ON LIBRARIES: Embracing Failure

You can’t escape failing.  Maybe the word “embracing” is a bit much, but whenever you try something new or different, the risk of failure is always present.  Knowing this is often what prevents you from trying. But there are lessons that come with each setback and the more you are willing to learn, the stronger leader you will be.

How would you speak to yourself if you were one of your students who wasn’t trying because of the fear of failure? You would tell them that failure is important and worth the effort.  Whether it is learning to ride a bike, throwing a curve ball, or playing chess, no one gets it right the first time. Frequently they don’t get it right the second time. I can hear you say the consequences of failing at those is quite different from what you would experience if something you tried for your library didn’t work, but what are your choices?  Taking a risk and possibly succeeding (particularly if you have thoroughly researched your idea) or staying where you are not advancing your program or your ideas.  I love the quote attributed to James Conant, Behold the turtle who only makes progress by sticking his neck out.”

Failure happens in the business world all the time on the way to success, and Lily Daskal, a leadership coach and author of The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, explains Why It’s Important for Leaders to Fail Well. I love the idea of failing “well.”  She points out that beginning skiers learn how to fall safely.  We, too, need to fail safely, and not let a failed idea make us believe we are failures. Learning how to fail safely means we need to develop the right attitude towards failure – even welcoming it for the benefits it brings.  Daskal identifies seven benefits of failure.

  1. Failure keeps us focused on our strengths – It sounds counterintuitive, but that is what we need to do. It’s too easy to beat yourself up for the mistakes you made. Although you shouldn’t ignore them, also take stock of what you did right.  What were your strengths –and how can you utilize them in another project or improve this one.  What weakness did you exhibit?  Can you turn it into a strength?
  2. Failure teaches us to be flexible – Don’t give up on a good plan just because it failed. If it was worthwhile, how can you change it so that it does work? It’s a worthwhile skill to develop for several reasons. For example, you want to turn your library into a Learning Commons.  You approached your principal or superintendent enthusiastically and were shot down. Why? What reasons were given?  Money?  If so, consider revising your concept so it takes longer to complete and allows the cost to be spread out, or look for a grant to cover some of the funding needed.  Instead of nursing your wounds, get creative.  I had a superintendent who told me her first answer was always, “No.”  It got rid of the people who weren’t fully committed.
  3. Failure teaches us to rethink what we deserveIt’s easy to blame yourself for the failure. It gives you an excuse to quit and not try again.  That’s the real failure. Accept responsibility for why the plan or idea failed, but don’t take it personally.  It’s part of your growth. And if you’re still fully committed to the idea – you’ll find ways to make it happen.
  4. Failure reminds us that everything is temporary – When we fail, and we all do at some point, it’s vital not to think this is how it will always be. It’s been said that change is the only constant. As a leader, you need to be looking for any change in direction.  As I blogged last week, administrators come and go.  What your current one didn’t like, the next one might love, particularly since you learned from what didn’t work.
  5. Failure shows us it’s not fatal – The failure was yesterday. Today is a new day, and you are alive and well. If you try only a few projects, every failure looks huge.  Do more and the number of successes will outweigh the ones that didn’t work.  It’s how you build your “street creds.” You demonstrate perseverance by digging in and moving on.
  6. Failure disciplines our expectationsIt’s great when we get excited about introducing something new. However, our enthusiasm can sometimes blind us to what is realistic.  This doesn’t mean you don’t attempt big things. You don’t say, “They never want to try something new.”  It’s recognizing that not everyone sees the project the way you do. You need to create a foundation of support before you move into introducing your idea.
  7. Failure instructs us to keep tryingThere is wisdom in the adage, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.” No invention worked the first time it was tried. Leaders in every field know this. They don’t like failing, but they don’t let it stop them.

And here’s one from me:

Failure teaches us to understand our students better – I knew a math teacher who always underestimated how long it would take students to complete a test.  She was brilliant in the subject and couldn’t understand the difficulty many of her students faced.  Sometimes a person who struggled in school makes the best teacher.  Use your experience with failure to help students when they have trouble dealing with their own failures so that they too keep taking the steps that will lead to their next success.

