ON LIBRARIES – Trust and Integrity

Of the many qualities of leadership, trust and integrity are within the grasp of all. And from these two you can build the rest. Best of all, you probably exhibit them most of the time. However, you may not recognize the ways they manifest and what effect they have on your leadership. In a way, trust is an exterior quality while integrity is an interior one. Trust is about your interactions with others. Integrity is about who you are as a person.

Although they are interlocked, let’s deal with them separately.  Trust is intrinsic to a relationship. You cannot have a connected relationship with anyone you don’t trust or who doesn’t trust you. To build a relationship you begin by showing interest in the other person, follow up with evidence of your interest, display empathy, and then ultimately trust becomes the glue that holds the relationship together.

Trust is needed when reaching out to collaborate with teachers.  I once had a co-librarian the teachers did not trust.  They sensed she didn’t like their students.  Invariably, they would schedule their projects with me. Had she been the sole librarian, there would have been little or no collaboration.

In addition, trust is needed in building relationships with students. To make the library a safe and welcoming space, students need you to be a trustworthy adult. Then they are more likely to confide in you about their hopes, fears, and needs.  Among other things, this means you never discuss their reading preferences with anyone. You do have to let them know where the line is, in advance if possible.  If they should tell you something that suggests they are at risk for self-harm or harm by others, you need to report it. Sometimes knowing about that line is the reason they confide in you, expecting you will report what they don’t have the courage to.

A Forbes article entitled You Can’t Be a Great Leader Without Trust – Here’s How You Build it, suggests eight “c’s” for doing building trust. Although they are all important, and I have discussed many of them, the last one – Consistency—is one I have not mentioned.  In order to trust, people need to count on how you will behave. If your reactions and behavior are based solely on your mood of the day, your colleagues and your students won’t be able to trust you.

One more caution about trust.  It’s a precious commodity.  It takes time to build and can be lost in an instant. Once it’s gone, it takes far longer to restore than it did to build it.

Integrity, by contrast, is your inner compass. Merriam Webster defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.”  For me, integrity is doing right when no one is watching.

In a post, The 3 I’s of effective leadership, Naphtali Hoff says integrity “helps us become the best versions of ourselves and communicates what we stand for.”  It shows with others when we make promises and commitments and keep them and when we are honest in our words.  Clearly, this builds trust, which is the link between the two qualities.

Hoff writes, “To be in integrity also means being honest and having strong moral principles, to think and act in a manner that is consistent with one’s values and intentions.”  A person who has integrity will present the same “face” no matter where you meet them because they have a unifying core that defines them. This gives a leader strength.

The philosophy of many school librarians comes from their integrity.  It is helpful if this integrity is connected to and consistent with the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. These two documents speak to the essence of what libraries are, but they come with challenges for librarians depending on our situations.

Two of the statements in the ALA Code of Ethics state:

II. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

These two from the Library Bill of Rights do the same:

You can order this poster from the ALA store
  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

While we are working hard to bring more diversity to our collections, there are times when some of us pause, recognizing that purchasing a book may very well bring a “Request for Reconsideration.”  There are places in the United States and the world where presenting materials which include “all points of view” is not only difficult but can put your job at risk. It’s scary when this happens, when you are faced with these dilemmas.  So, what do you do?  It is a decision you may have to come to before choosing to purchase or not purchase certain material. No one will ever have to know what you decide and why. It will not be an easy decision and hopefully, when you do make it, you will be able to stay in integrity.

Making hard decisions.  Knowing what you stand for.  The trust others have in you. The consistency in your actions.  All these combine and make you a leader others recognize.

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ON LIBRARIES – Move Past Your Barriers

I was talking with someone recently and said my Vision is that every librarian is living as a leader or working to be a bigger leader.  We won’t be successful until we are all successful.  Yes, I know that’s a tall order.  Like any Vision, it may never fully happen, but by working toward it, I will get closer than I would without it. To that end, today’s blog, like several in the past few weeks, is intended to help you notice where you may be holding yourself back. When we notice what’s getting in our way, we are more likely and able to make a change. Because there is no option. You must become a leader.

