ON LIBRARIES: A Place for a Pause

Two weeks ago in my blog, I confessed that I talk a lot.  To combat dominating a conversation, I worked—and still work—at being an active listener.  One of the ways to do this is to know how and when to use the power of a pause in your daily conversations.  Mastering it will help build the relationships that are key to your success as a leader. You also want to be aware of phrases that stop conversations in their tracks and filler words that can help or hinder the impact of what you say.

Brenda Barbosa, in a post entitled 1 Tool that Will Make Your Conversation Flow Better, said the best advice she ever got was, “shut up and listen.”  Of course, you are quiet when you the person you are speaking with is talking.  But are you just waiting for your chance to talk?

Some of us jump in with a comment even as the other party is still talking.  Others are more respectful outwardly but are busy formulating their reply.  Both behaviors show when we are not listening. Not the best basis for forming or continuing a relationship.

Here is where the pause comes in. Even if you know what you need/want to say next, take that moment. When you do so consciously you breathe deeper, and that sends more oxygen to your brain. You get a better understanding of what the other person is trying to communicate.  By pausing you will make a better, more relevant reply, and you will validate what the other person is saying to you.  A win/win.

When we validate another’s opinion, even if we disagree (yes, you can do both) with it, we build trust, a necessary component if you are going to have a relationship that leads to cooperation. In our digital age, we communicate with multiple devices, but you get the biggest return in a one-on-one conversation and the best results in that conversation when we are active listeners.

In the workplace, you are usually speaking in the Personal or possibly Intimate Space, which I described in my blog one month ago. In this space, you view body language, see each others’ faces. The voice is clearer and no emoticons are needed.  To make the connection, you need to be fully present and the pause will get you there.

And then there is the Yabut. It’s something you know, even if you’ve never heard it called this.  Marvin G. Knittel explained on the Psychology Today page How a Yabut Can Kill A Conversation. He gives this example, “I said to my friend, ‘This has been the nicest day we’ve had in a long time.’  My friend, said, ‘Yabut, you know our weather won’t last.’” Have you ever done that?  I’m sure I have.

Knittel goes on to quote Steve Cochrane as saying the Yabut may be the “No. 1 killer of collaboration, cooperation, great ideas and innovation in any organization.”  The complete opposite of what you are seeking.  The suggestion is to try, “Yes, and….”

Filler words can go either way. We all use them   A pause is good, and it’s common to say “umm” or “uh” when we are doing so since most of us have an aversion to silence in a conversation.  Use it occasionally and it moves things along.  Use it repeatedly and you sound uncertain.

Then there are the recurring words such as “actually,” “like”, “totally”, “you know”, and a number of others, most of which make us sound like teens in an 80’s movie.  They do have their uses.  Fluent U suggests some very good ones in their article Quick English Filler Words You’ll Thank Yourself for Learning. However, Christopher Mele’s New York Times “So, Umm, How Do You, Like, Stop Using Filler Words?” makes the point that if we use too many of these words our conversation, we don’t sound very intelligent.  Filler words minimize what you are saying. Unfortunately, Mele doesn’t offer a cure, but awareness is an important first start.

My suggestion is to start listening to yourself. You won’t be able to stop using the filler words at first, but by being more aware of when you use them, you can slowly delete them from your conversation.  Actually, I have uh managed you know to literally almost get them out of my speech pattern. Totally.  


ON LIBRARIES – The Power and Importance of Feedback

Feedback is vital. It’s how we learn whether we are on or off track. Knowing how to get it and how to give it are equally important. Sometimes it’s given as part of your job as when your administrator observes you and offers feedback. Requesting feedback is another matter.

Because of our own challenges, we tend to ask for feedback in a way that tells us nothing. Instinctively, we protect our feelings.  If we ask a teacher, “Did you think the lesson went well?” or some similar question, you are generally going to get a positive response. The wording of the question naturally leads to it.

However, you need to know if you were successful and to what degree. You can start with a more specific positive, such as “What do you think worked in this lesson?” But you also need to ask, “What didn’t work?” and “What would you like me to do differently?”

By being open to their negative comments about a lesson, you will hear the truth even if it stings in the moment.  You don’t have to be perfect as noted in last week’s blog. You just have to keep learning.  And that’s what leaders do.

