ON LIBRARIES: Stressed Out?

The school year has just begun and many of you are already feeling stressed out. Some degree of chaos is normal when you get back to work, and even if you aren’t in a new job inevitably there are changes you need to incorporate into your workday.

First – it’s important to decide if you are experiencing stress or distress. We tend to confuse the two. Stress isn’t all bad as I will discuss a bit later.  Distress is something else.  To deal with the issue, determine whether you are stressed or distressed.

When you are distressed you can’t focus.  Your brain bounces from one idea, one task to another. You

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can’t decide what to do first.  You tend to feel irritable and anxious and everything becomes hard to do. In addition, you are exhausted because you don’t sleep well, and that exacerbates the problem. An element of fear frequently comes into play as you wonder if you will ever get your situation under control.  For newbies, worrying about being able to do the job only heightens the fear.  Experienced librarians who have been thrust into a heavier schedule often caused by being given an additional school or a change in grade level also undergo periods of anxiety.

If you are in a state of distress, you aren’t leading.  And as leading is critical to the success of your program, you need to move from distress to stress.  Yes, you need to move to stress.

Since feeling continually out of control is one of the key elements of distress, begin by writing down all the things that are causing the situation. This will immediately reduce the swirling and noise that’s going on in your head. Identify by numbers which are the most important/serious and which less so.  Put a star next to any that are in your control to change and a minus next to the ones that are out of your control. You can also consider an extra star for those items you know you can change somewhat quickly.

Next, come up with a plan to address the most serious situations that are also within your control and deal with it.  As you eliminate these “distressers’” your anxiety level will go down. Once you have dealt with the ones in your control, review the ones that are out of your control.

What has caused them?  Some can’t be changed this year.  Others are the result of factors outside the administrators’ control.  However, a few will be caused by erroneous perceptions of administrators or others. For these, develop a plan/strategy to change these views remembering to not be defensive or accusatory in your communication.  When you have a plan to follow, you will slowly distress.

By contrast, stress is a normal part of our lives. When we manage it well, it has us moving efficiently from task-to-task, from problem-to-problem. Sure, we’ll have rough days, but they’re a part of what can be normally expected. If we have too many stresses or too long without an abatement the stress can become distress. Be alert for the possibility so you can put the de-stress techniques into play early.

An article entitled 7 Ways Mentally Strong People Deal With Stress, Amy Morin is mainly talking about distress, but her techniques work at both ends of the scale. She says mentally strong people accept that life always has setbacks.  I find it calming to recognize I have had huge problems before and managed to deal with them.  I will do it again.  Look to your past successes.

Next, she says, They Keep Problems in Proper Perspective. Just because something goes wrong and you don’t immediately start a downward spiral.  For example, you have a lesson prepared and the internet is down. Unfortunate, yes, but you are creative and flexible. Revise your plan. It doesn’t mean the whole day – or even that lesson – will be a disaster.

Third, They Take Care of Their Physical HealthIf you don’t feel well everything is harder to deal with.  Make sure to incorporate healthy living as a priority in your life.  This includes eating well and finding an exercise plan that works for you.

Along with that one They Choose Healthy Coping Skills. Hobbies, meditation, bingeing on a favorite television series help.  So does “allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions.”  Bingeing on chips and sweets? Not so healthy.

Number five is They Balance Social Activity with Solitude.  Socializing with friends and family puts us in a positive frame of mind.  We also need quiet downtime.  Our days are filled with talk. Sometimes you need silence. (I know we aren’t shushing librarians.  This is just for us.)

I particularly like They Acknowledge Their Choices.  I had a friend who stayed in a job she disliked because she chose to be near her ill mother.  She streamlined her job and stopped doing the “extras,” and accepted the conditions as part of her commitment to her mother.  We all make choices.  Sometimes we need to get out of a situation, but other times we need to recognize what got us here, what keeps us here, and what we plan to do about it.

Finally, They Look for The Silver LiningThis doesn’t mean pretending all is well. It means looking for what you can learn from it or what is good in the situation.  Has it helped you develop your coping skills?  Do you now have more empathy for others? Did it force you to learn new skills? Do you now prioritize better?