Back in 2015 I first wrote about  The Stories We Tell Ourselves as being a barrier we have put in our way.  I followed it up last year with More Stories – we are very creative in finding ways to avoid being a leader. Two weeks ago, I asked Are You the Problem? to show how we get in our way by our habits and attitudes. Barriers, whether big or small, don’t get erected overnight. It will take time to dismantle many of these, but my hope is that on a deep level, you recognize the truth about being a leader. You realize that you are likely the one that has stopped you and now you must be willing to learn how to get out of your own way.

Your situation is not unique.  Many people find ways to avoid becoming leaders.  But in any profession, that avoidance keeps you from being as successful as you can and need to be. , Today I am referencing Lolly Daskins who offers six ways How You Can Break Through Your Own Leadership Limits.

Change the lens through which you view yourself – For most people our self-image is rooted in our past.  Before I went to Weight Watchers, I would be surprised and unhappy when I caught my reflection in a window.  I thought I was thinner than that. For several years after I lost fifty pounds, I was startled when I saw my reflection. I thought I was heavier than that.

A long time ago, a well-know library colleague of mine was despondent.  He lost a job he had held for a quarter of a century and was moving to a new state.  I told him he would be very much appreciated in his new position. When I saw him six months later, he was beaming. I had been right.  Not only had his former employer took him for granted, but he had also taken himself for granted, not seeing how much he had grown and learned on the job until he had a better one.

Look to your accomplishments and successes. Let go of outdated reflections. See yourself through a new lens.

Know what you need to changeNo, the answer is not “everything.”  Do a self-analysis using SOAR.  What are your Strengths? What Opportunities exist for demonstrating those strengths? What are your Aspirations?  In other words, what are you most passionate about? What would want to achieve? What Results are you looking for?  Look at your answers and made some decisions. When you get specific you get better results.

Be willing to do the work – Now that you know what you want to achieve, commit to working towards getting your aims. Put in start dates for what you are going to do and end dates (remembering to be flexible because the unexpected will happen).  This will keep you honest. Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always had. Be ready to do something different.

Identify and remove any obstacles standing in your waySome of these obstacles are real.  Time, budgets, resources. Others are the familiar barriers – the stories you have told yourself.  Look at them realistically.  Are they really true? Sure, there are truthful aspects to them, but if they are important –and they are – you know you can figure a way around them. The same is probably true about stretching your budget, finding new resources, and better allocating your time.

Leverage your limits – This means taking a hard look at your weaknesses.  How can they be used?  Get yourself a mentor. Working on a weakness will strengthen you and give you confidence. It will make you better understand yourself as a person.  You are a combination of your strengths and weaknesses. Too often you focus only on the weaknesses but focusing only on strengths can be equally unhelpful. It blinds you to what might trip you up. You can also consider this a good place for collaboration. Is there a teacher who is great with detail and you’re a big picture person?  Working together will use both your strengths.

Lead from within Daskin says this is about leading from your potential rather than your limits.  I also believe it means building your self-confidence and leading from the middle.  It’s amazing what you can do to lead as a member of a committee.  You don’t have to be the chair to lead.  If you have a clear vision of where a group wants/needs to go or if you understand the vision set out by the committee head, you can help ease the path, simplify choices, and make everyone’s job easier.

Leadership shows up in many ways.  Be alert to the possibilities and notice the noise in your head that may be holding you back. Put new, positive voices in its place and then you will always be prepared to lead.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: LEAP into Leadership – And Beyond

I recently returned from ALA Annual where, as the delegate from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, I attended Affiliate Assembly.  Everyone there was a leader. Some early in their journey, others who have been active in both state and national level for some time.  As I worked with my colleagues on ways to promote school librarianship, I thought of those who weren’t in attendance but were leaders in their own right.

