ON LIBRARIES: Connecting With Administrators

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Over the years, too many librarians have told me their principal has no idea what they do. My reply is, “It’s your job to let them know.” A good part of the reason we have lost so many positions is because those in charge don’t know what a librarian does. It’s clear from what I’ve read on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that librarians have played an important part in keeping teachers and students going during this pandemic. Does your administrator know? 

Yes, keeping her/him in the loop is one more thing for you to do, but it may well be the most important thing. Administrators, both principals and superintendents, are under extreme pressure. When budget constraints are mandated, they are the ones making decisions that impair, reduce, or eliminate your program and possibly your job. It’s up to you to find an approach to forestall and/or alter those scenarios. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  Your administrator will not seek you out if there has been no previous connection.  You have to create connection and that requires a plan.

Take it one step at a time. First, make a record of all you are doing and categorize it by the recipient. You can keep this general (students, teachers) or be more specific (grade, subject level, ELL, etc.) If you make it into a grid, you can also show what type of services you are providing: instruction, tech help, reading promotion, collaboration.  If you find yourself amazed to see how much you are doing and how many people you are reaching – think of how your principal will react.

Because administrators are swamped make certain anything you send to them is clear and to the point.  If you are wordy, they are less likely to respond. Try sending a message with the subject line, “One Good Thing” and then adding a specific reference such as, “One Good Thing: Teachers are successful with the Platform we are using.”  In the body of the email, explain what’s working and how it’s helping – briefly.  If all your messages are “One Good Thing,” it will tie them together, reminding your principal this all comes from you. They will recognize your emails and, hopefully, look forward to what you share.

You should also take time to consider and identify your administrator’s challenges.  Do you know her/his priorities? What are they trying to accomplish?  What difficulties are they facing? What is working? What isn’t? Once you know at least some answers think of how you might be able to help your administrator manage or mitigate any of these.  Because of how you interact with everyone, you have a big picture scan – just as your principal does.  You may not realize it, but you see things from a similar perspective.

After you’ve identified places where you can help, create one or two solutions and reach out. Again, use the subject line of the email to draw them in “How the library can support….” Diversity/Access/Test Success.  Whatever it is. Let them know you have an idea and ask for 5 minutes to speak – in person if possible, Zoom or other visual if not.  If you have no alternative, phone and email can work. Once you have your time, stick to it. Don’t go over. Your principal will appreciate you keeping your word and your focus. Lay out your plan, ask if he/she has questions and then follow up with an email or other documents as appropriate.

AASL also has support to help you make the connection with administrators. Past President Kathy Root’s  AASL School Leader Collaborative Administrators & School Librarians Transforming Teaching and Learning” is a 2-year initiative. From school librarian recommendations, it selected seven school administrators to serve and they have done a lot including creating YouTube videos and doing a Town Hall on Leading Learning.  I urge you to watch the free archived Town Hall. It’s inspiring to hear these administrators talk about how they rely on their school librarians. 

Repeat any and all of these steps so you build a lasting connection. This is cannot be a onetime thing. Once you have made it, continue to foster it.  Start building your own connection to your administrators. Not only will they know what you do, they will tell others about your program. Having a principal see you as a leader and collaborator will make you even more successful.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You an Ethical Leader?

As librarians we are expected to follow the Library Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics. These are meant as a guide for fulfilling our duties., but they can be difficult, and not everyone upholds them consistently. Ethical is not necessarily easy.

Ethics are tied to a person’s core values.  Ask yourself, what do you stand for?  What is the line you won’t cross? Only you know the answers and no one ask that you reveal those answers, but it is important that you know and tell yourself the truth. If you honor your line, you are likely behaving ethically.  There is also the ethics of leadership. As a school librarian, having people see you as ethical in your dealings has a direct effect on your ability to lead. 

Yonason Goldson presents Six Questions to Ask to Find Out If You’re an Ethical Leader to help you determine just how ethically you are perceived, He makes it easier to remember them by offering the questions as the acronym ETHICS.

Empathy: what impact will my words and actions have on those around me?

Think before you speak.  It is more important than ever to consider what our listener will hear. This is an important issue when we discuss things such as implicit racism. We must ask: Will it be hurtful even if unintentional?

