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.

ON LIBRARIES – What’s Your Plan?

Can you believe it’s the new year? Vacation has, once again, flown by, and I almost hate to say it but if you have given no thought about what the rest of the school year will bring, now is the time. Ask yourself where do you want to be at the end of the school year?  I often quote Yogi Berra’s sage advice, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are going to wind up someplace else.”  Nothing will change, certainly not for the better, unless you have a plan.

Whatever job you tackle, it should connect to your Mission Statement, your Vision, and your Philosophy.  No matter what you choose to do, it will take effort so it is a waste of your time unless it takes you where you want to go.

To begin, list your ideas.  Which are the biggest jobs?  Which are relatively easy?  And then ask the big question — Why do I want to do it? How does it connect? Don’t just pick a project you have heard of because it sounded like a good idea.  It might have been great for another school librarian and library, but it may not be the best choice for you. Before plunging in, first ask yourself, “What do I want to do?

Most Mission Statements are broad enough to give you room to go in many directions, but knowing that your plan connects to it will give it a greater focus.  For example, here is one Mission Statement.

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become not only lifelong users of information but also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.

The first sentence of that statement can lead to creating a Makerspace. But if you are thinking of a plan, you want to think bigger.  Perhaps your purpose for the Makerspace is to have students developing products that might help others. If creating information is part of your Mission, then how else can you use this Makerspace?

The second sentence is about developing more collaborative projects with teachers.  Are there teachers you haven’t reached as yet?  Are there subject areas that could benefit from working with you that haven’t come into the library as yet? And if a Makerspace is still what you want – which teachers would be best to contact for collaboration?

The second half of that sentence is about diversity.  Is your collection truly diverse? Does it go beyond race, ethnicity, and gender?  What percentage of the authors of your diverse titles are members of the community they are writing about? Is there a way to blend students acting as users and creators of information with diversity? That links it more tightly to your mission.

So, you know what you want in your plan. Next step—How?

Let’s return to the Makerspace. HOW can you do this? Whether you have one or want to expand an existing one, you’ll want to start by gathering information. Who is already doing this? Who is doing this with resources that match yours? Ask your PLN for help and search on topics such as project-based learning and design thinking. (I’m guessing members of the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group would offer support!).

Next, identify WHAT you will need to accomplish it.  Will it require funding?  If so, where can you get it—grants? GoFundMe?  Will you need volunteers? Can they be students? Alumni? Parents?

Knowing WHO is also an important part of the second plan–collaboration. The Who are the teachers you want to reach.  Why have they not collaborated with you before? What do they need?  How can you help with that?  How can you quickly build a relationship with them? Who will you start with? Then there are two more questions: Why? (Why this teacher?) When? (When will you reach out and share your idea?)

The third project requires a diversity audit to assess your collection. Again – How, What, Who, Why, When. Do you know anyone who has done this?  Can they send you their templates for doing this?  Who can help you in compiling it?  What are sources you use to increase the diversity of your collection.  What resources do ALA and AASL provide? When are you going to seek the initial information?  When will you begin the project?

Put all of your plans in writing.  Name the projects, list your steps, and create manageable deadlines. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a Google doc doesn’t matter.  What matters is having it recorded and making a commitment to it.

The last and a very important part of your planning is knowing what you will do with the results. How will you use it to promote your library program?

You can record the Makerspace project in photos and videos.  Capture students working on their designs, Showcase their final creations. Share with your administrators and contact local news outlets.

You should display projects from collaborations with teachers, possibly on the library’s or school’s website.  Send information to the principal on what the students achieved and commend the teachers involved.  This will eventually lead to further collaboration.

Share the results of your diversity audit with the principal.  Discuss how you plan to build a collection that will promote students’ feelings of safety and belonging in the school and beyond. Perhaps you can get a one-time funding to purchase books you have put on a list to acquire.  Again, consider grants and GoFundMe for help.  Look also into the possibility of getting speakers in for the teachers and/or students. But that’s another plan.

With a well-constructed plan, you will reach the end of the school year with a sense of accomplishment.  The important part is to get started now and let your plan guide your success.

Good luck!

