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?

 

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ON LIBRARIES: What Type of Leader Are You?

leader-wordleAn odd question at first read.  A leader is a leader, right? From my past blogs you know there is a difference between managers and leaders, but how can there be leader types?

Step back a moment and reflect on the leaders you know or have worked with.   You may have had a principal or superintendent who was always coming up with new strategies to improve student performance and instruction.  Sometimes it seemed that the beginning of every school year an “exciting approach” was introduced.

Or you may have had one who made every feel respected and valued.  I had a superintendent who had to work with a district that kept school budgets as tight as possible.  She could get staff to go beyond requirements by knowing the right compliments to give people.  I was told I was a “true professional.”  I don’t know what she said to a Spanish teacher who had no problem teaching four different sections of Spanish. (Spanish IV and AP Spanish were included in one class.)  The union wasn’t happy at what teachers were “giving away,” but the district got an amazing return for very little money.leadership-archetypes

So what type of leader are you and how many types are there? Turning as I usually do to the business world for their answers I discovered there are quite a number. In his article on “Eight Archetypes of Leadership in the Harvard Business Review, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries identifies and discusses them.  I will give you my “library” interpretation of these archetypes.

The Strategist: leadership as a game of chess – These librarians keep current with changes in education, technology, and the politics of the district.  They see how to position the library program in the forefront, sometimes before anyone else knows what is coming.

chessThe Change-Catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity – Although this seems similar to the Strategist there are significant differences.  While the Strategist works best in orderly situations, the Change-Catalyst is a true Disrupter (see last week’s blog) and functions best in messy almost chaotic situations. They shine when a new superintendent or principal is hired and no one knows what to expect.  In the midst of the chaos, they make the needed changes and the library program helps others through the difficult time.

The Transactor: leadership as deal making – Rarer in school librarianship, this type of leader knows how to negotiate with administrators to eke out more funds.  For example, with ESSA coming they approach their principal with ideas for resources which will help teachers make the change-over.  They might ask for one-time funding to cover the cost, or if it’s an electronic resource an ongoing increase to maintain it.

The Builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity – The Builder envisions something new and knows how to create it.  Those librarians who have transformed their libraries into a Learning Commons (particularly the first ones) are the Builders.

The Innovator: leadership as creative idea generation – The first ones I knew were the librarians who automated their libraries when computers were in the early stages and you sent your shelf list to one company to create the electronic records, to another vendor to put them into the purchased system, and still a third for barcodes.  Today they are the ones who brought Makerspaces to the library, implement the latest tech into their program and know how to get teachers on board. They run the Twitter chats or a Google Hangout.

processorThe Processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency – No matter how hard pressed these leaders are, they know how get to the heart of the matter, eliminate what no longer is working, and make running a busy library look easy.  (For me, this is the least important of the types from a library perspective.)

The Coach: leadership as a form of people development – These are leaders with high Emotional Intelligence. As with the superintendent I had, they know how to get the most out of people. They know their volunteers’ skill sets and make the best use of them.  They are charismatic and teachers love working with them resulting in much collaboration or cooperation and support for the library program from the staff and administration.

stage-managementThe Communicator: leadership as stage management – Librarians who have mastered how to get the right message in the most productive format to various target audiences get enthusiastic support for their program since Communicators are skilled at “marketing” their product to the appropriate stakeholders.

With this list in mind, which type of leader are you?  You might be more than one.  Is there a type you would like to become.

ON LIBRARIES: Small Changes, Big Results, a More Welcome Library

welcomeWelcome to the Library

The words mirror the sentiment and the message you want everyone to receive when they step into your library, but words are not enough.  Some of you have signs outside your door or on a bulletin board just inside. Excellent.  But that won’t really convey the message. That’s telling, not showing and it doesn’t have the impact you want.

I blogged in December of last year about inadvertently sending mixed messages and spoke about posted negative rules and a library devoid of any student work.  Keeping rules positive – stressing what you are allowed to do and focusing on respect is important.  Displaying student creations does show the library is meant for them. But there is more.library-signage

In March of this year I blogged about transforming your library into a Learning Commons which I believe is ultimately the way to go. However, I am sure that many of you consider it too large a goal to tackle and I understand your constraints.  Split between schools, an overloaded schedule, and no help doesn’t give you time to take on big jobs.

