Creating an Advisory Council

In this day of libraries receiving regular disputes about books in their collection (and ALA has some great resources should this happen to you), it’s important to have advocates for the library who can support you through this process and any other challenges your program may face. One of the best ways to do this is to create and develop an Advisory Council.

When you’re planning, try to make your council as diverse as possible without becoming unwieldy by limiting your board to between 5 and 8 members. First, consider other librarians. You can invite the local public librarian and a college librarian, if there is one in your area, are other potential members. If you are at the elementary level invite a middle school librarian. Middle school librarians should look to high school, and high school librarians invite the middle school librarian.

Next, consider inviting one or two teachers from different subject areas, STEM teachers especially. If you are at the high school level, consider adding a student representative. Reach out to the community as well. Invite parents and local business owners. Inform your administrators, inviting them if they are interested. (And keep administrators in the loop no matter what).

As you develop your plan, start by creating your ask. What will be the purpose of the Advisory Council? How do you see the potential contribution of the members?  What will the commitment entail? Before or after school? Evening? Zoom or in-person? Know what you are asking people to do.

Also consider what members will need to know about the library to be effective. This includes an explanation of the Code of Ethics and the 6 Common Beliefs in the National School Library Standards. Add whatever else you believe necessary, depending on the members, and be sure to have these resources available to the members.

At the first meeting, welcome and thank the members for volunteering their time. After brief introductions, review the purpose of the council. Ask what they know and think about the school library. As succinctly as possible, review what you determined members need to know and encourage questions to ensure their understanding.

As a group, develop what the goals of the Council should be. You might want to focus on the diversity of the collection, reviewing the collection development policy, or what changes are needed to ensure the library is welcoming to all. Although you are leading what the possibilities are, be open to their suggestions.

Alaina Love’s post How to Lead a New Team to Success offers a direction for how to continue.

  1. Listen before leading – Don’t plunge into the tasks. While you want something to show for the first meeting, allow time to hear from the members. You asked them to be on the Council for a reason, but they may have more to offer than you knew. Be open to discovery.
  2. Share – Set up a Google doc or other method where Council members can report so every one can keep up with what is being done. After the first meeting, for example, you may have them comment on any goals that were discussed. Also, the doc can have a place to post any questions they have that have arisen since the meeting. Be sure they know everyone can respond to someone else’s posts.
  3. Seek insight –Discover what drives your members. Why did they agree to be a part of the Council?  What do they hope to give? What do they hope to gain? What have libraries meant to them. Knowing them as people, beyond their titles, will make them more connected to the team.
  4. Evaluate and align – The more you learn about the members the better you are at assigning tasks. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You do as well, and the Council is meant to help you do better at leading the library program. By knowing what members like to do and are good at, you not only get the best results but also increase their commitment to it.
  5. Review – Leaders inspire and inspect. Over time, notice how things are going and assess whether members have been offered the opportunity to give their best. Should you make changes in who is responsible for different tasks, be sure to frame it in the context of feeling they could give more in the new assignment.
  6. Query, acknowledge, celebrate – Get their input as to how they feel things are going. Instead of asking “how are we doing?” ask, “What can we be doing better?” And celebrate Council’s achievements and those of individual members. Even if you meet virtually, try for an in-person celebration. People stay more invested and active when they are acknowledged.
  7. Look outward – Council members don’t stay forever and new blood will always be needed to keep the council strong. Encourage outgoing members to recommend their replacement. Be sure to welcome new members and get them up to speed.

Creating and sustaining an Advisory Council takes work, but the benefits to your program and how you are perceived make it worth it. Bringing in diverse perspectives will give you the direction you need to ensure the library is a safe, welcoming space to all and continues to be an invaluable asset to the school.

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Working Together

To be truly successful as school librarians, we need to collaborate with our colleagues. Yet, because we have full schedules and so do teachers, many of us have found this an insurmountable challenge. It’s easy to fall into existing patterns and not go beyond what we have always done.