ON LIBRARIES: A Different Approach Changes Outcomes

Many of you have tried multiple approaches to get your message through but making progress is still slower than you’d like. Sometimes you make headway with one or two teachers, and that’s a big gain.  Rather than focus on your frustrations, it’s important to look at what you can do to change your situation. Some self-reflection on how you present yourself might give you a few more tactics you can use to reach more of the faculty and possibly the principal.

In 10 Behaviors for Better Results, John R. Stoker reviews how we sometimes get in our own way and then offers ways to change the dynamic. There is an important theme throughout these behaviors – we can’t let our passion stop us from hearing the same passion and needs in our associates. He frames his ideas as responses to these ten questions:

  1. Are you so entrenched in your perspective that you don’t hear what others are saying? We know about active listening, but when we are passionate about what we believe, it is not always easy to practice. What is the other person’s perspective? Why do they see it that way?  Why are they passionate? Speak first to that.
  2. Do you really listen when others are speaking? Another reference to the importance of active listening. Because of our own beliefs, often nurtured by experience, we listen to hear the arguments, the negative, and overlook the possible areas of agreement. Instinctively, you prepare your defense and at that moment you tune out.  Without realizing it you’ve set up an immediate barrier.  You’ve probably been on the other side of this as well. No one likes to be ignored. Listen first.
  3. Do you push too hard to get the thing that you want? This is probably one of our biggest mistakes.  We finally have someone’s ear.  We have our message out – fast.  In the process, we overwhelm our listeners and they retreat.  Watch the other person’s body language for signs they are disengaging.  Be prepared to modify your request. If a teacher says s/he is too busy to come to the library, offer to send a cart with materials and an emailed list of apps and web resources. The same is true when proposing a project to your administrator. If you are asking for funds (and that is always difficult) consider spreading the project over several years. Would it work to just get approval for the project along with funding from alternate sources such as DonorsChoose?
  4. Do you assume that you know better or that you are always right? Even if you do, that can’t be where you start. My motto for years has been, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work? If you want to be right, it probably won’t work.” You need to be prepared for a solution that won’t be exactly how you envisioned it but will get you closer.  And in the discussion, you might get some new ideas which will be an improvement over your original plan. Plus, being seeing as a collaborator paves the way for your next success.
  5. Do you allow your negative emotions to determine what you say, do or think in the moment? When we talked with a teacher who has always shut us down, we tend to anticipate the negative and follow suit.  Your body language and your tone of voice communicate your negative feelings. This is when you must consciously must your mindset because this time could be your longed-for yes.
  6. Does your desire to play it safe or to be comfortably secure hinder your ability to be vulnerable and connect with others? This speaks to how we are as leaders.  The “don’t rock the boat” attitude keeps us from trying new ideas.  We worry about the possibility of failure and hide in our library.  After all, you have a ridiculously full schedule, why add to the stresses of your day by trying to add working with teachers to the mix?  Remember, we are in the relationship business, and if we are not building relationships, we will soon be out of business.
  7. Do you avoid heartfelt expressions of appreciation or gratitude? It pays to go further than just saying thank you. Handwritten notes make a big impression in the world of text, email, and emojis. Making sure you have informed your principal when a teacher has worked with you is another way to express your appreciation and one that the teacher will value.
  8. Do you take the time to reflect and focus on what matters most? Reflecting and focusing are two key components to success. Our days are so full we frequently don’t reflect on what we are doing or why we are doing it.  Throughout the National School Library Standards, we are encouraged to reflect. It’s an important habit to develop.  This question is also a reminder to prioritize.  This means not only our tasks but our relationships with family, friends, our colleagues, and our students.  When we become “human doings” rather than “human beings” we lose an important component of our life.  Being focused only on the next task makes us less approachable and keeps us from building vital relationships. (See question 6.)
  9. Are you empathetic and understanding of others? When you are a “human doing,” you are not likely to be alert to signals from others. It’s imperative that you be attuned to what is going on with your colleagues as well as your administrator (and your family).  If you want to build collaboration, you start with what they need, and they aren’t likely to tell you immediately.  You will often have to figure it out for yourself by staying connected.   
  10. Are you blind to your own behavior?   In his poem,To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church,” Robert Burns said, “Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”   We rarely know how we are perceived by others.  We make assumptions based primarily on our view of ourselves, positive or negative. You can get some idea by watching the body language of those with whom you are speaking. Do they move closer to you or move away?  Do they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and views with you? If you’re having challenges, return to the first few questions and look at how you can really listen, hear what others are saying and not push to get your own view out first.