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ON LIBRARIES: Another New Administrator Arrives

The statistics aren’t encouraging – the average principal stays less than five years. The average superintendent lasts about six years, half that for urban districts. The constant change in administration causes regular stress for those working in schools and most people don’t recognize the effects of these revolving doors. With each new administrator, priorities shift.  Frequently, projects in the works get scrapped.  Long-term planning is difficult. And each of these new heads has a different view of school libraries and librarians. You have to start from scratch to build your reputation every time this happens.

Those who are in a district where they are experiencing these regular departures and arrivals need to have a strong plan in place that can be set into motion as soon as the new hire is announced.  If you are fortunate enough to have a long-term administrator, it is wise to be aware of how to proceed should your principal or superintendent leaves. In addition to the initial steps, the sequence of the “settling-in” process applies to committees so it will help you show up (early and often!) as a leader even when things are running smoothly.

So how can you be ready?

Hit the Ground Running – Once you have the name of the new administrator begin your research. Where did s/he come from?  Google and social media usually can give you a fair amount of information.  If there is a librarian in this person’s previous job, consider sending her/him an email to learn how the administrator regarded librarians. Where was support given? What was their preferred method of communication? Keep your findings to yourself.  There will be plenty of gossip likely fueled by fear. Don’t add to it.  Just listen and see how well it aligns with what you have learned.

Plan on an Early Meeting – Don’t wait for the new administrator to begin the usual “getting to know you” meetings.  Schedule something as soon as possible and keep your meeting brief.  Ask for no more than ten minutes and finish in less time. During your time, you don’t sell what you have done. I cannot stress this enough – make it about them!  Your focus should be on what you can provide. Invite your new administrator to visit the library at any time. Ask how s/he sees the role of the library program. Let him/her know that the library program is flexible and will work to achieve his/her vision/goals for the school or district. When you finish, leave a thumb drive of your last annual report or provide one-sheet with strong data on what the program has achieved.

The Four-Step Sequence – (which is now five steps) Be prepared for the next phase.  In 1965 Bruce Tuckman wrote an article describing the sequence to identify a process common to describe team formation. It is still relevant and comes into play with a new school or district leader.  By being able to identify the process as explained in Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, you will avoid pitfalls and demonstrate the leadership that will get you and your program recognized as vital to the new administrator.

  • Forming– This is the settling-in stage. Most people in the school are likely watching and waiting.  Although there are some who are criticizing already, making comparisons to the previous administrator, most will be quiet and uncertain.  You need to identify your new principal’s/ superintendent‘s style.  Congenial? Remote? High tech? No tech? You then adapt your communication to match it.
  • Storming – Time to get down to business, but expect it to be messy. The new administrator wants to begin proving s/he is in charge and knows where to go. Conflicts emerge as not everyone agrees with the new direction. Some want to “get in good” with the new boss, (you are one of them,) but how they do it can be a problem. Brown-nosing is not the answer. Being a team player, which means knowing how to disagree effectively if necessary, is the way to proceed.
  • Norming – Life settles into the new normal. It’s as though the new administrator has always been there. The Pareto Principle comes into play. It’s the 80/20 rule and in this case, it means 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  You need to be among the 20%.  By being of value to the new administrator, helping him/her achieve his/her goals, you and your program will be valued in turn.
  • Performing – This is the make or break period. Everyone has settled into the role of their choice: an active part of the leadership team, a good worker-bee, or a complainer/critic.  The fewer in this last category, the more effective the administrator will be during her/his tenure.  This is your opportunity to propose larger projects and position your program in the forefront, making yourself invaluable to the administration, teachers, and, always, your students.

This four-stage sequence has been adapted to include a fifth stage – Adjourning. In the business world, it refers to when a committee’s work is complete. In our world, it’s when the administrator leaves and a new one is hired.  Once again, you are back to Forming. Now that you have seen it in play, you will be even better at managing the steps as you prepare for yet another new leader.  And you can lead the way.