Work to be conscious of the interests and aspirations of others. We are often focused on our own challenges and can unintentionally overlook what our students, teachers, and administrators are dealing with. Being alert to unvoiced messages will make you better able to make honest connections.

Trustworthiness: do I trust others, and have I earned their trust?

Do you keep your word?  Do you keep confidences?  The answer to those are at the core of trustworthiness. You may have many reasons for not following through on something you said, but the message is that you didn’t keep your word. 

What about gossip? It’s easy to join in the fun by contributing, but as soon as you do, you run the risk of destroying the trust you were building, not only with the person whose confidence you violated but also that of others who, by your actions, know you are not safe to share something private with.

Humility: am I interested in what benefits my community or in what benefits my prestige and my ego?

It’s not about you.  It’s about the larger goal.  If you want to build relationships and be seen as an ethical leader, you need to put others in the spotlight. This doesn’t mean false humility. Saying, “It wasn’t anything much,” rings false and minimizes everyone’s accomplishment. Strong leaders take responsibility for what goes wrong and shares the praise with others when things succeed.

Inquisitiveness: do I want to know as much as I can, or do I want to look like I know it all?

When you are trying to look like you have it all together, you are likely faking it.  We are lifelong learners.  We need to be practicing that in our interchanges with others. Even students can teach you something you didn’t know.

All of us have strengths and weaknesses.  Know yours and look for those who can fill in the blanks for you. People love to feel they have contributed. By encouraging them to bring their strengths and talents, you create partners who trust you to lead well.

Courage: am I more afraid of looking wrong or of being wrong?

Either can cause you to not seek help.  This ties to Inquisitiveness.  Asking for help doesn’t make you weak.  It makes you strong.  And it creates relationships. Leaders need to take risks.  Risk-taking requires courage. You can mitigate the chance of errors by checking with others and asking for help.  And when you do succeed, remember your humility and praise others.

Self-discipline: what do I need to improve today so I can do my job better tomorrow?

It’s hard to look at what didn’t work, doing so allowed you to learn and not repeat it. Reflection helps you grow. Take stock of how you are living the other five questions. Which one(s) is/are difficult for you?  What do you need to do to improve it?

Your ethics matter in leadership, and others are watching you. Be the leader you would want to follow and soon others will see you as a leader they want to follow.

ON LIBRARIES – Five H’s To Live By

As the school year continues with fits and starts, you and your colleagues may struggle to keep up with each new schedule as it emerges. By focusing on Five H’s – head, hands, heart, health, and habit, you can keep your balance in a world that continues to tilt. The first four come from the 4-H program. The fifth is from me.

Head – At the beginning of each month do a big picture scan. What is working?  What isn’t?  Based on what you are seeing in the world, your state, your town, your school, what seems to be the direction things are heading? 

Review your Mission and Vision Statements. Does your Mission still reflect what you are working to achieve?  On a daily/weekly basis, how much of your time furthers your Mission? Is your Vision still describing your aspirations for the future of the library program? Based on your review, you may want to tweak these statements. 

Using this big picture awareness you can choose how you can leverage your skill set to meet the upcoming needs of your students, teachers, and administrators. The pandemic has changed how we do things and therefore what is necessary to accomplish them. This is an opportunity. The more ways you can anticipate and address what their requirements are and will be, the more people will rely on and value you.

Hands – Put your thoughts into action. Create a plan to meet these identified needs. Have a rough timeline for accomplishing it and remember you may need to adjust details to account for changes. Make certain to select communication channels to reach your audience effectively then inform stakeholders of what you are doing and with whom. Be succinct. For example, don’t send wordy newsletters, no matter how nice they my look. Everyone is overloaded. Don’t add to it. If the recipient doesn’t see the value of the communication, it is pointless to send it. 

Look for sources of help. Sometimes students can be of assistance in these projects. Knowing they are doing “real life work” engages them. And they will also learn a great deal in the process, and you will have a new collaboration to share.

Heart – Show caring. I’ve written about this a lot during the last several months, but we continue to see that little things mean a lot. If you are physically back in school, drop small notes on teachers’ desks. Print out a funny cat or dog picture and sharing it a place people walk by. Social media is not the only place to share the fun. If you are remote, send the note or picture as a message.

