ON LIBRARIES: The Thief of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ON LIBRARIES: To Be a Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES: When In Doubt

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

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

So the doubt creeps in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: Positive Self-Care

Last week we talked about knowing your priorities. This week we move on to self-care. You are your most important priority because if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will be doing a poor job with everything else. Maybe you can hold out for a while, but eventually, it’s going to catch up with you. Making the change is going to be hard work.

It’s going to be hard because you are likely resistant to doing it.  There is so much on your plate demanding your attention and the societal norm is to put others first. Even those priorities I discussed last week—your family and friends—can take time away from you.  Finding balance is going to be key.

Recognizing how it affects the bottom line, the business world (guided by psychologists) is working to make their people aware of the importance of practicing positive self-care.  Schools are also dealing with this as they move into Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), but SEL is focused on students. You need to develop your own practices that ensure you are taking care of yourself. 

Elizabeth Scott offers The Top 10 Self-Care Strategies for Stress Reduction. Most are obvious and can be found in many places.  Implementing them, as I said, is the challenge.  Here are her ten with my comments:

  1. Get Enough Sleep – Easier said than done. If 8 hours is out of the question, go for 7. And develop a sleep routine as you would for your children. Have everything ready for tomorrow so you don’t fret about what you have to do in the morning. Read a relaxing book.  I love HEA’s (happily ever after), so I know my main characters will be together by the end no matter how bleak things look. Also, trying to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekend, can be beneficial.
  2. Maintain Proper Nutrition—This one is also going to need a plan. Stress makes you grab for the unhealthy snacks (as Weight Watchers keeps reminding me). Part of your positive self-care is creating a plan that results in healthy eating most days – nobody is or should be perfect. For some of you, this may mean making dinners for the week on Sunday. For others, it’s a matter of planning breakfast and lunch and keeping healthy snacks at work.
  3. Exercise regularly – My personal goal is to walk 12,000+ steps 3-5 times a week which is a huge difference from when I started years ago on an exercise bicycle and all I could do was 5 minutes. Do what you can to choose an exercise you like doing. This could take some time to identify, but if you don’t like it, you won’t continue.
  4. Maintain Social Support –This is what I discussed last week. Your family and friends are not only a priority but are also part of your positive self-care. Make time for getting together.
  5. Find Hobbies—For me, it’s always been reading and I’ve written about how I enjoy my games of solitaire on the computer. I find it’s a good break as long as I don’t overindulge. Walking, much to my surprise, has become a hobby which is true of any sport you like. But it could be yoga, gardening, coloring in the new coloring books, scrapbooking, knitting, or whatever suits your fancy.
  6. Pamper Yourself – I love this one. I joined a local chain (Massage Envy) to ensure I schedule a facial or massage once a month.  Then there’s manicures and pedicures and other spa treatments that you can do at a salon or at home.
  7. Keep Your Mind Sharp – An easy one for librarians. Scott encourages you to see stress areas as a challenge—what I call a “chopportunity.” I have been disciplining myself in reading one article a day in one of my professional journals.  I always end up with new ideas and ways of looking at things (and new blog post ideas!).
  8. Have the Right Attitude – This is all about Mindset. What you think about something conditions how you react which causes either an up or down spiral. You are in control of how you think, and frequently the only thing you can control in a situation is how you respond to it. Take a moment to look for ways to make it work for you.
  9. Process Your Emotions – Be honest about how you are feeling. For example, suppressing anger doesn’t make it go away and instead causes an increase in stress. Acknowledge it. Consider where it is coming from and how you can either deal with it or change your attitude about it. Journaling, which could also be a hobby, can be a way of processing your emotions and so can talking to friends, which connects to maintaining social support.
  10. Maintain a Spiritual Practice–Having belief system that grounds you whether it is a religion, spirituality, meditation, or a firmly rooted philosophy is a resource you can turn to when feeling stressed. This sort of foundational belief can offer strength, grounding, or a place to return to when, once again, stress levels get high and life is out of balance.

And as a reminder of how easy it is to fall back into your bad old ways, see Cammy Pedroja’s 7 things that are good examples of self-care, and 7 things that aren’t.

