ON LIBRARIES – Build Your Listening Skills

Are you a good listener?  I am much better than I used to be, but it’s a skill I know I need to keep improving.  To be a successful leader you must be a good listener, hearing what is said – and not said and become an active listener. Active Listening contributes directly to building strong relationships.  As a quick review, Employee Development Systems Inc. gives these 6 Elements of Active Listening for Improved Personal Effectiveness:

  1. Letting others finish what they’re saying without interrupting them
  2. Asking questions to gain understanding
  3. Paying attention to what others are saying by maintaining comfortable eye contact
  4. Remaining open-minded about others have the right to their opinion
  5. Using feedback and paraphrasing skills
  6. Observing non-verbal signals such as the speaker’s facial expressions and body language

I have finally managed to do #1 most of the time. I do the others as well, but #5 is the one I’m still working on developing.

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Another way to look at how we can change the way we listen is offered by C. Otto Scharmer in an article entitled How Are You Listening as a Leader?  He lists four types of listening.  By categorizing which one you need when, and knowing how to use all four, you will improve your leadership and develop better relationships.

He calls the first one Downloading.  At this level, what you are hearing is information you already know.  It reminds me of so many faculty meetings.  You can tune in with one ear while you plan the tasks you need to do once you leave the building.  Of course, if this is how you are listening when a teacher or student is speaking to you, you will not connect the way you should so downloading should only be used when appropriate and not as the first one.

The second level is Factual Listening. The focus here is on data transmittal, and we are listening for where what we are hearing confirms or goes against our expectations.  In education, this kind of listening is likely to occur when the focus is on changes in scheduling and other areas during testing situations. Scharmer cautions that this is where we need an open mind and to not make judgments.  For example, you may (rightfully) become angry at what will happen to your program during the days devoted to testing.  Rather than be resentful, contemplate how you can make it work for your program (as long as you aren’t proctoring) and offer it as a suggestion to your administrator.

Empathic Listening is when we reach out to another’s person’s feelings.  It’s at this level that relationships are built and your colleagues, student, and administrators come to trust you as a leader. By understanding and recognizing what is motivating another person, you are better able to understand their point of view.  While you don’t have to agree with the view offered, this knowledge puts you in a better position to respond in a way they can hear you.

Finally, there is Generative Listening. When you are at this level, you and others are creating.  This is where innovation begins. You are ready to consider what is possible while giving others the space to come aboard and join with you.  You are not enforcing your will or ideas, but rather collaborating as the best from each participant is allowed to be heard allowing the result to be far greater than you could have imagined.  In the end, everyone has contributed to a project or program’s creation and success.

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Why do we have so much trouble listening? Dan Rockwell in his Leadership Freak blog post in March suggests the following reasons for “shallow listening.”

  1. Desire. Listening is such a bother.
  2. Ignorance. You might listen if you knew how.
  3. Time. Hurry up. The clock’s ticking.
  4. Energy. You don’t have the energy to listen deeply.
  5. Discipline. On a list of “hard things to do,” listening is near the top.

I am discounting #2 because I am sure you have heard much about Active Listening besides what I have just discussed.  For most of us, #3 is probably the main reason.  And after a long day, #4 takes over.

We change our habits when we recognize that making the change is worth the time and effort. Then it becomes a priority.  Listening is a leadership quality. Scharmer says, “Listening is probably the most underrated leadership skill. How you listen can be life-changing; not just business- or industry-changing.”

You can see what a difference it can make in your program and the individuals you come in contact with, where so much of what we can achieve rests on our ability to build relationships.  Listening and continually improving our listening skills deserves to be a priority. It changes our ability to be effective and impactful leaders.

 

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Mixed Messages

mixed messages2We are not always aware of the unintended messages we send.  Students in particular pick up on these, but others do as well.

I remember a fourth grade teacher who was who wanted her students to be good at writing and to love it. She worked hard on her writing lesson plans so that her students would enjoy the process.  One day I stopped by her class to tell her something important.  She met me at her door, and we talked while she kept an eye on her students.  The conversation ran a little longer than I had anticipated.  The kids got antsy and began talking with each other. The teacher turned to the class and said, “Is this how you behave when I am speaking with a guest?  Settle down right now or you will be writing two paragraphs on how we act when I have a visitor.”  With that one comment she told students writing is not fun; it is a punishment.

The teacher unthinkingly reverted to a “teacher default” response.  It is sometimes said that teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach. I don’t believe that’s true most of the time, but when stressed or upset they say and do things the way teachers used to do.  It’s like the jokes about women becoming their mothers and using the same phrases as the previous generation.unclear

With Students

The first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st– Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.” Many of you include “developing lifelong readers” or some variant of that in your Mission Statement.  Even without it in the statement, it’s a goal we hold very strongly.  How do you send that message?

