ON LIBRARIES: Dealing With Failure

Leaders take risks—and sometimes those risks lead to failure.  What do you do then? I know what you would tell your students, but are you taking your own advice?

As with everything in our world failures come in different sizes.  There are quiet failures and more public ones. A small quiet failure might be you set up a display of popular fiction from years ago – and no one has looked at it.  A more public failure would be you planned a short program for parents during a conference or back-to-school night and only one parent showed up.

It feels awful. If this was one of the first risks you took, no matter the size, you are apt to crawl back into the tried-and-true. Obviously, leadership isn’t for you.  Or you have no business playing “large.”  You are not at that level of leadership and never will be. Fear of failure stops many from becoming leaders.

If you fall back and believe that story, you are depriving yourself of the benefit of failure.  As you tell students, failing is a learning opportunity.  No one reaches success without failure.  And even those who seem to be highly successful leaders will fail at times.

I made several mistakes when working on the plans for a new library wing in one high school. I made several others when I did a renovation at another high school.  I failed at keeping the School Librarian’s Workshop going as an e-newsletter.  And even recently, my proposed program for the upcoming AASL Conference was not accepted.

Does that make me a failure? It depends on what I do next. If I decided, for example, that AASL members were no longer interested in what I had to offer, I could tell myself I’m a failure, but failing is not the same thing as being a failure. That only happens when you quit.

Each time one of your plans or ideas doesn’t succeed, you can use it to grow and be better. For AASL, I didn’t read some of the details on how the final programs would be selected. I needed to reach more of my contacts to ask for support and do so frequently.  I sent something out once and then voted.  Next time I can and will do better.  (That’s also growth mindset.)

Look at how you failed. What caused it? Did you make assumptions that proved erroneous? Should you have built more support before you began the project?  It may be painful initially to look back, but it’s the fastest route to future success.

Everyone, especially leaders, risks failure and the potential for losing confidence in themselves.  And that is the big danger.  When your confidence level slips, it affects every part of your professional (and possibly personal) life. You can’t afford to let that happen.  We are not alone in facing the challenge of coming back from failure and losing confidence in ourselves.

Jesse Sosten offers some compelling advice on How to Regain Your Confidence When It Falters.  He refers to this loss of confidence as “the dip.”  He suggests you “Leverage the Dip.”  By this he means, reframe it so you look at it as a sign you are poised for growth. Accept that “you are a work in progress.” After all, if you are not progressing, you are not growing, and as I’ve written here before, that means you are dying.

Sosten’s next recommendation is to Limit Your Inner Compromise. This is the part where you shut down and hope no one is noticing you and remembering the last idea you had that was a non-starter. Instead, be more aware of your reactions.  When you see yourself wanting to exhibit this kind of behavior, check in with your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  What do you stand for?  Speak up as needed.

Confidence is not developed overnight.  But you can lose it all in a moment if you aren’t prepared to deal with the fallout when things go wrong.  The fact is things do go wrong even with the best of planning.  Having a Plan B is a good idea, but even that might not work.   When it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to come up with and move forward on your next new idea.  The best way to have people forget about a plan that didn’t work (and for you to let go of your negative self-talk) is to follow it with successes.

 

Advertisements

Crisis? No!  It’s a Chopportunity

With all the grim news about cuts in library positions and budgets, it is easy to have a pessimistic attitude about the future which affects how you interact with others on a daily basis. I learned the word “chopportunity” in 2013 at a School Library Journal Summit. It’s a mash-up word combining Challenge and Opportunity.  I strongly believe our mindset influences how we look at our world and feel about what we do.  When you look at a challenge as an opportunity, it changes your mindset.  The shift puts you in charge of the situation rather than feeling like a victim of what is happening around you.

What challenges are you (and your teachers and administrators) facing?  How do you deal with turbulence and disruption when they occur?  You could panic.  You could complain. You could hunker down and hope it will pass.  But that’s not what leaders do.  When technology first captured the enthusiasm of administrators, affecting library budgets, I told librarians, “When you see a runaway truck coming at you, don’t try to stop it by lying down in front of it.  You will die. Instead, jump on and steer.” The advice remains true.

Chopportunities come in all sizes.  A small one that frequently occurs in our lives is being “asked” to cover a class when no substitute is available.  We know it’s more of a demand. When possible, find out if the class can meet in the library. (Hopefully, it is just one period.) Explain you don’t want to close the library to students and teachers who need it. This nicely informs the administration that your work is valued throughout the school and throughout the day.