There is no way to avoid changes in administrations but if you can create a plan and be prepared you will be the leader your program needs and show whoever is in the position that you and your library are invaluable.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Advance Your Communication Skills

Leaders are skilled at communication.  A seemingly simple statement but one that is, in actuality, endlessly complex. I discussed the basics in my blog post last March, Keep Your Communication Channels Clear, pointing out the importance of the three parts of communication (senders, message, and receiver), and reminding you to be sure you are aware of how the different channels affect those parts. Yet even those who are skilled can make errors. And communication errors can be damaging.

It doesn’t take much to do damage.  At one of my libraries, teachers were always comfortable gathering in my workroom to talk and vent.  One rare calm day, a teacher came in and was voicing her frustrations to me and my co-librarian. My co-librarian said in response, “You teachers…” and I could feel the gulf opening between the two of them.  I spoke with my co-librarian about what I heard and saw.  She hadn’t realized what she had done. Anyone can make an error, but if you don’t recognize it happened, the effects can destroy any connections you are trying to build.

In another instance, I was the one who almost made an unwitting mistake.  I was going to send a memo to my Assistant Principal.  I can no longer remember the matter, but I was concerned about a problem and wanted his help.  Fortunately, before sending it, I showed it to the teacher who was responsible for our School to Career program.  (He shared space in my library and gave me the tech he got with his grants).  He encouraged me not to send it, explaining how a man would read it and react.  I re-wrote the memo with his oversight and got the results I wanted. I’m not suggesting you always check before you send something to a teacher or administrator who is not your gender, but you might find it enlightening to have a spouse or friend look something over.  You might be as surprised as I was.

Clear communication is an ongoing art form. A recent online post by Nick Morgan, How the Communication Rules Have Changed, presents five new rules which will help you do a better job of getting your message out.

Your “Less” Is Their “More” – Morgan points to the barrage of information we receive each day and how our tolerance for reading long texts is decreasing. In the past, I have reminded librarians not to give administrators background about requests or problems.  (This connects to the gender issue – see above). Get to the point immediately.  Offer details if requested.  We have a tendency to “bury the headline.”  By the time your administrator hears or reads what you want, his/her mind has gone elsewhere – and that’s assuming s/he gets there at all. Morgan also suggests you think your idea through the other person’s perspective and “tell them what they need to hear, not what you’d love them to know.”

We Experience Our Lives Chronologically, But That’s Not How Other People Want to Hear Them This relates to the previous rule. We want to give our “receiver” a complete picture.  They don’t have the time or interest to listen.  You need to grab attention quickly.  I love Morgan’s reminder that Homer started the Iliad at the end as the two sides headed into the final battle. Having captured your interest, he backfills the story itself. You, too, need to capture the receiver’s interest first.

The Body Language of the Virtual World Is Self-Defeating There is no true “body language” in the virtual world.  Even in Zoom or Skype meetings, you don’t get the same degree of body language as you do in person. We have developed new habits based on this, and it carries over into our face-to-face meetings. One result is that our manners have slipped. Have you ever been on a webinar and checked your e-mail or played a computer solitaire game?  We bring that behavior into our face-to-face meetings. Unless the gathering is very small (and even then), you will see people checking their phones. It is not only rude, it means you have stopped listening. I can’t remember leading or attending a large group session where a sizeable percentage of people weren’t texting. Leaders need to be active listeners. 

Because People Aren’t Paying Attention, Their Contribution Standards Are Crumbling – If you are not listening, you are not contributing. Don’t be the person who sends texts during a meeting. All studies show multi-tasking doesn’t work. To fight your own urge to look at your phone, take notes. It will keep you focused, and you will be a better contributor to the meeting – and it will be noticed.

The Pause is Still the Greatest Secret Weapon a Communicator Has – This is one I need to work on. Whether it’s stepping up to the mic at a large meeting or responding to something said at a small one, take a moment before talking. It’s an attention-grabber and will focus people on what you want to say. It also gives you just enough time to remember to begin with what the others want to hear ((see suggestion #1).

All this is a reminder that we are always communicating —often without any thought of how it is received.  And yet, it’s vital that our stakeholders receive the message we intended to send.  I have reached the conclusion you can’t learn too much about communication.  There is always room for improvement.

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Stress

The stress. It’s back. You knew it would happen, but maybe you were hoping it wouldn’t come back quite so quickly. At the beginning of the school year I blogged about this (Stressed Out) and I made mention of the distinction between being stressed and distressed. A recent article I read, and the fact we’re at the beginning of a different type of year, made me think it might be a good time to look at this challenge again.