Collaboration needs us to extend beyond regular projects or limited to what has been previously done. Our students need it and our programs are better because of it. And doing so is part of our national standards. Collaborate is the fourth of the Shared Foundations in AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Libraries and Librarians. How School Librarians are to implement it is best shown in the framework on pages 84-85 of the Standards. Here you find:

Key Commitment: Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.”

Under

School Library Domains and Alignments: A. Think

The school library facilitates opportunities to integrate collaborative and shared learning by

  1. Partnering with other educators to scaffold learning and organize learner groups to broaden and deepen understanding.”

As a leader, grounded in your Vision and Mission, it’s part of your job to look for ways to connect with as many teachers as possible for the benefit of your students and the teachers. Finding the time won’t be easy, but you need to make the outreach a priority. Ken Blanchard in Playing Well with Others presents reasons why it is worth your extra effort.

When getting started at building relationships forming the basis for collaboration, I recommend reaching out to those with whom you already share a bond. But, as Blanchard points out, you can’t stop there. Playing well with others means finding places to form a connection. Those with different viewpoints are the very ones who can help us grow. In the process, you can form the start of a relationship leading to collaboration.

Blanchard discusses four benefits of working with others:

Learning–When we work with others, we learn: about them, ourselves, new ways to create. Like Blanchard, I have written a number of books with a co-author. We had some knowledge in common, but each of us had areas where we knew more than the other. Our combined strengths led to a better book and to me learning more than I expected during a venture where I was sharing what I knew.

Skill BuildingOne of the most vital skills in creating relationships is listening. You have to truly listen – and not just wait for your chance to talk—when you are working collaboratively. Related to Learning, there will always be skills where your partner is stronger and their knowledge will help you grow. Acknowledging what you each bring to the partnership strengthens it and leads to future collaboration.

Productivity—An obvious benefit. When work is divided, the load is lessened. While it seems at first that building relationships and creating collaboration increases in your work, ultimately you will be more productive and successful when you collaborate.

Networking Creating a network of teachers who understand and support the library is vital for your ongoing success. In addition, collaboration can extend to working with other librarians in your district (if you have them), public librarian, or a librarian at a local college. The larger your PLN, the more you grow, and the more you have to offer your teachers and students.

It’s simpler to work by yourself. You know what needs to be done. You have your own style and approach for doing it. Working with others seems be a way to slow things down. But as the saying goes, “To go fast, go alone. To go far go with others.” Thinking about this, realistically, how many teachers can you target for a collaborative project before the holiday break? Even one is a start. How many can you target from January to the end of the school year? What you learn from the first will help you reach the new ones with whom you plan to work.

The Power of Partnership

Getting teachers to collaborate with you can be a challenge. At the elementary level, you are their prep period, and they are perfectly happy to let you work with their students however you choose. At the high school level, you may never see them. And if they do come into the library, they know what they want and look to you for assistance, not collaboration. They don’t always see how your vision supports their goals.

If there is to be a change, chances are good that you must be the one to initiate it. It will take time and multiple steps to achieve your goal, but it will be worth it to everyone—especially the students. As you develop these partnerships, keep in mind your Mission and Vision. Look toward the relationships you have already built and focus on those who are most likely to be open to an overture from you. New relationships take longer but are just as worthwhile.

How you approach your teachers to begin the process is critical to your eventual success. Jim Knight offers Seven Principles for True Partnership. Although written to address to the business world, they are powerful reminders for us as well.

Equality – Although you are the one doing the initial heavy lifting, both parties must feel heard. No matter the teacher or what you see you bring to the project, it’s important that we “recognize the value and dignity of others.” This means listening without interrupting and correcting, which will likely cause them to withdraw. Be sure you show you recognize and value their interest in their students’ learning and the part they play in the success of your collaboration.

Choice – Rather than trying to find ways to impose your plan, look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the process as well as the final design. A partnership means there are contributions from both sides. Identify what you see as good ideas in what they proposed. Rather than thinking of it as selling your idea, approach it as how can you create something good together. It will be stronger for having input from both sides.

