Exhausted

Bone tired. Drained. Weary. Drooping. Pick a word. It all comes down to the same thing – we are beyond tired.

We have been working crazy hours in stressful conditions. We have been flexible. We have pivoted. We have learned resilience. And it’s still not over. Uncertainty about your future as well as the future in general has raised your stress levels. Even if you are a planner, it is hard to determine which approach will best meet what is an ambiguous tomorrow. What can you do to overcome the constant exhaustion?

If you, your program, and your life outside the library are to survive – and thrive – you need tools to deal with it. In a blog post from the Eblin Group, the author explains What to Do When You Are Feeling Exhausted, offering six steps to take. These are all an important form of self-care to help you get through this next stage.

  1. Admit to yourself that you are feeling exhausted – Sometimes pushing through is not the right choice. Yes, you say you’re tired, but you keep on going. You are avoiding acknowledging how much the exhaustion is affecting you. Find a friend to whom you can vent. Have a short pity party. Journal. Take a short nap. Do something that admits the exhaustion. It will help alleviate it and maybe help you find the key triggers.
  2. Get things off your list – Not everything is a priority. What can be postponed, ignored or cancelled? Know what must be done and what must be done now. When you admitted your exhaustion and looked at your life, were there tasks that could be done by someone else – or could be dropped entirely without have a serious effect?
  3. Change up your input – Sometimes the brain needs different input. There is a monotony that comes with his pandemic life and to break that cycle you need to do something different. Changing input changes thinking which in turn changes action. If you read, try an audio book. If you listen to music, try a podcast. Watch a TED Talk instead of a rerun. And now that spring has come to the Northern Hemisphere, don’t forget the benefits of getting outside.
  4. Do things that are fun and bring you joy – From the look of social media feeds, people have turned to cooking and baking, either attempting new things or recipes they haven’t made in ages. Others find joy in craft projects. Make sure you’re taking time for the things that make you happy. This could be solitary, like a snuggly blanket, tea and a book or time to call or Zoom with family and friends. Think about what brings you joy and make sure it’s part of your week.
  5. Pick something that is fast and easy to finish – You’re doing important work, but if your time is all about the work – the work is going to suffer. To balance this, try to find something fun that’s also fast and can be completely quickly. Binge watch a season of The Crown or Schitts Creek. Print some pictures and put them in an album. Find a game to play – solo or in a group – that doesn’t take long to finish. One of the current challenges is that the external stress is never ending. Completing something is energizing.  
  6. Eat, Move, Sleep – Make sure you are maintaining your healthy routines. Watch out for grabbing high sugar snacks for the unhealthy and limited energy boost. With the distruption of routines, you may be sitting more (you don’t even get to walk to a meeting – just a few clicks at the computer and you’re there). Sitting too long is dangerous to your health. Find ways to add movement to your day. And, of course, one of the reasons we’re exhausted is that stress has impacted our ability to get a good night sleep. Just as you did or do with children, develop a bedtime routine that allows you so slowly unwind and be ready to sink into sleep.

I’ve included the graphic from the article to help you remember. Copy it to your phone gallery if you think it will help.

Exhaustion is quickly becoming a secondary health crisis. Ignoring exhaustion only makes it worse. Acknowledge what happening and how you’re feeling, and then do what you can to take steps to help yourself so you won’t feel as though you are slogging through mud. Following this advice won’t stave off exhaustion completely, but it will lessen it and give you some steps to take when it creeps up.

Tired of It All

Is it me or is February the fourteen month of 2020? We have been carrying so much for so long, but even with vaccines being distributed and administered, the pandemic marches on. When does it end? When can we put the burden down? The longer it goes on, the longer we have to push out the deadline for returning to “normal”, the harder it is.

We and everyone around us are continually exhausted. Lisa Kohn tells those in the business world How to Keep Leading When It Starts Getting “Old.” Some of her ideas are not new, but the reminder is helpful as we continue to lead despite the exhaustion.