Remember Positive Self-care is you focused on you to ensure you are in the best possible frame of mind to take care of others as well as do what needs to be done. If this is new for you, I recommend picking two from the list and integrate them into your daily life – maybe one that sounds easy and one that seems like a stretch.  Once you feel you have incorporated them into your life, pick two more and see how it goes.

 

ON LIBRARIES: What Are Your Priorities

The last section of Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Other Option is called “Maintaining Joy.”  I discuss ways you can keep yourself fulfilled. The four chapters build on each other, starting with “Writing and Presenting” to prove your value to yourself and others, followed by chapters: “Delegating” so you don’t do it all; “Giving Back” which gives you more than you gave; and finally, “The Gift of Time” which is what I want to focus on today.

I can hear you saying, your schedule is packed. You don’t have time. I’ve been there. I understand and it wasn’t until I made it important to live my priorities that anything was able to change.

I spent most of my adult life being task-oriented. I loved my job as a librarian and worked hard at it. It was important, and it deserved all that attention. What I didn’t see was my beliefs and actions were in opposition. I would tell you my family was my first priority, but that’s not what my behaviors indicated. As a result, even when I was present with my family, my mind was somewhere else. I missed a lot.

I eventually realized what I was doing to myself and the people I cared most about. I developed a mantra that I kept repeating, “Everything will get done. It always does.”  And it did. If it was a priority and important, I did get it done. Sure, some of the lesser tasks got pushed down and some minor ones never got done. But no one noticed anything lacking. By contrast, I truly enjoyed my time with my family and friends.

Today, while I am nominally retired, which is to say I no longer work in a school library, most of you are aware that I teach an online course, write books for school librarians, and am active in my state association and at ALA/AASL. And I still make time for what is truly important. I have a monthly lunch date with a friend. I take long walks 3-5 times a week. I shut my computer off at 6 p.m. When my son drops in, I stop what I am doing—even if I am in the middle of writing a blog. I spend the evening with my husband. Somehow, it all works. My life is richer, and most importantly, not only am I happier but I can see how my change has had a positive effect on those I care about.

You need to devote time to what matters most. You can fit in a massage once a month. You are worth it. You can take the weekend off to be with your family and not worry/think about Monday. You can do what I did – find a mantra, a saying, even a song that reminds you to look at your priorities and schedule your time accordingly.

The business world agrees with me. In an online article entitled 5 Myths of Work-Life Balance Debunked by an Entrepreneurial Dad,  James Sudakow speaks to dads with big jobs who “lament” missing important events in their kids’ lives and other family times. Their work-life balance has become seriously skewed toward work. As the title indicates, he rebuts five myths.

  1. You won’t kill your career by setting firm boundaries between work and life. The tasks will get done. I find they get done more efficiently and better because I come to them refreshed with a positive attitude. Even if I have to scramble as a deadline approaches, that mindset powers me to complete what’s on my plate and give it my best. How many days are you staying late? It shouldn’t be more than one a week unless you are in a new position. Even then, three days is the outside limit.
  2. You can put family first. Not just “can” but “must.” You can’t say family is your priority if that’s not how you are choosing to spend your valuable time. Since we all have the same 24 hours in a day, you need to prioritize more honestly. I find if I am just focusing on tasks, I am also likely to allow more time-wasters to creep in from checking emails too many times to playing solitaire on the computer.
  3. “Work-life blend/integration” is not the only viable solution (despite what many say). Here Sudakow refers to allowing work to “blend” into your life. He says it’s better to compartmentalize. I agree, although there are occasions while my attention is focused on my family or my own rejuvenation activities, I come up with an answer to a work-related question that was troubling me. It most often happens while I am walking, but it has also occurred while getting a massage. Jot it down – go back to your family.
  4. Work-life balance is not a 50:50 proposition. No one is suggesting you divide out your day evenly between work obligations and family time. It’s what’s most important now that helps set the balance. Some days you need to be at your kid’s game and watch the whole thing without working on your cell or laptop. Other days you may only be fully present at dinner. If family is at the much lower end most days, you are not balancing well.
  5. Work-life balance comes down to hard choices we haven’t forced ourselves to make before. The discussion of the other four de-bunked myths shows how true this is. To stay on course, remind yourself you will never get back time lost with family – and friends. The work never goes away. Which memories do you want to look back on—time spent with your family or the hours spent working?

