ON LIBRARIES: Advance Your Communication Skills

Leaders are skilled at communication.  A seemingly simple statement but one that is, in actuality, endlessly complex. I discussed the basics in my blog post last March, Keep Your Communication Channels Clear, pointing out the importance of the three parts of communication (senders, message, and receiver), and reminding you to be sure you are aware of how the different channels affect those parts. Yet even those who are skilled can make errors. And communication errors can be damaging.

It doesn’t take much to do damage.  At one of my libraries, teachers were always comfortable gathering in my workroom to talk and vent.  One rare calm day, a teacher came in and was voicing her frustrations to me and my co-librarian. My co-librarian said in response, “You teachers…” and I could feel the gulf opening between the two of them.  I spoke with my co-librarian about what I heard and saw.  She hadn’t realized what she had done. Anyone can make an error, but if you don’t recognize it happened, the effects can destroy any connections you are trying to build.

In another instance, I was the one who almost made an unwitting mistake.  I was going to send a memo to my Assistant Principal.  I can no longer remember the matter, but I was concerned about a problem and wanted his help.  Fortunately, before sending it, I showed it to the teacher who was responsible for our School to Career program.  (He shared space in my library and gave me the tech he got with his grants).  He encouraged me not to send it, explaining how a man would read it and react.  I re-wrote the memo with his oversight and got the results I wanted. I’m not suggesting you always check before you send something to a teacher or administrator who is not your gender, but you might find it enlightening to have a spouse or friend look something over.  You might be as surprised as I was.

Clear communication is an ongoing art form. A recent online post by Nick Morgan, How the Communication Rules Have Changed, presents five new rules which will help you do a better job of getting your message out.

Your “Less” Is Their “More” – Morgan points to the barrage of information we receive each day and how our tolerance for reading long texts is decreasing. In the past, I have reminded librarians not to give administrators background about requests or problems.  (This connects to the gender issue – see above). Get to the point immediately.  Offer details if requested.  We have a tendency to “bury the headline.”  By the time your administrator hears or reads what you want, his/her mind has gone elsewhere – and that’s assuming s/he gets there at all. Morgan also suggests you think your idea through the other person’s perspective and “tell them what they need to hear, not what you’d love them to know.”

We Experience Our Lives Chronologically, But That’s Not How Other People Want to Hear Them This relates to the previous rule. We want to give our “receiver” a complete picture.  They don’t have the time or interest to listen.  You need to grab attention quickly.  I love Morgan’s reminder that Homer started the Iliad at the end as the two sides headed into the final battle. Having captured your interest, he backfills the story itself. You, too, need to capture the receiver’s interest first.

The Body Language of the Virtual World Is Self-Defeating There is no true “body language” in the virtual world.  Even in Zoom or Skype meetings, you don’t get the same degree of body language as you do in person. We have developed new habits based on this, and it carries over into our face-to-face meetings. One result is that our manners have slipped. Have you ever been on a webinar and checked your e-mail or played a computer solitaire game?  We bring that behavior into our face-to-face meetings. Unless the gathering is very small (and even then), you will see people checking their phones. It is not only rude, it means you have stopped listening. I can’t remember leading or attending a large group session where a sizeable percentage of people weren’t texting. Leaders need to be active listeners. 

Because People Aren’t Paying Attention, Their Contribution Standards Are Crumbling – If you are not listening, you are not contributing. Don’t be the person who sends texts during a meeting. All studies show multi-tasking doesn’t work. To fight your own urge to look at your phone, take notes. It will keep you focused, and you will be a better contributor to the meeting – and it will be noticed.

The Pause is Still the Greatest Secret Weapon a Communicator Has – This is one I need to work on. Whether it’s stepping up to the mic at a large meeting or responding to something said at a small one, take a moment before talking. It’s an attention-grabber and will focus people on what you want to say. It also gives you just enough time to remember to begin with what the others want to hear ((see suggestion #1).