And even if you must follow the plans the teacher left, you invariably can add a library component.  Invite the kids to learn library tricks to help them get work done more efficiently.  Or you can use the time to weave in of your lessons on hoax sites and evaluating sources based on the subject you’re being asked to cover.  Challenge them to find the “agenda” behind a website they check. Compile their exit tickets and give a copy to the teacher and your principal.  What was an inconvenience becomes a Chopportunity to reach students and prove the worth of the library!

The paradigm we all grew up with was that schools have libraries with librarians.  Not ever contemplating the situation could change, many librarians focused on doing their job but not showing teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders why it was vital. You know what happened next.

In Embrace Turbulence Ken Goldstein advises those in the corporate world how to avoid being swept out when the world changes once again.  He points out you can’t control change.  What you can control is “attitude, anticipation, and readiness.”

Attitude is the ability to see the latest crisis as a chopportunity. Goldstein reminds readers that “The reward for getting over a hill is the opportunity to climb another hill. There is always another this to get through.” Supposedly, “May you live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse, but it all depends on how you look at interesting times.  It can be exhilarating.  A chance to try something new and different.

Anticipation in this context is the opposite of complacency. Things are going well, and you assume they will always continue this way.  In actuality, change is coming.  It always is.  There’s a new educational idea.  New technology explodes on the scene.  How many changes have you seen in the past two years?  Goldstein refers to “big company syndrome” which is “the belief your paycheck will always show up.” (We’re looking at you Sears, Blockbuster, and Kodak.) He says, “smart company syndrome is knowing you have to earn your keep every day.” For us, it means proving our worth – every day.

Readiness is the key not only to survival but to increasing your value to the educational community.  Our National School Library Standards challenge us to embrace change.  We are to reflect on our practice and go beyond “it’s good” to “what do I need to do to make it better.”  We must be aware of the larger environment, looking beyond the library to what’s happening in education, trends in technology, and whatever else might impact schools and the library program.

I was once talking to my vice-principal and said it would be great to have one normal year without a crisis.  She told me crisis was what was normal.  She was right.  As Goldstein advises, “Make peace with turbulence. Pace yourself for a ceaselessly bumpy endurance contest. Expect an unruly rollercoaster ride and be mildly pleased the days it doesn’t throw you from the train.”  In other words, you must always be ready to deal with something – usually several somethings—in the course of the school year.  Some small, but others quite big. It’s just another Chopportunity.

ON LIBRARIES: Plan Your PD

Summer vacation is either imminent or has already begun. The last thing you may want to think about at the beginning of your time off is work, but after you give yourself a little time off to relax and regroup, this is the perfect opportunity do just that – think. Most of our time is spent doing and reacting to all that is going on around us. For the next few months, take time to reflect on what you might need and where you want to go next.

Have you been (or feel) too busy to “grow? Biology tells us organisms are either growing or they are dying.  It’s true for your professional growth, and true for the growth of your program.

Professional Development (PD), being a lifelong learner, is imperative for school librarians. Sure, your district probably offers PD workshops at least once a year. But the reality for librarians is that what is offered at best only touches on our practice.  If you want to grow, you have to take responsibility for your own PD.

My favorite PD are the national and state conferences.  They offer a wealth of opportunities for learning, networking, and leadership. And with a few exceptions state conferences are nothing like the national ones so both are worthwhile.

ALA Annual is coming up in Washington, D.C. from Thursday, June 20th until Tuesday, June 25th, and the professional development you get (not to mention the swag!) is superb. You don’t need to be there the entire time.  If you are still in school, get there by Friday evening and leave Sunday night, and you will learn plenty.  Plus DC is a great place to visit if you’ve never had the chance.

Do your best not to make cost an excuse. I have attended every ALA Annual since 1979.  Most of the time the money came out of my pocket.  I listed it as a professional expense on my taxes.  I regard my memberships and conference attendance as a cost of doing business, no different from what it cost to drive my car to work or have suitable work clothes.  PD is invaluable.

Everything you need for registering and housing is online and you can check the Schedule for AASL programming in advance. Don’t forget to see what ALSC is doing if you are at the elementary level and what YALSA is offering if you are at a middle or high school.  Look for amazing speakers who will be there and plan your time.

Every other year, I strongly recommend you plan to go to the AASL Conference which is being held this year in Louisville, Kentucky from November 14-16. The AASL Conference is my favorite because it’s all about us.  Every program, every speaker, and every vendor is focused on school librarians. That’s what is special about AASL.  It’s the only national organization who speaks solely for school librarians.