You can make big changes in small ways, and you don’t have to do it all at once. To start, step outside your library.  Pretend you have never been in there before.  First impressions count, and although it really isn’t your first time to enter try to do so with fresh eyes.

Walk in the door and look around. What catches your eye?  Keep looking.  What message are you getting about what the library is about?  Is there anything off?  Is there something that is inviting you in for further exploration?

I once took over a library that was considered to be beautiful in its day, however the previous librarian had missed some things.  If you entered and looked to your left there was a wall of windows with counter height shelving just below them.  That’s what was beautiful.  The windows looked out on a scenic setting. Great idea by the architect.

But time and the exigencies of running a library had made some subtle changes.  Looking straight ahead from the entrance to the back wall, you could see the tall fiction book stacks.  Above them were an assortment of old shelving that had never been discarded. Libraries don’t have to be super neat. Those that are don’t have kids using them. (Mine were only at that “perfect” stage when the school year was over and the books were all neatly shelved and all magazines put away.)  But the clutter of the old book shelves was distracting.  They marred the attractiveness of the library.

What had happened was the librarian had stopped seeing her library. When you are in the library every day and have work to do, you no longer notice these things.  They have become part of your world.  Making time to see your library anew and spruce up what has been quietly disrupting the library environment will help you make some simple changes. You don’t need much time or money to do it.

When many librarians genre-fied their collection, they made sure to create great signage to help students and teachers find where the books were shelved. Signage is equally important if you are a Dewey library.  Remember signs are for your users, not for you.  You know that 500 is for Pure Science and 600 is for Technology, but they probably don’t.  Remember pictures are better than words and with clip art you can tailor them to what your students study and are interested in.learning-commons2

Counter height shelving is great for displaying books. Have different themes on different bookcases.  An appropriate sign will draw readers to the titles. Be sure to change them regularly or everyone will stop “seeing” them.

Some can displays can tie into your current bulletin board which should also change regularly. If you feel there isn’t enough time, try to get students to do some –under your direction.  If you are at the elementary level, contact a high school art teacher to find out if any of his or her students would like to take on the project for their portfolios

Next look at the “flow” of the library.  You naturally arrange your collection to follow the Dewey sequence (or alphabetical sequence if you genre-fied) but what about your floor plan.  How does traffic move when it enters your library.  Is this the way you want it to go?  If not, how can furniture be re-arranged to help it go in a better direction.  Do students have room to move around tables?  When your library is busy, step back for a few moments and consider whether the arrangement is working to help promote collaboration without creating unnecessary noise.  (I always had a fairly noisy library, but it was almost always under control—voices did not need to be raised to be heard.)

Do you like the way the computers are placed?  The printer(s)?  Does the arrangement work? If not, what needs to be changed?  You probably can’t do anything until school is out, but you need to know what you want done and you can start making and keeping notes.

Coffee and snack for break
Coffee and snack for break

Don’t forget about welcoming teachers. If you have the room, create a “teacher table.”  You can put a copy of a current education magazine such as Educational Leadership from ASCD and perhaps one or two new professional titles.

Keep the coffee pot on in your office and have snacks there.  It’s a tried-and-true way to bring teachers in. (It also brought in my IT people.) Once they are accustomed to hanging out there, you can show them some of your latest additions, mention a new website you think they’d like or want to use with students.  Start building new relationships with food and eventually you can branch out to collaboration or cooperation.

You have to show everyone that the Welcome Mat is always out at the library.

What are you doing to show the library is a safe, welcoming environment?

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Mentors – Get One Or Be One

mentoringMentoring has long been a business practice, but it didn’t have much of a role in education until states began allowing people to become certified through alternate routes rather than taking traditional education course in college.  These new hires had limited knowledge of pedagogy and educational practices.  To get them up to speed quickly, many states instituted mentorships whereby an experienced teacher would guide these newbies through the routines, paperwork, and assorted requirements.

While it’s nice for a school librarian to have a teacher mentor, it does not solve most of the challenges facing someone who is new or relatively new on the job.  A teacher can show you the ropes as they apply to the building or district, but not the ones directly related to being librarian. Teachers don’t deal with budgets, purchase orders, people walking in and out of their rooms, a vague or non-existent curriculum, or administrators who don’t know what you are supposed to do other than teach.

In addition, as a librarian you deal with teacher demands, tech responsibilities, and the tech department for a host of issues ranging from updating your automation system and inputting new students and teachers into that system to loading any new databases.  Where can you get help?  Not from a teacher.  You need a school librarian as your mentor.