All this is a reminder that we are always communicating —often without any thought of how it is received.  And yet, it’s vital that our stakeholders receive the message we intended to send.  I have reached the conclusion you can’t learn too much about communication.  There is always room for improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ON LIBRARIES: Expect the Unexpected

THIS WEEK GUEST BLOGGER: Rona Gofstein

Last Tuesday, Hilda went to the ER with stomach issues and before the day was out she needed emergency surgery. As of this morning, she’s still in the hospital but will soon be heading to a rehab facility before going home. Needless to say… this wasn’t on her to do list.

As the first person who reads her blogs and then edits them, I offered to write one for her this week, and in preparing to do so I thought about the things Hilda focuses on most often: leadership, community, and communication.  I can tell you all of those things played a part this last week.

When the word went out among her friends and family, people called, sent flowers and a few headed out to the hospital. Community came together. There were comments and posts throughout social media, hopes for a speedy recovery pouring in to Hilda and her husband. There is nothing like a sudden health issue to make you feel alone and isolated. I know Hilda felt the connection of her community who reached out in so many ways to help.

As for communication,  being able to communicate clearly with doctors and other care providers is very important.  Hilda has worked hard this past week, starting when she was arrived at the hospital, to be clear about what was wrong, how long the problem existed and, now that she’s in a patient room, what she needs to be comfortable and support her own recovery. This includes asking for the support she needs to take regular walks, get what she needs for pain management, and reaching out to family for things she needs them to bring (I can tell you, her Nook was at the hospital almost immediately).

Then there’s leadership. What to say about leadership?

I think John Allen Paulus said it best with, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.”  There is no way to avoid surprises whether that’s a class showing up in the library unexpectedly, a beloved principal retiring, or  your car not starting at the end of the day. It’s rarely fun; it’s frequently unsettling; and there’s no getting away from it.

As a leader, it’s important to use what skills you already have – and frequently these include communication and community – to make the situation into one which doesn’t take you away from your long term goals and mission. In fact, I think Hilda would be quick to remind us this is one of the marks of a strong leader, and one of the benefits of being clear on your mission and vision. If you know where you want to end up, then the unexpected won’t have the dramatic or long term results that they might other

I know you’ll join me in wishing Hilda a speedy recovery. And as we writers say, when life throws something unexpected at you, yell “PLOT TWIST” and keep moving forward!

 

ON LIBRARIES: More Ways to Be Heard

Last week I wrote about the first five recommendations for being heard – and therefore recognized – in John R. Stoker’s article “How to Achieve Recognition by Results.” These recommendations were:

  1. Continue to do the work
  2. Look to make a difference
  3. Support others in their work
  4. Humbly be right
  5. Offer concrete evidence.

Now, the next five ideas.

Stoker’s sixth recommendation, Be Collaborative in Your Efforts seems almost a waste of time to mention. This is at the core of your work. You have been trying to get teachers to collaborate with you and they haven’t been responding.  In the business world, this suggestion translates as “be a team player.” While you do need to be using ideas to get teachers to collaborate or at least cooperate with you, reach beyond the teachers.

We have seen repeatedly that having a supportive principal is a sure road to working with teachers.  Once you have that support, you need administrators to view you as a team player.  Listen carefully and figure out what your principal and/or superintendent want to achieve.  Then show them how you and the library program can help make it a reality.  Just a word of caution –  you don’t want the teachers to think you are brown-nosing.  You will lose them completely. They may not be as good at showing administrators what they are achieving, so show how your work involves them and any and all support they’ve given.

You may not realize that you need to Explain Why but frequently you do. This is particularly important with any staff you have—paid or volunteer.  When someone offers a suggestion on how to do something in the library and you ignore it because it doesn’t work, the other person feels you don’t value them. Explain to students, teachers, or anyone if you don’t adopt their great idea.  When you explain, you could discover you didn’t understand the underlying reason for their suggestion and a great idea might emerge – in collaboration.

It’s so important to Recognize the Contribution of Others.  Remember the story of my two principals.  As I mentioned in Be Collaborative, every time a teacher does a project with you, let the principal know about it. Focus on the teacher.  Have a bulletin board highlighting the achievements of students (and not just athletes) and teachers.  You might talk about their crafting skills or other talents.  People like to be seen as worthy.