The best reason for attending an AASL Conference is the people.  This is your opportunity to expand your PLN nationally (and in some cases, internationally). When eating at the restaurants either at the hotel or the conference floor, don’t sit alone.  Join others and engage in conversation.  And, of course, exchange business cards to be sure you connect afterward. After so many years of conference attendance, I look forward to seeing the many friends I have as well as meeting new ones.  With some, I schedule dinners or lunches in advance, and this will happen to you as well.

Great as they are, conferences aren’t your only PD option. Summer is a terrific time to catch up on your professional reading. If you are a member of AASL you receive Knowledge Quest bimonthly, and probably haven’t time to read it. (The current issue is all about the different ways the National School Library Standards can impact your teaching and learning.).  Then there are all those issues of School Library Journal or Teacher Librarian you haven’t read… yet. Take time to intersperse these with your ever-growing pleasure reading list.

Group of Business People in a Meeting About Planning

Another great source of PD is the archived webinars on AASL’s eCOLLAB. While you have to be a member – or pay for some, many are free.  Here is a sample of what’s available:

·       Comics Librarianship: Essential Tools for the School Librarian

·       Don’t #%?$ My Graphic Novels: Conquering Challenges and Protecting the Right to Read

Your state association might also offer free webinars and some vendors do as well. A quick online search should yield some helpful results.

For professional reading options, start at the ALA Store under AASL. Libraries Unlimited is another source of professional development titles as is Rowman & Littlefield. Explore new resources when you aren’t harried and have time to play with them.  See what’s new at AASL’s Best Apps for Teaching & Learning and Best Websites for Teaching & Learning.

Summer is a time for relaxing and rejuvenating.  You do need that time off.  Hopefully, you can balance it with taking the time your career needs and deserves to keep learning and growing. It’s what leaders do.

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Know The Buzz

When you are in education long enough, you can become cynical about the latest buzzword that’s going to change everything.  And yet, the world keeps changing so we can’t keep doing things the same way. Sometimes the latest is merely something old cloaked in a new name.  As I wrote in last week’s blog Word Wise, words carry emotional meaning and every change reflect an altered perspective, which is why you need to keep up with the latest buzzwords.

When you know and understand current buzzwords, you show your leadership by presenting yourself as an expert in current trends. You should also check to ensure you are aware of buzzwords that go beyond librarianship and are circulating among administrators.  Even better is to know what’s happening in business and technology because it is likely they will affect education – and therefore your library program.

I am a member of ASCD so I can get their journal Educational Leadership. The themes of each issue are strong indicators of where administrators are going.  I also get SmartBriefs on a variety of topics, including leadership (invariably business leadership) and technology in my inbox daily.  These SmartBriefs lead me to relevant online columns and blogs. I interpret what I discover through the lens of school librarianship and you’ve seen many of these articles referenced in this blog.

Anjana Deepak’s article Buzzwords Make an Impact Paving the Way to Learn Something New, and Creating Value for and within, the Profession, lists 23 current buzzwords along with an explanation of buzzwords, differentiating them from jargon and slang. You will know many of them, but for the ones you don’t know, take time to research them so you are up to speed.  When and if they are relevant, you want to be able to use them in your conversations with principals and teachers in your building.

In addition to Deepak’s list, I came up with seven more which I have been noticing, bringing the total up to thirty.

  • Agency – Ability to make free choices and act independently as opposed to structure such as social class, gender, ethnicity which can determine or limit one’s decisions.
  • Competency-based education -A system using instruction, assessments, grading and other techniques to determine if students have learned the skills and competencies they are expected to learn. Usually tied to state and national standards, its goal is to ensure students are prepared for school, college, career, and life. (Based on the definition from Edglossary)
  • Computational thinking – A problem-solving approach formulated in a way that it can be solved by humans or computers. It has four stages: Decomposition – breaking the problem down into smaller parts; Pattern recognition – seeing commonalities among the parts; Abstraction – focusing only on the important parts; Algorithms – forming a step-by-step solution.
  • Growth Mindset – Mindset is how you see yourself. Unlike those with a fixed mindset who view their positive and negative abilities (and attitudes) as unchangeable, people with a growth mindset believe they can improve or change. Having a growth mindset makes you open to learning.
  • Personalized Learning– As opposed to the one-size-fits-all instruction, this approach uses multiple avenues to tailor learning experiences to meet individual student needs including small learning “academies “and allowing students to design their own learning routes such as taking an internship or enrolling in a college course.
  • Proficiency-based learning – A system that requires students to demonstrate they have acquired the knowledge and skills deemed necessary (usually according to set standards). Those who don’t meet the standards are given additional instruction and practice time.
  • Social and Emotional Learning – Commonly called SEL. Districts are embracing it in various degrees. In essence, it’s about developing Emotional Intelligence as it helps students and teachers to understand and manage their emotions, leading to improved relationships and decision-making. CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) has an easy-to-access website on what SEL means and how to implement it.