Getting a Mentorkeep calm - mentor

You have a few options as to how to acquire a mentor.  It might be simplest to find another librarian in your district and ask him or her to be your mentor.  They are familiar with how the district operates, probably order from the same vendor that you will, and know the people and practices of your districts’ tech department.

Another way to acquire a mentor is to go to your state library association’s website and see if they have a mentor program.  Many do and will find one for you, preferably located close to you geographically.  My own state of New Jersey has a detailed mentorship program with explanations of the responsibilities of mentors and mentees, the reporting process, and more.

If that avenue is not available, go to you association’s online discussion board (also called listserv).  Monitor it for a while to see who is most active and which contributors seem to be the most respected and well-versed in the latest practices in school librarianship.  Email one of these librarians and ask him or her to be your mentor.

reach the topBeing a Mentor

Those of you who are quite experienced and who are regarded as leaders in your state need to step up and become mentors. If you want school library programs to flourish, you are responsible to help all school librarians to be successful and to grow into being leaders. One of my favorite quotes is by Tom Peters who said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

Now that you accept your responsibility to become a mentor, you need to find mentees.  If your state association doesn’t have a mentorship program, propose one.  Use a national forum such as LM_NET or AASL_Forum to find out which states have a program and are willing to share it with you.  No need to re-create the wheel.

In the meantime, check to see if your district has any new hires. Positions that once were eliminated are slowly (OK, very slowly) being restored in places.  More often than in the recent past, when a librarian leaves or retires the position is not being eliminated, so districts are getting more new librarians. Reach out to these newbies and offer you services.

You can also go on you state association’s discussion board and suggest a core of volunteer mentors for new librarians, saying you would want to be one to help those starting out be successful.  The simple act of putting yourself out there should bring both requests from those who recognize what a gift this is and volunteers who will join you in becoming mentors.

Mentor/Mentee Relationshipmentor wanted

Both mentors and mentees have responsibilities in this relationship and it’s best if these are discussed clearly from the beginning.  The mentee has the obligation of honoring the mentors’ time and using the communication channel the mentor prefers whether it’s phone, email, skype, or whatever seems best.  Sometimes the mentor can come to the mentee’s school. Also determine the frequency of communications. It can be on an as-needed basis or there can be a regular schedule.

Additionally the mentee must be clear as to his/her needs. What specifically does the mentee want to know or learn?  I have had mentees email me a copy of an evaluation they received, explained what happened, and asked for the best way to respond to it  I have been asked to help craft a memo to a principal regarding a problem situation and do it in a way the librarian didn’t sound as though she was whining or complaining.

It is also a good idea for the mentee to keep track of the number and content of the communications.  This serves as documentation of the mentees’ growth. If kept general enough, the mentee might be able to use it to show the principal what he/she learned.

The role of the mentor is more than simply being a coach.  Yes, the mentor cheers on the mentee on those down days when all seems to be going wrong and points to places where the mentee has shown growth, but in addition they need to be good listeners and not rush in with answers and advice.  They ask guiding questions, much the way we do with students.  It’s important that the mentee learn to think through problems and situations on his/her own.

The mentor is also the mentee’s link to resources. This included reminding them of national association websites, informing them of tech resources and apps as well as connecting and introducing them to other leaders.  Slowly the mentor guides the mentee not only to be confident and successful on the job, but more importantly, the mentor helps the mentee on the path to leadership.

help is on thewayDo you have a mentor or have you had one?  What did you learn?  Have you ever been a mentor? What did you learn and gain from it?

 

BONUS!!  Download your free Mentor-Mentee contract here!

ON LIBRARIES: Everyone Needs Equal Access

education-equalityOne of the “Common Beliefs” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Equitable access is a key component for education.”  The accompanying paragraph explains it further:

 “All children deserve equitable access to books and reading, to information, and to information technology in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.”

I know most of you have created in your library “an environment that is safe and conducive to learning,” but how are you doing with the first part?

We tend to interpret the Common Belief statement as meaning that librarians are staunch protectors of intellectual freedom and resist attempts to censor books and overly filter websites.  While that belief is embodied in the statement, we are quite possibly overlooking another important element in that statement.  Access to books and particularly information technology varies extensively from school to school and from district to district.poor library

The digital divide keeps getting wider.  Librarians who work in urban, rural, or tribal lands schools recognize this disparity every day.  They don’t have the resources and, in the case of rural and tribal land schools, the lack of broadband is an additional hardship.  ALA is cognizant of this growing challenge and is preparing to respond.