The bottom line is you are all leaders. Leadership is built into what we do each day.  Whether it’s being a technology integrator or managing the library, we are leaders.  What some of us are not doing is recognizing our strengths and finding ways to promote it.  It’s time to see and show how terrific you and your program are.

Dr. Cathi Fuhrman

LEAP is an acronym created by Dr. Cathi Fuhrman, president-elect of the Pennsylvania School Library Association. She shared it with the delegates and gave me permission to share it here:

L – Listen with your mind and your heart. What are others trying to tell you that your mind NEEDS to comprehend, and you can act on – but also what are they saying that your heart needs to hear? Being a leader isn’t just about being logical – our lives and our work are wrapped up with our heart.

E – Energy and Empathy. Energy for the work that needs to be done and empathy for all those that you’re leading.

A – Accountability– As a leader you’re accountable to the work that you’ve agreed to do. The buck stops here.

P – Passion. You have to be passionate about the work you’re doing as a leader. And you have to share that passion with who you are leading. They have to see and feel your passion – because the passion we have for this profession – the passion we have for students and how we impact them – it’s everything!

I think the one most of us struggle with is Listen because we don’t trust ourselves enough. Cathi is so right that the best leadership is tied to heart. Leaders without heart are not really followed – they are obeyed.  She also points out that it is also important to listen for the things we gloss over. Is there encouragement, and support being offered that you didn’t notice?  Take them in.  We’re so ready to hear the complaints and concerns we don’t hear the compliments.

Our job requires enormous Energy for the day to day requirements, but to build and maintain the relationships, Empathy is required. When those two work together, the library becomes a safe space, sometimes the first safe place a student finds.

You have full responsibility for the library from the budget to the collection and to the teaching you do formally and informally.  For all this, you hold yourself AccountaBLE. Take time to notice what you’ve accomplished because you’ve owned the success of your program.

And as for Passion, I know you have it. I can’t improve on Cathi’s words describing it.

To strengthen the qualities in LEAP, it helps to add in the soft skills of Emotional Intelligence which is widely recognized as vital for true leadership.  Joel Garfinkle lists 5 Qualities of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders (one of which duplicates Cathi). Garfinkle recommends that we be:

  1. Empathetic – Both Fuhrman and Garfinkle note the importance of this quality. It’s the process of putting yourself in another’s shoes before responding.
  2. Self-Aware – You probably are well aware of your weaknesses, but do you know your strengths? Focus on developing projects that require them.  What types of situations cause you to stress, feel panic, or get you angry?  Plan how to handle these before they arise.
  3. Positive – As I have often noted, people don’t like to be around those who have a negative attitude. Being positive is about mindset.  It’s how you reframe adverse situations, which will happen. It can be anything from the Internet going down to being given additional responsibilities.  How you handle it will define how you are as a leader.
  4. Considerate – In some ways this ties to empathy. We sometimes get so wound up in believing we are not valued, we forget the teachers feel the same way. By listening (back to the L in LEAP) we make the library a safe, welcoming environment.  And that is often the route to collaboration.  Don’t forget your administrator in this. Principals are drowning in details. They often feel assailed on all sides.  Look for ways you can help them out.
  5. Authentic – None of this works if it’s not real. You can’t use Emotional Intelligence to manipulate people.  It will eventually be recognized.  A leader has integrity.  There needs to be an honest caring for the people you work with.

The librarians I know have most these qualities.  They may not always be positive (it’s hard to do every day) and aren’t as aware of their strengths as they should be, but they all have everything necessary to be a leader.  Make your own LEAP and you’ll soon make your mark in your school – and your state – as a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You The Problem?

I have recently blogged about Dealing with Failure and Dealing with Criticism but I have steered away from discussing behaviors we have that may be contributing to the problem. However, since we can’t fix what we don’t know, let’s uncover ways we may have inadvertently added to our problems.  The good news is, you can change.

