ON LIBRARIES: Another New Administrator Arrives

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

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

So how can you be ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES – New Administrator – Now What?

You just heard the replacement for your principal or your superintendent of schools has been hired.  As a leader, you need to be prepared.  You don’t wait to see what happens. You go into action mode.

At the rate administrators turn over these days this is a common situation. The coming of a new administrator reminds me of the line from Exodus, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  The reputation you have built up and the relationship, good or bad you had with the previous administrator are gone.  You are starting anew. 

(To keep from the awkward “he/she,” I am using feminine pronouns throughout – although most of the administrators I worked for here male.)

Put your research skills to work as soon as you know the name of your new principal or superintendent.  See what you can learn about what kind of a leader she was in her last school or district.  If you can locate the names of librarians there, email one of them to find out how the library program did under her tenure.

The previous school/district website can provide further information as it may have messages from the administrator.  This will clue you into her priorities.  Also, Google her name and look for Twitter accounts and Facebook pages to get a sense of her achievements, values, and whatever else can help you get a picture of who your new administrator is.

Once you have a handle on what to expect, you still need to meet her to ensure she will regard your library program in the best possible light.  Schedule a meeting as soon as possible. If she is taking over during the summer so much the better. Although she will be busier than a continuing administrator because she is still finding her way around, it is still calmer than when school begins.

If the new administrator is your principal you (and your co-librarian if you are fortunate enough to have one) attend the meeting.  If it’s a superintendent, all the librarians of the district need to be there and everyone should be prepped for it. Plan on it taking no longer than half an hour.  Fifteen minutes is better.  This acknowledges you understand she is extremely busy and you can show you can be informative while being succinct.

Before the meeting, review what you found out about the administrator. Based on that, what is something you have done in the library that would be of most interest to her?  If she is a techie, have a file of pictures from your Makerspace or Hour of Code.  For a book lover, focus on any reading program you have done. You are giving highlights not the whole program so choose wisely.

Prepare questions to ask—but memorize them, don’t read them.  You want to sound spontaneous. Let the administrator know you want to ensure that the library program supports her vision for the school/district.  Ask what she liked best about the library program in her previous school. What, if anything, didn’t she like?

Those two questions should give you a direction. If her answers are fuzzy you know she has no clue as to what the library program does and you will have to work to slowly “educate” her. If she is specific but fairly negative, you will have to overcome a belief that is probably the result of her dealings with previous librarians.  A positive attitude means you start ahead and can focus on creating a good foundation.

For the rest of the school year, you must keep your new administrator informed but not deluged with what is happening in the library program.  For a superintendent, every month have each librarian share a one activity keyed to her interests, but have them send the information to one of you (rotate the task) to put together in a brief report. Always use visuals to supplement the text (Piktochart, Issuu, Animot, etc.).  Do the same for a principal. Focusing on just one activity should keep the task from being overwhelming for you to manage and for them to read.

Remember the reports should be very brief.  A new administrator has a steep learning curve and is being closely watched by the superintendent (if a principal), the Board of Education, parents, and sometimes the union.  You don’t want to add to the burden; you want to be a help. Of course, at the end of the year, you send an annual report.

Throughout that first year and in subsequent ones, invite your new administrator to “events” in the library.  If it’s the superintendent, send an invitation to both making sure each knows the other was invited.  Explain to your principal that you want the superintendent to know how the library program supports district goals and mission.

Be prepared for your administrator not to come.  She may not even let you know she isn’t coming. Don’t ask why just feature the event in your next report.  Keep inviting.  Eventually, she will come.  And it may be unannounced.

Seek another meeting the next summer. This meeting is about sharing where you want to take the library program in the next year and getting her input. By this time the administrator has a good handle on her new job., and you have shown her the value of the library program.

Have you had to deal with a new administrator recently?  What did you do to “market” your library program?  What success did you have?  What worked and what didn’t work?

When Being Right Is Wrong

two sidesIn the past few days I have gotten e-mails from two librarians from different states with very different responsibilities but a similar challenge. Each is now coping with big challenges with their superiors stemming from the administrators’ strong belief that they are right. What should you do in a situation like this?  Cave in?  Accept an incorrect assessment?  Ignore being disrespected? Definitely not.  But it’s obvious that insisting on being right is not going to lead to the outcome you want.

In the first case, the librarian worked with one department in a large educational consortium. A relatively new administrator instituted procedures that worked against what the librarian was trying to accomplish and seemed unaware of the dynamics in coordinating practices and interests of the different members of this department.  A job performance review highlighted this disparate view and hinted at the administrator’s correct perception that the librarian disliked her. In the other case, an elementary librarian was copied on an email to a teacher (and hadn’t read it), telling her to bring her class to the library as part of schedule changes caused by testing.  The administrator had sent it without checking to see if any classes were already in the library, and the librarian felt disrespected.Relationship over ego

Having heard the details of what occurred, there is no question that both of the librarians are right—and therein lies the problem. We are in a relationship business, and in relationships, unlike with tasks, being committed to being right can create trouble.  When a librarian is critical of a directive or approach taken by an administrator, he or she invariably reacts negatively deciding, correctly, that the librarian is not a team player and is possibly a threat to what the administrator is trying to achieve—rightly or wrongly.

Consider this, “Do you want to right, or do you want to make it work?”  Because, if you focus on being right, it most certainly won’t work.  As I noted earlier, we are in a relationship business and maintaining your position will destroy not build relationships.

Here’s an example of how this works.  You are a middle or high school librarian and a teacher schedules his class for an upcoming research project.  You work on the lesson, find websites and apps, pull relevant print material and are fully prepared but the class doesn’t show.  You are angry with the teacher—and rightly so.  Do you go to the teacher and let him see you are furious? If you do, what will the results be?  Your ultimate goal is to reach the students.  Being right will prevent you from achieving this – and harm your working relationship with this teacher.

right or what worksIf you go to the teacher instead and say “I probably should have sent you a reminder, but your class was scheduled to come to the library.  Do you want to reschedule or should we cancel the project?”  The teacher will likely be contrite and the two of you can come up with a workable revision. You also have not alienated the teacher who will be glad to work with you in the future.

Letting go of being right is not easy.  It’s natural to guard our territory—and our emotions.  However, we are also big picture people.  When dealing with a situation where you know you are right, step back before you speak or email in response.  Consider whether being right will get you where you want to go.  Remember, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?”