you could do.

The situation can be exacerbated by your reaction.  If you feel undervalued and even disrespected, your attitude creeps into your interactions with the teachers. They sense it and respond in kind, further setting up a “we/they” feeling.

It’s too important to let things continue if they are not working.  Your job responsibility requires you to at least have a professional relationship with every teacher. You don’t have to be BFFs, but you must be able to regard all of them in a friendly manner. The library is a “safe, welcoming environment for ALL.” That includes teachers, even if they never set foot in it.

Your challenge is to move from we/they to us.  If they don’t come in the library, you are going to have to meet them elsewhere. School and district committees are a good place to start.  Despite your heavy schedule, you need to make time for this because you automatically meet as equals on these committees.   As you bring your expertise to the discussions, teachers begin to realize how you can contribute to what they do.

Next, make your library an inviting space for teachers.  Food is always the perfect lure.  Have coffee (and tea) available if you can.  Bring in snacks both healthy and not-so-healthy that don’t need refrigeration.  Let teachers know you have this available. There are other ways to lure teachers in.  Having a color printer or a laminator are a draw. Even better, if your library has the space, create a “teachers only” area.

If you build this – they will come. You don’t have to stop what you are doing to greet them. Your students and classes come first. Leave a little welcoming note and/or any needed directions where you have the food.  You can leave some new additions nearby with a note saying these books are about to be put into the collection and to let you know if they want one of them first.  You can also put out magazines you think they would like.

On those occasions when teachers come in and you aren’t involved with students, don’t pounce on them with suggestions of books and websites and other resources.  Just focus on bringing them in. If they feek as though you are offering a sales pitch, they will stay away. Instead, use the time to get to know them as people.  What are their hobbies, interests?  Do they have kids?  Do whatever it takes to begin building a relationship. Reach out to them as people.  Personal before professional lays the groundwork.

You will know you are succeeding when some teachers bring in food as thanks or come to use some of the special resources you have available.  That’s your cue to take the next step with them.  Move from the personal to the professional. (Sounds backwards but it’s really the best way to create collaboration or cooperation.) Ask about what they are working on with their classes. Listen carefully to find out what the culminating project is or any difficulties they are having with the unit.

After the conversation, demonstrate your curation skills by gathering books and/or web resources.  Don’t wait for the teacher to come back in.  Deliver it in person if possible.  Otherwise, put it in their mailbox with a note saying, “Based on our conversation, I thought you would find this helpful.”

Teachers are as overwhelmed and feel as unappreciated and undervalued as you do.  The last thing they want is to take on more work.  Cooperating or collaborating with you sounds like it is just that.  You need to show them that being an Instructional Partner can and will make their life easier.

ON LIBRARIES: Perseverance, Persistence, and Resilience

The list of leadership qualities seems to be always growing. Listening to librarians as they discuss how they cope with the demands of their job as well as the constant need to show their value, it seemed time to add some more.  For us as school librarians, perseverance, persistence, and resilience are particularly necessary qualities of leadership. We have a seemingly never-ending challenge to prove our worth along with that of the school library and the programs we create.

According to Merriam-Webster, Perseverance is “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” It’s almost a definition of the school librarian’s world. Every day, we strive to connect with teachers and the administration to demonstrate to them how we increase student achievement, transform learning, and prepare students to be the lifelong learners necessary for success in an ever-changing world.

 

Given teachers’ highly stressed workday, it is a continuous challenge to get them to give you the opportunity to prove your worth. Yet, you persevere.  If you are or want to be a leader, you believe that you will ultimately achieve your goals, accepting it likely that it will be a process of two steps forward and one step back.

In a brief article, Terry Magelakis explains the difference between Perseverance and Persistence.  He sees Persistence as the choice to continue doing something despite the difficulties in achieving the goal. Although this sounds close to the Merriam-Webster definition of Perseverance, Magelakis, emphasizes the idea that Persistence is about the choice. By contrast, he says Perseverance is” the continuation of commitment through action in spite of the lack of success.”  To persevere you need stamina and endurance – and so many of you have just that.  I love his statement that “perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

But what if you see no path to making the needed changes in your school and/or district? While I always write about leadership and the successes that have been achieved, that isn’t the whole picture.  The fact is success is a goal not a given. And sometimes it is unattainable where you are.  It is why I blogged a few weeks ago about when It’s Time to Move On.

However, before hauling out your resumé, remember that Perseverance does require a continuous effort to achieve your goal. If you slowly see improvements, persevere. Learn from what doesn’t work and try a different approach. After all, repeating the same action in hope of a different result is a definition of insanity. Make a realistic assessment of what is possible and decide your next course of action.

Persistence, which as noted, is very close to Perseverance, is an interesting term.  I had a highly

Small Plant – Drought Desert

strategic superintendent who led a school district that voted down budgets regularly.  She had learned to make it work as best she could with a stratagem I suspect is used by many administrators.