There are librarians who still focus solely on the tasks needed to run your library. No matter what you hear, you feel too overworked to proactively promote your library program and yourself.  It’s no wonder no one knows what you do or believes you have anything to contribute. Others have gotten sucked into the negativity that pervades schools today.  The problems (challenges) are easy to see.  Rather than tackling them, they endlessly discuss them with like-minded teachers.  This contributes nothing to your program, and, as I’ve written, it’s the opposite of how a leader behaves.

Leaders inspire. By holding a bigger picture, they find alternatives and new directions. No one enjoys being with someone who only complains and sees what’s not working.  This is the time to launch a new program. It could be small, but it needs to be new.  Something to bring a positive focus on the library—and in some ways to offer hope to teachers who, just like you, are feeling undervalued and overworked.

I was inspired by Bryan Robinson’s article identifying 10 Reliable Career Killers: How Many Do You Practice on a Daily Basis?  Most of us do some of these things. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the behaviors.

  1. Multitask – You know it. I know it.  Studies have proven it.  Multitasking doesn’t work.  Yet we continue to think by doing several things at once we will get through faster.  Remember the old adage, “Haste Makes Waste.”  This is how you send an email to the wrong person.  Or put something in a place you can’t remember later.  The errors happen because your mind wasn’t fully on what you were doing.  This is a tough habit to break.  Work on catching yourself and pulling your mind back to focus on the priority at hand.
  2. Play It Safe – This especially happens after you have had a project fail. You crawl into your shell and hope nobody sees you.  But that will do nothing for your program, and you certainly won’t be seen as a leader. Stay “safe” for too long and you will be viewed as expendable.  Leaders need to be out there.
  3. Work More Hours – Your job is huge. There aren’t enough hours in the school day to get it done.  So, you come in early.  You stay late.  You are always somewhat behind, but that doesn’t stop you from getting on the hamster wheel each day. Stop! That behavior leads to burnout (and multitasking!). Prioritize.  What must be done? What is less necessary?  (And don’t forget family and friends time in the priorities.)  Once your list is done, schedule a meeting with your principal and discuss those priorities. Does s/he agree?  What suggestions does s/he have?  And come with your own suggestions.
  4. Focus on Problems –If all you can see are problems, you become a negative person. It’s hard to build relationships when all you are giving off are negative thoughts and/or in a bad mood. You are likely to attract equally negative people. Leaders seek solutions and often do so in collaboration with others.
  5. Put Yourself Down – When we are feeling low, we can resort to self-deprecation, believing we are saying what others are thinking about us. It is rarely true, but by repeating such comments often enough, we convince others we are failures. Try positive self-talk, internally and aloud, for a change.  If this is one of your typical behaviors, find a good friend and ask him/her to help talk you out of that negative mindset. If your friend suffers from the same syndrome, you can be partners.
  6. Practice Self-Neglect – There’s a host of ways you can neglect yourself. Not getting enough sleep.  Not taking downtime. Not exercising. Unhealthy eating.  Airplane safety says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.  It’s the only way to survive. When you neglect yourself, you invariably neglect others whether it’s your family, students or program.  If you are drained, you can’t be your best self.
  7. Harbor Self-Doubt –You are better than you know you are, but you won’t find out unless you give yourself a chance. Every leader has doubts, but they act despite those niggling thoughts. Focus on the places you have succeeded.  Use that to power you rather than rehashing any failures.  I have been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers for years and have seen how those who look at the week they gained weight as a failure are more apt to quit—and then they really fail.  Those who succeed point to the progress they are making, knowing it won’t be a straight line.
  8. Fear Failure – No one succeeds all the time. You are trying to teach your students to see failure as part of the learning process.  You need to embrace that as well. You don’t have to love failure, but there’s no need to fear it.
  9. Set Unreasonable Deadlines – This leads back to multitasking and working more hours, which leads to other defeating habits. Recognize life happens and the best-laid plans don’t always work. Be realistic in your deadline.  Build in a “cushion” for things going wrong.  And set short-term deadlines on large projects so you know if you are on target or need to adjust the final deadline.
  10. Eschew an Idle Mind – Believe it or not, we need more idle mental time. This is the pause for reflection and rejuvenation. I walk. Some of you meditate, color, or do yoga.  All good ways to have an idle mind. Look for SEL activities that work for you.