Stress can simply be having a lot on your plate, but you know what to, how to do it, and in what order to do it. If you are like me, that kind of stress is exhilarating. It’s an adrenaline high. I’m getting things done with ease, moving from one task to another. I feel like a superhero. If it goes on too long that level of stress is exhausting, but it feels great at the time.

The problem is when you are distressed. As in the first instance, you have a lot on your plate but instead of feeling energized, you’re so overwhelmed you move from one task to the next never able to catch your breath. You don’t have time to think about the best order for tackling the jobs. You take them as they come up regardless of their actual priority. Exhaustion sets in quickly, but you still keep moving.

There is nothing good about distress. It keeps you from being your best, and from being a leader. It causes a negative mindset that spirals downward and drains the passion you have for being a librarian.

Making distress worse is that most of the people around you, who all too often include your students, are also in “distress.”  It seems the whole world is overworked, overtired, and overextended. In that state, people get angry quickly and say things they really don’t mean. Which leads to more stress/distress.

Your administrators are frequently in the same situation, which you can usually tell by how they are interacting with you and others in your school. ASCD, the national organization for supervisors, recognizes the importance of stress management and recently ran a column by Chase Mielke in their newsletter entitled The Five D’s of Destressing. Here they are, tweaked for school librarians.

  1. Distract from It – Good teachers and parents know when a kid is getting frustrated or angry, the best intervention is a distraction. You pull the child from focusing on the source of distress and onto something else. It’s an instant change of mindset. Adults need to distract as much as kids. If possible, go for a walk. Open junk mail. Check the shelves to see if any need to be made less tight. Even a short funny video that always makes you laugh can help. Anything that will move you from the source of your immediate stress.
  2. Deal with It – Why would this work? It’s what you were doing trying to do when you became so stressed. The idea here is to really focus. Take stock of the situation. Is it something that must be handled? Now? If so, what are your options? Depending on what the issue is, apply strategies to resolve and/or work with it.

Can it be an opportunity rather than a problem?  Being required to cover a class (or having an extra class come in because of a problem with their room) can turn into an opportunity to introduce them to a new resource or app. If you think, “How can I use this as a teachable moment?” you are likely to come up with a solution.

If a class went badly, and you are beating yourself up about it. Pause. It happens to the best of us. Take a moment to reflect as to what you might have done differently, and then put it out of your mind. It’s over. As Judith Viorst so wisely observed in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, “Some days are like that.”

copyright Judith Viorst
  1. Dispute your Distortions We tend to think in negative extremes when we are stressed. “This was the worst…” “I never get this right.”   Recognize that these absolutes are false.

Mielke proposes you use Martin Seligman’s methods:

  • Review the evidence: Was it really a total disaster?
  • Question the usefulness: How is this getting me to a positive outcome?
  • Check the implications: How does this measure up in the larger scheme of things?
  • Consider the alternatives: What was at the root of the problem?
  1. Discuss It – Bring it to your PLN of librarians whether on a listserv or a Facebook group. They have all been there at one time or another. Get it off your chest where it’s creating a big lump. Journaling is another alternative for many. You might even discuss it with students, modeling how to deal with situations that cause stress.
  2. Develop Frontal Control – When you become highly stressed your brain identifies it as a danger. You go into flight or fight mode. Your limbic system takes over replacing the cerebral cortex. Cognitive thinking flees. The response is automatic. You can’t stop it from happening, but you can shut it down by recognizing it. Take those deep breaths. Review those first four recommendations, especially the distraction solution. Allow the thinking part of your brain to take back control.

The good news is that Mielke’s advice is great. The bad news is that it won’t always work, particularly if your distress has been building. Do your best to turn into your body and your mind right now and then do a little bit more tomorrow. Identify the warning signs so you can institute preventative measures before the situation gets too bad.

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Make Room for Reflection

copyright Disney Company

You are still enjoying your well-earned break and probably are not quite ready to think about returning to school.  However, this is a special moment in time that you can put to good use. To improve your leadership and your program make a resolution (or add to the ones you have made) that you will become a Reflective Practitioner.