Knowing the current buzzwords is integral to being recognized as a leader. I remember when rubrics came in.  I knew about them, although I had never created one. When a teacher came to me to help her make a rubric for an assignment as her department chair required (and had given no help), I knew enough to work with her, and her department chair was pleased.

There is a caveat.  Don’t flaunt or overuse buzzwords. Your conversation shouldn’t be filled with them. It can sound forced, making the listener uncomfortable either because they don’t know what you’re talking about or because it sounds like you’re talking at them rather than to them. A.  Too often buzzwords descend into jargon which shuts people out.  Think of legal or medical language and how off-putting that can be.  You want to be inclusive. The library is a safe, welcoming environment for all – not just those who know the buzz.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Word Wise

Our words matter.  Just as our body language and tone of voice send messages we didn’t mean to send, so do our words. Noticing and making a shift takes diligence as we change patterns that have become natural to us. Becoming more aware and mindful of our word choice leads to stronger relationships and greater success for you and your program. And this is true for both the written and the spoken word.

For years, I have been teaching writing Mission and Vision Statements to pre-service school librarians.  I have given workshops on the topic, and invariably, unknowingly, librarians select weak words for statements that need to be powerful and compelling.  When this happens our message gets minimized as a result.

“Enrich” is a common weak word.  It sounds good when we say, “the library program enriches the curriculum” but what the budget-pressed administrator hears is, “It’s a nice extra, but the curriculum will do fine without the extra enrichment.”  And the result? You won’t get funds.  You may even be eliminated.

Surprisingly “support” is almost as weak.  So is “extends.”  You may know your program does this, but how vital does it seem to the administration? Your Mission and/or Vision needs to be under 50 words to make it memorable.  You can’t afford to waste any of the words, and you certainly can’t use words that detract from it.

So what are your alternatives?  “Fully integrated” (or at least “integrate’) implies that something important will be lost if eliminated.  “Essential [to …]” is even better.   While there is no guarantee your administrator will agree, proclaiming it positions you in a far better place in any discussions you have about the library program.  It follows that by writing stronger words, you will use stronger words in your conversation,

In conversation, many of us have adopted phrasing that suggests we are not sure of ourselves.  This is frequently a result of years of conditioning and not wanting to be “pushy.” But these phrases are subconsciously interpreted by others, making them less likely to see us as leaders.

“I feel” is high on my list of phrases watch or particularly when I am in a conversation with a stakeholder. “I know,” which suggests others should recognize the validity of what you said is so much more powerful.  Sometimes “I think…” is a tentative statement.  Other times it’s a more of a pronouncement. You need to be aware of whether you are making a clear statement or trying to avoid having to respond to someone who won’t agree with you.

Unsurprisingly, the business world is also aware of the damage words can inadvertently do. Christine Comaford identified 15 phrases that make leaders look weak She points to what she calls “verbal qualifiers.”  These are her fifteen:

  1. Almost:  I think I’ve said almost everything about that.”
  2. A Little: “She’s a little challenging to manage.”
  3. Sort Of:   I sort of want to do that.”
  4. Kind Of: “I kind of think I will.”
  5. Maybe: “Maybe I’ll call you tonight.”
  6. Just: “I just called to ask how you are.”
  7. Sometimes: “Sometimes I feel…”
  8. May: “I may go to the movies tonight.”
  9. Might: “I might finish that today.”
  10. They: “They think…”
  11. Everyone: “Everyone says…”
  12. Someone: “Someone told me…”
  13. Probably: “He’s probably
  14. As If: “I’m feeling as if…”
  15. Better: “I feel better.”

She explains the problems with verbal qualifiers is that “It keeps us from owning the statement we are making.”  Strong leaders believe in what they say.  They take ownership and invite others in.

As I said earlier, “think” is a word usually indicates you are hiding out and are hoping others will agree with you instead of taking a stand that others can join.  Look at how many of the phrases above have “think” in them. If you use them, how could you rephrase and sound stronger/

Comaford concludes with two big takeaways for us.

Consider your answers to her questions.  Start listening to the words and phrases you use, as well as those used by others around you, and make the changes you need that allow you to speak as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Weed to Lead

Ongoing discussions (and some very funny pictures) in our Facebook group have made it clear that weeding is a critical library task. Believe it or not, if you leverage it, it is one more way you show you are a leader.  To do so, you need to be mindful of the process. The why, what, when, and how you weed each requires an awareness of what you are doing.