Life is hard enough.  We shouldn’t be making it harder. Notice which of these behaviors might be holding you back.  If you can overcome these habits, you will make your life easier – and you will make it easier for others.  It’s what leaders do.

The Forest, the Trees, and Sometimes the Leaves

In last week’s blog, Should You Be a Leader or a Manager?, I didn’t specifically mention one big distinction: Leaders hold the big picture. Managers focus on the here and now.  While you can’t only look at the big picture, you also will miss the forest if you are only seeing the trees.  And some of you have gotten so caught up in the day-to-day details, you are only seeing the leaves.

Our world changes fast, and, as we have learned, the library program needs to constantly prove its value to the educational program.  In a few short years, for example, we have incorporated (and sometimes moved beyond) Makerspaces, Genius Hour, Hours of Code, and any number of other variations you may have experienced into the library program.

Those who hold the big picture were among the first adopters of these changes.  By doing so, they solidified the position of the library and proved its importance.  Those who weren’t focused on the big picture missed the opportunity. Sometimes, by the time they got to it, they discovered other departments had taken the lead, and the library was left out.

Today early adopters are looking at to incorporate “soft skills.” The business world is talking about them and so are some schools. How will you be incorporating communication, teamwork, and problem-solving into your library program? You are probably are doing it, but have you communicated to teachers and administrators that you are building students’ critical soft skills?  Maybe not, because you are too busy with the everyday needs of your program.

So, what keeps you from seeing the big picture?  You aren’t alone in dealing with this challenge. The business world is also concerned with and focused on what’s next, knowing that in order to be responsive to change they can’t just deal with what’s new. Those who want to get ahead discover what is holding them back from taking the larger view and getting past it.

A post by Joel Garfinkle looks at The Importance of Big Picture Thinking. He identifies five habits that may be preventing you from seeing the big picture and offers ways to combat them.

Overanalyzing – This is what happens when you closely examine every possibility.  Then you relook at them. General Colin Powell once said he made military decisions with only 60% of the information because if he waited for all the information to be in, it would be too late.  He referred to the practice of over-gathering information as “analysis paralysis.” It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re too worried about not being right or the danger of taking a risk.

Fixating on Results – Stop being on the hamster wheel. Trying to do it better and faster is draining.  If you are leading, you are not the one who should be doing all the work.  This is when you empower others to become a part of what you are doing.  Big jigsaw puzzles get done faster when you know how the finished picture should look – and when many hands help.

Managing Reactively – When you are focused on the little tasks, every bump in the road becomes a mountain. It’s why Vision and Mission Statements are so important.  When you know where you are going and why you get past these minor setbacks.  I have said that librarians who don’t have a Mission or a Vision Statement spend their day with a fire extinguisher and duct tape.  They are either putting out blazes or patching things up. By the end of the school year, they are exhausted and don’t know what they accomplished.

Going Solo – This is a bad approach on so many levels. You don’t build advocacy when you are going alone.  Ideas are fleshed out better when there is more than one mind working on them.  And it’s great when you have a big picture person working with someone who is more detail oriented.  They complement each other.  The big picture person may miss details, while the detailed thinker may lose sight of what the ultimate goal is.  Together, everything gets covered. We teach our students the importance of collaboration. We need to practice it.