Keep a Sense of Humor – Laughter is the best medicine is not just a maxim, it’s a fact. It changes the body chemistry for the better. Our need for laughter is possibly one reason for all the jokes and cartoons on Facebook and other social media. Sometimes it’s the black humor reminiscent of the Korean War set sitcom M*A*S*H, but it makes us laugh, and it eases some of the exhaustion. Laughter is also contagious. It brings out the best in other people. Then they can be more light-hearted and able to bring humor and new focus to the situation. 

Keep Things in Perspective – Tiredness leads to a mindset focused on negative absolutes. “This is never going to end.” “I will never have my library back again.” “Everybody is too stressed to work with me on a project.” Having these thoughts too often in the course of the day adds to a sense of hopelessness, contributing to exhaustion. The truth is not everything is in bad shape. Which leads to –

Look for What’s Good – Where has the pandemic given you new opportunities? What new contacts have you made? Find things that make you happy. What puts a smile on your face? It can be the smallest thing that helps you to balance out the barrage of negative news. I am sometimes stopped in my tracks while watching a bird find food in the snow. It may take more looking than usual, but the good is there.

Up the Self-Care – We are drained by continual stressful situations that trigger the fight/flight/flee mode. Self-care is an important means of combatting this. If you are having trouble giving yourself the time, you need to restore and rejuvenate (or at least step back a bit), put it on your to-do list. Remember, self-care is emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Have you tapped into all those areas to ensure you are taking care of yourself? Doing this for yourself will help you notice when those around you need more too.

Connect with Others – However You Can – We are social creatures, and the change and decrease in our interactions has been hard on everyone (even introverts!). Reach out to people professionally and personally. Like self-care, this can be part of your to-do list—something to look forward to. When I started making these calls, I thought I was doing it for them, but I have seen how much it brings to me. Have you noticed how many people are sending good morning messages via social media these days? It’s just one more way to get some of the human connection we need.

Acknowledge It’s Getting Old – No question about it. It’s a case of been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it. Being honest about your feelings strengthens your bonds with others and allows them to be honest about where they may be struggling. Acknowledging the situation reinforces that we are all in this together, and together we will get through it.

Plan for the Future –Planning for the future, even knowing that it will not be the same as what was, is an important and positive act. It is also a part of self-care. Allow yourself see beyond the challenges of the present. It doesn’t matter what the future actually turns out to be. The act of thinking about it gives free rein to ideas that you might be able to incorporate into whatever happens. In the meantime, you will have given yourself the gift of dreaming.

One of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic has been how long it’s lasted coupled with not knowing how much longer it’s going to go on. Adapting and readapting is draining when you don’t know where the finish line is – or it keeps getting moved. Adding some of these ideas to your plans will hopefully help you, your program – and even your family – get through it all a little easier. And a little easier would be a lot welcome.

ON LIBRARIES: Being Resilient

The last nine to ten months have presented most of us with unprecedented levels of stress. As each month passes it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain our energy and motivation. Resilience is necessary for survival, and with so many counting on us it’s vital that we develop ours as much as we can. A few weeks ago I blogged on this topic. I think it deserves reviewing, especially as we move into the holidays.

Merriam-Webster defines resilience as:

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

While the second definition is the one that most logically applies, the first has a strong connection as well.  I certainly feel my body has been compressed by being emotionally battered on nearly every level. Whether it’s news reports, social media, or hearing from friends and family, life can seem bleak with only the hope of a vaccine soon-to-come that seems a light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite all the negatives, it is my belief you can always find some positives in difficult situations and times.  Building resilience won’t make problems disappear, but it will help you manage them. By working on becoming more resilient, we develop or add skills and capacities we can use even when we emerge from the overpowering presence of COVID-19.

The Mayo Clinic offers six techniques on the subject in Resilience: Build Skills to Endure Hardship. I like the word “endure.”  It’s a reminder that we are in an ongoing cycle.  No matter how good we are today, we must get up tomorrow and do it again.  You might find their tips familiar, but it’s important to keep them in mind so you keep working at resilience.