Voice – Give them room to react to your ideas. As with creating Equality, listen attentively. Make sure they know you hear and value their ideas. Sometimes a teacher’s idea of resources, essential questions, and other components seem off base. This may be a matter of newness, not ignorance. Are they concerned the scope is too large? Do they think it will be more work than they can handle? Pay attention to what they are saying and any other silent communication that suggests some resistance. If you spot that, ask about it. Don’t override any issues they have.

Dialogue – Knight talks about recognizing the other’s strengths. This is one of the best ways to build a partnership and collaboration. Each of you has something unique to bring to the project. Dialogue is a back-and-forth process where both sides want to be heard and understood. How can you leverage this?

Reflection – Look inwardly to see how you behave and react as the partnership develops. We tend to jump in and fix things rather than allow the other person to find their way and learn. Telling someone what they should do doesn’t work unless they have asked for advice. Make certain that each step in the process strengthens the partnership you’re working to build because you want this to last beyond the one project.

Praxis – As Knight uses it, this is about the learning that occurs while a project is happening. Plans rarely go exactly as designed. Both of you need to be prepared to make changes and adjustments. Mistakes and successes will happen. Learn from both. And do this in partnership so that you each feel supported.

Reciprocity – Each partnership is an opportunity to learn and grow. Go into this collaboration knowing that you are likely to learn as much (or more) from them as they will from you. That is one of the gifts of partnership – it speeds our learning because we do it together. What have you learned from each other? Be sure to share how you benefitted from the other person. Hopefully, you will hear what they learned from you.

Librarians and teachers have days that are filled with tasks and deadlines. Both have goals that are difficult to achieve alone. Building and nurturing collaborations take time, but the benefits to students and to our own lives are worth it. With whom will you partner?

Building Trust

Earning and keeping the trust of others – students, teachers and administrators – is key to your success. More than trusting your expertise, they need to know you will be able to deliver on your promises and be there for them when needed. Trust takes time to build, but it can be quickly lost.

Building trust is rooted in integrity. Keeping your word, honoring confidentiality, and other elements of honesty are vital. But trust is an emotional state, which means other more subtle factor contribute to its growth. In The Leadership Trust Crisis, David Livermore discusses the fact that trust in leaders (political, corporate and others) is at an all-time low. This means that relationships are shaky. He identifies five factors that affect the development of trust. Applying these can help you deepen the connections with the people in your building.

  1. Likeability – You get to know people you like. In the process, trust is developed. But what makes someone likeable? It often begins with a smile that goes beyond the superficial. It continues when you show you are interested in who the other person is. Sharing who you are extends the connection. Give people a chance to know and like being with you. It takes time, but it pays off.
  2. Competency – Livermore poses three questions on this: Do you have the skills to lead us? Can you communicate effectively? Do you know what you are doing?  As a librarian, this is where you excel. When we are aware of trends, new learning opportunities and the most recent tech resource or even teaching approaches (think inquiry-based learning), teachers see us as leaders and feel confident in coming to us with questions or concerns.
  3. Intensions – Are you in it for your success or do you care about mine?  What is your overarching purpose in putting this project together? Your everyday behavior sends messages to other about your character and integrity. We (usually unconsciously) make judgements of others based on their actions. Teachers and administrators are doing the same about you. Make certain you are treating others right and demonstrate that you care about the collective success. For example, when a project is complete put the teacher and their students’ outcomes front and center. Give credit to them. The library’s role and yours will be obvious. Their trust in your intentions builds.
  4. Reliability – Do you follow through on what you promise?  Can others see your commitment to living your Mission for the library? This relates to your integrity but is also about delivering in a “timely and consistent manner.” What did you tell your principal were your goals for the year. How did you hit them? In building trust – and the relationships that go with it, they need to know you can be counted on to do what you said and get it done on time.
  5. Reputation – This is the sum of all the others. How are you seen and thought of?  The stronger your reputation, the more others will trust you. The more they trust you, the more willing they are to work with you – and hopefully seek you out. And each time they do you grow as a leader.