Recognize that schooling and degrees does not guarantee intelligence and the lack of them indicate that someone isn’t smart.  I once had a volunteer who had only an eighth-grade education. Her whole manner seemed to suggest a lack of intelligence.  It turned out she was smarter than many teachers and saw things I missed.  I was fortunate to have her in charge of my volunteers for several years. And yes, I let her know how valuable she was to me.

Be open to advice from custodians, secretaries, and students.  The academic decathlon students I advised were fantastic computer nerds.  When the tech department considered purchasing a new firewall, they had my kids test it out. They broke through it in slightly over a minute.  The tech department was appalled. The kids were quite justifiably proud of themselves.  And I was glad they were on my side.  I applauded their skills although in this case and for obvious reasons didn’t publicize it.

Leaders don’t make followers.  They create Leaders.  Look to Develop Others.  When you commend their talents and help them become better at it, they develop into leaders.  And they also become your followers and collaborators.

Over the years, I have encouraged librarians to take on bigger tasks and many have gone on to do great things in AASL.  I have mentored scores of librarians and I hope that my books – and this blog – offer librarians the courage to step out of their comfort zones and become leaders.

Finally, and obviously, Continue Learning. We are models of lifelong learners but also learn from your colleagues.  Let them know how they are helping you.  I planned to be a high school English teacher.  When I got my first elementary library job, it was the teachers (good and bad) who taught me how to be successful at that level.  When I was transferred to the high school they asked me what I would do there, thinking I was trained to be an elementary librarian.

I learn every day from posts on the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group as well as the other library-aligned Facebook pages. I learn from the e-newsletters I get daily some from ALA and some from business and tech sources.  As I have said, you are either learning and growing or you are dying.

So, ten ways to be heard. I hope you heard that at the core of all of them is building relationships. Remember the quote attributed to John C. Maxwell and Theodore Roosevelt — “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

 

ON LIBRARIES: Can You Hear Me Now?

Sometimes it seems as though what you say keep falling on deaf ears.  Whether you are explaining to a teacher that Google is for searching not researching or sending emails to the administrator, somehow there is a disconnect and your message is not received.  It’s as though there’s no reception on your phone and you’re standing there asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Some solutions for business leaders were offered in John R. Stoker’s article entitled “How to Achieve Recognition by Results.”  With some tweaking, the 10 approaches he recommends can be applied in the education setting and may offer you ideas to help you get you heard. I’m going to discuss the first five this week with the conclusion next week.

First and foremost, Continue to do the Work. Of course, you will, but the important part of this step is to watch your attitude.  You need to maintain a positive mindset.  Not an easy task when you feel disrespected.  If you have Mission Statement (which is your purpose and that of your program), keep it in mind to motivate you.  I am always surprised to see how many librarians don’t have one – nor do they have a Vision Statement which can inspire you to push on and help when negative thoughts become overwhelming.

Stoker’s second suggestion is Look to Make a Difference. Yes, that’s what you have been trying to do all along and what is likely frustrating you.  However, in this case, it’s also about doing it differently. You know the classic line from Einstein about repeating the same action in hope of a different result.  Stop driving yourself crazy.   Instead, try new methods.  If you have been sending e-mails, try a handwritten note to teachers in a grade level or subject area. In an age of digital communication, the personal touch is more likely to be welcomed.  And again, don’t attempt too much.  Just enough to see if it works.

I have long recommended you Support Others in Their Work. While this is your goal and where you are likely feeling frustrated, there are two ways to handle this. First, get to know them as individuals.  As their trust in your builds, so will their willingness to come to you for support.  In addition, try to discover what kind of help your teachers and administration actually want, don’t assume.  This way what you suggest comes across more easily as support rather than criticism.

From listening to conversations in the school (remember, this is one of the reasons to take your lunch where the teachers do), try to discover their next unit of study, and then ask the teacher to stop by for coffee and maybe a snack because you have something special for them.  That’s when you can show the database that will make their students more successful. Offer to locate resources for any future unit.  Notice, you didn’t send out an email blast.  You made it personal.