Congratulate colleagues (and students) on successes and be a listening ear when things aren’t going well. Use your displays to send messages of kindness and caring. And, as I wrote in my October 19 blog, remember to say, “Please,” Thank you,” and “You’re Welcome.” 

Health – Self-care is an ongoing topic and an important one. Your health is vital to your ability to do everything else. Make sure you are making time to guard it. While you are wearing a mask and washing your hands, there are other health basics you may be overlooking. People are joking about the COVID 20, referring to the pounds gained during the pandemic, but it’s something to be aware of. Healthy eating keeps your immune system up. Getting enough sleep affects your emotional intelligence.

Regular exercise is another contributor to overall health. It doesn’t have to take long. There are many YouTube videos with 5-minute workouts, especially good for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere where the weather is getting colder. Keep some weights in your desk if you are in school. Pausing for five minutes to take care of yourself will get you back at work with a more positive attitude – and it will help keep you in shape.

And don’t forget to hydrate! Wearing masks can make remembering this a challenge. Set a timer on your phone if it helps to remind you. That leads us directly to – 

Habit – Good and bad habits are the things we do unconsciously. They can improve our capacity to get things done or they can sabotage us. Think of one bad habit you might want to eliminate and one good habit you would like to gain.

When does the bad habit show up?  Why? What is something you can do to distract yourself from it?  What could/should you do when the habit shows up? In noticing what triggers the habit, you are more able to replace it with the diversion you think will work. The more often you do it, the more likely the habit is to shrink. It may never go away, but it will be more controllable.

When do you want to practice the good habit? Set an alarm to remember or find a positive trigger. Frequency builds habits. Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day when you’re developing something new. You will succeed if you just keep at it. Knowing your why and making it a priority will also support your success.

At the end of the week, reflect on what you have accomplished. Did the “Five H’s” help?  Was there one that was especially helpful? Then do what you can to keep going with it. Was one challenging? Look for ways to get support (change is easier with a group)  or make a new plan. Then your next week will be even better.

ON LIBRARIES: Courage

Ernest Hemingway said that courage is “Grace under pressure” We are under more pressure than ever before and it cannot, does not, stop us.  Doing what we must with grace is more of a challenge, but when we do, we inspire others to continue. Courage is something within us that gives us the strength to do what must be done even though we’re afraid.  By definition it is hard.  And yet it is with courage that we will be able to do more than just survive in these times.

In battle, courage is spurred on by an adrenaline rush which helps propel you forward in the face of fear.  What we are dealing with today is just the opposite.  If anything, our adrenaline is drained by the daily demands of doing our job as a pandemic rages. To my mind, true courage is doing what must be done when all you want to do is curl up in bed and shut out the world, and the best way we as librarians can do that is through service, unexpected opportunities, and joy.

Service – Although we have always been service-oriented, the business world has recently been waking up to the value of what they call Service (or Servant) Leadership.  A Service Leader puts employees first, shares power, and empowers people to perform at a higher level. The model works for us.

The library has always been there to be of service to the school. During this time, we can look for new or specific stresses and challenges that are happening for our students and teachers and offer assistance. That’s courageous. Working collaboratively, even if we take on the heavy lifting, helps our teachers and principals feel more supported and in control of the situation — in essence, more powerful.  That empowers them to be more courageous.

Unexpected Opportunities – The world is different.  When mindsets are in flux, as they are now, you can leverage these changes to transform how you are perceived and valued.

The new tech demands continue to overwhelm many teachers even as they struggle to incorporate different approaches to their teaching.  They are more likely to be open to collaborating with you.  As you support them through the process, teachers will experience how your skill set can make their jobs easier and more productive, even beyond the needs of functioning during a pandemic.

As you seize these opportunities, make your administrators aware of what you are doing. Be sure to highlight the teachers’ accomplishments and show how goals were achieved.  This not only ensures they will see you as an indispensable member of the educational community, it will also help them as they present their school’s progress to the town’s school board and other administrators. It also shines a light on the important part a library plays in the success of students.

Spreading Joy – Joy lightens the heart and raises spirits. Before you can spread joy, you need to find it.  It is easy to overlook because it is often found in the simple things. If you aren’t aware it, it can be gone in a few moments.  Joy is too important in our lives to miss.