The National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries recognizes the value of reflection.  Throughout the book, there are questions for the Reflective Practitioner.  In explanation, it says on p. 25,

“Practitioners at each career stage have a collection of beliefs, examples, and practices to draw upon. These form the basis for initial reflective thoughts. Using these unique previous experiences as points of reference, we can situate ourselves and our practices … and develop the habits of the reflective practitioners.”

From the beginning of January until spring break, students will learn most of the year’s curriculum content. Teachers will be focused on maximizing this time preparing students for the inevitable tests coming in April and May. This is when they need us most. Do your teachers recognize that?  How can you show your value?  What steps in leadership do you need to take?  These are questions for the Reflective Practitioner.

The business world, which I mine regularly for ideas, also sees the value of reflection. In an article entitled Your Leadership Year in Review, Alaina Love proposes eight areas for reflection. With some adaptation, they are worth considering before you return to school.

Here are her eight:

Accountability:  This is where you take responsibility for your work. It means you accept you make mistakes and don’t blindside administrators (tell the bad news fast). While quarterly and annual reports may not be required, submit them anyway. Don’t make it text-heavy.  Use video clips and/or photos of students at work, and as much as possible spotlight those teachers with whom you collaborated.

Advocacy: This is natural for us, but think of it in the larger sense.  The best way to get advocates is to be one.  Can you promote the art program by displaying student work in the library?  Which teachers/departments are feeling unrecognized? Find a way to publicize them.

Intellectual Curiosity: Another natural for us.  In this case, some focused curiosity is helpful.  Are you reading/scanning teacher magazines and online newsletters?  What about administrators?  Do you read Educational Leadership? Keep abreast of what your principal is (or should be) reading and make brief comments on how the library program is doing it as well.

Inclusiveness: The second Shared Foundation in the National School Library Standards is Include. We tend to make friends with people like us.  Consider reaching out to a faculty member or parent volunteer who is of another culture.  You both will gain from it.

Commitment to Brand and Culture: Do you have your Mission Statement?  Does it reflect what you are doing now?  How are you demonstrating it to all your stakeholders?  What else can you do?

Contemplative Thinking:  Reflection is not only just before the start of the new year. It needs to be incorporated into your daily practice. (I need to take this advice myself.) Put it on your to-do list.  You can do it on your commute home if necessary.

Transformative Mindset: This is similar to having a growth mindset. It embraces failure as an important component of success. I find it helpful to acknowledge to myself and others what I have learned from failures. Remember the quote attributed to James Conant, “Behold the turtle who only makes progress by sticking his neck out.” If you never fail, you haven’t really ever taken on a challenge.

Passion:  This is possibly my favorite leadership quality. It’s contagious.  What parts of your job are you passionate about?  How are you communicating that passion?  The better you get at it, the more people will want to work with you to attain your vision.

In a few days, you will be fully back to your usual routine, trying once again to get more and more done in less time.  Putting reflection into your day will not take an appreciable amount of time, and in the long run, it will make you more efficient.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Resolutions

I decided to take my own advice and make time for fun (yes, that’s a professinal resolution. Read on to see that one) – and more time for me. My blog for this week is a repeat of the one I did for January 2, 2017.  I am also going to take next week off.  I deserve it.  And you deserve your time off – take it.

So if you weren’t following me back then or if you need a refresher on the resolutions I suggested, here is the blog once again. Choose whichever one speaks to you – and maybe the one that scares you a bit.

Build Your Relationships

Start a new relationship with a teacher or other staff member. Remember we are in the relationship business. Consider deepening an existing relationship.  Get to know what that person’s interests are outside of school.  You may find you have common ground, discover an “expert” who might help you with something you are doing or just simply add a dimension to someone you already know.  Are there any students who are library “regulars” whom you don’t know?  Strike up a conversation with them. Learn what their favorite app is or whether they are into gaming.  I have found my students have been some of my best teachers. Don’t limit yourself to just the school scene.  Is there a relative or friend you haven’t spoken with in some time.  Is your only contact with them on Facebook? Try an email and set up some face time. Resolve to add at least one person a month to your relationship sphere.  (This is one of my resolutions for the year.)