A “Resolution on Equity for All to School Libraries Community,” prepared by a school librarian member of ALA Council is being finalized to bring to a vote at ALA Annual.  Among the issues in the “Whereas” statements notes there is an “inequity of resources in school libraries with widening of gaps between collections in affluent districts versus those in low income areas,” and “there is a widening of the digital divide in areas where state coalitions of digital resources are losing funding.” There are a number of others, but this serves to show the national recognition of the seriousness of the problem.

outdatedThe Resolution then proposes several actions be taken by ALA. In addition to instituting a variety of advocacy measures to address different aspects of the issue, it also includes urging “Congress to address equity issues while developing the ESSA legislation rules regarding funding and school libraries.”  If the Resolution passes it also wants ALA to “establish procedures to enable state associations and affiliates to influence state legislation requiring adequate funding and appropriate staffing in school libraries in schools at all levels.”

Assuming after some revision, since this is from a draft, ALA Council approves the Resolution, will this make a difference?  The answer is yes and no.  It always matters when a national association takes a firm position and as in this case addresses significant harm being done to one group of students.  On the realistic side, ALA can’t control what Congress or state legislators decide to do.

However you can make a difference.  By being aware of Resolutions such as this one, you can contact your legislators.  Your state association can organize an email, Twitter, and phone campaign.  You can bring it to discussions you might have with your administration.  This is a resource. Using it strategically is up to you.little steps

There is one more aspect of inequitable access to information not specifically addressed in this Resolution, but one you should keep in mind.  Even within many affluent districts there are pockets of poverty and hidden homelessness.  We expect students to come to school prepared and to have done their homework, but for too many that is an impossible task.

If the family has stopped getting Internet –or never could afford it—the only access students might have to your online databases or sites the teacher expects them to view, is on their phones. If there is no Wi-Fi at home, they need to go where it is available.  Starbucks is not the best place to do homework, and not every child can get to the public library.

As librarians it is our responsibility to serve all our patrons equitably. Talk to the Guidance Counselors to get a better sense of the scope of the problem.  Try to get funding in the form of a grant or from the parent association to keep the library open after school for a few hours several times a week.  You should be paid for this, but you might contribute your time as a service to your students. Not everyone will be able to take advantage of it, but those who can will have access to your online and print collection as well as your computers and printers.

Equitable access is a core belief of our profession.   We take strong stands to ensure that we have the well-informed citizenry necessary for a democratic society.  We all need to do our part.

 

ON LIBRARIES – The Challenge of Collaboration- Part Two

collaboration2Last week I blogged about meeting the challenges presented by collaborating with teachers. To be able to truly effect a transformation in student learning we need to work with the whole community. Creating collaborative relationships with teachers is not easy given your full workload, but building wider collaborations can be even more daunting and you probably have not considered developing them.

It’s time to address how to make those connections. You can start with small steps, but you need to make continuous progress so these stakeholders view the library program as vital to student and the entire educational community.  To review, the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners states:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

Your next target is the administrators. You might be thinking it is impossible to get my principal to promote collaboration when he/she doesn’t realize what I do and is only focused on test scores. It’s not about what the administrator knows. It’s your job to inform and to do so in a way your principal is open to receive the message.makerspace

One easy opening is through Makerspaces. You may have already started one, but if you haven’t, start planning one as soon as possible.  At the beginning, you might be the only one leading it, but you can eventually enlist interested teachers who are willing to share their hobby/experts in an area.  Students are sometimes able to run a Makerspace and it’s a great opportunity for them to show their special talents and leadership skills.  Eventually parents and others might contribute.

Present the idea to your principal.  Show how it connects to STEM.  Administrators are looking for ways to increase STEM opportunities for students and this is a natural.  If you start small, it usually doesn’t require much money to get the project launched, but ask for funds as part of your proposal.  By supporting the Makerspace even in this small way, the principal has a stake in its success and is therefore more involved with the library program.

Take pictures and make videos of kids at work. Share them with administrators – and the Board of Education. Follow district procedure about photographs of students and see if you can post these on your website. Include an invitation to parents and others to volunteer to lead a Makerspace.

