ON LIBRARIES: A Vital Mind

An almost universal complaint these days is being exhausted.  The pandemic has drained our energy in so many ways.  Our workloads have increased.  Our routines have been overturned.  We seem to need to re-create ourselves daily.  And then there is the underlying fear of the virus itself.   There are good reasons to be and feel physically and mentally exhausted.  But what if you could turn around the mental exhaustion? To what extent would that affect you physically as well?

Our brains are incredibly powerful, and even if we’ve only begun to understand all they do, we recognize our minds affect our moods and emotions. It’s what we mean when we talk about changing our mindset.  It’s helpful to realize is that our brains also affect us physiologically.  When we do, we can exercise control and allow body and mind to work together.

Physical energy is restored by having enough sleep, eating healthy, and getting exercise.  But what if you eat right, exercise and get a good night’s sleep, yet still have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning?  According to Susan Fowler, that has nothing to do with physical energy. It has to do with psychological energy or vitality. In her article The Myth of Low Energy – How to Generate the Vitality Your Need Right Now, Fowler proposes that our faulty belief in having a fixed amount of energy is part of what causes us to feel depleted. We need to understand the difference between energy and vitality.

Fowler writes, “Vitality is the energy available to you for taking action. It is the energy that enables you to self-regulate and still have the energy you need to pursue your goals. Vitality is the feeling of being alive, vigorous and energetic. When you have vitality, you are fully functioning.” Vitality is proactive and renewable by changing your mindset.  Because it is psychological and not physiological, it isn’t drained the way physical energy can be. It is what you need to be in control of your day and focus on your goals.

According to Fowler, vitality has three components which are the key to not feeling drained:  choice, connection, and competence.

Choice- Take time to notice where your actions are a choice rather than something you just have to do. I find it both empowering and, at times, uncomfortable to recognize that everything I do or don’t do is a choice, but this is key to increasing vitality. Noticing choice empowers you.  When you have a task to accomplish, consider why you are doing it. Is it because it’s required?  Would you do it if it weren’t?  If it’s required, how can you frame it so that if fits with your philosophy and goals?  Put your mind in control and discover that what you choose and how you choose it affect the amount of energy it will use.

Connection- The changes in the way we socialize have made us more aware of the importance of connection. Although how we reach out to or visit with people has changed, the value of those connections is the same – maybe greater.  Take the time to notice them, enjoy them, no matter how they occur. Take time to value the connections in your life. Remember to view your interactions with others not only for how you make their lives better, but how you benefit as well.

Competence – What we know, what we can do, and where we can learn contributes to our vitality.  Fortunately, librarians are lifelong learners. Recognize that the pandemic has given us new opportunities to learn and be of help and service to others. Take joy in this process while remembering not to take yourself too seriously. Part of learning has always been making mistakes. Laugh at them then find out what needs to be done to fix them.

Even when our bodies feel rundown, with choice, connection, and competence, we can make a shift to put our minds in control and bring out our vitality.

ON LIBRARIES – School Librarians Are Transformers

A number of years ago, while attending an ALA Conference (remember – I’m a conference junkie), AASL gave us pins that read: “Ask Me How School Librarians Transform Learning.” If someone saw you wearing that pin and asked you that question, are you prepared to answer it?  You never know when someone will challenge the need for school librarians and school libraries.  You must be able to respond.

AASL produced a mini magazine entitled “School Librarians Transform Learning,” published by American Libraries. Although it came out several years ago, the content is still relevant and it’s available as a free download electronically or as a PDF. It contains six articles and an infographic, all of which will ensure you can effectively answer that challenging question.

As Barbara Stripling says in the opening article, “The vision of school librarians is to enable all students to become independent readers and learners.” She details five ways in which we do so.

  • Fostering Independent Reading – Students learn how to read in the classroom. With a certified librarian and a school library, they learn to love reading.  In other words, we transform readers into lifelong readers and learners.
  • Teaching Critical Information Skills and Dispositions in Collaboration with Classroom Teachers – That’s a mouthful, but translated for the challenging questioner, it means we work with classroom assignments (and the teacher who gave it) to teach students to identify valid, relevant information, so they can create new knowledge. We also help students develop the attitudes that sustain them through the sometimes frustrating experiences of true research.
  • Ensuring Equitable Access to Resources and Technology – The sixth Common Belief in AASL’s National School Library Standards states, “Information technologies must be appropriate, integrated, and equitably available.’ By curating websites and other resources that are aligned with the curriculum and then guiding students in how to use them effectively, librarians support students to develop powerful tools for learning.
  • Creating a Safe and Nurturing Environment – This one is basic to us, but others are not always aware that learning can’t take place when students don’t feel safe. The library is can be a place in the school where some of students who deal with threats to their safety in school or have stress-filled home lives feel safe. We strive to make the library a haven for those who need it.
  • Providing Schoolwide Instructional Leadership – As tech integrators, we bring the latest websites and apps to classroom teachers. We help them incorporate these tools into their teaching and work with them when they have their students use them.