Keep Up with Trends

Read one professional article every month. Vary it. Don’t only look at library literature, be familiar with what administrators are saying. You can find blog posts and articles online.  Find and explore one new tech resource or app each month and think about how it can best be used. Would it be helpful for a classroom teacher?  Which ones?

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

It’s so easy to get locked into doing what you have always done, but you don’t grow unless you try new things.  A favorite quote of mine attributed to James Conant is “Behold the turtle who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”  Whether you decide to launch a book club for students or tackle an Hour of Code, you need to something that makes stakeholders aware of the contribution your program makes to the school community.  Even though you may be doing a Makerspace or have another project going you need to do something more.  Once something is in place for a while people take it (and you for granted).  If you can’t think of something you can do, put out a request for ideas on your state association’s listserv, on a Twitter chat, LM_NET, or join my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group and ask there.  Choose the approach that works best for you, but whatever your choice you will be amazed at the suggestions you get back. (I am doing this as well.  I will be giving my first AASL webinar this spring. This is new for me.  I will announce the date as soon as I know it.)

Volunteer for Leadership

Technically this comes under the heading of stepping out of your comfort zone, but it needs special mention.  Too many of you feel so burdened you can’t see how you can fit a leadership job into your life. You haven’t explored the possibilities.  No one is saying you have to run for president of your state association (although that’s a goal to have for the future).  You can .volunteer for a district committee. That will bring you into contact with a broader group of people—and give you an opportunity to “build your relationships.”  Can you help with an initiative your state association is taking on? Again, you don’t have to be the chair. Being an active, contributing committee member is a good start.  The same is true for national associations, which also now permit virtual members on many committees.  One AASL committee that I am on does all its business via conference calls.

Go for a Grant or an Award

You get a lot of positive attention when you receive a grant or award.  Even small grants such as those given by your local education foundation make your administration more aware of you and what you do. They always appreciate it if you can bring in “free” money.  Then there are the ones from the national associations.  Here again is the link to the grants and awards from AASL. You have one month to apply for this year’s awards since most have a February 1 deadline.  Don’t think they are out of reach.  See what has won previously and pick one to try for this year.  If you can’t make it by February, work on the application for the next year.

Get Healthier

This is a typical new year’s resolution, but it also applies to you and your leadership abilities.  Do you need/want to lose weight? Kick a habit? Exercise?  Stop saying you don’t have time.  Make time. It’s a priority.  And once you have chosen what you will do, make a plan to ensure you stick with it. Join Weight Watchers (my favorite) or another program.  Sign up at a gym and take a class. Find a yoga or a dance group and join.  Choose something that appeals and doesn’t sound like punishment.  Enlist a friend to join you.  You will be more successful that way. The healthier you are, the better you will like yourself, and the easier you will find it to deal with others who are your priority.

Make Time for Fun

Don’t spend your life being a worker bee.  You are a human being, not a human doing.  Always make time for your hobbies, personal reading, and going out with family and friends, or whatever you love to do.  This will rejuvenate you for all the things you have on your plate.  Put it on your to-do list if you can’t “remember.”  As I said last week, you need to make room for joy in your life – and it won’t happen unless you make it a priority.

Be Accountable

Resolutions are easily made and forgotten even more quickly as life intrudes. You don’t have to all these resolutions, but you should pick at least two – plus the last two.  Then keep track in print, on a spreadsheet, or a Google doc to record what you have done.  How many times did you exercise?  Which relationship did you develop? If the resolution was important to make, it’s important to keep.  The record will help you hold yourself responsible.

Make use of the break in the school year, to get re-inspired, recharged, and re-focused.

Happy Holidays everyone.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Easing Into Leadership

This blog is often about the importance of being a leader, but I know that for some (maybe many) of you, taking that first step and then building on it can be the biggest part of the challenge. Moving out of your comfort zone might feel like too great a risk.  Perhaps you haven’t gotten tenure yet.  Or for any number of reasons, your job may not be secure.  In all of these cases, this is when being seen as a leader is the most important. So, how can you be ready to make that initial move? Try “managing up”.