Get connected – Isolation is damaging to mental health and therefore resilience.  Zoom meetings in and of themselves are not enough of a connection.  Your PLN on social media can be an outlet to talk about challenges and get supportive feedback.  Having an opportunity to help someone else who is struggling will also bolster your own resilience.

Take time to make phone calls. It is not as good as speaking to someone face-to-face, but it brings you closer because it’s one-to-one.  If you need to, schedule the calls to ensure you make the connection.  Reach out to family, friends, and colleagues who live alone.  The stress is likely heavier on them.

Make every day meaningful – Many have noted how the days blur, one into the next. Try to distinguish the days and look for things that might add something special. It doesn’t need take long. It could be that call you make, making a special dessert or other treat, or having dinner delivered.

Keep track of what you accomplished.  You don’t want your achievements to dissolve in the blur of days.  Record them digitally or on paper in a “success journal.”  It will remind you of how much you got done.  If you record professional successes, you can use it to update your principal on what you have been doing.

Learn from experience – You have faced tough times in the past. At the time it seemed insurmountable. How did you get through it? What skills and practices helped you? Who supported and encouraged you? The Mayo Clinic recommends journaling as a reminder of how you succeeded then.  For me, the mantra, “I will get through this.  I always have” is empowering.  Find a way that works for you to keep those previous successes in mind.

Remain hopeful – I have a painting in my office that says “There is always hope.” It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem entitled “Hope.” The first stanza is often in my head these days,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Hope never stops, and we need to hold onto hope.  Nothing stays the same.  This will change. That is my hope – and belief.

Take care of yourself – You know this.  You heard it countless times before the pandemic, and it’s been repeated even more since.  But knowing something and acting on it are two different things.  It’s easy to postpone self-care.  Don’t. Practice the care you know works for you – or try something you’ve been thinking about.

Be pro-active – This is about not ignoring the challenges and problems around you. When you can identify them, you can make a plan and take action. Action helps build resilience. This also means recognizing and accepting when you are struggling so you can seek the help you need. 

And how does all of this connect with your role as a librarian? We all know that we can’t be there for others in a lasting way until we take care of ourselves. If you make some or all of these ideas a part of your life, you’ll feel your resilience – and your ability to recover your size and shape – strengthen. Know that you won’t have the same strength every day. Some days will get to you. When they do, go back to the tools that work when you’re ready and remember there is always hope.

ON LIBRARIES: Connecting With Administrators

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Over the years, too many librarians have told me their principal has no idea what they do. My reply is, “It’s your job to let them know.” A good part of the reason we have lost so many positions is because those in charge don’t know what a librarian does. It’s clear from what I’ve read on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that librarians have played an important part in keeping teachers and students going during this pandemic. Does your administrator know? 

Yes, keeping her/him in the loop is one more thing for you to do, but it may well be the most important thing. Administrators, both principals and superintendents, are under extreme pressure. When budget constraints are mandated, they are the ones making decisions that impair, reduce, or eliminate your program and possibly your job. It’s up to you to find an approach to forestall and/or alter those scenarios. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  Your administrator will not seek you out if there has been no previous connection.  You have to create connection and that requires a plan.

Take it one step at a time. First, make a record of all you are doing and categorize it by the recipient. You can keep this general (students, teachers) or be more specific (grade, subject level, ELL, etc.) If you make it into a grid, you can also show what type of services you are providing: instruction, tech help, reading promotion, collaboration.  If you find yourself amazed to see how much you are doing and how many people you are reaching – think of how your principal will react.

Because administrators are swamped make certain anything you send to them is clear and to the point.  If you are wordy, they are less likely to respond. Try sending a message with the subject line, “One Good Thing” and then adding a specific reference such as, “One Good Thing: Teachers are successful with the Platform we are using.”  In the body of the email, explain what’s working and how it’s helping – briefly.  If all your messages are “One Good Thing,” it will tie them together, reminding your principal this all comes from you. They will recognize your emails and, hopefully, look forward to what you share.