I once had a teacher tell me she wouldn’t schedule a class with my co-librarian because she felt my co-librarian didn’t like the kids. That doesn’t work. Students learn more when teachers and librarians work together. The collaboration is formed on relationships, and relationships are built on trust. Look for ways to promote other’s trust in you and you’ll find your relationships and program getting stronger.

Life is a Marathon

More than two years after the beginning of the pandemic, thinking about masks, reaching for the hand sanitizer, getting vaccines and boosters has become our new normal, but we want it to be over. The reality, which we already know, is that it never will be over. And on the horizon are the next changes and new challenges. Life is truly a marathon, long and winding. All of it requiring our energy and attention. How well we do in this race depends on our mindset and willingness to learn so we are ready as we can be for what comes next.

In The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus On, RapidStart Leadership further develops the familiar life-as-a-marathon example. When the pandemic started, we dug down to do what was necessary. But it lasted so much longer. And we are tired. We are now at what RapidStart calls the 18th mile, the true test of a marathoner. The beginning excitement (or, in our case, the willingness to take on the challenge) has faded, and we are faced with miles to go before the finish line. This is the true test of our resolve and our leadership.

Directed to the business world, RapidStart offers the following 7 steps – along with my tweaks and comments they are:

  1. Expect it – Anything long term hits this point. When you are a leader, you often are involved in complex, sometimes multi-year, projects. It’s around here where things start to go wrong and it’s harder to find the energy to invest. What strategies do you have in place to deal with this point? How about a mini celebration of the distance you have travelled?
  2. Put in the miles – Doing the work means continuing to learn what you need to do the new and old tasks. It also means once you’ve gone this far in the past, you can go further in the future. And as you go further, remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Look to the other “runners” for support. Make use of your PLN.
  3. Recognize when it comes – If you expect the stress and stumbling blocks, you will be better at recognizing it. Notice changes to your mindset and focus. When you are ready to call it a day before the day has begun, you know you have reached that point. Put your strategies into play.
  4. Pace wisely – Enthusiasm is great, but it can burn out quickly in the enormity of what you are facing. Likewise, starting out too fast can mean you have nothing in reserve. A fast start is fine, but don’t keep that pace. And when you’re flagging, what keeps your reserves up? Time for family and friends and time for yourself are musts. You can’t keep drawing water from the same well without it running dry at some point. Brain, body, and spirit all need to be refreshed regularly.
  5. Watch for the “reveal” – The 18th mile is where you see what you are made of — your commitment to your Mission and Vision. Your perseverance. The longer the project, the more likely the shine is going to come off and you’ll get to see the truth of this work and its impact. Who is still with you? Who’s dropped off? Assess how things are going. Where are there weaknesses that can use some extra support? Whether it’s a pandemic or a project, you are in this together.
  6. Go mental – The power of the brain over your attitude has long been noted. RapidStart says where runners count steps or sing songs, we should look to our why. When fatigue and doubt arise, revisit your vision for and the purpose of the project. There is more to come, but you can do it. You know it because you have already done so much. Review the many accomplishments and milestones you have achieved.
  7. Enjoy the journey – Or as RightStart says, “embrace the suck.” Not every part of the journey will be filled with joy, but these important projects are worth the time and effort. Going through this process, especially with collaborators, brings you all closer together, even (especially?) when it’s challenging.  Find ways to make time for fun and laugh when the situation gets tough, knowing it’s just one more step closer to the goal.

No matter what a project — or life — throws at you, don’t be stopped by the 18th mile. Keep the end (and your Vision) in sight, work with your team, and look forward to reaching that distant and important goal. Maybe we’ll even get a T-shirt at the end!