Humbly be Right, Stoker writes:

If you come up with a solution that is a resounding success, keep your mouth shut. Let people draw their own conclusions. If you go out of your way to celebrate your individual success, rather than put the focus on the team effort, people will look for ways to discount your contribution, identify your weaknesses and let it be known what an arrogant and pompous individual you are. That also means that you do not want to go fishing for compliments. Let your results speak for themselves and let that be the end of it.

I once had a science teacher who kept explaining her curriculum was too tight to bring her students in for me to teach them the research process. We had a friendly relationship so I was able to cajole her into bringing her students in for one period.  The kids were incredibly successful. This was not the time for an “I told you so”. Instead, I said we could do it again whenever she wished.  At the end of the year, she told me the lesson in the library had affected all the rest of their research and the following school year, she brought them in for three days in a row to get them started.

The fifth idea is to Offer Concrete Evidence. There is so much talk about big data and needing to prove results, but despite years of accumulating evidence on how school librarians and libraries affect student learning no one seems to be listening.  Isn’t the data important? Yes, it is, but once again it’s impersonal and has no emotional connection to your building and school until you can show direct application and result.

Data with your students will find a more welcoming audience.   Use evidence-based practice to highlight how key district/building goals are being achieved in the library.  Then you can follow up with the impact studies.  If you state has done one, so much the better.

I’m curious to hear if any of these resonate with you. Are there ways you are already putting this into practice but could make some changes to get even better results?  Next week – the rest of the list!

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Keep Your Communication Channels Clear

Clear communication is critical in building relationships, and you need these relationships to develop advocates for your program. As a leader, you will communicate with many people in many situations from one-on-one to (eventually) large groups (more about this in my blog on Space Relations). You also communicate with yourself, often as the initial step in reaching others. Communication is a giant topic with extensive subtopics.

In an online article, Marlene Chism identifies three communication mistakes which are at play in any professional situation. She states that “one of the most valuable tools leaders have for driving results and improving performance is conversation.” No matter what channel you choose and no matter your message, there are always three parts: the sender, the message, and the receiver.  If any part is muddled the message won’t get through. 

Obviously, you are the sender.  Unless you are speaking for a group and haven’t made it clear that you are presenting information that is not necessarily your own belief, there is rarely any confusion about the sender.

The message is another matter.

Aside from the need to tailor the message to the medium and the receiver (which I’ll discuss another time), you need to be sure you are not inadvertently bringing confusion. To ensure message clarity, you must avoid mistakes that can affect all communication no matter which method/medium you use.

Lack of focus is the first blunder.  Are you trying to communicate so much that the channel is completely clogged?  If the receiver can’t make sense of where you are going, they often stop listening. Too many examples and too much background information become overwhelming to the person you are addressing.

School librarians often make this mistake in speaking with their administrator.  They are so anxious to be sure the principal understands the basis for the proposal and to demonstrate they have fully thought it out, that not much of the goal gets through.  Administrators are drowning in details as is. They don’t want or need to assimilate all of yours.

To fix this, identify the bottom line.  State what you want from the principal and for what purpose.  Consider it an elevator speech—no longer than a minute.  Then say, “If you need more information, I will gladly supply it.”

Many of us have this same problem with the conversations in our heads. School librarians wear many hats and sometimes it seems they all require attention at once.  In an effort to take care of all it, your brain swirls thinking of one thing then another without following any one them all the way through. It’s exhausting and non-productive.  A solution to this is to stop, separate all the responsibilities and assign priorities to your tasks. Then work your way through them.

Chism refers to meetings that don’t get anywhere. You probably have attended way too many of these. In Leading for School Librarians I discuss “Making Meetings Matter.”  Among the suggestions are for the leader to learn the purpose and intended results, create and send out an agenda in advance and invite feedback from those who will attend, review the goals so everyone knows where you are heading, and close with action steps that need to be taken before the next meeting.  Focus is what makes the meeting productive.