You should also take time to consider and identify your administrator’s challenges.  Do you know her/his priorities? What are they trying to accomplish?  What difficulties are they facing? What is working? What isn’t? Once you know at least some answers think of how you might be able to help your administrator manage or mitigate any of these.  Because of how you interact with everyone, you have a big picture scan – just as your principal does.  You may not realize it, but you see things from a similar perspective.

After you’ve identified places where you can help, create one or two solutions and reach out. Again, use the subject line of the email to draw them in “How the library can support….” Diversity/Access/Test Success.  Whatever it is. Let them know you have an idea and ask for 5 minutes to speak – in person if possible, Zoom or other visual if not.  If you have no alternative, phone and email can work. Once you have your time, stick to it. Don’t go over. Your principal will appreciate you keeping your word and your focus. Lay out your plan, ask if he/she has questions and then follow up with an email or other documents as appropriate.

AASL also has support to help you make the connection with administrators. Past President Kathy Root’s  AASL School Leader Collaborative Administrators & School Librarians Transforming Teaching and Learning” is a 2-year initiative. From school librarian recommendations, it selected seven school administrators to serve and they have done a lot including creating YouTube videos and doing a Town Hall on Leading Learning.  I urge you to watch the free archived Town Hall. It’s inspiring to hear these administrators talk about how they rely on their school librarians. 

Repeat any and all of these steps so you build a lasting connection. This is cannot be a onetime thing. Once you have made it, continue to foster it.  Start building your own connection to your administrators. Not only will they know what you do, they will tell others about your program. Having a principal see you as a leader and collaborator will make you even more successful.

ON LIBRARIES – Five H’s To Live By

As the school year continues with fits and starts, you and your colleagues may struggle to keep up with each new schedule as it emerges. By focusing on Five H’s – head, hands, heart, health, and habit, you can keep your balance in a world that continues to tilt. The first four come from the 4-H program. The fifth is from me.

Head – At the beginning of each month do a big picture scan. What is working?  What isn’t?  Based on what you are seeing in the world, your state, your town, your school, what seems to be the direction things are heading? 

Review your Mission and Vision Statements. Does your Mission still reflect what you are working to achieve?  On a daily/weekly basis, how much of your time furthers your Mission? Is your Vision still describing your aspirations for the future of the library program? Based on your review, you may want to tweak these statements. 

Using this big picture awareness you can choose how you can leverage your skill set to meet the upcoming needs of your students, teachers, and administrators. The pandemic has changed how we do things and therefore what is necessary to accomplish them. This is an opportunity. The more ways you can anticipate and address what their requirements are and will be, the more people will rely on and value you.

Hands – Put your thoughts into action. Create a plan to meet these identified needs. Have a rough timeline for accomplishing it and remember you may need to adjust details to account for changes. Make certain to select communication channels to reach your audience effectively then inform stakeholders of what you are doing and with whom. Be succinct. For example, don’t send wordy newsletters, no matter how nice they my look. Everyone is overloaded. Don’t add to it. If the recipient doesn’t see the value of the communication, it is pointless to send it. 

Look for sources of help. Sometimes students can be of assistance in these projects. Knowing they are doing “real life work” engages them. And they will also learn a great deal in the process, and you will have a new collaboration to share.

Heart – Show caring. I’ve written about this a lot during the last several months, but we continue to see that little things mean a lot. If you are physically back in school, drop small notes on teachers’ desks. Print out a funny cat or dog picture and sharing it a place people walk by. Social media is not the only place to share the fun. If you are remote, send the note or picture as a message.

Congratulate colleagues (and students) on successes and be a listening ear when things aren’t going well. Use your displays to send messages of kindness and caring. And, as I wrote in my October 19 blog, remember to say, “Please,” Thank you,” and “You’re Welcome.” 

Health – Self-care is an ongoing topic and an important one. Your health is vital to your ability to do everything else. Make sure you are making time to guard it. While you are wearing a mask and washing your hands, there are other health basics you may be overlooking. People are joking about the COVID 20, referring to the pounds gained during the pandemic, but it’s something to be aware of. Healthy eating keeps your immune system up. Getting enough sleep affects your emotional intelligence.