The Infographic follows Stripling’s article and it’s worth reproducing and hanging in your library. Among the great facts it showcases are:

  • Students equate research with Googling.
  • Use search engines instead of more traditional sources.
  • Lack the ability to judge the quality of online information.

The Infographic has many more such supportive facts.

Barbara Stripling also wrote the next article, “Reimagining Advocacy for School Libraries.”  This is an extensive article and one with solid information on how to advocate for your library.  Rather than go into details, I want to tempt you to read it by listing the headings.

  • Clarifying the Characteristics of the Effective School Library
  • Identifying Evidence of School Library Impact
  • Crafting the Message
  • Developing Partnerships and Delivering the Message
  • Evaluating the Advocacy Impact

In a third article, Kay Wejrowski responds to the challenging question, “Do Kids Even Use the School Library Anymore?” This article grew out of Wejrowski being confronted by a couple at a charity fundraiser.  You need to be ready with a solid response as she was.

Her answer includes how the library builds community spirit (transforming the education community) and is the center for tech skills.  I love this line from her article: “It is our library that often serves as a think tank for evolving ideas and programs and finds solutions to local challenges.” I hope the parents who asked the question were amazed and impressed by what Wejrowski told them.

In another article Daniel Mauchley writes about “Creating Coalitions.” They brought in him after the school district tried to eliminate nearly all the librarian positions, forcing the librarians to advocate strongly for themselves. Mauchley writes about being able to work with teachers as an instructional partner despite having to move between two schools. Many of you are in a similar situation.  You can’t show how school librarians transform learning unless teachers can see it for themselves. As District Librarian Shelly Ripplinger says, “Working with teachers and co-teaching is better for students. And doing what’s best for students, that’s what it really comes down to.”

The final article by Nancy Everhart and Marcia A. Mardis report on “Building Advocacy Before a Crisis” based on the Pennsylvania School Library Study. Their suggestions should add to your knowledge base of how to place your school library in the spotlight as the place where transformational learning happens.

Be prepared to answer the tough questions. Take the time to read the articles in this magazine and look at the Libraries Transform website.  We must get the word out.  Each one of us is responsible for ensuring that students, teachers, administrators, parents, and indeed the whole community is aware of the vital contribution school librarians and school libraries make on teaching and learning.  If you haven’t done so as yet, use this magazine and your own knowledge to create a plan to bring this message to your stakeholders.

ON LIBRARIES: Seasons’ Decisions

In many ways, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but holidays bring their own stress, and there is one in particular which impacts many librarians.

There was a time when only Christmas was celebrated in public locations such as municipal buildings and schools. Department stores only featured Christmas displays, and no one thought much of it. Eventually, other December holidays were included as well. Schools reacted to this expansion in different ways, usually depending on location. Some continued to feature only Christmas decorations. Some had both Christmas and Hanukkah. Others included Kwanzaa.  And then there are places that don’t allow any indications of a religious celebration.

Where does that leave librarians?  How do you decorate for the holidays? Some of you live in an area where it is expected that you be inclusive.  Others have more restrictions.  How and why do you decide what to do?

This is an ideal time to look at your philosophy. You probably have something in it about creating a safe, welcoming space. You might address equity, diversity, and inclusion.  To what extent do your holiday decorations reflect and promote those ideas? If they don’t, then you might keep any December theme focused on the season rather than the holidays.

You also need to consider your student population. What is its religious /ethnic make-up? The more diverse it is, the more your displays need to reflect that.  We want to have “mirrors” for our students. Their feelings of safety come from seeing themselves reflected in the school community—and the library. If their holiday isn’t represented, they feel invisible.

If your population is mainly Christian, you probably will make Christmas central to your displays. Most of these are not overtly religious, although some occasionally include a crèche. But should you also have some Hanukkah decorations to acknowledge the diversity that is out there? It depends on your community and their concerns, but this is where you have the opportunity to create “windows.”  While mirrors let students see themselves in books – and displays – windows show them the lives of those who are not like them. In her essay, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” , Rudine Sims Bishop says when children only see themselves they develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance. A thought to consider.