Beyond Either-Or

Not all our colleagues hold the same views as we do, but we can’t afford to lose our relationships with them based on those strongly held opinions. This is not only true when politics comes into the workspace but also when we seek budget funds or have other issues with the administration. We need to listen even as we disagree with their occasionally erroneous views of school librarians and libraries. Can we hear what their truths are? Unless we can, we won’t be heard.

Disagreement can be helpful unless we assume there are only two approaches or ideas– ours and the wrong ones. As librarians, part of our work, hopefully, includes not suppressing one point of view because we disagree with it. While we champion our beliefs, we must also listen to the other side. We need to hear the elements of truth in what the other party says and then hopefully come up with a solution that incorporates more views.  

Sociology, psychology and philosophy have all wrestled with this challenge and determined that sometimes the best way to manage when there are two disparate ideas is to keep conversation open and flowing until a new interpretation or understanding comes about. Referred to as dialectics, Science ABC explains, dialectics is “a process that makes use of contradictory statements or ideas to reach an ultimate truth.” The challenge is to be able to go beyond our views to arrive at one that works for more people.

So, how do we get to this ultimate truth? In her article Kristin Hendrix in When We Find Ourselves Stuck, How to Find the Third Option,  Kristin Hendrix discusses the “Fallacy of Either/Or Thinking? and proposes four ideas:

Look for Another Perspective – Since experience and our personalities conditioned us to see things one way, get an additional perspective on an issue by talking it out with someone else—without heat or hostility. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” Since you initiated the discussion, it will be easier to listen intending to understand, which will serve you in such situations in the future. Talking out an issue can help you see where you’ve gotten yourself boxed into one way of thinking and help you arrive at the third – and unifying – option.

Find the “And” – Is there a way to incorporate both concepts/ideas that seem, at first, opposed? What are the two goals?  Can you do both if you can do one at a time? Considering the possibility opens up to new ways of thinking. In the process of looking for an “and,” you might find another solution entirely.  As Hendrix writes, “What option would combine the benefits of both and offset the challenges?”

For example, you are asked to cover a physical education class when the usual teacher is absent. To do so you must close the library. If you bring the class into the library and have them work on a topic related to physical education (or health), you have covered the class, AND the library stayed open.

The Calm in Acceptance – Hendrix recognizes sometimes you face two bad options. Fighting the truth of that becomes a constant frustration, affecting everything in your life. Choose one and accept that you made a choice.

A friend of mine in the corporate world, hated her job. Her only option for a new job was out of the state. She didn’t want to leave the state because her mother needed her. She decided to stay where she was and reduced the extra hours she was committing to the job. Once she knew why and how she was remaining, it was easier to live with it.

From Scarcity to Abundance – When you think there are only two opposing options, you have little to work with. Hendrix points out this is functioning from a scarcity mindset.  By considering that there may be other paths to get to where you want to go, you move to an abundance mindset. Change your mindset and allow possibilities in.

Out of the box thinking – or better yet thinking there is no box – is a more creative approach to dealing with how to look at a given situation. Find ways to resolve disagreements so you continue to strengthen your relationships and become a better problem solver in the process. Take the time to look for what third option might solve the issue. 

Leaders Are Always Growing

You are a leader, but leading is more than administering a program. Leaders work consciously and continually to improve their leadership. Education is going through what might be a revolutionary period and while different areas grow and others shrink, you want to be an area that grows.

From Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education, to your own school district, the conversation happening is about implementing the lessons learned from this pandemic. How do you ride the tide to become one of the leaders, integral to the success of new approaches?  You seize the opportunity to expand your leadership. You’ll probably need to move out of your comfort zone. It’s worth it. Risk brings its own rewards.

Art Petty explains how to do it in “Here Are the Habits of Employees Who Lead Without a Title.” These five habits are as helpful in business – which is his focus – as they are for us.