After approving one of my requests, she told me when someone came to her asking for something requiring funding, her immediate answer was “No.”  According to her, they would go away, and she no longer had to deal with it. I, on the other hand, frequently got a positive answer because I kept coming back with alternatives.

My behavior told her that I was serious about my request.  I was creative, and I probably was not going away.  This made her confident that I would use the funds wisely and the students and staff would benefit.

Some think Persistence carries the connotation of being stubborn. This should send up a red flag.  Be careful how your behavior might be perceived.  Stubborn people don’t listen to others’ ideas, believing their solution or approach is the only possible way.  Review how you are presenting your ideas.  Check with a trusted colleague to see if you are sounding stubborn.  If so, revise your message.

Resilience refers to your ability to bounce back from a setback.   Sometimes one of your ideas doesn’t pay off.  You want to go and hide and hope everyone forgets – or doesn’t notice. Nobody likes to get it wrong.

We try to teach students that failing is a part of learning, but we don’t react that way when we are the ones who failed in some ways.  If you always get it right, you haven’t reached high enough.  Leaders will and do make mistakes. It’s what you do next that makes all the difference.

Yes, you can have a pity party, but don’t stay there too long.  Take a close look at what happened. Was the whole thing a disaster or was there any part of your project/idea that worked?  Any of it salvageable? What went wrong? Was it a matter of timing? Did you count on the wrong people? 

In your analysis avoid going to negative or positive extremes.   Honesty is vital if you are going to learn from your mistakes. You will be a better leader as a result.

 

ON LIBRARIES: More Stories

In October 2015, I blogged about The Stories We Tell Ourselves that keep us from becoming the leaders we need to be. At the time I looked at three stories, but I have come to realize we have many more. Our heads are filled with stories – and not all the happily ever after kind.

Some stories are about how we believe others see us. Some speak to how we perceive ourselves, often based on societal “norms.” In our mind’s eye, we view ourselves as having handicaps we can’t get passed. As with the other stories, while there may be an element of truth to the story, more often it is not as bad as we believe and it ends up being something that holds us back. If you are going to be a leader or grow more in your leadership, you need to be able to quiet the stories and become stronger as a result.

The first step is to recognize the negative self-talk going on in your brain. What is it saying? When do you hear it the loudest? What does it keep you from doing? Where did it once keep you safe but now holds you back? The more you can answer these and other question, the more you will be able to see where these stories don’t work for you anymore. When you see how they have influenced and stopped you, you will begin to understand how important it is for you to change your mindset. Then, hopefully, you are motivated to find the means to see yourself differently.

The number of different stories we tell ourselves is as numerous as the books in our collections, however, like those collections, we can find some similar themes. I am going to keep the focus on the stories that are keeping you from being more of a leader in your program and school district.

This Job Is Too Big for Me to Do –  This is a common one that keeps many people playing small. There is always a job that’s bigger than what you have done before. There’s a popular meme these days that says “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” Whether it’s running for president of your state association or launching a large, school-wide project, if you haven’t tackled something like it, it is scary. But you don’t want to let that fear stop you from creating something you know your students need.

You probably have heard the quote, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”  The truth is if you do your “due diligence,” which means getting information and advice from others who have done it, planning as best you can, and having a clear goal in mind you won’t fail. You will make mistakes. Some correctable, others not. Some will lead you to a better solution than you had originally thought. That’s the benefit of taking these risks – and not listening to this story.

I Talk Too Much – I chose this because it’s one of my stories. Starting in my adolescence, I felt people disliked or avoided me because of it. The true part is I am a talker. Anyone who meets me will agree on this. At first, I tried to not talk so much, but it isn’t who I am. When I thought about how I felt about someone who talked “constantly,” I realized what I didn’t like was it gave me no room to speak or minimized what I was saying. The solution that worked and changed me as a leader was to become an active listener who respects the other person’s views and ideas.

As part of recognizing this story, I had to learn that the fiction is my talking is rarely the true reason I am liked or disliked. And no matter what I say or don’t say, there will always be people who dislike me. That’s about them, not me. Over time, I have learned that it is what you say rather than how much you say that makes the difference. I get to be myself, embrace who I am, and enjoy the friends it’s made me over time.

Others Know More Than I Do – Of course this is true. No one knows everything, even in their own field. This story may manifest in your professional life as keeping you from submitting proposals to give a presentation at a conference or volunteering to serve on a district committee. But the flip side of this truth is there are others who don’t know as much as you do on certain topics and areas of interest. In moving out of your comfort zone, you learn and grow. If (when!) the program committee accepts your proposal, believe them and know that not only is it worthy, but there are many who are going to benefit from what you share. You wouldn’t have been put on the program if those making the selection didn’t think you had something to contribute.

It Is Not a Good Time for Me to Do This – While the statement doesn’t sound particularly negative, it’s one of the most common ones. It becomes a repeated and believed excuse and therefore a story. It allows you to feel as though you will get around to doing it someday – just not today. But the reality is someday never occurs. You have put it on the horizon and like a ship heading out to sea, the horizon always stays the same distance away. You have set yourself up to believe you’ll get to it when in truth you are putting it off or never plan to take the step.