I don’t think I know anyone who is not stressed.  I also know many who are distressed.  You can’t afford to stay in the second group.  One of your new leadership skills will be showing how to move from distress to “healthy” stress.

 

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Farewell to a Friend and Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Environment

back to school. color pencils

Labor Day is over, and the majority of us are back in school. We are eager to welcome students to the start of a new year and want them to find the library a safe, welcoming environment. It’s so important that students and teachers feel this way about the library that the phrase is in many school library’s Mission Statement.  But are we doing everything we can to make it a reality?  Are we inadvertently doing things that create barriers to achieving this goal?

Let’s start with the term “environment.”  Some people say, “A safe, welcoming, space,” which is significant. The room needs to convey that atmosphere, greeting everyone who walks into the library.  As you enter your library this week, try to see your library with fresh eyes.  Walk in and look around. What do you see? What feelings does it communicate?  When I first walked into a library I was about to take over, I immediately noticed some old shelving stored on top of the high bookcases along the wall. Despite the library being summer-neat, those old shelves sent a message of disuse.

Libraries don’t have to be neat.  Good ones rarely are during the school year. But that kind of disorder conveys the feelings of activity with students and teachers exploring ideas and information for academic needs and personal interest.  The message you don’t want to send is one of dusty and musty, which is what the old shelving were saying.

What else does your library say to those entering?  I once visited an elementary school during the summer as part of a district-wide evaluation of the school library program.  The “rules” were neatly printed and posted on two different walls.  If I remember correctly every rule began with the word “No.”  And that was my reaction to the library – NO.  Even as an adult I felt unwelcome.

Your room may be safe and welcoming, but are your policies?  Too often we have set rules that are barriers for many students.  Just as you looked at your library with fresh eyes, you need to do the same for these rules. To make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all, rules (or guidelines) should preferably be developed with student input.  When reviewed with the incoming class, students should be asked whether they agree with the rules. What would they change? Add? When you do this, you give the students a stake in the library and the success of the program.

Recently, a regional library system eliminated fines because these were a barrier for patrons.  Although a large percentage of your users don’t think twice about the minimal cost of fines, for some every penny counts.

Having to pay for lost or damaged books can keep students from using the library the way they should.  Yes, they should be responsible, but it’s better if you can find alternate ways for them to pay for these items and do it in a way that won’t cause them to feel embarrassed. Some libraries allow students to “work” off the cost by helping around the library.

Not allowing students to borrow a book if they have overdues detracts from the library being a safe, welcoming environment.  What is more important — reading or being responsible for what was borrowed?  So many external dynamics can make it difficult for students to bring back books in a timely way, whether that’s custody arrangements, homes that are in turmoil due to substance abuse, physical abuse or illness or any of a number of challenges that are impacting their success.

Which brings me to the issue of diversity in your collection.  Students need to see themselves in the books they read as well as see others who are different from themselves to engender empathy and understanding. We have become more alert to this issue and I am heartened to read of the ways librarians are working to ensure that their collections have books about different ethnics, lifestyles, and home conditions. It can be difficult to accomplish the desired level of variety in some districts, but it’s imperative that we do the best we can to add as many titles of this nature as possible. From books, I learned about rural life, single parenthood, and many other lifestyles far removed from my own world.  It helped me become a more tolerant, empathetic adult. Think about the people and situations you encountered in books long before you encountered them in the world. What can you bring to your students to give them a broader view of the world?

Don’t forget to address students with disabilities especially in the physical layout of your library.  How high is your circulation desk? Are there students who have difficulty accessing computer-based information.?  What changes can you make to address these challenges? Speak with a guidance counselor to get a good handle on issues your students are facing. Then assess your collection and library arrangement to determine what changes need to be made.  If money is a problem –and it usually is—look for grants to help.

Another way to support student connection is to display student-produced work throughout the year which shows you value them and the many varied contributions they make.  Collaborate with the art teacher to bring these projects into the library, rotating them monthly. You might consider having a bulletin board for student achievements whether it’s a sports’ team, academic competition, the drama club production, or student-participation in a community service event.