What can you do if your community is not open to diversity and inclusion? The choice is yours, but you can make tiny inroads. Consider a small display of books on Hanukkah (and maybe Kwanzaa) with no decorations.

This is the same approach you can take with “controversial materials.” I have written before about the choices librarians make to purchase or not purchase a title. No one wants to risk their job and possibly lose friends by making choices the school and community would emphatically reject. Once again, the key is usually in small steps. They are hardly noticeable, but each one puts you a little further down the road and creates a library with more windows to the world at large.

Hopefully, as communities become more diverse, there will be an increasing number of schools open to having students discover how their neighbors celebrate.  Then you can mark the month of Ramadan beginning on April 24, 2020, and the 5-day Diwali celebration beginning on November 14, 2020. In the meantime, enjoy your holiday, whatever and whenever it is and however you choose to celebrate it.

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Space

In the aftermath of another school shooting, I felt this was an important topic to revisit because it is clearly an ongoing struggle. For learning to happen, students need to feel safe. Equally important, they need to feel welcome. It is our charge as librarians to create a space where both exist. Doing this is vital to your program’s success.

The way you have arranged your facility, the furniture, the displays, and how you greet students show them the library welcomes them.  To truly make all students feel safe and give them a sense of belonging requires a more concentrated effort. It starts with a collection that reflects a diversity of culture, ethnicity, and race of your students as well as the various lifestyles they lead. Even if your school is culturally homogenous, there is a need to show students what the larger world looks like. In addition, it’s important to be aware of differences that may not show so that these can also be addressed.

For example, how are socio-economic differences and physical disabilities being acknowledged in your collection? We need to pay attention to how these students access information, making it as barrier-free as possible. In creating a safe environment, you need to continually learn about those who are “other” in some ways and work to make them feel recognized, valued and welcome as well.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Against a backdrop of differences and in a time when differences continue to face suspicion and prejudice, librarians need to develop a collection policy that consciously pays attention to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).  While the three terms seem similar, they encompass important differences. Understanding them helps you be more attuned to your students’ needs.

Equity is often confused with equality. Equality is giving everyone the same thing, i.e. all students get a Chromebook. Equity is ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity. If a computer is needed for homework, do all students have access to one at home? Can they access the internet? If not, then you don’t have equity.

An illustration appearing on many websites explains the distinction. Three boys of different heights are trying to watch a baseball game from outside a solid fence. Equality shows them now standing on boxes of the same height. The tallest boy has an excellent view. The next one can just see over the fence. The shortest one still cannot see the game. Equity gives the boys boxes of different heights, so they all have a good view.  A third panel shows the boys viewing the game from behind a fence with an open weave. This takes access to a higher level by completely removing the barrier for all.

Diversity is usually thought of as referring to the various ethnicities, religions, and cultures, but it includes far more. Gender, gender identification, socio-economic status is part of diversity. So are physical and emotional challenges. Diversity is so all-encompassing it can be hard to wrap your arms around all the differences. Adding to the challenge is that so many of these differences aren’t observable, certainly not on the surface. Despite that, libraries must strive to meet the needs of all these students. Lower check out areas for students in wheelchairs. No fines so as not to penalize those having financial challenges or spending time in two households. Books which represent different challenges, choices, and traumas.

Inclusion means that all are a part of the whole.  It seeks to keep students in age-appropriate classes. Students are not judged to be inferior for any reason. Ever.

Another recent image going around social media captured the distinction among the three terms in this way: “Accessibility is being able to get in the building. Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. Belonging is having your voice heard at the table!”

Although EDI is the phrase used most of the time to describe what we are trying to achieve, a better visualization of what this means is the phrase Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors as coined in an essay by Rudine Sims Bishop. Mirrors are the stories that show students they are not invisible in the library collection. Bishop notes if children only see themselves, they develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance. These same books offer other students windows – the ability to see and better understand their peers and the challenges that they might face.

By now we are all aware of the importance of having books so that African Americans, Latinx, and Islamic students and others can see themselves in our collections. Many of you have acquired titles about LGBTQ+ kids and families while others face challenges to this step. But diversity goes beyond these areas.

The library’s collection needs books that include kids who have physical disabilities as well as mental and emotional problems. You also need stories about students who are homeless, have a parent or close relative who is incarcerated, or a parent who is in the military and is in an active war zone. Even Sesame Street, which has always worked to be diverse, currently has Muppets who have autism and are in foster care.