We are smart and creative people. We can always come up with a “good” reason not to take on that task or new responsibility or project, a reason that sounds so well thought out and logical the people around us support our putting it off. But that’s no way to become a leader and improve your program or your skills. Stop and think, “What value will doing this bring to my life/profession/goals?”  If it is truly worthwhile, work on how you can possibly take it on – today.

I’m Too Heavy/Thin or I’m Too Tall/Short – Surprised to see this here? Stories about how we look can regularly hold us back professionally. Having a negative image of how you look is a frequent concern of women – and as librarianship is a female-dominated profession, it is important to look at this issue and how it affects us. We create programs where we can sit behind a desk or stand behind a podium. We don’t take opportunities to speak or meet new people because we’re worried about our appearance. We do whatever we can not to attract attention to ourselves but still hope people will notice our program, our successes, and our abilities.

Sadly, you can’t have it both ways. If weight is your worry, consider looking into programs which will support you to change this. Height has no real fix, although we all know people who hunch over or wear crazy heels to make a difference.  And the truth is, it’s only making a difference to us. The true part of this story is the myriad of ways in which we don’t accept ourselves and fear being seen and judged. As with the other stories, the first step is noticing where these thoughts are holding your back, stopping you from being the leader you want to be. The sooner you take steps to accept who you are  – and realize nobody else cares about your appearance more than you do – the sooner you will be able to let your true abilities shine through.

You will never get rid of all the negative stories going through your head, but don’t let them keep you from becoming all you can. Leaders are not perfect. They have faults and have their own stories in the heads. If you want to change yours, start with the loudest one. The one that most interferes with your growing as a leader then begin to create a solution to quiet it down.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Space Relations

Whether or not we consciously recognize them, we maintain four zones of space in our communications with others: Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate, and this space is important to the success of our relationships. Artists are well aware of the importance of what they call negative space, referring to the area where there are no people or objects.  Negative space exists in relationships too, and, just as in art, it carries messages.  In an article entitled An Update on Proxemics, Nick Morgan explains why the term and the concept, created by Edward T. Hall, still has relevance. The space we maintain from others reflects the zone of our interactions and our connection.

In Public Space, we are twelve feet or more from the speaker.  It includes listening to a lecture or other situation where someone is usually addressing an audience of a number of people.  We are not always mindful of what is being said in public space.  You probably have noticed how many people check their cell phones – or check out completely – during a lecture of any sort. Ask the kids who sit in the back of the room.

For the person doing the speaking, the challenge in this zone is to keep the listeners engaged. If you are the one who is making the presentation, it’s important to recognize this reality and know how to draw your audience in.  Telling stories about your experience as it relates to the topic is one way. It makes it personal.  Moving away from the podium, if you can, temporarily alters the distance and can build a connection.

Social Space varies from four to twelve feet. It is what exists, for example, when we dine in a restaurant. As with Public Space, there is a mental space between us and the other diners in the room.  Unless they become loud, we are aware of then only in the most superficial way.  You might overhear a conversation that is interesting, but it is hard to concentrate on it so you tend to shift your focus.

In the education setting, you are most likely to deal with it in the teacher’s lunchroom. Each group has its own conversation taking place.  If you are alert, you might discover what unit a teacher is working on or planning.  Then you can speak to the teacher to supply the right information to make the project more successful. It can be the beginning of developing a collaborative relationship. And it’s an excellent reason to make it a practice to get out of your library for lunch.

The distance in Personal Space ranges from four feet to eighteen inches, and we are always aware of who is in this space. It’s bred into us as a matter of survival. We also need to be extra mindful here because subtle differences in how we define Personal Space can cause problems. Over time you can fine-tune your senses to be aware of how the person you are speaking with is reacting your distance.  In general, they will instinctively define it for you, taking a step back if you are too close or stepping forward if they sense you are too far.

When having a conversation in Personal Space, always be sure to accept the other person’s boundaries.  Don’t move forward if they have moved back.  It will feel to them as though you are encroaching. Accept the negative space. If you are uncomfortable with how close someone is, you can move back, but know they may read it as you trying to distance yourself from them.

Intimate Space is from eighteen inches to zero. Again, there are cultural differences as well as gender ones which make this acceptable or uncomfortable.  Unsurprisingly, women tend to prefer more distance in these situations than men, particularly in conversations with the opposite gender.  If you are a man, it is wise to be aware that moving too close here or in Personal Space may make a woman feel anxious or concerned, which can ultimately block effective communication.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, most of our communication is nonverbal.  The fours zones of space are another form of non-verbal communication. Most of our conversations, particularly the important ones, occur in the Personal and Intimate Spaces. Being aware of what the other person(s) is communicating in the negative space of body language can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful attempt at building a relationship.  And we must never forget that we are in the relationship business.