Survey students to find what they would want added and announce the areas for which you need leaders.  As the program grows you will need more money. Have kids work on making a video to raise the funds through one of the crowdsourcing program such as DonorsChoose.org.

makerspace2Hour of Code is another way many librarians are showing the connection between the library program and STEM and getting support –and recognition—from their administrators.  As always, make sure to get the word out to parents and the wider community showing how the librarians transform student learning.

In the same vein, send your principal quarterly and annual reports even if they are not required.  Although you include statistics such as the number of classes and different subject areas addressed, focus on student learning. Use Piktochart or Issuu for a visual report packing interest and showcasing what you do.  With the information in hand, your principal will be much more likely to listen to your future proposals and be willing to “actively promote, support, and implement collaboration.”

  • Next week, achieving the final action step: “collaborat[ing] with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Transform

libraries transformALA’s Libraries Transform campaign is underway and school librarians need to be a part of it.  AASL has been promoting the concept of School Libraries Transform Learning since Midwinter 2015, but I suspect few of you have thought about the implications or what you might do differently.  Many of you wonder if any campaign will change how administrators, teachers, parents, and the community in general view you and the importance of school libraries.

Merriam-Webster gives the simple definition of transform as “to change (something) completely and usually in a good way.” In the more complete form it gives these three explanations:

  • To change in composition or structure
  • To change the outward form or appearance of
  • To change in character or condition

All three apply to what needs to be done.  Transforming is substantially different from changing or innovating. A change might move you backwards, and you all have seen changes made for the purpose of changing with no real plan in mind. Innovation brings something new to the mix, but it doesn’t encompass the range of a transformation. superman

Transforming requires a complete overhaul of everything, and to achieve that end the first transformation may have to be you. You can’t be a transforming agent unless you are a leader, confident in where you are going and how to get there.  A scary thought.  But you are a librarian and you don’t have to do this alone. There are many resources out there to help you.  Almost every week, this blog offers you ways to move out of your comfort zone and take on the role of a leader and, for those already there, how to lead on an even larger scale.

Too much is at stake for you to be focused solely on your daily tasks.  As you ready your program for transformation, you must be prepared to propose the changes you plan and how these will fit into a larger whole. Your enthusiasm provides the opening.  Your carefully designed plan shows you have thought through how to accomplish it, and by hitting the hot button issues, you get the support needed to bring it all to fruition.

The next step is transform your facility as the definition said “to change the outward form or appearance of” and by doing so you will also change the “character or condition.”  A few – a very few—of you might have access to funds that allow a huge make-over, but for the vast majority of you money is in tight supply. Fortunately many substantive changes can be made cheaply, particularly if you use resources on hand and once you know what you want to do remember to present it to your administrators and get approval.

Walk into your library as though you are viewing it for the first time.  What message is it sending?  Does it look much like one from the 1990’s or does it proclaim that it’s a 21st century library?  Fixed tables, computers, perhaps Chromebooks, but somehow it doesn’t feel as though it’s a a place for doing and making things.

When you have worked in a place every day, you take it for granted.  You stop seeing it, making it difficult to see what can be done differently. Start searching for library makeovers.  Look at Learning Commons sites.  You can’t get the fancy furniture and all the tech they have, but what is the message? How is the facility arranged?

Download pictures and create a vision board. Start dreaming and let others see that dream. How do they react? Do they find the possibility exciting?  Look for those places that have accomplished the transformation with minimum cost.  Check out the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group, there have been a number of posts recently about transforming library spaces, some cheap others more costly.

change aheadSome quick things you can do.  Look into putting your tables on casters so they can be easily moved into different configurations as students and teachers need. I did a library renovation in the late 1990’s and my tables were on wheels.  The custodians loved it as well.  I wish I had thought to put the counter height bookcases on casters. If you have cooperative custodians and are willing to unload and reload shelves (maybe get help) it still can be done.

Buy rolls of dry erase paper and cover tabletops.  Students working on group projects can get their ideas down, take pictures, and learn to think more deeply and creatively.  Think color.  Can you repaint sections of the walls to bring a more modern look?  Perhaps students in a high school design, marketing, or advanced art class can re-design the facility as an authentic learning opportunity.  Present them with challenge, giving them your vision and your dream board.  See if your local education foundation and/or parent organization can support your transformation with some funding.

Take pictures of the transformation as it is occurring and post it on your website or tweet it out.  Have a “grand opening” when it’s finished.

Now transform student learning.  With this new environment how will you work differently with students? How can teachers best use it?  And keep sharing all that is happening with the larger community.

Are you ready to Transform?