How do you do it all – particularly when your budget is small? There is no simple solution. Do your best to tune into the diversity that exists in your school population and make that your initial focus. Look for materials to meet them. And then check for grants. There may be an organization that offers grants to your school district.

It’s not easy and it takes time, but we all agree our students are worth the effort.  With windows and doors, we make our libraries safe, welcoming spaces for all.

 

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Environment – For All

The library must be a safe, welcoming environment.  We all say this and mean it.  But how is that translating into reality? Having furniture appropriate in size for students?  Featuring student work? Rules that are positively stated? Do you have students who choose to stay in the library during lunch because they feel different or unaccepted by their classmates?  All this is important, but there is more to creating a safe, welcoming environment for all. Those last two words are the key and to create it we need equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Creating a welcoming environment is behind the call for more diversity in our collections. A great website for this is We Need Diverse Books. Under the Resources tab, in addition to a downloadable Booktalking Kit, there is “Where to Find Diverse Books” which gives links for sources for African, African American, Disabilities (only one). American Indian, Islam, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+.

Take the time to look at your current collection.  Do most of your diverse books fall within Sonia Nieto’s description of foods, festivals, fashion, folklore, and famous people?  For students of these diverse backgrounds, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in capturing who they are.  Is your African American collection heavily tilted toward slave days and the civil rights movement?  Certainly, there is much more to present.

As mentioned on the website We Are Teachers, we need to provide Mirrors and Windows.  Mirrors allow students to see themselves in the books in our collections. The same titles provide Windows for other students to see the bigger picture, helping them become the global citizens necessary in our world.  Hopefully, these Windows become Sliding Glass Doors, creating comfort and ease with others who are different from us.

It’s important to see diversity in a somewhat larger setting.  The phrase used in business, education, and especially for our libraries is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or EDI.  The three words are obviously related, but there are substantive differences among them.

ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee just completed the process for further defining the Library Bill of Rights.  The document, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights is one you need to be familiar with.  Among other explanations, it presents definitions of these three key areas.

Equity, according to the document is: “{Takes} difference into account to ensure a fair process and, ultimately, a fair outcome. Equity recognizes that some groups were (and are) disadvantaged in accessing educational and employment opportunities and are, therefore, underrepresented or marginalized in many organizations and institutions. Equity, therefore, means increasing diversity by ameliorating conditions of disadvantaged groups.”

Equity should not be confused with equality. Equality means everyone gets the same.  Divide the pie into equal portions.  But should the toddler get the same size piece as the teenager?  Obviously not.  Equity is about giving more to those who need more.  A graphic, attributed to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette (left), shows 3 children of different heights behind a fence watching a baseball game. Equality is giving all three a box of the same height to see over the fence.  Equity is giving them boxes of different sizes.

My favorite version goes beyond even equity. When the planks covering the fence are removed, nobody needs assistance.  The assistance can make students feel different which is not what we want.  For example, if you charge fines for overdues and forgive those who can’t afford them or let them work off their fines in some ways, you are making the situation equitable, but differences are still felt. Eliminating fines eliminates differences.

Diversity according to the ALA document, “can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. When we recognize, value, and embrace diversity, we are recognizing, valuing, and embracing the uniqueness of each individual.” The words “valuing” and “embracing” are what contribute to making the library a safe and welcoming space.

Diversity shows up throughout the National School Library Standards. The standard for C. SHARE III. Collaborate states: “Learners work productively with others to solve problems by: involving diverse perspectives in their own learning process.”  It’s not just your book collection that should be diverse. Integrating diversity within research projects makes it a part of students’ lives.

Inclusion, as stated in the document, “means an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully; are valued for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; have equal access to resources and opportunities; and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”  To me, this is the welcoming statement.  All belong, all contribute.

The National School Library Standards identifies Include as the second of the Shared Foundations, stating that it “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community.”  As part of what we do as school librarians, we need to recognize the diverse range of our student population.  In addition to ethnicity, gender identification, and disabilities, we need to be aware of those who are homeless, have an incarcerated family member, a parent serving abroad, or other ways their lives may make them feel different.

It’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight.  It’s an ongoing process of learning for us as well as the communities we serve, but the bottom line is the library must be a safe, welcoming environment for ALL. The work we do with this has a far-reaching – even unlimited – impact.

 

 

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?