To begin with, keep weeding in line with the rest of your program, and connect it to your Mission Statement as well as to the National School Library Standards (NSLS). For example, if you have a statement that reads:

The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society.

then weeding is important because the relevance of your collection is important to your ability to deliver your mission. To be a producer of information, students need current information.  The collection needs to rise to that challenge. Additionally, in NSLS, the Standard D. Grow and IV. Curate for School Library states:

The school library engages the learning community in exploring resources by:

  1. Describing, organizing, and promoting the collection for maximum and effective uses for multiple learning applications.
  2. Maintaining a collection of sufficient breadth and currency to be pertinent to the school’s program of studies. (p. 95)

Some of what you weed seems obvious.  Certain sections of nonfiction, such as technology and science which become dated quickly, are easy to make eliminations. But what about other parts of the collection?

History books may seem to be relevant even if they don’t have the latest material, but the older stuff is still correct—or is it?  Sometimes older books have a bias we no longer find acceptable.  I once found a book on the Conquistadores that discussed the “heathen Indians.”   Other areas also have these less obvious issues but still need to be discarded

Reference frequently leads to a challenge because a set of encyclopedias cost so much money, and now you are throwing them out.  But the truth is, even if there is some information there, the articles are not up-to-date, and there is misinformation.  It’s tough, but they must go.

Fiction is possibly the hardest to weed.  How can that be outdated?  The dust jackets are one indicator.  Among the howlers I have come across is a book I remembered reading myself (which shows how old it was) A Cap for Mary, copyright 1952. It’s been a long time since nurses were capped – before men came into the profession.

Then there are outdated DVDs – and any VCRs you have.  Old and no longer used technology and equipment need to be removed as well.

When you weed is usually a personal decision.  You can do a form of continuous weeding. As you shelve a book, you may see one nearby that should be discarded, or you can focus on one section at a time, covering the entire library over the course of a set period of time. The most common time for weeding is when you are doing inventory since your focus at that time is on the collection. And, you might plan on a few days after school closes to deal with the ones that require more thought.

And now for the “how” of weeding which is the part that makes you a leader.

Promote your weeding.  You might say, “The library is doing spring cleaning to keep resources current and fresh.  Come see our howlers.”  Make sure you have books and other items that explain the term howler (it’s not just a letter from your parents when you’re at Hogwarts) will show why you need to weed.

Post a copy of your Mission Statement where you have displayed these weeded items.  Highlight the keywords showing why this is a vital part of how the library serves the educational community. List the criteria for weeding. Invite the principal to see what you are doing.

You also need a plan for what you will do with the discarded material.  Check to see if the district has a procedure you need to follow.  It may only be for the technology, but it may include books as well. If you throw the books in the garbage, either tear off the covers or at least rip out any pages identifying the book as belonging to the library.  You don’t want a Board member finding the book for sale at a flea market.

Many librarians give the books away, but this isn’t always a good idea.  It seems such a shame to throw them out, but you had a reason for doing so.  Think twice before passing them on to others. Sending them to schools in need of books, usually in a poor country is a difficult choice for me.  I dislike the idea of sending outdated information to kids too poor to get current material. The truth is, these books likely aren’t a benefit for anyone.

Teachers might like fiction books they remember. You can certainly let them have those titles. Anything else they want should be for personal use only—not for classroom collections—or all you have done is move the books to a new location.

If you don’t have a collection development policy, use the summer to create one.  Include weeding and the criteria for doing so in it. Try have the Board approve it. It’s one more way you show you are a leader.

Weeding may not be a favorite part of our work and there are, of course, challenges involved but it is another great opportunity to take a task and use it as a way to shine and show up as a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: It’s Always Your Choice

You’ve heard it before – life is a series of ups and downs, and there’s no getting away from the fact that some days are really crappy.  Things happen to us that are beyond our control, not in our plans, or not what we wanted at all.  Sometimes little things, and other times, very big ones. You can’t control that. All you can control is how you react and respond.

Last year around this time, I had to have emergency surgery. I was in the hospital for five days followed by five more days in rehab.  At the time I was in the middle of teaching an online course and revising one for the summer session. I could have quit. I could have dumped the course in the lap of my program head.  Instead, I chose to find a way to act responsibly and take responsibility.  I chose to give my very best.  My students were alerted to my situation.  I was able to keep up with them via my phone and waited to grade their papers until I returned home.

In doing this, I felt empowered.  I was getting a handle on what was wrong. Despite what happened, I could take control of my responses. In addition to making my current commitments work, I scrupulously followed the directions of the doctors and nurses because I wanted to get better as fast as possible, for my sake, the sake of my students, and to honor a commitment I had made to do a keynote address in Wyoming at the end of July.