Putting Tasks before Context is the second block to effective communication. If you start dealing with the details before you have explained and solidified the overall plan, no one will understand where you are going. This is related to lack of focus, but in this case, it is about the sequence.

Back to that conversation with your principal.  If you want to launch a Makerspace or a school-wide reading program, don’t begin with the activities you will include in the Makerspace or how you are getting stakeholders to participate.  Start with the goal – why you need the Makerspace.

It’s similar to creating a strategic plan.  First, you look to your Mission and Vision (hopefully you have them for your library).  Then identify two or three goals that will meet a need and promote that Mission and Vision.  Only then do you develop the action steps for each goal.  You need to know the “why” before you begin the “do.”

The same is true for how you are communicating with yourself.  If the to-do list you create in your head or on paper has you going from one thing to next like the Energizer Bunny, you may get them done, but they won’t add up to solid progress because they were not the outgrowth of a solid plan.  It all becomes busy work. You need to talk to yourself – clearly – about why something needs doing and how it relates to the bigger picture before scurrying around to get it done.

Lack of a “By When” is the final communication error.  Whether it’s you, a teacher with whom you are collaborating, or someone on a committee you are leading, if there’s no set completion date people assume they have loads of time.  Time enough to forget about the task.  Anything that is accomplished tends to be slipshod. If you have not communicated any urgency or priority level, the individual/s is left to assign it themselves.  Your listeners have no idea of the task’s relative importance.

In our internal communication, we plan something in our heads (or on our to-do list) without a due date to give ourselves an out. It keeps us from being accountable. You don’t have to meet your self-assigned deadline, but you do need to know if you missed it – and why.

Focus, Context, and Due Dates will keep your Communications clear.  And being a good communicator is an essential quality of a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Space Relations

Whether or not we consciously recognize them, we maintain four zones of space in our communications with others: Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate, and this space is important to the success of our relationships. Artists are well aware of the importance of what they call negative space, referring to the area where there are no people or objects.  Negative space exists in relationships too, and, just as in art, it carries messages.  In an article entitled An Update on Proxemics, Nick Morgan explains why the term and the concept, created by Edward T. Hall, still has relevance. The space we maintain from others reflects the zone of our interactions and our connection.

In Public Space, we are twelve feet or more from the speaker.  It includes listening to a lecture or other situation where someone is usually addressing an audience of a number of people.  We are not always mindful of what is being said in public space.  You probably have noticed how many people check their cell phones – or check out completely – during a lecture of any sort. Ask the kids who sit in the back of the room.

For the person doing the speaking, the challenge in this zone is to keep the listeners engaged. If you are the one who is making the presentation, it’s important to recognize this reality and know how to draw your audience in.  Telling stories about your experience as it relates to the topic is one way. It makes it personal.  Moving away from the podium, if you can, temporarily alters the distance and can build a connection.

Social Space varies from four to twelve feet. It is what exists, for example, when we dine in a restaurant. As with Public Space, there is a mental space between us and the other diners in the room.  Unless they become loud, we are aware of then only in the most superficial way.  You might overhear a conversation that is interesting, but it is hard to concentrate on it so you tend to shift your focus.

In the education setting, you are most likely to deal with it in the teacher’s lunchroom. Each group has its own conversation taking place.  If you are alert, you might discover what unit a teacher is working on or planning.  Then you can speak to the teacher to supply the right information to make the project more successful. It can be the beginning of developing a collaborative relationship. And it’s an excellent reason to make it a practice to get out of your library for lunch.

The distance in Personal Space ranges from four feet to eighteen inches, and we are always aware of who is in this space. It’s bred into us as a matter of survival. We also need to be extra mindful here because subtle differences in how we define Personal Space can cause problems. Over time you can fine-tune your senses to be aware of how the person you are speaking with is reacting your distance.  In general, they will instinctively define it for you, taking a step back if you are too close or stepping forward if they sense you are too far.

When having a conversation in Personal Space, always be sure to accept the other person’s boundaries.  Don’t move forward if they have moved back.  It will feel to them as though you are encroaching. Accept the negative space. If you are uncomfortable with how close someone is, you can move back, but know they may read it as you trying to distance yourself from them.