I once did a unit with a 9th-grade science teacher who wanted her students to work on various recycling possibilities including composting.  I knew what databases would support the project and she brought the class in to find out about them and begin their research.

She asked them for preliminary work and was very disappointed with what they turned in. Fortunately, I was following up on it with her and asked if I could re-do the lesson.  I had not taken time to teach students how to create the questions they would seek to answer and select sources based on relevance to what they were doing.  If the source had one keyword, they assumed it would work and included the information from it whether it fit or not.

The re-teaching proved successful and the teacher was happy.  When she repeated the project the following year we were ready.  We were more specific about what its purpose was.  Her in-class introduction was more focused, and so was my lesson with the kids and how I worked with them during their research.  The results far surpassed what happened the previous year.  The initial feedback, negative though it was, was invaluable.

One of the more common ways to see if students are on track is getting feedback on your lesson from exit tickets.  Asking, “What confused you?” or “What do you still not understand?” will let you know where your instruction missed the mark.  Of course, the classic thumbs up, down, and out are always helpful while you are teaching.

For receiving feedback, I like an article written by Peter Bregman for the Harvard Business Review on How to Ask for Feedback that Will Actually Help You. He lists five ways:

  • Be Clear You Want Honest Feedback– People are hesitant to tell you where you missed the mark. You may think you’re being clear, that you don’t only want to be told you did great, so reinforce your question by saying to the teacher something like, “It’s very important to me to learn where I didn’t do the best job.”  (The exit tickets from students does the same thing.)
  1. Focus on the Future – As I suggested, since the lesson has already been taught you want to show why hearing a negative has a purpose. Saying, “I hope we do this project again next year, so for my notes, what didn’t work and needs to be changed?”
  2. Probe More Deeply – The first response you get may not be as honest as you need it to be. People don’t like to tell you messed up. Follow up by referring to specific parts of the lesson and ask about them.
  3. Listen without Judgement – This can be hard. You don’t want to defend yourself nor show by body language that you don’t accept what the teacher is telling you. Think to yourself, “I will analyze the information later.  Right now I just need to hear his/her opinion.”
  4. Write it Down – Take notes for three reasons. First, it’s human nature to forget or smooth over negative comments.  Next, writing down what is being said to you lends weight to your being really interested in making changes. Finally, it gives the teacher time to think of more things. (Ugh!)

When it comes to giving feedback, Entrepreneur.com offers Five Steps for Giving Feedback in connection with the business world. As usual, I am interpreting them for us as educators.

  1. Create Safety – If students think you only criticize, they aren’t likely to hear what you say or follow your advice. A teacher won’t feel threatened by what you say, but if you don’t have a reputation for your work with your colleagues or don’t have a relationship with the one you are speaking to, your words will fall on deaf ears. Remember to find a balance between what you tell students and understand the nature of your relationships with teachers.
  2. Be Positive – As much as possible offer positive feedback about something they are doing with students and teachers –and don’t always follow it with negative feedback or your first statement will be ignored as they wait for the other shoe to drop.
  3. Be Specific – Don’t just say, “Good job,” or the equivalent. That means very little.  Tell a student something like, “I saw that you continued searching after you first approach didn’t work. Your follow through shows you understand how to do true research.”  With a teacher, you might say, “How did you prepare your class for this project?  They were really on task and focused from the beginning.”
  4. Be immediate – The best feedback happens in the moment. Whether speaking with teachers or students, it reinforces positive directions and alerts the recipient to a potential problem before it becomes an issue.
  5. Be tough not mean – Or to put it in another way, “Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.” Don’t ignore what is happening when you see a teacher or a student saying or doing something that won’t get them the results they want. Speak the truth, but use the other four steps to ensure they know what you are saying is because you want them to be successful.

Think about times when feedback – either positive or negative – helped you improve your performance. Learning to give and receive feedback is a process and a practice developed over time. Look to your relationships with students and teachers to see if you know how you are doing on this and take the time to think about where you might need to grow this skill set.

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Aren’t Perfect

Over two years ago I blogged about the Stories We Tell Ourselves referring to the things that we believe about ourselves (usually negative) which aren’t really true but keep us from stepping up and becoming the leaders we need to be. I have found yet another story.  One that’s tied to our belief that leaders do things perfectly.

They don’t. Trust me. I have the mistakes and the successes to prove it.