There are many big and small ways to create a library with a safe, welcoming environment for all, and when you do so you create a lifelong difference for your students and teachers.

ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Core

A recent article in Time magazine, “A Third of Teenagers Don’t Read for Pleasure Anymore,” caught my attention and it made me wonder about how in the midst of our other commitments, we are bringing reading to students. I note that reading of comic books wasn’t mentioned so I’m not sure if the researchers felt graphic novels counted. And of course the flip side of that statistic is that two thirds of teens do read for pleasure.  Nonetheless it seems kids are reading less.

Our various digital devices have cut into all our free time.  Teenagers themselves are concerned about how many hours they spend on their phones.  But knowing there is a good reason for the decline in leisure reading doesn’t take away from the problem nor the need to find a solution.

The new AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries spells

out the importance of reading in our fourth Common Belief. “Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.” The explanatory paragraph concludes, “School librarians… provide access to high-quality reading materials that encourage learners, educators, and families to become lifelong learners and readers.”

 

How can you turn the tide?  Many of you have budget problems making it difficult (some would say impossible) to have current high-quality literature, but we can’t let our students down.  If you look long and hard at your collection, you will likely find lots of good books.  The challenge is to get them in the hands of your students.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) sponsors Teen Read Week which runs from October 7-13, 2018 with this year’s slogan, “It’s Written in the Stars – Read.”  Their website has forums which will give you ideas to get started.  An easy one might be a tie in recent films based on sci-fi books.

If you have a popular makerspace, create a frequently-changing display of non-fiction related to the activities kids like most. Consider starting an Entrepreneurs Book Club with students reading bios on the lives of entrepreneurs current and past.  Discussions can revolve around what made them successful. What ideas can students use to become entrepreneurs themselves?

Short-term book clubs around a theme can be a draw.  It’s not much of a commitment and makes reading a social experience.  Check any of the various library-related Facebook groups or your state’s listserv for book club topics that have worked. Most of these Facebook groups have librarians sharing ideas that have worked for them from book-tastings and blind date with a book, to bathroom book blurbs.  A Knowledge Quest article from last year on Reading Promotion for Middle and High School has a long list of suggestions.

Many state library associations give annual awards to books and students are the ones who get to vote.  Find out how to have your students participate. In some places, the website has activities you can use in coordination with the award.

“Get Caught Reading” is great if you are allowed cell phones in your school.  Post pictures you or someone else takes (selfies are OK) of teachers, administrators, — and you, reading a book.   If at all possible, display those books nearby. Encourage kids to take pictures of them reading.  It’s always best if they see adults value reading.  I’ve seen a few librarians post signs saying “I’m reading ……  What are your reading?”

Books in series and “read-alikes” are a good way to keep kids reading.  Put up a display of “first in the series” books to get them started.  You know what titles have been popular with your students, and you can find lists of read-alikes online to promote other similar books.

Family Reading Nights are very effective in some communities.  Scholastic has a Facilitator’s Guide to help you start one.  A Google search will give you additional ideas for hosting one.

I love what school librarians are doing with coding, makerspace, and genius hour.  Yes, it’s vital we know the latest apps, websites, and resources so we can show teachers how to integrate them into the curriculum, but you also want to create a reading climate in your library. To attract readers, you need to keep things changing.  Encourage kids to come up with ideas and don’t keep any one idea for more than a month.  No matter how much you do with technology, remember Reading Is Core.

ON LIBRARIES: Growth Mindset + Agency = Learning

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

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

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

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

Imagine what this would look like in an academic setting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES – Build Your Listening Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click image to go to the article

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Upping Your Advocacy Planning

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

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

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

For example:

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

Or

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

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

For example:

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

Or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Art of Asking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES – Beating Burnout

It happens to the best of us – in fact, the most invested in your job you are, the more likely it is to happen to you. Burnout. Your alarm goes off, and you don’t want to get out of bed.  It’s not just tiredness and lack of sleep, although that’s part of it.  You have given and given, worked and worked to make do with less and less, constantly striving to demonstrate the value of your library program and what you bring.  Now it feels there is nothing left.