Overfilling the Calendar – We all have a tendency to do this.  It is vital to have the opportunity to step away from the tasks at hand.  Make time for reflection. This is when you can strategize and plan.  For me, it happens on my walks.  I am regularly amazed at the ideas that I get during these times, and I’m not always trying.  I might be looking at work being done on a house I’m passing, and suddenly I get a thought about a future blog post or a way to better explain a concept to my grad students. Or sometimes it’s about nothing more substantial than dinner.  But the constant swirling of my brain when I am at the computer is now at rest and open.  We all need that.

So, as I said last week, scan the larger environment to identify innovations and ideas that will potentially impact the library program.  And take a walk in the forest.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Should You Be A Leader or A Manager?

The title is a trick question.

The answer is as a school librarian you need to be both. However, too many are almost always managers and the role of leader is sacrificed to the demands of managing. For your program to be successful, you need to employ the characteristics of both and know which role is necessary in the moment.

In the corporate world, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the manager, while the Chief Executive Officer is the leader.  As a librarian, you are both the COO and the CEO of your library program (minus the double salary).  It’s up to you to decide which hat to wear, and the decision is not always easy.

To recognize when you need to be one or the other, you must know what the differences are. In an article for Forbes, William Arruda defines 9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager. Much that he says applies to the unique job you have as a school librarian.

Here is his list- with my translations into the education environment:

  1. Leaders create a vision; managers create goals. Having a Vision is a required attribute of leaders. You need to know where you are going. Hopefully, you all have Vision and Mission Statements. It’s the leader part of you that created the Vision. As a manager, you develop the goals to execute your Mission, which is your path to your Vision.
  2. Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo. Leaders hold the big picture. They look to see what is likely to be the “next thing.” Their external scan of the environment goes beyond the library and even education. They are aware of developments in technology, psychology, and politics. Don’t panic.  It’s a scan.  Not an in-depth study.  The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less time it takes.  The manager in you will want to focus on getting today’s job done.  While that is necessary, you can’t let it be the sole focus of what you do.
  3. Leaders are unique; managers copy. Leaders don’t try to reproduce the past even when it was successful. When I left one job where my library program was highly regarded, my successor, who had worked with me, tried to do everything the way I did it. But she wasn’t me, and it didn’t fit. Slowly the library program was reduced. When I retired from another school system, the librarian who took over had also worked with me, but she drew on her own strengths and expertise to move the library in another direction while keeping the values which she also embraced.  The program grew.
  4. Leaders take risks; managers control risk. Those of you who read this blog, read my books, or seen my presentations, know I am always encouraging librarians to step out of their comfort zones. Your Vision requires it. Managers fear failure, but as I said in my blog Dealing with Failure, it’s part of the process that gets you to success.
  5. Leaders are in it for the long haul; managers think short-term. You won’t attain your Vision in a year. You may never reach it. But those who know that is where they want their program to go will keep getting closer to it.  Some librarians may write their Vision because it’s what they are supposed to do, but they regard it as unattainable.  Then they don’t create strategic plans to achieve it—which guarantees it will never happen.
  6. Leaders grow personally; managers rely on existing, proven skills. If you aren’t growing, you are dying. We are role models for lifelong learning. What have you learned today? How can you use it in your program? Reflect on how many skills you have that you didn’t when you first became a librarian. Where would you be if you hadn’t learned them?
  7. Leaders build relationships; managers build systems and processes. Relationships are the key to our success. It’s through relationships that we build collaboration and create advocates for our program. No matter how busy you are, you cannot limit your attention to managing the library.  It won’t work without the relationships.
  8. Leaders coach; managers direct. This is about trusting that others have good ideas about the library program. Be open to suggestions from others and discuss whether or these can be integrated into the program. The more you recognize others, the stronger your program will become.
  9. Leaders create fans; managers have employees. I love this one. Your job is to empower others to be their best. As the saying goes, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create new leaders.” You not only need to empower your students; you also need to empower your teachers – and everyone else in the school community. Even, and sometimes especially, your administrators. The library has a huge reach. Use that to your program’s advantage.