When we envision library leaders at the national or state level we see them, as we do at conferences, addressing a large and rapt audience of librarians at a conference.  Or perhaps we read one of the columns or blog posts they have written.  They appear self-assured, confident, knowledgeable — seemingly perfect.

That’s where the story kicks in.  You may feel confident as you do your job on a daily basis, but you are so far from perfect how can you possibly follow in their illustrious footsteps. You know your many flaws.  There are all those tech sites you haven’t explored.  Your last lesson didn’t work as smoothly as you expected.  And unlike these leaders, you still haven’t convinced many of the teachers to collaborate with you.  In fact, you’re pretty certain some of them still have no idea what you do.

The story is: these leaders have it all under control. They are perfect.  They are completely unlike you and you will never be like them.

Like many of the other stories we tell ourselves, it’s not true – on both sides. It is not true of you (you are a lot like them) and it certainly isn’t true of them (they are not perfect).  Yes, leaders come from a place of confidence and self-assurance.  But confidence doesn’t mean perfection. They, too, have strengths and weaknesses. One difference they may have from you is that they are aware of both.  They work from their strengths and accept and get help for the areas they need it.

In fact, smart leaders let others know where their weaknesses are. They don’t hide them. They admit them and use them as a way to work with their colleagues.  This creates connection and collaboration because if you a leader is perfect, you might choose not to say something when you notice a mistake or when you have a different opinion or perspective. Leaders encourage their colleagues to let them know when they spot something wrong. They want to know what you see.

For example, I am a “big picture” person.  This generally means I have vision and know where I need to go next.  But it means I can miss obvious details.  I repeatedly tell this to the people I am working with and leading, cautioning them even if they are sure I am aware of something but decided for my own reasons to ignore, that they still need to alert me.  I really could have missed it.

Let me give you a specific example which is amusing in hindsight and would have been disastrous had someone not said something. When I was a high school librarian, I led a 3-year renovation project of the library.  I was focused on flexibility, increasing space where walls couldn’t be moved for environmental reasons, and making the library inviting for all students not just the high-performing ones.

We were going to a system which used movable shelves to create that space along with replacing furniture that was blocky and heavy.  Our reference collection (in the days when we had lots of print reference books) was on counter height shelves along the windowed wall and on additional counter height shelves running perpendicular to them.  I wanted to move the reference to the tall moveable shelving and put fiction on counter height shelving. My reasoning was it would encourage casual browsing.  It was a very attractive area of the library with a lovely view of the outside.  Kids gravitated there because of it. It seemed a great place for fiction.

It might have been, but my plan for the reference collection was not a good idea.  I was so focused on that vision of students casually congregating there and seeing displays of inviting titles I missed the obvious.  My co-librarian pointed out that heavy reference books on a high shelf was a recipe for kids getting hit in the head when they reached for one. Ouch.

Obvious to her – not to me. If she had assumed “Hilda knows best. She’s the leader.” someone – possibly me – would have been clunked on the head. Talk about a hard lesson to learn.

If you take the opportunity and the chance, to step up and lead, it’s important to keep in mind that no one expects you to be perfect.  In fact, most leaders have things that they need to learn from the opportunity they have accepted and they expect to make some errors along the way.  Not only should you accept your imperfections and expect errors, particularly in a large project, but you should seek feedback to ensure you are aware of and can correct your mistakes.

And then get ready for your next leadership opportunity.

ON LIBRARIES – Cultivating Curiousity

copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

For life-long learners and leaders, curiosity is often the inspiration that makes you better and more knowledgeable about everything in your life.  We are one of our students’ role models for lifelong learning and therefore must be continuously curious.  Whether it’s new ideas or technology, we should always be on a quest to discover and learn .  And it doesn’t stop there. Curiosity extends to building our relationships as it helps us to be more knowledgeable about and connected to the people in our lives.

As librarians, we often explore new ideas to see if they have merit or are being embraced simply because they are new (Fidget Spinners, anyone?) whether at the request of students and teachers or because of our own interests.  We look to sources outside our field to find out what is being done or discussed and seek to learn whether it might have valuable applications for our students and teachers. The knowledge we gain we bring to our students and share with our teachers.

The more regularly we do this, the more they rely on us to be able to help them.  For students, this means guiding them to the best resources for their assignments or a new book or author to read. For teachers, it means we show them new ways to engage their students in learning and to be more successful in what they are working toward.  We build awareness of our value each time we bring the fruits of our curiosity into our school library.