Make a practice of seeing those things that bring you joy.  Share the moment with others. It can be seeing birds in flight or a wonderful message from a student. Big or small they all matter. Use an app you like where you and others can post your moments of joy.  Joy is contagious.

Remember to bring joy to your life by creating events and by making time for yourself. Self-care is not a new idea. We are recognizing its importance, but still can have trouble remember to take the time in our busy days. Schedule it in your to-do list if necessary. Make sure you take care of yourself.

It doesn’t seem like courage to be of service, recognize opportunities, and spread joy, but by taking positive action you break through the molasses-like feeling of moving through yet another day.  It takes courage to have a positive outlook.  I am proud that so many in our profession are showing up as leaders, leaders who demonstrate courage everyday as they find ways to help their colleagues find their way to successfully navigate living in the time of COVID-19. While not denying the dangers that are present, if we focus on our commitment to be of service, look for the unexpected opportunities, and find and spread joy, we can show grace under pressure.

ON LIBRARIES: Your Values Define You

What are your core values as a school librarian?  As a person?  Your answers affect the decisions you make and how you interact with others. Living by your values makes you trustworthy, which is essential in building relationships.  It makes you a leader people can count on.

As school librarians, we embrace the six Common Beliefs of the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018 p. 11-16). These are, in essence, core values.  What do they mean to you as you go about your day and build your program?

  1. The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community – You undoubtedly believe it, but are students, teachers, administrators, and parents aware of how this is true? Be mindful of what makes you unique and look for ways to demonstrate it.  Make certain they see how the library contributes to the learning community? 
  2. Qualified school librarians lead effective school libraries – How effective are you?  What are you doing to increase your effectiveness – and making your stakeholders conscious of it?  One way to assess the effectiveness of your library is to download the School Library Evaluation Checklists. The checklists give the competencies for school librarians for each of the six Shared Foundations (Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, Engage).  Where can you increase the presence of these standards into the learning experiences you bring to learners and in your daily practice?
  3. Learners should be prepared for college, career, and life – How are you improving “all learners opportunities for success?” This means recognizing that learners are different.  They bring different strengths and weaknesses, different backgrounds and perspectives, as well as different goals and challenges. You work to ensure that your collection, digital and print respond to these individual needs. Make certain you also reach out to students to guide them to the resources that meet these needs.
  4. Reading is the core of personal and academic competencies – Libraries are always about reading.  The printed page is still fundamental, but e-books and audio books should not be minimized.  Students learn and experience stories and information differently.  All formats should be included – and in the days of COVID, e-books have become more important.  As librarians we ensure that our collections speak to our diverse student body.  We go beyond the five “F’s” (festivals, food, fashion, folklore, and famous people) to books about life in general written by people who live it.  Students need to see themselves in the collection – and to see normal life of other people.  That builds understanding and tolerance as well as seeing that they are accepted for who they are.
  5. Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right – This is a challenging area.  School librarians must deccide whether this is a truly a core value for them and what it means in practice.  The Top 100 Most Challenged and Banned Books of the Past Decade  show an inordinate number relate to LGBTQ+. We know those students need to see themselves in books but are you prepared to live the consequences if your library is in an area where this is topic is difficult to present? The choice is always yours, but you should be honest with yourself about it.
  6. Information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available – Much of this is out of your control, but it is important to advocate for it. In exposing the enormity of the digital divide, COVID has brought the inequities into the spotlight. Access to computers and internet is not equitable. This is your time to be among the leaders who are changing the environment. How accessible are your resources 24/7?  What is needed to change that? Can you apply for grants or other help to get the support your students need? Don’t forget to work on ensuring that your information technologies are accessible to disabled students.

The above may not be a complete list of the core values you hold as a librarian.  For me, creating a safe, welcoming environment for all is first on my list.  I want students to think the library is the best place in the school no matter what grade they are in, and I want teachers to feel the same. If this is true for you, look for ways to lure teachers in and make them comfortable. 

My personal code of values includes keeping my word, and this influenced me as a librarian.  If I say something, I mean it. I also believe in being helpful to all.  I work at listening carefully and letting people (students, teachers, and administrators) see where they are doing a great job. 

