ON LIBRARIES: Positive Self-Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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ON LIBRARIES: What Are Your Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Leader or a Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES: Understanding and Using Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES: Stressed Out?

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

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

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

Click the image to go to the article referenced here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Farewell to a Friend and Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Environment

back to school. color pencils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Core

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON LIBRARIES: Growth Mindset + Agency = Learning

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

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

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

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

Imagine what this would look like in an academic setting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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