Many years ago when rubrics were just beginning to be used in education, a teacher came to me for help creating one.  At the time I had never done one, although I was acquainted with what they were.  We sat down together and developed what she needed.  Not wanting to confess to her supervisor that she didn’t know how to design a rubric, she chose me because from our previous interactions she trusted I was both knowledgeable and safe.

If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we need to help them develop their curiosity as well. Children are born curious.  Our brains are designed that way.  It’s how we learn. Anyone who has been around a two-year-old knows they are constantly asking why. Author Arnold Edinborough said, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”  Learning is not the memorization of facts, it’s using those facts for a purpose.

Unfortunately, the structure of many schools effectively curtails this vital instinct. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “It’s a miracle curiosity survives formal education.” This is truer than ever as high-stakes tests have focused teaching energy on correct answers.  It is our job to reach that innate curiosity that is in danger of being lost.

Curiosity propels civilization forward. I have said that knowing the answers only proves one has mastered the content. But that was already learned.  It is when we or our students take that information and ask new questions that don’t have answers yet, that knowledge moves forward.  Bernard Baruch said it better, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”

We want our students not only to ask “Why?” but also “What if?”  They need to have opportunities to wonder and see where that takes them. Through cooperative or collaborative inquiry-based learning experiences, we can engage students’ curiosity in topics that interest them and lead them to discover answers not in textbooks.  In this way, they become better prepared for whatever the world has in store for them.

In addition to being curious about ideas and things, good leaders are also curious about people. They go beyond the surface mask most people wear in their daily interactions.  They want to know who more about their colleagues, what they care about, and what motivates them.

Curiosity is also a factor in Emotional Intelligence.  While you can perceive the feelings of others with some success based on their outward persona, you will be more successful in using emotions if you know more about the people you are dealing with.  The more you know, and to learn you must be curious enough to ask, the easier it is to build relationships.

When I say we need to be curious about the people in our world, I don’t mean being nosy. It’s about caring about them and their situation.  It’s being empathetic.

I have told the story about seeing a teacher walking through the halls with her shoulders slumped:  her entire body language conveying misery.  While I was perceiving her emotions, I had no clue as to the cause.  Her first answer when I asked what was wrong was to claim she had an argument with her department chair.  I knew her past and her successes – no way was a disagreement with her department chair the occasion for such a reaction.

I invited her into the library to relax and have a cup of coffee and then asked for the real reason she was so unhappy.  She confessed her only child, who had done so well at school, had become a heroin addict.  She feared for his life.  It was not an easy confession to make, but it helped her unburdened.

There was no advice I could give her, but I could be a listening ear.  A confidential one.  While we had a comfortable relationship before, this new connection deepened it.  It led to more collaboration on research projects, but that was not the reason why I reached out to her.

A caring, curiosity was my motivating force in asking this teacher for a deeper truth.  Empathy and curiosity often go hand-in-hand, but they never should be used to manipulate others or you have negated the empathy.

We live so much in a task-filled world, spending our day in “doing,” we devote little time to wondering—being curious.  Embrace your natural curiosity in all things.  Ask more questions. Look for more creative answers. And get to really know the people you work with. Life will be more interesting and you will be a better leader.


ON LIBRARIES – Your Fourth Role – Program Administrator

In May, I did a blog “Role-ing Through Your Day” in which I highlighted the many roles we have both in and outside the library. Towards the end of the blog, I mentioned our role as Program Administrator. As I was covering so many of our jobs I didn’t spend much time on it, but it is worth paying it some attention.

In Empowering Learners AASL identifies the four roles we have as school librarians: teacher, information specialist, instructional partner, and program administrator.  The first three are our more visible roles, but all too often no one knows what we do or are even aware of our role as program administrator.  And when it’s the principal who doesn’t know you are doing it, it is a contributing factor in not understanding the full scope of what we do.

In the blog, I said of this fourth role that it “is far more than the basic management of the library program.  It comes to the heart of us as leaders.  It demands that we have vision and are willing to be a risk-taker in moving our program constantly forward so it’s not mired in the past. We incorporate the other three roles we have in order to create a program that is viewed as vital and indispensable to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and even the community.”