When you live by your values, when they define you, then people know who you are and what they can expect, no matter the context. If you’re not sure what yours are, look at your priorities and commitments – then look at the reason beneath them. That’s where you’ll find what you value. Once you know your code of values, you can use it help you make decisions which support your library.

ON LIBRARIES: Living the Characteristics of a Leader

To become that indispensable member of the educational community, you must show exceptional leadership. It’s as simple as that. As a topic I speak and writing on frequently, I also know that many librarians hear this and worry. They are already doing so much. How can they add more to their work and be a leader?  What I am proposing is not so much an added list of things to do, but rather a reminder of how to be. We are, after all, in the relationship business, and true leadership comes from how we are with the people in our lives.

Assume that your Vision, Mission and initiatives are all supporting your school to take it a step further Scott Cochrane tells us How to Spot Leadership Character With 10 Easy Signs, and those signs are the ones you can incorporate into your actions with others. They are simple and straightforward.   You probably have many of them, but some may have been lost in your struggles.  It’s time to get them back.

Here’s how people with leadership character behave:

  1. They receive a compliment with grace That not only means saying, “thank you,” it means not minimizing what the giver said or trying to return an equal one.
  2. They receive negative feedback with humility and non-defensivenessThis one can be tough, especially when you are under stress.  The key is to assume positive intent.  If possible, thank the person and then take time when you don’t feel hurt to assess the negative feedback for validity.
  3. They give voice to disagreement while still extending respect It’s not about keeping silent. It’s about how you respond.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
  4. They give thoughtful answers, not off-the-cuff reactions Learning to pause before responding will improve the quality of your answer (this is one I continue to work on!).  It will have the added benefit of improving your relationship with the person who asked the question. They will recognize you value what they say.
  5. They might criticize the merits of an idea, but not the person bringing the idea to the table In our contentious time, this is a most valuable reminder. It is an extension of #3. Don’t make the ideas of others personal. Discuss why and idea works or doesn’t and don’t discuss the person who suggested it.
  6. Their apologies are unreserved; they don’t say, “I’m sorry, but” or “I’m sorry if…”   “I’m sorry if I offended you,” is not an apology.  It’s blaming the other person for the offense they took.  Own what you said, accept that it may have landed wrong, and mean it.
  7. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they say so; they don’t bluff their way through There is nothing wrong with not have an immediate answer. Librarians recognize, we don’t know all the answers – just where to find them.  People see through a bluff, and the attempt diminishes you in their eyes.
  8. They never “humble-brag” Related to #1, being self-deprecating with the intention of calling attention to your work is not a leadership quality. When you say, “I really didn’t do that much,” “It wasn’t that hard,” you are fishing for a compliment or downplaying the work you did. Be careful. Eventually, people might believe that you didn’t do that much.
  9. Their conversation includes plenty of “pleases” and “thank you’s” Between texting and being harried, we have become lax in these once automatic phrases.  They have power, particularly if the way you say them shows you mean what you say.  I had a superintendent of schools in a district that kept education on a stringent budget.  She got incredible mileage of knowing how to specifically compliment key faculty and say a meaningful thanks. It costs nothing and strengthens relationships.
  10. Their words shine the spotlight on others – Always! As a leader you give credit to others for the successes and notice when things work. When you do that, not only do you get little or no negative feedback from what didn’t work, but others feel safe in working with you.  Teachers recognize that the focus on projects won’t be on mistakes, and they will be celebrated for their achievements.

Tune into how you are interacting with others.  Look for ways to put these leadership character traits into your day (at home as well as at work).  You will see a difference and without adding more to your workload you will be a stronger leader.

ON LIBRARIES: The Opportunities of Interesting Times

The quote “May you live in interesting times”, which supposedly has a Chinese origin, can be taken two ways. Is it a blessing or a curse? It all depends on how you see interesting times. For some the constant uncertainty is debilitating. Others see new possibilities. The difference is in how you respond, and your reaction is a choice even if you don’t notice making a conscious one.

Either you need to find a way to be proactive and choose to steer in a positive direction, or you’ll end up being reactive and allow the situation to steer you. Both can be exhausting, but with one you’ll likely be more energized and positive.