I know a great librarian whose job was terminated for reasons that had nothing to do with her work.  She was angry and frustrated.  But she didn’t quit. She went back to the classroom and was a great teacher, using her skills as a librarian in her new situation. All the while she kept up with librarianship and kept an eye out for a library job opening.  Today, she is back in the library probably better than ever.

In an online post, Sue Fowler asks Do You Have a Credo? She talks of a friend who had a life-threatening event happen, and it caused him to shift his motivational mindset. He incorporated five choices into his daily life, and they are worth considering even without a serious illness.

  • I choose to always act with a purpose: There is a reason for why you do anything whether it’s going to work or making a dinner choice.  What is it that motivated you?  This is about being mindful rather than having our decisions run as an undercurrent without thought.
  • I choose to write a daily gratitude list: Many people have written on the power of an “attitude of gratitude”. I note two things for which I am grateful each day. It reminds me that no matter what else is happening in my life, I am fortunate.
  • I choose to send thank-you cards or emails: Acknowledging the support and accomplishments of others is empowering for both the sender and the receiver. I know I receive one, it gives me a lift, so this is something I am going to look to do more often.
  • I choose to stop complaining: It’s really a waste of time as it accomplished nothing. Better to spend the time focusing on how to make changes. What we focus on expands. Complaining brings us – and the people around us – down.
  • I choose to learn something new each day: As a librarian, this is as natural as breathing. We have so many resources – including our students – from which to choose. For me, it’s another way of staying young and finding life exciting.

Fowler suggests you create your own credo, offering three guiding ideas:

  • I create choice
  • I create connection
  • I create competence

Whether you choose Fowler’s three suggestions or her friends five choices, creating a credo can help you put a positive spin on your life and allow you recognize that you can’t control life, but you can control how you deal with it.  And how you deal with it, defines who you are as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Raise Your Emotional Intelligence

Caring is central to the philosophy of the library program which seeks to make the library a warm, welcoming space for all.  A library mirrors the personality of the librarian. If you want to create that space, you must always be welcoming. How well we manage our own emotions and how we perceive the emotions of others affect our success as librarians and the success of our programs.  We need to be able to “read” the person we are talking with, so we know if they are paying attention, are truly interested, or are taking offense.  That knowledge allows us to make adjustments in what we say so that our message is heard.

That is just one example of how Emotional Intelligence (EI) impacts us. Businesses today recognize that, more often than not, “soft skills” are more important than hard skills.  It is far easier to train someone in the tasks and responsibilities associated with a job than it is to develop their relationship skills.  And many corporations will hire someone with good soft skills over another candidate who has greater expertise.

In her article What Are Soft Skills? Alison Doyle explains that soft skills “the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others.” The social cues and communication she speaks of are part of EI.

I knew a librarian with several years of experience who was proud of being a graduate of a pre-eminent library school. However, she didn’t particularly like students and did only what was required.  By contrast, a clerk working in that library who was studying to be a librarian was genuinely interested in students and would extend herself to help them and teachers.  As you can imagine, teachers and students gravitated towards the clerk, even though the librarian knew so much more.

The “higher” your EI, the more likely you are to be successful.  But is there a way to raise you EI? I found an unlikely helpful source.  A GQ article offered suggestions since many men today are feeling uncertain of the messages they are sending out into a post #metoo world, and it’s affecting their careers.

The GQ staff spoke with Daniel Tolson who proposed 10 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence.  Here are his tips, followed by my ‘tweaks’ showing how this plays out in our world:

  1. Ask an honest, trusted friend or advisor to help you consider if your perceptions of yourself are realistic from a different perspective. The challenge here is for you to be able to state your perception of yourself and then having the courage to ask someone if it’s accurate.
  2. Practice self-restraint by listening first, pausing and then responding. Active listening is a difficult skill for many of us.  The pause before answering will help you become more accustomed to listening better.
  3. Summarize frustrations you may experience and determine triggers. Frustrations are part of our lives, but if you allow these feelings too much room, you send off negative vibes which others pick up.  Remember, the person you’re talking to has their own frustrations. Think, “We are all in this together.  How can I help?”
  4. Define what motivates you and what you most enjoy doing with your time. A reminder again to write a Mission if you haven’t done so and read it daily if you have. You might even consider creating a vision board if visual cues help you to stay focused and inspired.
  5. Think on paper! Identify your comfort zones and define your obstacles in writing. In medicine, they say “an accurate diagnosis is 50% of the cure.” Those who journal find it as effective as meditation and perhaps more so as it can presents a direction to follow along with a deeper awareness of our thought processes.
  6. Be aware of the message your body language is communicating. Whatever you are thinking, your body is saying. Watch for crossed arms, pulling back and not making eye contact.
  7. Implement strategies to make an excellent first impression. Try walking into your library as though it were the first time.  What does it say?  What does your website say? What about your typical dress?  Look for ways to send positive non-verbal messages.
  8. After a negative interaction or misunderstanding, accept responsibility and find ways to make amends. The faster you deal with it, the sooner it can be fixed.
  9. Allow others to take the lead role so you can learn from their leadership style. This is a great way to have an unknowing leader mentor you.  Is your principal viewed as a leader? How does s/he communicate that?  Is there a teacher who is regarded as a leader? Why and what can you learn from that?
  10. Whenever you experience stress, stop and ask yourself this question: “Knowing what I now know, what would I do differently?” Once you have the answer, resolve to make that change immediately.  You will make errors in your EI judgment. When it happens, examine what led you down the wrong path. What would have been a better approach or reaction?

I know this list can seem daunting if it’s not something you’ve done, but look at the ideas on this list which you think could benefit you. Pick one or two that seem most helpful to you.  Practice them for at least a week.  Did your interactions with other improve?  Slowly add additional tips and take note of the results. Better relationships and more connection – in and out of your library – is always a valuable thing.

ON LIBRARIES: Making the Most Of Your Time

Just about all of us could use a few more hours in the day or days in the week. Unless you develop strategies that support you, you’ll end almost every day and week exhausted. If you don’t do something about it, you will eventually burn out. Much of our exhaustion comes from doing tasks without having them connect with the bigger picture.  When you have a Mission and a Vision for your library program you can better see the ultimate purpose of even small tasks and quickly notice if you are furthering your Mission or being pulled away from it.

To-do lists in whatever format you like are a classic way to manage time, but just noting down tasks is not enough and can be overwhelming to look at. And if it’s overwhelming, you’re likely not to look and end up missing something. Consider putting a star by high-priority tasks, then look at your schedule and decide when during your day the priorities can be done.

You can also identify tasks by how long they are likely to take. Don’t start lengthy tasks if you only have a few minutes. You’ll likely end up having to repeat much of what you have already done. Instead, it can be helpful to keep a list of essential tasks broken down by time. This way, if you have fifteen minutes between classes, look at the list of things that require that time or less. This is not the time to start creating a LibGuide.

Most time management experts suggest scheduling non-urgent tasks for near the end of the day.  These are the tasks which, if you dig into them too early, are likely to take you away from important jobs. Checking email or social media falls into this category.

We all know that part of our challenge is the time that gets “wasted.” It’s important to note that there’s a difference between procrastinating and doing what is helpful to switch gears. The brain requires a pause before shifting from one activity to another. It’s one thing if I play another game (or ten) of Klondike rather than move on to my next task. It’s different when after I finish writing my blog, which is a creative task, I insert something before I work on my lectures for a new course. I can switch more easily to checking on my students’ posts on the online course’s Discussion Board where I am responding rather than initiating.  Once I have done that, my brain is ready to move onto writing my lectures.

No surprise, I found a great article from the business world which is always looking for ways to maximize available time.  Naphtali Hoff offers A List of Suggestions to Become More Productive and all thirteen, in a random order, begin with the letter “S.”

  1. Stop – Before plunging into the next task, Hoff says to reflect on what you want to achieve. As I would say, “What will best further my Mission?” Remember to couple this with the amount of time you honestly have available.
  2. Set Goals – As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Goals, especially ones based on your Mission, remind you of what you want to achieve.
  3. Segment and Celebrate – Small, short term goals are best. Each time you accomplish one, it gives you a boost to the next one. Break down large jobs into small, attainable goals.  Give yourself small rewards when you reach a goal. Knowing your reward in advance can be a fun motivator.
  4. Simplify – What can be done to make the task less complex? Creating short term goals are part of this.
  5. (Get) Serious – Let someone know about your goal. We are more likely to hold ourselves accountable if we have a partner who is aware of what we did or didn’t do. Find someone you can check in with. (Our Facebook group could be a good place for this)
  6. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule – Hoff is not a fan of to-do lists, but he recommends blocking out time for tasks. Time blocking allowed you to look at your schedule and match it appropriately with your goals and to-dos.
  7. Strategize – This is related to #6. What is the best time for each task? And what is the best time for you? If you’re most alert in the mornings, then schedule your priorities then. This will also help you feel accomplished for the rest of the day – always a good motivator.
  8. Snooze (Your Devices) – Hoff wants you to set a time to focus on email, which also means not checking it while you are in the middle of another job that requires your full attention.
  9. Smile – It creates a positive atmosphere, not only with others but also affects your posture and demeanor. We feel better about what we have to do when we’re feeling good overall.
  10. Stretch – As a walker, I know the benefits of stepping away from the computer and doing something physical. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs doing.  Supposedly the American Heart Association has said that sitting is the new cigarette smoking.
  11. Snack – Eat something healthy like fruit, vegetable sticks, or a small yogurt. It will power you back up.  Do not indulge in junk food or sugars that could lead to an energy crash.
  12. Sleep – Trying to get more done by cutting down on sleep doesn’t work. Your brain fogs and you become less productive.  And you make errors. Turn off the devices, grab your newest favorite read and snuggle in earlier.
  13. Self-care – Hoff and I are in complete agreement, as are other experts. Not taking care of yourself, which includes the above mentioned not getting enough sleep, is debilitating.  You stop giving your best.  Your job is not your first priority (or it shouldn’t be).  Stop behaving as though it is.