You probably put new books out on display.  You talk to students about what they are reading. You recommend titles to students based on what you know of their likes and interests. And you share your own enthusiasm for books. All are wonderful way to send your message.

But do you then do something that sends a very different message?  I know countless elementary librarians who won’t let kids borrow a book if they have one (or more) overdues.  The message becomes: getting books back on the shelf is more important than having the student read.

The argument offered in most cases is you are teaching the child to be responsible. And besides, you can’t afford to lose books. What is more important, responsibility or developing their reading habit?  Of even greater concern to me is imposing a flat rule without taking into consideration different circumstances kids have.  For example children of divorce may their divide time between two houses. It’s easy to leave a book at one parent’s home and not be able to get it back in time for their “library day.” Give kids some leeway. Ask them when they plan to bring it back.  Have a reminder card you can give them to help.  Instead of requiring responsibility, help them learn it.

rulesIf you are helping a student and a teacher comes in wanting to talk with you do you end your conversation with the kid quickly so you can respond to the teacher?  This lets the student know that he/she is not as important to you as adults are.

Do you want your library to be a safe, welcoming environment?  The phrase shows up often in Vision Statements, but posted library rules – a list of “no’s” usually – sends a message that behavior is what really counts. Do students have to speak softly while teachers can speak loudly?  Watch for your double standards.

With Teachers

Librarians often resent they are not regarded as teachers.  You teach every day and with all types of students.  Sometimes it’s a whole class.  Other times it’s one-on-one. Are you sending the message that you are a teacher or are you sending another message?

I witnessed the worst example of this a number of years ago.  Teachers have always dropped into the libraries where I worked.  Sometimes to plan a lesson, but often to gripe about something.  While I never joined the complaints, I was a listening ear letting them know I recognized how upset they were.  One time, my co-librarian was listening with me to a teacher’s mini-rant.  Her response was, “You teachers….”  And I knew she had created a gulf between her and the teacher.  It always needs to be “We teachers,” in what you say and how you behave.frustrated

Unless we start noticing on some of our instinctive responses we are likely to send mixed messages to students, teachers, parents, and administrators.  Think about how you want to be perceived by these members of the educational community.  Then work to be sure your interactions promote it.

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part One

NOTE: This is the first of a several week series on collaboration

collaboration 2“School librarians transform student learning.”  Easy to say.  Important to do.  Accomplishing it… is more complicated.  While we can do much when dealing with students one-to-one, and certainly work toward that end when we have a scheduled class, the transformation is best achieved when working in collaboration with teachers. Some of you are doing so on a regular basis, but from my contacts with school librarians coping with day-to-day pressures, fixed schedules, and unwilling teachers, collaboration is at best a distant goal.

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.”

That’s a tall order and very few are doing all of this. The Guidelines offer no direction on how you are to develop this level of collaboration and instructional partnership.  Where do you start?Hello

You can’t focus on all four actions at once.  The last is the easiest to accomplish by way of formative assessments during a class and regular brief surveys or exit tickets at the end of a unit. The first action is your main target to implement the Guideline into your program.

At the middle and high school levels, you normally have a flex schedule which means some teachers bring their classes frequently, some do it rarely, and others you never see.  Work initially with those accustomed to using their library as part of their instruction.  At what point do you enter the process right now?  Is the teacher using only your facility but not your expertise or does h/she expect you to do an introduction to the resources to be used? You want to reach the stage where you are develop the unit together, each making a design contribution.

If the teacher is only using your facility, observe what students are working on.  Come up with one or two resources that would improve their results and share with the teacher.  If you are thanked, suggest the teacher give you a heads-up in the future so you can provide relevant sources.  If your recommendatiknockingon is ignored, repeat the process the next time.

In the case where you informed in advance what students will be doing and can offer recommended direction, add possibilities for making the project inquiry-based, one where the end product has meaning beyond the due date.  You want to create learning opportunities for students to be producers of information and not just regurgitating existing facts they collect and turn into a pretty presentation.

In all cases, follow up with a brief assessment with the teacher.  Did this help?  What would work better next time?  Frame your questions so teachers are willing to make negative comments. If you only hear positives you can’t improve what you are doing.

Elementary librarians who mostly have fixed schedules have a greater challenge. If you are in that situation, your first aim is to cooperate with teachers. To do that you need to find out what they are working on in class to give students a deeper connection with the topic by working with you when they come in at their scheduled time.collaborative learning

Start with the teachers with whom you have a good relationship.  When they give tell you what they are doing (or you have a curriculum map to guide you), let them know what you are doing with their students.  As with flex time librarians, follow up when the unit is complete to find out what the teacher thought. What if anything did he/she not like?  What worked? Was there anything you can do differently next time?

Next week, meeting the challenges of other Actions in the Guidline.

 

 

 

 

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?”