Here is what AASL says being a Program Administrator entails.

“As program administrator, the SLMS, ensures that all members of the learning community have access to resources that meet a variety of needs and interests. The implementation of a successful SLMP requires the collaborative development of the program mission, strategic plan, and policies, as well as the effective management of the staff, the program budget, and the physical and virtual spaces. To augment information resources available to the learning community, the SLMS works actively to form partnerships with stakeholders and sister organizations at local and global levels.  The SLMS also addresses broader educational issues with other educators in the building, at the district level, and at the professional association level.”

It is an exhausting description of your responsibilities.  And that’s on top of the other three. There is no way you can do more than the bare minimum of these without becoming a leader. My graduate students find this role intimidating and keep pointing to the small budgets as a barrier to making much of this happen.  And while budget issues are a problem, we cannot hide behind them to avoid doing a vital part of our job.

Let’s look at it sentence by sentence. The first does speak to a strong collection that represents diversity and curricular needs.  Not having sufficient funds to order new books can be a serious challenge to carrying this out.  But do you have interlibrary loan through your state or consortium?  Are you making effective use of it? Have you made students and teachers (and your administrators) aware of it?

The second sentence deals with developing a cohesive program based on a Mission (hopefully a Vision as well) and a strategic plan. That keeps everything you do on track.  If you don’t know how to create a strategic plan, look for a session on it at your state conference or check online for samples. If you can’t work collaboratively on developing the vision and plan (and you can possibly do it with other librarians in your district), try having some teachers and an administrator critique what you develop.  Most of you don’t have staff to manage, although if you do have volunteers they are included in this. High school librarians are accustomed to creating and expending their budgets and most elementary librarians are making do with what they have.

As to the physical and virtual space, you do need to look at your library with fresh eyes.  Is it getting tired?  How often are displays changed?  How much student work is present? Can the furniture be arranged better? Are your tables easily moveable?  If not, consider putting on casters. The virtual space is your website and other online presence.  How often do you update content on your website? Is it time to give it a new look? What do you have for parents on your site?

The last two sentences move you outside your building.  If you haven’t done so already, develop a collaborative partnership with the public library and reach out to any college in your area to work together. What businesses in your district would be interested in working with the library?  You may get funding this way as well.

And always, keep up with the trends and concerns in education in addition to libraries. This makes you a resource for your administrators and teachers. It also ensures you are ready for whatever the next “thing” is.

This is you as a leader.  Make the most of it.  And let your administrator know as part of your quarterly and annual reports.

How are rising to the challenge of this fourth role?  Where can you use some help?

ON LIBRARIES: Start With Emotion

Since the 1990’s education has focused almost exclusively on cognitive learning as high stakes tests became a nationwide obsession.  Along the way, we forgot that emotions are at the root of everything we do, and that means it affects learning.  It is time to review what we once knew and see how it can be implemented today. (EDITOR’S NOTE – Our images are larger than normal so you can see the details in each)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed his “Hierarchy of Needs” in an article entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation.”  All of us learned his pyramid during our educational studies, and if you were like me, you wondered whether you had achieved “self-actualization” which is at the pinnacle of the pyramid and if you are truly all you can be.  It’s what we want for ourselves and for our students.

To reach the top, Maslow said you needed to fulfill all the other lower levels of the hierarchy in your life.  Educators have long recognized that if the Physiological Needs of students such as shelter and food aren’t met students’ ability to learn will suffer.  And the efforts to eliminate bullying speak to the Safety Needs required for learning. There has been less appreciation for the importance of Love and Belonging.

As a librarian, you can’t provide family or intimacy, which are components of Love and Belonging, but you can focus on friendship, in this case meaning you show you care about the student. The safe, welcoming environment you create in your library addresses the Safety Needs along with the Love and Belonging Needs.  Once students find the library is a safe place, they are open to your interest in them as a unique person. Some of the students you reach out to feel alienated in the general school population for many reasons and so are prone to loneliness which can lead to depression.

Most important, in my opinion, is the need to build students’ Esteem. The overtures you make help them realize their self-worth.  This gives them the impetus to believe in their ability to tackle a task and succeed.  When you can do this, you have given that student a gift of inestimable value.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – In 1956, Harold Bloom published his Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain and followed it in 1964 with the Taxonomy of the Affective Domain. The Psychomotor Domain was released in the 1970s.  We are all familiar with the Cognitive Domain which has been used in developing higher order thinking skills, but since the 1990s we have ignored the Affective Domain as too “touchy/feely” and besides it can’t be reflected in high stakes test. This has been a serious error.