  1. Trust Building – Trust is the foundation of relationships, and we are in a relationship business. It is built by showing interest in the other person. It grows when you help them make them feel empowered, not foolish. As Petty says, “Trust building is not a tactic. It’s a way of life.” You don’t learn the techniques for building trust to manipulate people. You build them because you care and want to have a bond with the people you are working with. You hold the confidences of others. Their trust allows you to collaborate and build programs that support students and the goals of administrators.
  • Reciprocity Management –When you do a favor for someone, they are inclined to do the same for you. The expression, “I owe you one,” is true. Because you have integrity, you don’t do favors in order to have someone indebted to you. You do it because you want to help. However, it does give you an opportunity to ask for support in return. Don’t build your trust bank too big. If you are always doing favors and never asking or accepting any help in return, people become uncomfortable. This may cause them to avoid you or not let you know when they need help. The trust starts eking out of the relationship.
  • Boundary Spanning – As a librarian your network encompasses teachers on different grade levels and subjects. You are also more likely to have a connection with other librarians in your district or across the state if you’ve been involved in local organizations. Leaders without titles know how to build these networks wherever possible. You may reach out to your public librarian counterpart. You connect to librarians across the country – and world—through social media. These connections increase your knowledge, confidence, and ability to recommend approaches and resources that have proved successful elsewhere.
  • Coalition Building – With the first three habits in place, you can form a coalition allowing you to get more done. Do you have a great idea? You have a cadre willing to join you. The glue that binds these people together is you and the relationships you have built. They aren’t working on the project because they were told to do it. They are doing it, because you asked, and they trust you and the vision you have for the library and the students. They have experience with you and respect you.
  • Gray-zone Leadership – Because you are not in the classroom, not responsible for test results or specific benchmarks, you have a unique perspective allowing you to see opportunities or challenges others may not. You “live between the lines of the organizational chart”. By creating programs to address gaps, you build on the other habits (trust, boundaries, coalitions) to strengthen not only your program but the school. By doing this, you are seen as a vital part of the success of students, teachers and administrators. You become a force for moving your school or district, and thereby your library, forward into where today’s education is heading.

Keep your leadership growing. Developing these habits will not only get you a seat at the table, but it might also give you a seat at the head of the table.

Transforming Your Community

Transformation can be deliberate and powerful, advancing your mission and your library’s status in the community.

Every part of our lives has been transformed by the pandemic, but it is important to remember that not all transformation is beyond our control. There are ways to make deliberate transformations, but you need to be clear and specific about what you want to change and why. On a small level, it could be to change teacher attitudes toward collaboration. On a larger level, it could be an ongoing and deliberate change to the school culture.

Communities are formed by a group of people having a common interest or location. A school qualifies in both senses. But strong communities generally have a central point. In towns it may be Main Street or the “Green.” In more urban areas it might be a park or playground. What is the center of your school community? What would it be like if the library were the center–the heart of the school? Can you imagine how it would feel? How would it look? What would it take to have the library and you be the first place everyone goes when they need help, information, resources, or a good book?

Merriam-Webster defines “Transform” as: to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character or condition. As applied to your library, the first two could be about redesigning your space. Looking at your library, besides complying with new safety requirements, is there anything further you want to do? To change character or condition applies if you want to change the school culture. What is valued? Is reading at the center? Are (or were) sports the biggest focus? Does it truly feel like a community?  

Plan your change strategically. Start as always with your Mission and/or Vision. How would the transformation promote either or both?

Next define your Goal. Don’t worry about the size. Choose something that you feel strongly about and which will lead to lasting change. For example, you might want to transform your school into a learning/collaborative community. That is a huge project, but your first step could be to create a reading culture.