Burnout is common to leaders –so take some comfort in knowing that as lousy as it feels, it’s a sign that you are acting as a leader. Going into work when you’ve been feeling this way for a while leads to little getting accomplished.  Worse, because you are not at your best, you are less likely to handle situations with your usual skill. This, in turn, will give you more work to do in repairing any damage to relationships and the last thing you need is more work.

Although the feelings of burnout are most likely to happen during the school year, vacation is a good time to prepare for the likely possibility of this condition. Knowing in advance how to deal with this challenge will help you get past it quickly.

Once again, I’m using advice from the business world to address this. The first suggestion Mark Ellis offers, in his article entitled What to Do When You Can’t Face Your Team, is to take some time off.  During the school year, that’s probably limited to one “mental health” day (personal or sick – your choice) but it’s vital that you use it if you truly need it. And when you do use it – do what you can to make the most of it. Since you’re reading this during vacation, make sure you currently are taking the opportunity to replenish yourself. It’s also a good time to stop and think about what makes you feel burned out and what most helps alleviate the stress. This way when “symptoms” appear, you have a plan.

Ellis’s next suggestion is to remind yourself why you do what you do.  In other words, connect with your Why.  Read last week’s blog as a reminder.  And if you still haven’t defined your Why, this should be a further incentive to do so.

For those of you who can, meditation is another one of Ellis’s methods for breaking out of burnout. There are not only shelves of books to help you with this, but videos and apps as well. If it works for you, you’ve got a great new tool to use whenever you need it.  I use walking to get out of my head and find an inner peace.  You deserve to find an equivalent that works for you.

If you have been beating yourself up because your library program doesn’t “look’ the way you want it to or you are comparing your library to someone else’s—give it up.  As Ellis says, “putting that much expectation on yourself as a leader will only leave you chasing something that doesn’t exist.”

Wendi Pillars, writing for ASCD, presents Eight Burnout-busting Self-care Strategies that can also help. The first is Monitor Connectivity.  We are far too attached to our digital devices and need to schedule unplugged time for ourselves.  I now shut my computer down for the day at supper time.  Watching some of my favorite television programs after dinner (I’m hooked on several British mystery series) is a great way to tune out and give my brain a time to rest.

Create is Pillars’ second recommendation (and – bonus! – it’s one of the four Domains of our new National School Library Standards). There are many ways to create. Knit, crochet, draw, doodle, take pictures, scrapbook, or put together a puzzle. Adult coloring books can bring out the artistic side of just about anyone. Is it any wonder they are so popular. Look to things that give you pleasure.  Even writing a snail mail thank you is a form of creativity.

Pillars follows that with Get Back to Nature which can mean camping, walking even simply going to a nearby park to sit on a bench and relax.

Review Your Diet and Sleep are her next two suggestions. When you are feeling burnt out you are likely not eating wisely.  Usually, that means too many sugars or carbohydrates which leads to worse eating and also affects your sleep.  Figure out how much sleep you need and do what you can to get those hours.  You deserve them and your career and relationships will benefit from it.

Choose Your Frame is about mindset. Negative self-talk makes everything worse.  Find a better way to see the situation.  What are you doing well despite the challenges?

Enjoy Friends and don’t say you haven’t time because you have too much to do.  You will always have too much to do.  Time lost with friends and family can never be recovered. And you will feel restored after being with them.

Finally, Practice Gratitude.  This is advice I love.  It also helps your mindset.  When you see how much you have to be grateful for, you are much less likely to indulge in negative self-talk. Keep a list, a journal, or even jot it down in your calendar at the end of each day. As the list grows you’ll find yourself feeling better.

None of these ideas are earth-shattering. You probably could have come up with many of them yourself, but now you have them laid out. As Ellis concludes in his article, don’t consider burnout as a failure. “Leadership is tough, and we all have to go through these difficult periods if we are to grow and thrive.”