What we ignore is that the Affective Domain is emotions-based and therefore affects how students approach learning.  Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition provides a list of the categories of the hierarchy with examples and verbs associated with each level. In many ways, the Dispositions in Action and the Responsibility strands in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner reflect this domain, but there are librarians still focusing almost exclusively on the Skills strand.

What I hope you see is that the Affective Domain puts emphasis on students’ response to the material.  It gives you ways to guide them into making a connection with it. And the strongest connections are those that tie to emotions.  We all have seen how students’ beliefs about a task or subject affect their success.  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.”

Harold Gardner – In 1983, Harold Gardner developed his theory of Multiple Intelligences Originally there were six intelligences which have subsequently been expanded to nine and there may still be more.  It was a revelation at the time to discover there was more to intelligence than Verbal/Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical.  He observed that excelling in either or both of those intelligences were not a good predictor of success in life.  Yet those two are still the prime focus of our testing.

Indeed, having high Interpersonal Intelligence was a far better indicator of success. Those who had high Interpersonal Intelligence have the “capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations, and desires of others.” Does that sound at all familiar?

Those skills are aligned with Emotional Intelligence which I have discussed in the past.  It’s imperative for leaders to have a high EI and continue to work on improving it.  Success in life is strongly rooted in understanding and managing emotions.

Most of our decisions are based on emotions (studies put it as high as 80%). If you can identify a student’s or adult’s emotions about a given topic, you can determine the best way to reach them.

The works of Maslow, Bloom, and Gardner were all published in the last century and, sadly, we seem to have forgotten their universal relevance. When business discovered Emotional Intelligence a decade or so, a shift back began to occur. It’s taking longer to fully reach education but some schools are beginning to see value in integrating emotions into teaching.

Education Week had an article on “How Students Emotions Affect their Schooling.” There are many more articles on the topic.  Emotions are more than just a series of faces we add to texts and posts. Isn’t it time you began incorporating it into how you work with students?  Are you already doing so?  What successes have you seen?



ON LIBRARIES: Why Are You a Librarian

whyIt’s not a question we are often asked, and we almost never ask that of ourselves.  But it is a worthwhile exercise, particularly when you feel stressed by your job and the world.  As Socrates is attributed to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,”

In my own case, I became a librarian because I needed a job, and it was available. I was graduating from college and getting married.  I needed to know where I would be working so my future husband and I could find a place to live.  The superintendent of schools who interviewed me was desperate to find a librarian. I had worked as a page in the public library for two years, and I could get an emergency certificate attached to my new teaching license.socrates

Not a very good reason for becoming a librarian, but despite being terrible at the job, I realized I truly liked it. So I continued going for my masters even when I was justifiably not rehired at the end of the year. I found another job as a librarian and began to get better at what I was doing.

truman-schoolAfter taking several years off to raise my children, I looked for another library position as soon as they were ready to go to school.  Although I had trained to be a high school teacher and my first jobs were at that level, I was happy to find something in a brand new elementary school.  The school was unusual and it gave me a new “why” for being a librarian.

As an elementary level novice, I learned from the teachers. And that is how my next “why” came to be. I discovered how being open to what teachers could show me made them willing to learn what I show them.  The collegial atmosphere bred collaboration.  I was a librarian because I could help teachers do a better job.

My professional growth continued when I decided to go back to school for additional graduate courses. Because I was going for a Supervisor certificate I met librarians who were looking to become leaders.  I also met Ruth Toor, and as a result of the course, we wrote our first book, The Elementary School Librarian’s Almanac.

My career continued and my ‘whys” evolved.  The reactions of my students to the help I offered made me realize they were a central reason for why I was a librarian.  The better I got at my job, the more they appreciated what I could teach them.

I am extremely active in ALA/AASL and this too has affected my “why.”  I am a librarian so I can be a resource to other librarians.  I do so through mentoring, the books I write and the workshops I give.  But we are all resources for our colleagues. question-2

I also now recognize that I wasn’t aware of another “why” when I was working in schools.  By my interactions with students, teachers, and administrators I was making a significant contribution to the whole school community.