Now create the Action Plan that will get you to your Goal. Keeping with creating a reading culture, to achieve it you will need to make as many people as possible interested in, engaged, and actively reading. There are many ways to move forward, including:

  • Caught Reading:
    • Create a display of a variety of books for students.
    • Take pictures of teachers, students, administrators, reading.  Be sure to include yourself.
    • Post the pictures around the school with the support of the principal – and hopefully a picture of her/him reading. Having the pictures outside the library encourages the idea that reading is for everyone, everywhere. If your school is all remote, look for a way to put it online, using avatars, if necessary, for student pictures (they can design their own – maybe the art teacher has an idea for this!).
  • Buttons
    • Start wearing a button that says “Ask Me What I’m Reading.”
    • Hand out buttons to all who are interested.
    • Carry a book with you wherever you go – including as you begin a class.
    • Have a book in reserve to check out to the “right” reader.
  • Hold a one book-one school event.
    • Check your PLN for ideas on how to run one.
    • Choose a book, possibly with the help of a small committee (great way to get teachers and parents involved).

Complete your Action Plan by identifying who you will need to help you and obtaining any permissions necessary. List the steps in sequence, including a start and an end date, if needed, and then move forward. 

Remember to include interim assessments so you can tweak the steps and timeline as needed. This also gives you an opportunity to send updates to administrators and others. At the conclusion, reflect on what was achieved, what worked and what didn’t. Where will you take it next? Then start developing your next Action Plan that will get you to your Goal and create the transformation you want.

Libraries transform communities. With clarity, focus, and action, you can transform yours. 

Be a Flexible Leader

In these continually uncertain times, I’ve decided we need a new word: Pro-reacting. What does it mean? It’s when you can be proactive and further your library’s mission even when you have to be reactive to the changes coming at you from teachers, administrators and situations you can’t control. It’s important to be responsive, but it’s equally important to be a leader. Pro-reacting is a way to do both.

When you are asked to change directions, take time to think about how you will carry them out. You may discover that what you need to do fits with your goals, even if it’s not the way you originally planned. When you are given non-library tasks and responsibilities, consider how to tie them to the library. How can you demonstrate the connection in what you are now doing?   Be flexible – pro-reactive – and use lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking is defined as taking a creative approach to solving a problem or facing a challenge. It requires not only thinking out of the box, but a growth mindset to discover alternative paths to a goal. You can find techniques (and a very fun video) for breaking out of the box with Success as School’s post Examples of Lateral Thinking Skills. Lateral thinking is a mental version of a physical exercise. You stretch.  You bend sideways. Stretch some more and now you’re able to reach further. Lead the same way and you become more flexible.

Jon Lokhorst suggests another way of being flexible in Take Your Leadership to the Next level: Lead Well in All Directions. Like a compass, he gives four directions where you should lead:

  1. Lead Yourself – You are the first person you lead, but first you must know who you are.  What are your core values? What is your Vision? Your Mission? What are your passions? Your strengths?  What do you see as your weaknesses?  Know what motivates you – and what stops you.

How do you deal with success? How do you deal with failure? When and how do you get sidetracked, and what do you to get back on track? How do other people see you? Is it a fair judgement? If not, what about you is giving them this perception?

  • Lead Up – Stretch your leadership arms straight up. Continue your flexible leadership by leading with your principal.  Successful library leaders have strong relationships with their principals and other administrators. In too many schools, principal began with little or no idea of the benefits a school librarian could bring to them and the school community. You have to lead them to this knowledge.

First, find ways to make the principal look good.  They make reports to the Superintendent. By knowing what is being looked for on the district level, you can supply your principal with information showing her/him to the best advantage. Then move on to the Superintendent who reports to the Board.  Be sure your principal knows what you are doing when sending things further up with leadership.

  • Lead Across – Collaboration is vital to the library program.  How can you lead already stressed teachers to work with you? The answer is by first building a relationship with them.  Make it as personal as possible to develop trust which is the foundation of relationship. We all generally extend ourselves for those we care about.

The second step is to ensure the teachers you have targeted recognize you will do the heavy lifting.  It won’t involve extra work for them. Finally, promote them in the collaborative project when you communicate with your principal.  This combines leading across with leading up.

  • Lead Down – How do you lead those for whom you are responsible?  The most common situation is with your students. Having them become engaged, critical thinkers requires you to lead in a way that guides but does not direct them. 