And remember to make yourself a priority. Positive Self-Care, which I’ll be talking more about this next week, is critical to your long-term success. You are what matters most, because if you don’t feel good about yourself, if you are not taking care of yourself, you will be drained, frustrated, and frankly cranky and I know that’s not what you want to bring to your library program or your teachers. Take a little time this week to notice how you’re using your time and where your being guided by your to-do list over your priorities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Leader or a Manager

I apologize.  The title is a trick question.  You must be both, but you need to be aware which hat you have on and why. My guess is you have been too busy to think about the question or notice the distinction, and as a result, you may not be using your time and energy efficiently. To understand the difference between the two, it helps to know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Strategy is a big picture concept. It represents a large goal.  Strategy is tied to your Vision.  Ultimately, it is what you seek to accomplish.

Tactics is how you get to that goal.  It is what you do day in and day out.  While Strategy is tied to your Vision, Tactics are aligned with your Mission.  Focusing only on tactics is like building a house when you have no idea what it should look like when done.

What does this have to do with being a leader or a manager?  Leaders hold the Vision.  Managers carry out the Mission.  If you still don’t have a Mission and Vision you are likely to work very hard and not have a sense of accomplishment.

With your Mission and Vision as a guide, you are both a manager and a leader—but not simultaneously.  When you organize your day, teach your classes, collaborate with teachers, or do your book order, you are being a manager.  When you develop a budget, organize a school-wide project, plan to genre-fy your collection, you are being a leader.

The business world recognizes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as the leader, and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) is the manager.  But even corporate America is becoming aware that some blending happens and, in some businesses as with school librarians, one person does both.

An often-cited brief distinction between the two roles is that leaders have people follow them and managers have people work for them.  At first glance, it would seem you have neither.  But when you plan a project, you enroll people to join in and follow your vision for it.  Having people “follow’ you is at the heart of advocacy.  If you are fortunate to have clerical help or volunteers, they obviously work for you.  In a more limited way, as you direct/guide students on their tasks they are doing the work you have given them.

ResourcefulManagement.com has an infographic comparing 17 traits distinguishing leaders from managers.  I’ve talked about several of them in earlier blogs but there are others I think it is helpful to consider such as:

Tells vs. Sells The manager says, “This is what I want you to do, and this is how to do it. The leader says, “I have this great idea and I know it will work if I can get you to be part of it.” You are leading when this is how you approach a new project.

Minimizes Risks vs. Takes Risks – Managers follow the status quo.  Leaders take the program in a larger direction.  I remind you frequently that you need to take risks.  Small ones at first and larger ones as you prove your worth.

Sees a Problem vs. Sees an Opportunity – It’s easy to see (and complain) about obstacles and problems.  A leader recognizes problems are an opening into new territory. It’s called a “choppertunity” – a challenge that presents an opportunity.  How creative can you be?  What risk will be needed?

Follows the Map vs. Carves New Roads –This is similar to which one takes risks, but the reminder is you won’t get far if you keep doing only what you have been doing before.  You are either growing or dying. First, understand the map, then look to find the places to create new roads.

Establishes Rules vs. Breaks Rules – Once again, there is an element of risk in the difference between the two roles.  How many of you will allow food in the library?  Allow kids to borrow books even if they have overdues? And those are the most common rules.  Where are rules keeping your program from growing? Where are rules keeping your program running smoothly? Shine a bright light on these rules and see which ones are serving and which are holding you back.

Assigns Duties vs. Fosters Ideas – As a librarian, you strive to foster ideas from students doing assignments, but have you looked at ways you can foster ideas from teachers about improving your program? The end users often have ideas of what they want, what they like, and what they don’t like.  Involve them in taking your program to the next step.