Making the case for your program is not easy in our stress-filled environment. Learning more about leadership and advocacy is never-ending. Adding new techniques and skills is an ongoing and empowering part of our jobs. The more we can be a “human being” the more we’re likely to enjoy the journey.

ON LIBRARIES: Regarding Teachers

Students are our first priority, but teachers come in at a close second.  For the most part, they are the gateway to the students. If we don’t find ways to reach them, we lose much of our access to students.

Why don’t we collaborate more – or at least cooperate?  We are on the same team?  Aren’t we?  The answer is not simple.  Yes, we should be on the same team, but do you feel and act as if the teachers are on your team?  Do the teachers feel you are on theirs?

Too many librarians believe the teachers don’t recognize what they bring to students, and this is often the case. If they are not working with you, they have no idea what you are doing.  And they certainly can’t imagine what you could do.

The situation can be exacerbated by your reaction.  If you feel undervalued and even disrespected, your attitude creeps into your interactions with the teachers. They sense it and respond in kind, further setting up a “we/they” feeling.

It’s too important to let things continue if they are not working.  Your job responsibility requires you to at least have a professional relationship with every teacher. You don’t have to be BFFs, but you must be able to regard all of them in a friendly manner. The library is a “safe, welcoming environment for ALL.” That includes teachers, even if they never set foot in it.

Your challenge is to move from we/they to us.  If they don’t come in the library, you are going to have to meet them elsewhere. School and district committees are a good place to start.  Despite your heavy schedule, you need to make time for this because you automatically meet as equals on these committees.   As you bring your expertise to the discussions, teachers begin to realize how you can contribute to what they do.

Next, make your library an inviting space for teachers.  Food is always the perfect lure.  Have coffee (and tea) available if you can.  Bring in snacks both healthy and not-so-healthy that don’t need refrigeration.  Let teachers know you have this available. There are other ways to lure teachers in.  Having a color printer or a laminator are a draw. Even better, if your library has the space, create a “teachers only” area.

If you build this – they will come. You don’t have to stop what you are doing to greet them. Your students and classes come first. Leave a little welcoming note and/or any needed directions where you have the food.  You can leave some new additions nearby with a note saying these books are about to be put into the collection and to let you know if they want one of them first.  You can also put out magazines you think they would like.

On those occasions when teachers come in and you aren’t involved with students, don’t pounce on them with suggestions of books and websites and other resources.  Just focus on bringing them in. If they feek as though you are offering a sales pitch, they will stay away. Instead, use the time to get to know them as people.  What are their hobbies, interests?  Do they have kids?  Do whatever it takes to begin building a relationship. Reach out to them as people.  Personal before professional lays the groundwork.

You will know you are succeeding when some teachers bring in food as thanks or come to use some of the special resources you have available.  That’s your cue to take the next step with them.  Move from the personal to the professional. (Sounds backwards but it’s really the best way to create collaboration or cooperation.) Ask about what they are working on with their classes. Listen carefully to find out what the culminating project is or any difficulties they are having with the unit.

After the conversation, demonstrate your curation skills by gathering books and/or web resources.  Don’t wait for the teacher to come back in.  Deliver it in person if possible.  Otherwise, put it in their mailbox with a note saying, “Based on our conversation, I thought you would find this helpful.”

Teachers are as overwhelmed and feel as unappreciated and undervalued as you do.  The last thing they want is to take on more work.  Cooperating or collaborating with you sounds like it is just that.  You need to show them that being an Instructional Partner can and will make their life easier.

ON LIBRARIES: The Myth of the Lonely Librarian

I have written about the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from being the leaders we need to be, but there is one other that too many librarians believe.  They see themselves as isolated.  As the only librarian in the building, there is no one who understands what they do and what their challenges are.