My experiences and the research has led me to in essence share why I am a librarian with just about everyone I meet.  Whenever I can, I let them know the value of school librarians.  And even though I no longer work in a school library, I am still a librarian.  And I know why.

Yes, your “why” will change over time.  It will continue to change if you are open to the possibility.  When the “whys” are positive you become even better at what you do.

What are your “whys” and how have they changed?

ON LIBRARIES: Do You Have a Job, Career or Profession

It may be a strange question to ask and many won’t see too much of a difference among the three, but I find there is a different mindset for each.  Your true answer to the question defines how you are as a librarian in your school, district, and the world at large.

What are the differences?  What does each make you think of?

boring-jobJob – In some contexts, a job is a specific task sometimes as part of a larger one.  Merriam-Webster gives one definition as “a piece of work <doing odd jobs around the house> <Repairing the roof was a big job.>especially :  a small miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate <a car that needs a brake job>.” Another one it gives is, “a regular remunerative position <got a part-time job as a waiter> <she quit her job>.”

I have known people who have “jobs” they have worked at for many years. They work at these jobs solely for the paycheck.  While they may enjoy the social connection with those they work with, for the most part, they take no pleasure in what they are doing.  Just putting in their time.

 While some librarians have become disheartened by budget cuts and changes to their “jobs”, such as working 2 or 3 schools, and feeling they aren’t valued by teachers or administrators, I hope they haven’t succumbed to the job mentality. I can understand the frustration, but it’s important not to let it get the best of you.

If you do find yourself slipping into that on the bad days, focus on your students.  Think of them individually. Recall some of the connections you have made with them. Remember how their faces lighted up, the changes in their approach to reading, or their new belief in their ability to succeed.  You made a difference in their lives.  Don’t stop now. Also, refer back to your vision.  Your connection to that can keep you energized during difficult times.career

Career Auburn University’s Career Center provides this definition: “an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework.” Certainly librarianship qualifies under this definition.  I think a good percentage of you would think of yourself as having a career.

Pediaa uses that definition but goes on to state that it is, “An occupation undertaken for a major period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” The first half of that explanation certainly applies to librarianship, but the second half doesn’t seem to part of what is possible for school librarians.

For me, this is really where career and job have a real demarcation.  Note that it didn’t say “promotion” but rather “progress.”  What does that mean in your daily practice? It implies that you keep growing.  The special training you had is not the ending but the true beginning of you mastering your career.

Every librarian I know accepts the realization that what they learned in library school needs to be constantly upgraded. So many of you connect through your state association’s listserv or social media to get help in dealing with a current challenge or difficult question from a teacher. You use this as your PLN and discover new tech resources on the web or as an app.  Your learning, and therefore your progress, never stops.

professionProfession– What then is a profession?  This is where I hope most of you are and the rest of you aspire to be.  When I think of professions, like medicine and law, I think of canons of ethics that are core values and standards they uphold.

Librarians have this. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association succinctly puts forth the basic values we hold as a profession.  All librarians should be familiar with it. The Library Bill of Rights is another brief document but of equal importance in stating who we are and what we stand for as a profession. You should be aware of this document as well.  As librarians, we have many roles but whatever we are doing these two documents form the core of how we approach them.

I have some personal views of what a professional is that I didn’t find in any definition.  Professionals don’t define themselves by their current position. Their focus is not on the district or school but rather in the larger world any more than a doctor defines him/herself by the hospital they are in. Professionals recognize that to have the impact and make the changes they want to see, they need to be connected to their professional organizations.

If you’ve read any of these blogs or my books, you know I believe in taking responsibility for your own professional development.  If your district doesn’t give you time off to attend your state conference and one of the days is on a weekend, go then.  If not, take a personal day to attend at least one day of the conference.  Then prepare a brief report for your principal on what you learned that will benefit your students and teachers. Show this in action after six months.


ALA is holding its annual conference in Chicago from June 22-27.  It’s a great city to visit and most of you will be finished with school.  Register now and start saving for it. AASL has its biennial conference November 9-11, 2017 in Phoenix.  I will be at both.  I get no reimbursement and I, too, watch my expenses.  But I am a professional and this part of the cost of being one. It’s no different than having to have an appropriate wardrobe for work or gas for your commute.