Does Things Right vs. Does the Right Thing – Obviously you need to do both.  Just know when to do what.  Purchasing books you fear might be challenged is doing the right thing.  Showing you are a team player is doing things right. 

For most of your day, you need to be a manager.  But to manage well, you need to know where you, the leader, is going.  And remember this quote by that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: Understanding and Using Culture

What is your school’s culture?  What is your library’s culture? Both affect how you do your job, how you present yourself, and whether you are regarded as a leader. I blogged on this topic back in January, but a recent article made me want to revisit the topic.

Readers may recall I worked in two districts with dramatically different cultures. The first voted down twenty budgets in the twenty-two years I was there. The second district passed every budget in the nine years I was there.  This district prided itself on its history and its ability and willingness to support the school system. They viewed themselves as a lighthouse district.  Indeed, pride along with diversity are still present on the district’s home page, mission, and superintendent’s vision.

Knowing the culture of the two districts affected how I proposed my annual budget requests and projects. At the first school, everything was couched in terms of how my request(s) would be cost-saving. (Every dollar spent in the library affects all students.)  I overheard a business teacher speaking to her department chair saying, “We don’t need new textbooks as long as Hilda’s library is up-to-date.” In the second school, I promoted my requests and ideas as a means of moving the school forward. In preparatory discussions with administrators, I would compare what I was seeking with what was happening in other leading school districts and libraries. I could be asking for the same thing in each school, but I framed it differently to fit the culture.

So if you’re (still) struggling with working within your school’s culture, you may appreciate the idea s from an article in Harvard Business Review where John Coleman discusses the Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture. Although he is addressing the business world much of what he says relates or is adaptable to education and the school library.

Coleman starts with Vision. He states, “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement.” I have been promoting this for years. Your Vision and/or Mission must guide every decision you make. It sets the tone for everything.  Don’t have one yet?  Get started.  You won’t be able to successfully advocate for your program without it. Also, make sure you know the vision for your school or school district. The more in line you can be, the easier your advocacy.

Next is Values.  According to Coleman, “A company’s values are the core of its culture.” This ties into your Philosophy which probably includes a statement that the library “is a safe, welcoming environment for all.”.  We also have our Common Beliefs as given in the National School Library Standards. As librarians, we have our ALA Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics.  To enhance your understanding, you might also reflect on your school’s and district’s values – both stated and unstated

Third is Practices. “Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices.” How many times have we heard administrators say, “The library is the heart of the school,” only to see them eliminate the budget, close the library for numerous occasions, and in other ways indicate the statement is a platitude, not a reality. (This speaks to those unstated values). You can support this by truly doing all you can to carry out your Vision/Mission and Values. If this is something you are struggling with, how can you change this or get help?

People is (are?) fourth. As Coleman says, “No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values.” These “people” are your advocates.  Are there teachers who share your values and value the library? What about your administrator? Any outside volunteers? This is why you need to communicate your Vision – and your Values.  And are you showing you value the contributions of those around you? If you need support on this, go to the National School Library Standards portal, clicking on Administrators or Educators to get the appropriate resources.

The fifth contributor to an institution’s culture is Narrative. This is where the power of emotions comes in.  You need to tell your library’s story and embed it in the awareness of your stakeholders. Use emotional content and visuals to reach your audience. Where have you seen your program making a noticeable difference in the lives of students? Why is it not only valuable but indispensable? Have students worked on college applications at the library? Try to get pictures when they’re accepted. Have students put something they’ve learned in the library into action (such as a community garden)? Make sure to show the connection – and the excitement. Do quarterly reports highlighting student learning using various tech resources such as Canva, Piktochart or your favorite site. Get your narrative out into the community with social media.

Finally, there is Place.  The look of your facility is the first thing greeting all who enter.  What message is it sending? Is it aligned with your Vision and Values or is there a disconnect? I’ve written about a list of rules being the first thing people see and how that can be a barrier. Where is the visual excitement of your space?