Regular exercise is another contributor to overall health. It doesn’t have to take long. There are many YouTube videos with 5-minute workouts, especially good for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere where the weather is getting colder. Keep some weights in your desk if you are in school. Pausing for five minutes to take care of yourself will get you back at work with a more positive attitude – and it will help keep you in shape.

And don’t forget to hydrate! Wearing masks can make remembering this a challenge. Set a timer on your phone if it helps to remind you. That leads us directly to – 

Habit – Good and bad habits are the things we do unconsciously. They can improve our capacity to get things done or they can sabotage us. Think of one bad habit you might want to eliminate and one good habit you would like to gain.

When does the bad habit show up?  Why? What is something you can do to distract yourself from it?  What could/should you do when the habit shows up? In noticing what triggers the habit, you are more able to replace it with the diversion you think will work. The more often you do it, the more likely the habit is to shrink. It may never go away, but it will be more controllable.

When do you want to practice the good habit? Set an alarm to remember or find a positive trigger. Frequency builds habits. Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day when you’re developing something new. You will succeed if you just keep at it. Knowing your why and making it a priority will also support your success.

At the end of the week, reflect on what you have accomplished. Did the “Five H’s” help?  Was there one that was especially helpful? Then do what you can to keep going with it. Was one challenging? Look for ways to get support (change is easier with a group)  or make a new plan. Then your next week will be even better.

ON LIBRARIES: The Opportunities of Interesting Times

The quote “May you live in interesting times”, which supposedly has a Chinese origin, can be taken two ways. Is it a blessing or a curse? It all depends on how you see interesting times. For some the constant uncertainty is debilitating. Others see new possibilities. The difference is in how you respond, and your reaction is a choice even if you don’t notice making a conscious one.

Either you need to find a way to be proactive and choose to steer in a positive direction, or you’ll end up being reactive and allow the situation to steer you. Both can be exhausting, but with one you’ll likely be more energized and positive.

To actively steer your ship (read: be a leader), you need to be willing to carve out time to analyze your situation and develop a strategy which involves evaluating your assets, strengths and weaknesses, and learning from past behaviors and choices. Once you do this, you must commit to taking action.

In How to Turn Disaster Into Discovery — A Key to ResiliencyEileen McDargh proposes theses six questions to guide you into “intelligent optimism” which in turn will let you find the opportunities in these interesting times:

  1. What has become clear to you in the last few months? You should be able to come up with a number of items. What have you learned about relationships (professional and personal)?  What was true before the pandemic that is still true now?  How has your Mission Statement held up in the face of COVID-19?  How well do you handle ambiguity and uncertainty? Is this something you’d like to improve?  What’s making you feel successful?  Don’t forget to notice these.
  2. Where are you spending energy without getting the desired results? This is an important question. Are you still locked in tasks that belong to the past and don’t further your aims? The opposite question is equally important. Which use of your energy has been producing positive results? Your plate is very full. It is time to eliminate or minimize time spent on things that don’t move you forward. As we learn from the Pareto Principle or the Law of 80/20, 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. But sometimes 80% of the work only brings 20% of the results. It’s time to take a closer look at efforts and results.
  3. If you could start from scratch, how would you redesign your job, this business? This isn’t a question we normally think about, but since normal has taken a vacation, it’s worth considering. You have the opportunity to rethink how the library can function better, reach more students, and be a greater partner to teachers and administrators. Look for how the library can lead the way now and in whatever future is coming. The physical space is part of this envisioning, but so is the digital — and emotional—one. What can be done to make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all?  What is your role in this new ecosystem?
  4. What have you uncovered about your personal life that needs to be encouraged? Have you, like many, made more time for friends and relatives. Are you Zooming and calling them on a regular schedule?  How have your interactions at home changed? For the better?  What are you doing for yourself? It’s become very apparent in the last six months how important supportive relationships are. Continue to seek out and nourish these.
  5. How can we grow together as a supportive unit and what do you need from me? I love this question. It is essential that we build relationships and community. This question should be uppermost in your mind as you speak and deal with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. As the ALA initiative says, “Libraries transform communities.” How are you building and transforming yours? And as a bonus, this question may also work well at the dinner table or with your online/virtual social groups.
  6. What are the small steps you can create to work in a more collaborative way? This is where the other questions have been leading us. Here is where you create a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs regular steps – of any size – to take you where you want to go.