There are many ways to get the most out of the time you have. Honoring what works for you, noticing when you’re avoiding something, and allowing your Mission to support and guide your actions will help. And remember, some days none of this works.  Life happens.  Accept it.  Tomorrow is another day.

ON LIBRARIES: There is Always Risk

We are not firefighters or astronauts. We don’t put our lives on the line each day. But risk is not only about life or death situations. It is about choices we face daily and the decisions we choose to make.

Leadership is not about preserving the status quo.  Leaders must be willing to take risks.  It’s the only way you will achieve your vision. It may even be necessary to carry out your mission. I have frequently quoted James Conant who allegedly said, “Behold the turtle who only makes progress by sticking his neck out.”  You can’t make changes, stay relevant, or be involved unless you take risks.

I can almost hear some of you saying I don’t understand your situation.  Times are tough for librarians and the safest thing to do is to keep your head down.  That might prove to be the riskiest possible course of action.

Back in the days before the economic crisis of 2008, I used to encourage librarians to develop cooperative or collaborative projects with teachers and find a way to keep their administrators in the loop while knowing their priorities. Elementary librarians would tell me they didn’t need to worry.  They were part of the teachers’ contract.  I reminded them that contracts are changed, but few listened.  And then we had the great recession and elementary librarians suddenly didn’t seem necessary. At first middle and high school teachers thought they were secure.  After all, they taught research skills and kids needed that for college.  When times got tight, administrators in many places decided that with the internet they didn’t need the librarians.

I am not blaming all the librarians who lost their jobs – and the ones who are still at risk. Many excellent, pro-active librarians got swept up as school boards wrestled with severe budget cuts.  But librarians who kept a low profile created the climate that made administrators and teachers believe nothing would be lost by eliminating librarians.

In other words, not risking is a risk.  Naftali Hoff says much the same thing in The Risk of Staying in the Safe Lane.  He uses the highway as an analogy, pointing to two different types of drivers.  Some stay to the right, going at (or below the speed limit), feeling safe and secure in abiding by the rules.  Others drive in the fast lane, pushing past the speed limit and cutting in and out to get one or two car lengths ahead.

Those fast drivers are clearly risking getting into an accident. But as Hoff points out, while crashes in the left lane are more serious than those in the slow lane, the right lane has a higher accident rate.

Hoff says those who choose safety over risk in the workplace do so for the following reasons:

  1. Believing nothing surrounding the current circumstances will ever change (for example, my industry, company, and job will always be there)
  2. Believing if so many people in front of us are doing the same thing, they must know what they’re doing.

The first reason overlooks a basic truth.  There is no status quo.  Life is always changing.  As a leader, you must accept that, be alert for changes in the wind, and be ready to get out ahead of them.

Hoff offers these methods to help you be more risk resilient:

  • Acknowledge that our natural state is risk aversion. From that vantage point, it is easier to take notice where we’re hesitating, then take the necessary action to grow and break through.
  • When you’re about to make a decision and you feel afraid, ask yourself: “What is the worst-case scenario?” In most cases, it won’t be so bad after all.

You might one day take a really big risk – job hunting.  I did it to the shock of many after a long time in the same school system.  Few of us in education with tenure do not risk voluntary leaving their jobs. By doing it from a position of strength and on my terms, I found a new position which matched my goals.

Life isn’t safe.  Risks are in an integral part of it.  Thinking you are avoiding risk could easily cause you to lose more than those who are out there trying new things and being a visible presence.  Look at your program and your mission. Look for where you can try one risk this week and see where it takes you.