Intimate Space is from eighteen inches to zero. Again, there are cultural differences as well as gender ones which make this acceptable or uncomfortable.  Unsurprisingly, women tend to prefer more distance in these situations than men, particularly in conversations with the opposite gender.  If you are a man, it is wise to be aware that moving too close here or in Personal Space may make a woman feel anxious or concerned, which can ultimately block effective communication.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, most of our communication is nonverbal.  The fours zones of space are another form of non-verbal communication. Most of our conversations, particularly the important ones, occur in the Personal and Intimate Spaces. Being aware of what the other person(s) is communicating in the negative space of body language can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful attempt at building a relationship.  And we must never forget that we are in the relationship business.

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Art of Communication

the-art-of-communucationI often say “We are in the relationship business” What goes along with this is without communication you can’t develop a relationship.  That shouldn’t be a challenge.  After all, we are always communicating, aren’t we?  Not necessarily the message we want.

Communication has three distinct elements:

  • the sender,
  • the message, and
  • the receiver.

If you remember the game of telephone you played as a kid, messages can easily become distorted, and in real life that distortion can occur within any of these three elements. In order to communicate effectively you need to be aware of how this happens and what you can do to prevent it. It is your responsibility to make sure the message is sent on a “clear channel.”Vector businessman online communicatiion connection business

Assume you are the sender.  Before you do anything you need to identify your receiver, your audience.  Is it your principal?  A teacher?  A parent?  Next you must consider what your message is.  Are you reporting something to your principal?  Offering help to a teacher? Responding to a parent query?

To be sure your message will not be garbled as it is received you must be sure it is in language the receiver understands.  Educators have jargon they use so frequently they are not always aware they are using it.  Scaffolding and differentiated instruction are quite specific terms for educators, but would parents understand them? Librarians have their own jargon as well.  We talk about information literacy and digital citizenship and don’t stop to think that not even our principals or teachers fully understand what we mean.

In communicating, it’s important you don’t make assumptions.  You might say, “Our teaching of information literacy ensures students are able to identify their need for information, locate relevant facts, evaluate them, and use them to communicate effectively.”  In essence you included the definition without either insulting someone who knows what it means or using a term they didn’t understand.

illusionYour next challenge is to select the right medium for the message. In the previous century, your choices were limited.  Do you want to talk to the receiver (in person or the telephone) or write to them (memo, report, or letter)? Today you have an array of options. To some extent it depends on what the message is, but there is a further consideration.  What is the users preferred source of communication?

If your principal wants e-mails, use that.  If he or she is a technophobe (getting rarer) schedule a meeting. Do the parents in your school use Twitter?  If they don’t it’s not a good medium for communicating with them. Do they go to your library website, your blog, or only like the print or emailed newsletters?  You need to take your message to where they are.

Besides language, the structure of the message is critical.  When you are tweeting you are limited to 140 characters. Conversations, emails, and memos have not such limit. It must be self-imposed.  Most of you are aware that text messages need to be fairly short and emails should also be brief.  If they are too long people skip some of the last part of the message. I work to keep these blog posts to a specific length and no longer, knowing they are being read on devices more than computer screen.

What isn’t as well recognized is how to craft a message, oral or written, to an administrator, and this works for others as well. We have a tendency to provide “background” so the receiver knows we are well versed in the topic and have done research, when appropriate, to be certain that what we are proposing is the best course of action. By the time the recipient gets your point, they have become lost in the verbiage.

As journalists have always known, “Don’t bury the headline.”  Lead with it. Give one or two supporting statements.  Particularly if the message is directed to your administrator let him or her know that if more information is needed, you will be glad to provide it. The same is true if you have a face-to-face meeting. Start with what you are seeking.

Note how this and all my blogs are written.  I keep paragraphs to a few lines.  Too large a block of text tends not to be read.  In my presentations I almost never have a PowerPoint slide with a lot of text.  It doesn’t work in today’s world.