Get started now to chart your future. Every few months stop and review these questions to see what new information you can use. Leaders need to know themselves and use that knowledge to plan for the future. When you do that, you can make these interesting times a growth opportunity.

ON LIBARIES: When Under Attack – R.E.A.C.T

Managing our lives during a pandemic is not unlike living during a war.  We are under attack and have been for months.  The ongoing issues around the Covid-19 virus has brought on a form of shell shock and there are some who show signs of PTSD.  We bounce from bad news to good news and back again.  From hope to despair to cautious optimism.  We make plans, and they are uprooted.  We plan again only to be forced to change again.  This is a war zone and we must, as they say, soldier on.

But how?

In this case, the best resource may be a retired Navy SEAL officer.  Brent Gleeson reports on the advice he got from one in A Navy SEAL’s Guide For Reacting And Thriving Under Pressure.  Jason Redman, the Navy SEAL, refers to our current situation as a “life ambush! An unexpected catastrophic event that leaves a permanent impact on your life or career.”  Certainly, the pandemic has done just that.   What soldiers know is that when you are in this situation, you need to get out as fast as possible.   The way to do it is to R.E.A.C.T.

Recognize your reality – If you haven’t done so already, confront and accept the truth of the situation.  While it is in flux with almost daily changes and challenges, COVID-19 is here to stay.   There will be a vaccine, but it won’t disappear.   All aspects of our society have been altered by its presence, and they will never revert to what they were before.   By accepting this truth, you can start seeing the situation from a larger perspective, make better decisions, and implement the most beneficial actions.

Evaluate your Assets and Position –What do you have that is working for you? What isn’t?  How valuable do teachers, students, administrators, and parents think you are?  Who are your strongest supporters?  Who are the weakest – or non-existent?  This requires honesty.   Some of you only see what isn’t working.   Others put a positive cast on everything.   Neither is entirely helpful, Take a good hard look at the situation.  Have your role and responsibilities been dramatically changed? If so, what are your new assets in this position.  If you can, take time to do this for your personal life as well – what’s working, what’s not, where can you get help.

Assess your Options and Outcomes – What steps can you take so that the library is seen favorably? What part of your Mission can you put into action? Can you turn your new situation into a plus?  Perhaps you have a new way to collaborate with teachers.  Maybe there’s a way to create online bulletin boards with contributions from students.  Check with your Professional Learning Network for suggestions.  Look at the decisions being made by your Board of Education.  Are you in danger of being eliminated, be made part-time or some other serious change? If so, can you find a new and better position somewhere else? Will additional certification help? For the moment, consider even unrealistic options and their potential outcomes as you decide upon some next steps.

Choose a Direction and Communicate it – Once you have decided as to the best way to proceed, make sure those who need to know and can help you are made aware of it. This is particularly true if you have choose to start job hunting. Think strategically so you don’t put your current job in jeopardy. In getting to your objective, what steps must you take – in what order?  Who do you need to work with and/or contact to complete this step?

Take Action.  GET off the X and Move! – The first step is the hardest. It is easy to procrastinate when something important is at stake. Trust the process you went through and the decision(s) you made. Nothing will change unless you do. Break big steps into smaller ones to help you gain and keep momentum and be ready to adjust as most plans require tweaks as you implement them, but don’t lose track of your goal.

The pandemic has attacked the life we’ve known and left us all changed, but even when changes happen, you can take steps to move yourself forward, professionally and personally. This is your life and your life’s work.  It’s time for you to R.E.A.C.T.