Managing up is a term often used in the business world.  For me, it’s similar to being a team player.  I also think of it as leading from the middle. Leaders are a presence in the building.  They are recognized for being able to get exciting things done. You can become a presence – at least to the administration – and help get exciting things done if you learn to manage up.

When you manage up, your aim is to further the goals of your administrator.  The concept is core to any strategic planning for your program.  If your principal (or superintendent) recognizes that the library program helps achieve his/her aims, he/she is more likely to support that program.

In my last school district, the superintendent and the principal wanted to move to a 4×4 block schedule.  This meant that class periods would be twice as long, and students would complete a year’s work for each course in one semester.  For example, they might take English 10, World History, and Chemistry in one semester and Spanish II, Algebra II, and Creative Writing the second semester. Although there were numerous objections from teachers, it was clear from the beginning the plan would go through. It was what the administration wanted.

Once it was clear this was happening I proposed that I be given $500 extra in my budget to buy supplemental materials to help teachers use a block schedule in their subject area.  My principal quickly complied.  I made certain the teachers were aware of the resources I had for them. The teachers weren’t thrilled about the change but felt, at least from the library, they were getting needed support.  The administration was grateful I aided in calming down the negative emotions. The $500 stayed in my budget the next year. And that’s how managing up works.

When you manage up you are less “exposed,” and it’s not that difficult to incorporate it into your work life.  Joel Garfinkle offers business people 5 Tips for Managing Up. The advice, with very little tweaking, works equally as well for school librarians.  Here are his five – with my modifications:

  1. Know What Matters – This is the first step and is probably the most difficult and important. What does your administrator really wants to accomplish?  What does he/she focus on at faculty meetings? What does he/she look for when doing observations? Knowing this is critical for the success of your program since you want to show how the library can help make it happen. In the process getting to the core of their goals, you will develop a “big picture” view.  Your principal keeps an eye on district targets and sometimes larger ones as well.  By figuring these out, you gain a broader awareness of how to position your program.
  2. Connect Broadly – Your big picture view will help you tune into what administrators are focused on. In the middle and high school, it can mean department chairs and subject coordinators. If it does, make certain you are working with the people in charge of those areas, showing how the library is a resource for them.
  3. Garner Support – You want to have people in your corner. In one school where the new library was one of the additions planned for the building, the cost of air conditioning became a concern.  Because I supported him over the years, the Athletic Director said he was willing to forgo a new weight room if that meant the library was air-conditioned. The bottom line is, be ready to help others.  You do this naturally for students and teachers.  Now do it for administrators.
  4. Keep Stakeholders Informed Never blindside an administrator. Don’t try to hide bad news or cover it up.  It always gets discovered, and you have left the administrator unprepared. I once had a School Board member who was retired and liked to drop into my library.  As soon as he left, I would contact my superintendent and let her know what he said and what I said. If it came up at the Board meeting, she was prepared.
  5. Build Personal Relationships – You find out teachers’ personal interests as part of building relationships with them, Do the same with administrators. Knowing their likes and perhaps their hobbies and outside interests gives you new ways to connect them with your program and occasionally reasons to reach out.

Two Do Nots and One Do

  • Do not become a “brown-noser” – That will destroy your relationships with teachers. It’s important that you don’t carry tales or go along with everything even though you know it’s wrong. You don’t sell out your principles.
  • Do not manipulate senior management. – Be open and above board in your interactions.  If there is something you want, figure out a way to propose it so it gets heard. This is no place to be passive-aggressive.
  • Do – Promote teacher activities with administrators. Use your connection to be a voice for teachers.  That will strengthen your connection with them.

When you get to be proficient at Managing Up, and start to notice the benefits, hopefully, you will find it has become easier to step into full-fledged leadership.

ON LIBRARIES: Tickets Please

Exit tickets as an assessment surfaced several years ago and have been getting increasingly popular.  They mostly are a summative assessment where you get instant feedback as to what kids learned. Depending on what you ask, they are also formative assessment as you can discover what’s on students’ minds, where and what they want to explore further, and where they may be confused,

As I thought about exit tickets, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything about entrance tickets.  The idea took hold during my walks.  Entrance tickets could be one solution to classroom management.