As with the other stories, there is a surface truth but it is far from the whole story.  What’s more, believing it turns you into a complainer.  Even if you don’t express your thoughts to your colleagues, you unwittingly communicate your attitude and it sends them a negative message.

Yes, you are likely the only librarian in your school.  Perhaps you have multiple schools for which you are responsible. Possibly you are the only librarian in your district. But you are alone only if you choose to be.

There are others who are “alone” in their jobs.  The school nurse is one.  At the elementary level, the art, music, and physical education teachers have no else doing their job. Then there is the computer teacher—and the principal.  Have you ever considered reaching out to them and seeing if you can collaborate on a unit?

Years ago, I worked in an elementary school where the “specials” selected a theme and each of us worked with all the grades, bringing our area of specialization to having students explore the topic in great depth.  One of the projects was on marine life.  While I had classes research different aspects of the subject, the art teacher had them making murals and paintings of underwater life, the music teacher taught sea chanties and other sea songs, and our very creative physical education teacher devised a series of game and activities dealing with the underwater realm.

We had fun planning together.  It was a great opportunity to find out more about my colleagues as people as well as their individual knowledge and discover how it could all be brought together. The complete project culminated in an evening presentation that utilized the halls and gym.  The walls were covered with student art and along the way, students performed and shared their new-found knowledge of marine life. In the gym, there were exhibitions of the activities they had learned. Parents were enchanted and the students loved it. I met a number of them later when I was transferred to the high school and invariably mentioned the “special projects” they had been involved in over the year. I am sure they remembered these far more clearly than any class assignment they had.

You don’t have to do something on this scale although perhaps you can build toward it. Choose one of these teachers whom you think would most probably want to take on this type of project.  See if the nurse has a health-related project he or she would like to do. It could include decorating the nurse’s office.

The same is true with the computer teacher.  What specific applications is he or she is teaching students.  Can you come up with a real-life project where students would have to use those applications to present or track their findings?

And then there is the principal.  Granted it’s harder, but administrators in small schools are likely to be the “only” one doing the job, and it’s a tough one.  Could you help?  You both see the big picture, knowing all the students and teachers and the curriculum. Perhaps you can offer to do any research he or she needs. If you read Educational Leadership, the journal of ASCD (the high school should have a subscription or check your periodical databases), you can keep current with the trends in education.  Then share any information you get on those topics.

But what about how you do your job?  Nobody in your building gets that.  But your librarian colleagues do.  Social media has made it simple to connect to them.  There are a host of school library-related Facebook groups from LM_NET to Future Ready Librarians, to my own School Librarian’s Workshop.

Your state association is likely to have a Facebook group as well as a listserv.  Be part of it. Ask for help when you need it. Your state association’s conference is another important way to connect with colleagues. And if you venture out further there is the AASL biennial conference and ALA Annual. If you haven’t reached out before you will be amazed by how willing librarians, including the leaders, are to help others in the profession.

If you feel lonely in your job, it’s because you aren’t making use of all the potential connections.  What are you doing to connect and show you are part of your educational and library communities?

ON LIBRARIES: Doing It Together

fishAre you a loner?  I don’t mean someone who doesn’t like to socialize. I am referring to the type of person who prefers getting a job done alone, without help from others. Since you are a librarian, you want to work collaboratively or, if you are on a fixed schedule, cooperatively with teachers. Doing it together would be the way to go.

For most teachers, their classroom is their kingdom and they run it the way they like.  Once they close the doors they are in charge. They are loners and they like it – and if they become librarians, they carry this outlook with them. Although librarians bemoan the difficulty they have in getting teachers to collaborate, the truth is, many teachers don’t like to collaborate with any one.

This is a generalization, of course. It doesn’t apply to all teachers, and with the formation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) in schools, more of them are sharing their lesson plans and experiences with their colleagues, even if they don’t do so willingly.

I can remember when students hated to do a group project but today’s students by nature prefer to work with others.  They discover the latest app from their friends, game in partnership, and share information is their preferred learning style.  They are comfortable in the participatory culture.