Going from leading to managing and back to leading is a juggling act.  It’s easier when you are aware of the differences and know when it’s time to switch roles. One is not better than the other, but one to the exclusion of the other will not give you the success you want.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Dealing with Criticism

Last week I blogged about Dealing with Failure. This week’s topic is almost its twin.  Most of us hate to be criticized as much as we hate to fail.  Both are inevitable.  Some criticism will be formal, such as a bad observation or evaluation. Other times it will be informal, ranging from negative feedback from a teacher after doing a lesson (which also ties it to failure) to a denigrating comment on how easy your job is.

Like failure, it’s important to be prepared for criticism and know how to deal with it. Two common reactions can have an adverse effect on your leadership.  Going into offense/defense mode ignores what the other party said.  In the process, you are likely to escalate the event, say things you don’t mean, and rupture what should be a developing relationship.

The other reaction, often based on fear and embarrassment, is to curl up inside yourself and say nothing.  But it festers.  You hold inner arguments about what you could have said, alternating it with self-recrimination.

Does this sound like a leader?

Nobody’s perfect.  While the criticism may have inflated your supposed errors (and deflated your ego), there invariably is an element of truth in what is being said. It’s that element that is the true trigger to your reactions.

For example, perhaps you have a class getting rowdy at the end of the period.  You might have yelled at them or ignored it and waited for the period to end.  However, the teacher coming in saw an out-of-control class and possibly an out-of-control librarian and said you and the kids shouldn’t be behaving that way.  Well, that is true.  But you want to explain the situation, justify it. The list of reasons as to why it occurred can be extensive.  Whether you want to lash out in defense or just be tight-lipped, you are missing the point.

As with failure, this is an opportunity for reflection and self-assessment.  Maybe not immediately, but certainly before the day is over.  How did it happen?  What could you have done to prevent or reduce the situation?  How would you like to deal with it in the future? You learn more from what goes wrong than you do from what goes right.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of online posts on dealing with criticism from both the business world and psychology.  The one I feel did the best job is Laura Schwecherl’s How to Handle Criticism Like a Pro.

The first piece of advice she offers is to consider whether the criticism was constructive.  It’s easier to accept when you know the person is well-meaning. However even hurtful criticism may have a valid point – otherwise, it probably wouldn’t hurt. She follows that observation with a five-step action plan.

Listen Up: Again, assess whether the criticism was constructive or rude.  Have the courage to ask for clarification, particularly if you are unsure if it was only meant to be hurtful.  People tend to make a general critical statement.  You need more details to determine just where you missed the mark.

Respond Calmly: Really tough to do sometimes.  Whether you want to rant or disappear, you do need to respond.  You can say, “I appreciate your observation.”  You don’t have to do more, which is good since you probably can’t take it all in and make a reasoned assessment in the moment.  Later, when the critic is not around, analyze what you heard.  How much was true?  Was there a place to do it better?  In the best case scenario, you might even go back to the person and thank them for taking the time to give you valuable feedback.

Don’t Take It Personally:  This is a reminder that you are not a failure (see last week) nor are you a bad librarian, person, etc.  Focus on the specific information without generalizing. It was just one more learning experience.

Manage Stress: This is a challenge since you were probably stressed by your day before you were dealt this criticism.  Take a deep calming breath.  Or three or four.  Or some time in your office if that’s possible. As Judith Viorst so accurately put it in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, “some days are like that, even in Australia.”

Keep On Keeping On: As Schwecherl note, this was just one person’s perspective.  Sometimes you need to also check to determine whether the criticism was valid.  Just because someone says it, doesn’t make it true.  And tomorrow is another day.

All leaders get criticized. It comes with the territory.  Some is mean-spirited coming from envy, and some are accurate.  It may not feel like it in the moment, but you need good criticism to grow.  It’s hard to see where we miss the mark. It helps when the good people around us help us get back on track.

 

 

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.

 

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.