To actively steer your ship (read: be a leader), you need to be willing to carve out time to analyze your situation and develop a strategy which involves evaluating your assets, strengths and weaknesses, and learning from past behaviors and choices. Once you do this, you must commit to taking action.

In How to Turn Disaster Into Discovery — A Key to ResiliencyEileen McDargh proposes theses six questions to guide you into “intelligent optimism” which in turn will let you find the opportunities in these interesting times:

  1. What has become clear to you in the last few months? You should be able to come up with a number of items. What have you learned about relationships (professional and personal)?  What was true before the pandemic that is still true now?  How has your Mission Statement held up in the face of COVID-19?  How well do you handle ambiguity and uncertainty? Is this something you’d like to improve?  What’s making you feel successful?  Don’t forget to notice these.
  2. Where are you spending energy without getting the desired results? This is an important question. Are you still locked in tasks that belong to the past and don’t further your aims? The opposite question is equally important. Which use of your energy has been producing positive results? Your plate is very full. It is time to eliminate or minimize time spent on things that don’t move you forward. As we learn from the Pareto Principle or the Law of 80/20, 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. But sometimes 80% of the work only brings 20% of the results. It’s time to take a closer look at efforts and results.
  3. If you could start from scratch, how would you redesign your job, this business? This isn’t a question we normally think about, but since normal has taken a vacation, it’s worth considering. You have the opportunity to rethink how the library can function better, reach more students, and be a greater partner to teachers and administrators. Look for how the library can lead the way now and in whatever future is coming. The physical space is part of this envisioning, but so is the digital — and emotional—one. What can be done to make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all?  What is your role in this new ecosystem?
  4. What have you uncovered about your personal life that needs to be encouraged? Have you, like many, made more time for friends and relatives. Are you Zooming and calling them on a regular schedule?  How have your interactions at home changed? For the better?  What are you doing for yourself? It’s become very apparent in the last six months how important supportive relationships are. Continue to seek out and nourish these.
  5. How can we grow together as a supportive unit and what do you need from me? I love this question. It is essential that we build relationships and community. This question should be uppermost in your mind as you speak and deal with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. As the ALA initiative says, “Libraries transform communities.” How are you building and transforming yours? And as a bonus, this question may also work well at the dinner table or with your online/virtual social groups.
  6. What are the small steps you can create to work in a more collaborative way? This is where the other questions have been leading us. Here is where you create a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs regular steps – of any size – to take you where you want to go.

Get started now to chart your future. Every few months stop and review these questions to see what new information you can use. Leaders need to know themselves and use that knowledge to plan for the future. When you do that, you can make these interesting times a growth opportunity.

ON LIBARIES: When Under Attack – R.E.A.C.T

Managing our lives during a pandemic is not unlike living during a war.  We are under attack and have been for months.  The ongoing issues around the Covid-19 virus has brought on a form of shell shock and there are some who show signs of PTSD.  We bounce from bad news to good news and back again.  From hope to despair to cautious optimism.  We make plans, and they are uprooted.  We plan again only to be forced to change again.  This is a war zone and we must, as they say, soldier on.

But how?

In this case, the best resource may be a retired Navy SEAL officer.  Brent Gleeson reports on the advice he got from one in A Navy SEAL’s Guide For Reacting And Thriving Under Pressure.  Jason Redman, the Navy SEAL, refers to our current situation as a “life ambush! An unexpected catastrophic event that leaves a permanent impact on your life or career.”  Certainly, the pandemic has done just that.   What soldiers know is that when you are in this situation, you need to get out as fast as possible.   The way to do it is to R.E.A.C.T.

Recognize your reality – If you haven’t done so already, confront and accept the truth of the situation.  While it is in flux with almost daily changes and challenges, COVID-19 is here to stay.   There will be a vaccine, but it won’t disappear.   All aspects of our society have been altered by its presence, and they will never revert to what they were before.   By accepting this truth, you can start seeing the situation from a larger perspective, make better decisions, and implement the most beneficial actions.