I honestly believe most librarians are now this way as well but we need to recognize the presence of the secret loner within ourselves and the not-so-secret loner inside teachers. We often blame teacher reluctance to work with us on NCLB and the Common Core, but in reality it has always been this way.  The pressures have just made it more noticeable.together

How can you convince teachers that doing it together is better? (And convince some of you as well.).  Long before NCLB and the presence of computers in our lives, I struggled to get a science teacher to bring her students to the library.  She taught a special course called The Human Experience (THE) which connected science to everyday life.

THE was exciting and relevant. Among other things, kids learned about heart transplants and how they worked.  The course content was solidly packed and the teacher felt she had no time to “waste” in the library.  Sound familiar?

Because we had a good relationship, (you might remember how I have stressed the importance of building relationships), she grudging gave me one class period to work with her students on their current research assignment.  I discussed research strategies with them and showed them the resources (all print at the time) that would best meet their needs.

When the assignment was complete the teacher was extremely pleased. The kids had done a much better job than in the past.  What amazed her even more, was that the one day in the library had a positive effect on the rest of their projects during the year.  The next year, she sought me out to begin collaborating often.

together-2Not only did the students learn something valuable, the teacher did as well.  As a side note, the teacher went on to become a principal.  Her views on the value of the library and the librarian came with her on the administrative level.  It’s amazing how we affect our future positively and negatively by small actions.

I understand the inner resistance to working together.  Time is precious.  You know what has to get done.  Someone else might not bring the same commitment to the task.  It won’t come out the way you intended.  But that’s not all bad.

copyright Leo Lionni

In getting over my own “loner’ tendencies, I discovered some basic truths I think our students already know. No matter how smart you are, you don’t know everything.  And while someone else might not have as much knowledge as you on a given subject, the differing perspectives very often brings about a richer final product.  And like the teacher, we all learn and grow in the process.

Are you a loner or a natural collaborator?  How can you get passed any loner tendencies you have?  What have you learned as a result of collaborating?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part Three

collaboration 2For the past two weeks I have been blogging about meeting the challenge of collaboration.  So many librarians are unable to make the connections which combine the expertise of all participants and create a larger result than if the librarian worked alone.  On a more subtle, but no less vital, level these collaborations build a deeper understanding of the library program and develop the advocates who fight to retain librarians and their programs.

You must find and use the assets that are within your reach.

Once again here is the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners which focuses on collaboration:

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.”

The one most librarians feel is beyond their reach is the second bullet point. As with the others, the best way to incorporate this is by starting small and building on it. The Makerspace movement is an excellent way to begin collaborating with parents and community members. start small

Once you have launched your Makerspace, use your website, Twitter account, or however you reach parents and invite them to share their expertise with students.  Whether it’s building an app or knitting, you will find volunteers who will be glad to teach and help students.  You provide the materials along with print and online resources.  Take pictures and do a video of your “expert” and students at work and their final products.

If the students are willing, see if the public librarian will let you set up a display to showcase what occurred. Add an “advertisement” for community members to lead a Makerspace. Find out in advance from your administrator what needs to be done to permit this.

High school librarians can contact academic librarians if there is a community or four-year college in the area.  With some planning, set up a field trip for a class beginning a research project. The college librarian can teach students how to access and choose the extensive databases available, letting them see and experience what research will be like once they graduate. The local media outlet can be invited to cover the event and record student reactions.

at the libraryMost towns have some sort of historical society or other museum area.  Find out what they are, what they have on exhibit, and any special ones that are upcoming.  Look to see if this matches with curricular units.  Either arrange for a field visit or have the curator bring the items to your library to share with students, giving them a deeper understanding of what they will be exploring.  Again invite the media – and your administrator.

Educators have been stressing authentic learning, and our national standards enjoin us to develop inquiry-base units. The two combine when you develop a large network of people with whom you collaborate. Each project spreads the word on what a 21st century library program is. The groups you collaborate with, the more people are invested in continuing the success of your program.

Advocacy is an on-going, never stopping campaign.  It’s not about begging people for our jobs. It’s about everyone recognizing that what we do is invaluable for our school community and the success now and in the future of our students.

How are you reaching out and building collaborative partnerships?