You create the culture for your library.  By taking stock of how yours measures up to these six components, you can make it a strong statement of who, what, and why you are.  Also, match these six to identify your school culture.  How well is the library culture aligned with the school culture? Again, is there a disconnect?  If so, develop a strategic advocacy plan to make inroads on the school culture so that it will embrace the value of the school library and make certain you are using your awareness of the culture to support your initiatives.  A challenging culture doesn’t mean you won’t get what you need. It means you’ll have to look for or develop new ways to success.

ON LIBRARIES: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

When Aretha Franklin died a little over a month ago, “Respect” was the song most often mentioned and for a good reason.  Not only was it a great song, but the message is important.  We all need respect, and we need to give it as well.  Respect is the basis of many school libraries’ rules including: Respect yourself, respect others, respect the library.  It is fundamental to building relationships. You can’t be a leader if you don’t feel respected, and you can’t be a leader if you don’t respect others.

As I read posts by librarians on Facebook and other places, I am concerned to learn that many of you do not feel respected.  This can’t help but have an effect on how you feel about your job and how you do it. So not only do you pay a cost but so do your students and teachers.

An article by Leah Fessler entitled “There Are Two Kinds of Respect: Lack One and You’ll Hate Your Job,” gave me a whole new perspective on the issue.  Fessler cites a research study by Christine Porath stating that respect “was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation.” Fessler then goes on to write there is “Owed Respect” and “Earned Respect.”

According to Fessler, Owed Respect “is accorded equally to all members of a workgroup or an organization; it meets the universal need to feel included.”  We have all (hopefully) had principals who communicated this type of respect to the whole staff—and had a principal who did the opposite. In reflection, you can see how this affected the whole school climate.

I had one elementary principal who saw himself as the expert in all things.  He always knew more about what teachers were teaching than they did.  He even tampered with the clock controlling the bells. As a result, there was a subtle conspiracy as the teachers did not give their best and were united against the principal.  While the comradery among the teachers was good, it was there for a negative purpose which was ultimately negative for the school.

By contrast, in the same school under a new principal, everything changed.  He would go into a room, notice a situation, and say to a teacher, “I know you aren’t feeling well.  Go to the cafeteria and get some tea and relax, I’ll cover your class.”  When he needed a favor even if it was outside the contract, such as giving up a duty-free period, teachers willingly did so. With the same teachers, the school climate was completely different.

What some of you are experiencing is a lack of Owed Respect from the administration even where you see teachers getting it.  Even worse is when teachers don’t respect what you do making you feel isolated and resentful. That’s not healthy for you nor good for your program. Understanding Earned Respect is a possible way to alter the situation.

Earned Respect is the recognition you get for going above and beyond.  Those of you feeling lack of respect are likely trying to do more than is required of you only to have it go unnoticed. In some ways, that is worse than not getting Owed Respect. Somehow you need to change how you communicate with teachers and administrators about what you are doing and the impact this has on the school as a whole.

Earlier this year I did a blog on Can You Hear Me Now?  and followed it the next week with More Ways to Be Heard. Polishing your communication skills can help when you are striving to receive owed respect.  Another way can be to find some bigger ways to show your worth.  AASL and your state library association have many awards.  Apply for one (or more).  Winning these will get you recognition.  It’s easier to stay on principal’s and teachers’ radar once you have gotten there.

Oddly enough, another way to get both Owed Respect and Earned Respect is to give it. This is frequently the best place to start. Teachers don’t feel they get either type of respect. Show it to them, and you are likely to get it back. Let them know you see the job they do, the contribution they make. And when they go above and beyond, send a note, handwritten is best, to show how they have earned your respect.

Always remember your administrators.  They are harried, too, and often feel their efforts are minimized or unappreciated by others.  Honest, specific acknowledgments will improve the climate that exists between you. Keep it simple, though and don’t overdo. It will sound like brown-nosing. If it feels genuine to you, it will to them as well.

Then there are your students.  When you don’t feel respected, it could be that you are neglecting them.  All your students deserve Owed Respect and you will do a great deal for their self-esteem by showing them Earned Respect.

By becoming aware of the two types of respect and how they impact the workplace, you might be the one to change the climate and find an increased flow of respect coming your way.  As Arthea sang, “Find out what it means to me!”

 

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.

 

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.