I hope you join me at either or both.

So do you have a job?  A career?  A profession?


ON LIBRARIES: New Year’s Resolutions

new-yearIt’s that time of the year when we give thought to how we can do better in the New Year.  For you as a leader, as a librarian and as an individual, here are some you might consider:

Build Your Relationshipsbuilding-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 that person’s interests outside of school.  You may find you have common ground, discover an “expert” who might help you with something you are doing, or 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 found my students to be some of my best teachers. Don’t limit yourself to 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

new-trendRead 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 how it can best be used. Would it be helpful for a classroom teacher?  Which ones? And again, remember your students.  Ask them what they are reading or watching on YouTube.  You’ll be amazed at the relevance of what they enjoy.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zoneship-out-of-your-comfort-zone

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 an idea doesn’t immediately come to mind, 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.  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 and I’ll announce the date as soon as I know it.)

Volunteer for Leadership

volunteerFor many, this might come under the heading of stepping out of your comfort zone, but it deserves special mention, and you all know it’s my passion.  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 Awardgrants

I’ve mentioned this before and will probably continue to do so because this is something with such a tremendous payoff, in many ways. You get a lot of positive attention when you get 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 the February deadline, start to work on the application for the next year.

Get Healthier

get-healthyThis is a typical new year’s resolution, but it also applies to your leadership abilities.  Do you need/want to lose weight? Kick a habit? Exercise?  Stop saying you don’t have time.  Take time. It’s a priority and you deserve it.  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 take on other new roles.

Make Time for Funhave-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.  This will rejuvenate you for all the things you have on your plate.  Put it on your list if you can’t “remember.”  Schedule the time for you. 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

be-accountableResolutions are easily made and forgotten even more quickly as life intrudes. You don’t have to try 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.

Which ones will you choose?  What other resolutions are you making? And what help can our community offer you?




ON LIBRARIES: (And life) Making Room for Joy

stressed-relaxedThe holiday cards remind us that this is the time for joy and peace – but I have a feeling that in truth, this season stresses us out more than it relaxes us.

So many of you are exhausted. Some districts didn’t close until Friday, December 23rd.  Not only were you dealing with kids – and faculty –  whose focus was on vacation and presents, your own focus was on keeping things from getting out of hand and figuring out how to get all your holiday tasks done.

Now the holiday is over.  Your house is almost back in order and you have a much lighter schedule until school resumes in January.  What are you going to do with this time?  Sleep may be a high priority, but there is something else you should take the time to do.pause

Pause and reflect.  Is this how you really want your life to go? Time is a gift and a finite commodity. How do you choose to spend it? Because no matter what you say about all the demands your job makes –and they are quite real – you are the one making choices.  Your choices tell other what you value.

I used to say my family was my highest priority, but that was not how I was living my life.  There was always another task that needed to be done, always another library committee that demanded my presence.  My family knows I love them.  But was I there for them?  How was I showing that?

Yes, there are times when you need to stay late.  Once in awhile you may go into work on a Saturday.  But if you are coming home late every night, you are cheating those you care most about and yourself.

You have been building relationships with your colleagues, learning enough about them so as to know what’s really going on for them. But are you doing the same with your significant other, good friends and whoever else is important in your life?  Are you accepting “I’mbalance fine” with a sense of relief because it means you don’t have to do anything?

If you are to survive and thrive as a leader you need to live a balanced life.  You can never get back moments you didn’t share with family and friends because you were too busy. If they are important, tasks always get done.  Moments not spent with those you care about are lost forever.

When you are home, be fully present.  Let school slip away from your consciousness. Don’t spend your time thinking about the job and your next project. Focus on the people around you.  Make time to have lunch or dinner with friends

When you pick your head up from the load of tasks you have and find the joy in being with those who matter to you, while still being a leader and an active member of the school library committee you will find you are less exhausted and stressed. The times with family and friends refresh and rejuvenate you.

Living a balanced life is also a gift to other librarians who are watching you.  As a leader you a role model.  You exemplify what leadership entails.  If all you are is a workaholic, reasonable people will not see the value in emulating you, and you do want to build more leaders. Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tompeters382508.html)

joyAnd in my efforts to be a role model for leadership, I am keeping this blog shorter than usual.  This is my time with family.

Are you leading a balanced life?  Where do you find joy?