Once you have “sent” your message, you may become the receiver. When you are on the other end you must do what you can to be certain you heard the message correctly. This means engaging in active listening and restating in your words what you understood.understanding

Although the focus here is on verbal/written communication, never forget the presence of nonverbal communication. Any written messages should be proofread.  We hit send (or replay all!) too fast. It’s not serious when dealing with your friends, but when communicating with administrators, teachers, and parents it communicates a message about your skills and how much you care about what you are saying.  When it’s important, I create my emails in Word first and then do a copy/paste.

non-verbalWhen you are speaking to someone, watch their non-verbal communication.  Are they subtly checking the time? Are their eyes glazing over?  Do you need to rephrase for their understanding or is it time to bring the conversation to an end?  Stay aware.

Good communication skills can be learned and can always be improved.  Practice makes perfect – or at least better.  How well do you communicate?  What’s your best medium?  What do you need to work on?

ON LIBRARIES: You and Your Tech Department

library computersNo one in the school system uses more technology than you do. The computer/tech teachers come close, but they rarely use as broad a range as you.  From your automated system to your databases, to the various resources and apps you incorporate into your teaching, you are constantly accessing different technologies. You may have a website you maintain for the library. If your district permits it, you might have a Twitter account and use Pinterest and/or Instagram.  Technology is intrinsic to almost everything you do.

And then there is the Tech Department that manages and controls access to all the tech in the district.  It can be a love/hate relationship between the two of you.  Depending on how you are handling it, sometimes it’s all hate.  Unfortunately for you, you can’t afford to let that happen.  The tech department is too powerful, and if you can’t

Tug of War

turn the relationship around, the Tech people will be a constant road block.

From the Tech Department’s Perspective

To change your mindset, look at the issue from the Tech Department’s point of view. There are a limited number of them and the faculty and administration are always needing them to attend to an issue immediately. When everything is functioning properly, no one ever praises them.  As soon as something goes wrong, blame is heaped on them.

They are charges with safeguarding the integrity of the system, but students are forever trying to get around any firewalls they construct.  Teachers (and rarely students) don’t always think before opening emails and inadvertently download malware and viruses.  The bandwidth is limited and too many people want to stream videos.  They are in a no-win situation.

Then you come along.  The school year starts and you need them to get any newly-purchased database uploaded to all your computers. You want students in the incoming class entered into your automated system.  New teachers need to be entered as well.  If your ILS system has had an upgrade, you want the tech department handling that immediately as well.

disagreeResearch projects during the year may have you making quick calls to the tech department to open a site the filter has blocked. You may need them in order to make modifications to your website.  They try to keep everything organized and handled in order by requiring you to fill out a ticket, but you want them to realize you have immediate needs and can’t wait for them to get around to dealing with it.  By the time they open the blocked site, the kids are through with the project.

Going from Hate to Partner

How can you turn this around?  You need to start building a relationship with the Tech Department and the best time to do it is when things slow down.  If at all possible, set up a meeting with them during the summer to discuss how you can help each other.  And bring food to the meeting.

Make a list of the jobs you need the Tech Department to do and put them in approximate chronological order.  Ask if you can be “trained” in doing some of them yourself so as not to strain the department’s limited resources.  In my last library situation, we loaded all the new students and teachers into our system.

Let them know whenever a research project comes up, you will explore potential sites ahead of time to identify which ones might be blocked so the Tech Department has advanced warning and has time to unblock them.  That said, see if they can find a way to “fast track” any requests from you to open sites if some are discovered while the assignment is underway.  Explain why it is so important while showing you recognize their concerns and problems.handshake

Find out if the head of the Tech Department is a member of ISTE.  If you are as well, you can use that as a common bond for discussion.  You might even attend the ISTE conference together. When you come across articles or resources you think would be of interest to the Tech people, preferably online ones, send it to them.

If you haven’t done so already, see if you can get on the district’s Tech Committee.  You need to show your tech competence and that you recognize and value the service given by the Tech Department.  When you become part of their solution instead of being their major problem, you will have found a valuable ally in ensuring your program runs smoothly and meets the needs of students and teachers.