Evaluate your Assets and Position –What do you have that is working for you? What isn’t?  How valuable do teachers, students, administrators, and parents think you are?  Who are your strongest supporters?  Who are the weakest – or non-existent?  This requires honesty.   Some of you only see what isn’t working.   Others put a positive cast on everything.   Neither is entirely helpful, Take a good hard look at the situation.  Have your role and responsibilities been dramatically changed? If so, what are your new assets in this position.  If you can, take time to do this for your personal life as well – what’s working, what’s not, where can you get help.

Assess your Options and Outcomes – What steps can you take so that the library is seen favorably? What part of your Mission can you put into action? Can you turn your new situation into a plus?  Perhaps you have a new way to collaborate with teachers.  Maybe there’s a way to create online bulletin boards with contributions from students.  Check with your Professional Learning Network for suggestions.  Look at the decisions being made by your Board of Education.  Are you in danger of being eliminated, be made part-time or some other serious change? If so, can you find a new and better position somewhere else? Will additional certification help? For the moment, consider even unrealistic options and their potential outcomes as you decide upon some next steps.

Choose a Direction and Communicate it – Once you have decided as to the best way to proceed, make sure those who need to know and can help you are made aware of it. This is particularly true if you have choose to start job hunting. Think strategically so you don’t put your current job in jeopardy. In getting to your objective, what steps must you take – in what order?  Who do you need to work with and/or contact to complete this step?

Take Action.  GET off the X and Move! – The first step is the hardest. It is easy to procrastinate when something important is at stake. Trust the process you went through and the decision(s) you made. Nothing will change unless you do. Break big steps into smaller ones to help you gain and keep momentum and be ready to adjust as most plans require tweaks as you implement them, but don’t lose track of your goal.

The pandemic has attacked the life we’ve known and left us all changed, but even when changes happen, you can take steps to move yourself forward, professionally and personally. This is your life and your life’s work.  It’s time for you to R.E.A.C.T.

ON LIBRARIES: Safety First

One of our cherished core values is that the library be a safe, welcoming space for all. The word “safe” is an umbrella term sheltering a broad variety of things we do and what we provide for others – and ourselves – from creating a collection with diverse books and resources to providing a sanctuary for those who sought to escape bullying and other torments of school. Today, COVID-19 is integral to our thoughts about safety. The pandemic has added an important layer of meaning to the term. No matter the aspect we are focusing on, safety is imperative for student learning and success, and we have to do all we can to ensure our libraries are safe.

Abraham Maslow first proposed his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. In the 77 years since, educators have gone from embracing it to ignoring it and then returning to it. The stages of this pyramid feel relevant again especially since the second level is Safety.

According to Maslow’s pyramid structure, until you have secured one level, you can’t move up to the next. The base includes your physiological needs for survival   — food, water, warmth, and rest. The financial impact of the virus is making this a challenge for more of our students and without it, they cannot move to Safety.

When we don’t feel safe, our cognitive processes shut down as the brain searches for ways to make us feel secure. Our students and staff are not feeling safe. While there is usually some percentage of our school population who feel threatened in some ways, we are faced with the entire population we support experiencing this which impacts everyone’s ability to move up to higher levels.

For the library to be a safe and welcoming place, we have to look out for our needs, take care of ourselves, and then address the needs of others. Executive Coach Ed Batista provides some direction in his article, Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World. He suggests that trying to control the uncontrollable and finding certainty in an uncertain world will not solve our problems. Instead, he recommends getting more in control of our emotions, which affect our worldview. To do so, he offers the acronym MESS as a path for regulating our emotions.

Mindfulness – Batista recommends 10 minutes (or more) of meditation a day as the best way to develop mindfulness. Whatever method works for you – sitting in mediation, walking, yoga – is an important place to start. It gives you the ability and opportunity to be aware of your emotions, and from there you can be more in control.

Exercise – Physical activity is important since, as Batista points out, your emotions are physiological before you even aware of them. Moving our body allows our emotions to move through us and allows us to be more aware and then more in control of them. Exercise allows us to be “better attuned” to our bodies. As a bonus – walking and yoga address both mindfulness and exercise.

Sleep – Your body requires it and racing thoughts makes it harder. The difference between a good and bad day can sometimes be as simple as how we slept the night before. When we’re not well rested, it’s harder to understand and manage our emotions. Just as you had a bedtime routine as a child, stick to one now – preferably one that gets you off your devices an hour or more before bed (e-readers not included but physical books at bedtime may be preferable).