The library is a classroom, among other things, but it looks and feels much different from the rest of the classrooms in the building. Other than the gym, it has the largest space.  It has places where it’s easy to hide.  Since students aren’t in the library every day, there is always something new to look at.  All these are distractions, and distractions keep students from settling down.

Procedures and routines are an effective way to get students focused from the beginning, and you probably have instituted some that work well for you.  Entrance tickets could give you something more. For example, to introduce a lesson on Newbery or Caldecott winners (which will be announced on January 28, 2019), your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What is the best book you ever read or heard?
  • What makes you like or dislike a book?
  • What do you do if you start a book and don’t like it?

Thinking about books and authors focuses them on what is to come. When you collect the entrance tickets, you can read some or all of them and begin the lesson discussing them briefly. Your exit tickets can then connect to the lesson and/or the entrance tickets.

As with exit tickets, your entrance tickets let you know where kids are and gives you clues as to where you need to take them next.  Depending on the topic, they can serve as a pre-assessment. If you were doing a unit on Fake News, your entrance tickets might ask:

  • What’s one thing you know about Fake News?
  • Why is Fake News a problem?
  • What can you do to identify Fake News?

Although I thought I was very creative for coming up with this idea, I did search to see what else might exist. Among the few I found were two that offered some worthwhile additions. The Teacher Toolkit begins the explanation with a short video of an 8th grade English teacher who uses them then gives directions on how to use them.

Should you decide to try this, it will take some time as students need to become familiar with this new routine for starting class. To help this, the entry tickets should always be in the same place.  Once you decide what you want students to focus on, write the question on the entry ticket or post it for students to see. Make sure to set a time limit for students to answer the question.  When time is up, you can discuss the answers. The site lists the value of entry tickets and has templates for creating entrance tickets at different grade levels.

The second site is from Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.  It is very brief and meant for the college level, but it clearly states the advantages of entrance and exit tickets as follows:

  • participation of each student
  • prompt for students to focus on key concepts and ideas
  • a high return of information for the amount of time invested
  • important feedback for the instructor that can be useful to guide teaching decisions (g., course pacing, quick clarification of small misunderstandings, identification of student interests and questions).

If you have been using exit tickets, consider adding entrance tickets.  If you haven’t been using them, think about how starting this program could support your mission.  It may suggest possibilities for future lessons.  Share what you discover with your principal. The kids’ comments will give him/her a better idea of what you do.

ON LIBRARIES: THANKSgiving

originally posted: November 2014

 Last week I blogged about the giving half of Thanksgiving.  This week my focus in how we say thank you.  Many of you spend some time on Thanksgiving Day reflecting on the wonderful people in your life for whom you are grateful. You also may have expressed gratitude for living in freedom, being free from want, and for having the basic necessities of life which too many people do not have.

As we return to work, consider how often you say “thank you” or have the words said to you.  Most of the time, the words are tossed off automatically.  It’s a matter of being courteous.  While good manners are always important, heartfelt, sincere thanks can make a difference in how someone views their day.  Become conscious of how you react when you receive a true thank you and what it means when you express your gratitude to others.

During my time as a high school librarian, I was thanked often by teachers and by students.  Most often it was of the automatic variety, but I know I went through the day with a smile on my face when a student specifically thanked me, saying they got a good grade because of the help I gave them or a teacher let me know how much she appreciated my going out of my way to do her a favor.

With this in mind, my Thanksgiving resolution (I have just created a new tradition – join me!) is to give more mindful, specific thanks. In the supermarket, I thanked the young woman checking me out for the care she gave in balancing the weight in my shopping bags.  Her face lit up with pleasure.  That, in turn, was a gift for me. I thought I lived a conscious life, but I have discovered there is always a way to take it further.

Our students don’t always tell us of the burdens they are carrying from home situations, complications of friendships, or school pressures. Teachers don’t reveal everything either. The library is often the sanctuary where the whole school population can feel safe and derive comfort.  Add to the welcoming environment you create by becoming aware of when and how you say thank you.

And thanks to all of you who take the time to read my blog and subscribe to the School Librarian’s Workshop.  The thanks I have gotten for what I do motivates me to strive to always do better.

ON LIBRARIES: The Thief of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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