Making those you lead feel valued, worthy, and successful is the best way to lead. Make them feel welcome, heard, and understood. You become a role model to them for leadership. If you understand how you do it with students, you will be more able to do the same when you are leading across and up.

In addition, think about how you lead parents. This group is either across or up, depending on the situation. With the pandemic, you are likely to have more opportunities to reach out to them.  Lead them in discovering how they can help their children, and they will become advocates for the library.

To stay in shape as a leader, flexibility is a requirement.  Start stretching. We need the library in all parts of our lives.   Find the opportunity when you’re asked to make a change, be pro-reactive, and you can advance the library program no matter what situations you face.

ON LIBRARIES – The Library Ecosystem

Are you familiar with the intertwined roots of redwood trees? Walking in a redwood forest, the size and strength of the trees amaze you.  They have lived for centuries and grown so tall.  And yet, as I learned to my surprise, they have shallow roots. But the reason they can stand and are not knocked down by strong winds is because their roots are intertwined.  Linked as they are, they help each other, and in so doing they are all strengthened.

We are all aware of the challenges school libraries and school librarians are facing, but our colleagues in public and academic libraries are dealing with a similar situation and we should look for ways to connect our roots to strengthen us all. In the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, the Key Commitment of Shared Foundation III Collaborate is “Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.”  We share many common goals with all types of libraries. Together, we are stronger.

On the national level, ALA has the Libraries Transform initiative. The opening sound bite is “Because Transformation Is Essential to the Communities We Serve.”  The statement is true of many libraries.  Many of the other “hooks” are equally universal to libraries. When you click on pieces of the initiative, they all have additional information, perfect for helping you discuss this to anyone. (If you haven’t signed on to the site, it’s worth doing.)

Additionally, the ALA Youth Council Caucus (YALSA, ALSC, and AASL) have launched the State Ecosystem Initiative.  Headed by Dorcas Hand, she offers the following definition and explanation:

A library ecosystem is the interconnected network of all types of libraries, library workers, volunteers, and associations that provide and facilitate library services for community members; families; K-20 learners; college and university communities; local, state and federal legislatures and government offices; businesses; nonprofits; and other organizations with specific information needs.

A patron of one library is the potential patron of any other library at a different time of life or location. No library exists independent of the library ecosystem. When we stand together in mutual support using common messaging themes that demonstrate this interconnectedness, every library is stronger.

So to support these roots, what is your state school library association doing and what are you doing?  Ideally, you should have representation on the board of the state association — and on the state association of ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) and they should have a liaison to your board.  This keeps you aware of what is happening to libraries throughout your state.

You, too, need to create a library ecosystem in your community. First connect with the other school librarians in your district. Together, reach out to the Children’s and YA librarians in the local public library. Build a relationship and start sharing. You can learn handouts are the public librarians giving to their patrons and find out if you distribute them to students.  Would they be willing to post work by your students?  They can then promote them on their website and or e-bulletin they send.  In return, you can report about this collaboration on your website.

You could ask the Children’s Librarian if she would visit and do a shared story telling session with your students and leave information about getting a library card.  Consider having the Children’s Librarian visit before school ends to talk about their summer reading program.

Another possibility is to devote a space in your library to post “happenings” in the public library.  Promote public library events on your website.  If you are doing something special such as “Read Across America,” (Monday, March 20, 2020) have the public library do the same for your program.

Don’t forget the academic librarians. If you are in a high school, reach out to librarians in local community colleges and/or any local 4-year colleges and universities.  Invite them to visit when you are starting–or even in the middle of-a research project. The students who may tune you out could be differently willing to listen to a college librarian who tells them what they can expect.

You want the people in your district to see the libraries as that interconnected strength that transforms the community.  We are all in the relationship and information business. By being present in different venues, parents and other community members will see how we work together and enrich all. Lead the way in building your library ecosystem and become a tall, strong redwood.