Stress reduction –  Batista rightly points out that stress-free is not an option, and stress isn’t always inherently negative. Plan a big project and you’ll feel stress – but it’s worth it for the results you want. What’s important is noticing how you are responding to that stress. If your stress levels are increasing, look at the things that may contribute (the news and social media are likely high on that list). Step away from the things that aren’t supporting you and increase your time for meditation, exercise and sleep.

When we feel safe, when our emotions are not in a constant turmoil, we can make others feel safe. Life is not neat and tidy. It never was, and it is far from that now. So be a MESS to make your physical and virtual library a safe, welcoming space.

ON LIBRARIES: Good vs. Great

Do you have a good school library program or a great one? Answer honestly. The difference between the two is crucial to how you are perceived and valued.

Years ago, I had a superintendent who allegedly said, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  Many teachers were furious. Unfortunately, they weren’t listening to the underlying message. My superintendent was right. You can’t improve if you think you are doing well. For all its negative impact on our lives, the pandemic has made us see what is important – and broken – and make changes we never thought we would.

James C. Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” Every time I see that quote, I pause. It makes me wonder where I am settling. In his book, GOOD TO GREAT: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t, he says,

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have excellent schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

The resumption of school, with all its uncertainty, is a perfect time to move your program from good to great. Those who have a great program incorporate growth and change as part of their continuing success. Those who have a good program rarely think about how to make it better, but with budgets being slashed, great is necessary.

One important step for a great program is that the administration knows the difference it makes for students. No matter how great your program is, no matter how much your teachers value you, if your administration is not aware of it, it isn’t reaching its full potential. In a post for Glassdoor, Mark Anthony Dyson discusses Good vs. Great! How to Show Employers the Difference. Although he is talking about the business world, his recommendations work for librarians as well.

  1. Show your work is known – As the saying goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it….” You don’t have to brag to let your work be known. Choose the social media or communication platform most used by your intended audience to spotlight those you have worked with. Praising others will show your contribution – and build a relationship with the ones you showcased.
  2. Quantify your impact (when you can)– Make sure your numbers are meaningful. In the past, librarians would point to circulation statistics. In the eyes of the administration, anyone can check books in and out. What have kids produced? Pre-COVID librarians often struggled to cooperate with teachers let alone collaborate or co-teach. Now many of you have. Share the number and names (teacher and unit) of the ones you worked on.
  3. Show your growth and improvement over time – As part of your communication with your principal, keep track of new tools and resources you have added. Note the webinars you have attended and how you implemented the learning you received. Show the benefit to the students and teachers.
  4. Show your depth with upper management – In education, upper management is the superintendent as well as the Board of Education. What do they know of your work? How has it impacted students? Here you can showcase student work and voices. Be sure your principal knows and approves of your reaching out to upper management. Don’t let him/her be surprised.
  5. Show that your network is a resourceful team – You have two networks. The first is the one you have established in your school. You are showing this in the previous ideas. But you also have a Professional Learning Network – those memberships and social media groups where librarians ask for and share advice and experiences. This keeps you ahead of the curve, and you can bring that knowledge when your principal needs it. Explain what your learned from your PLN and how you used it.
  6. Show a quick response to challenges – You have done this and more during the pandemic. Flexibility and lifelong learning are part of our job requirement. Now more than ever (I am tiring of this phrase, but it’s true) others will value this skill. If you can, show how a challenge became an opportunity.
  7. Show you’re adept at all kinds of new learning – Very similar to #6, but it means you are creating new knowledge. It’s similar to my curating business sites and seeing how they apply to school librarians, which is part of why I always give you the link. Going outside the box, and, better yet, recognizing there is no box, will make you stand out. Libraries and schools can benefit from what non-education platforms have done to succeed.

Your administrators are under extreme pressure. More than you and the teachers. They need help, and you can give them that. By being more proactive in bringing your achievements to your administrators (including upper management) and supporting them as they struggle to find the best way to move the school and district forward, you will move your program from good to great. One of my favorite quotes is “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Remember this and look for ways to grow your program from good to great.