ON LIBRARIES: High Touch When You Can’t Touch

In recent years, many businesses have found success by being “high touch.”  According to Upscope a high-touch business is “one in which a customer places trust and partnership with a company, and in many cases, a specific individual or team at the company.” These companies develop close relationships with their customers, which builds loyalty.  The mental image is of them “reaching out and touching someone,” of being connected. We, too, need to develop these kinds of relationships with our “customers,” but in the current environment this is challenging on both a figurative and literal level.

Our ability to connect with teachers, students, and administrators determines whether we will be considered indispensable. But we base much of our relationship skills on being in physical contact with others.  We are accustomed to reading the body language and tone of voice of others to help us identify where they are and what they need.  Zoom may give us some clues, but it doesn’t come close to real life.  While we will probably have more in-person contact as schools resume, you will still need to rely on other means to build and keep relationships.

In developing these alternatives, you will display important leadership characteristics. Our teachers and students are crying out for leadership as the ground beneath us shifts almost daily.  Our administrators are stressed even more than the rest of us, being put in charge of situations fraught with uncertainty and danger.

Ken Goldstein’s blog post Desperately Needed Now addresses what you can do to help your students and colleagues.  After observing the success of several business teams, he noticed some important commonalities and proposes we need to focus on three “C’s.”: Confidence, Clarity, and Connection.

Confidence – It’s difficult to feel and act confident when there are so many uncertainties. Yet this is where leadership comes to the fore.  You know what the proposed plans for the restart are.  You know what the changes are likely to be, depending on the situation with the virus. What is your plan of action?  And what’s your Plan B? Don’t doubt yourself. Accept that your first plan will inevitably need anything from tweaks to full-scale re-writes. Be certain to write your plan(s) down somewhere and keep checking it regularly, adapting as necessary.

Having a sense of direction will build your confidence.  Bring that confidence to your Zoom and in-person meetings.  Don’t try to suggest that you have all the answers, that would be arrogance.  But when you project you know what you will do and how you will work with others, your colleagues will feel reassured and look to you as a leader.

Clarity – You have all seen people in leadership roles who start talking and then bring in something that runs counter to what they just said.  Their audience is lost then either tunes them out or stops trusting them. Keep your ideas clear and simple. It’s hard for audiences (students and teachers) to stay focused in the current climate. Be ready to state your plan in another way if your audience seems confused. But keep it brief.  Encourage questions.  This will ensure that everyone – or sometimes the person you are talking to – understands your plan.

Connection – Social isolation is contrary to human nature. We can see it in the behavior of adolescents who keep violating the social distancing rules or the way we are calling friends and family more often.  Look for ways to personalize connections with others.  Use tech to send friendly visual messages. We are hard-pressed for time, but relationships need and deserve that time.  Ask about family and other non-education related topics once regular business is complete, just as you might under normal circumstances.

It sounds as though all this might add to your workload, but in the long road it will lessen it.  Your colleagues may start by leaning on you but will soon take on the behaviors they are seeing in you.  Leadership is about getting in there with people and plotting a direction.  The route to getting there is where the learning and growth happens.  The Connection you help to create will strengthen the school’s culture.  Your Clarity will help them achieve their own plans. And your Confidence will grow.  You’ll create a library that’s high touch no matter the circumstances.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Follow The Yellow Brick Road

My daughter often speaks about the great life wisdom in MGM movie The Wizard of Oz. As I consider where we have come from and what lies ahead, it’s apparent the story has much to teach us about our current situation.

To start at the beginning, a tornado called COVID-19 has swept down on all of us.  We landed in unfamiliar territory, and the one thing we know is, “we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”  With Dorothy as our guide, we can safely navigate this bizarre world.

She begins, as we did, at the beginning, not knowing exactly where she is going, but trusting herself to get there because her goal is so important.  Dorothy quickly picks up three companions, which is something most of you have wisely done, because on a journey like this, it’s important not to do it alone.

Despite being self-isolating, we have reached out to others. The various library-related social media groups are a lifeline.  Someone knows a resource that will be invaluable.  Someone can answer your question about using an app.  And we all understand the special demands being made on school librarians. Whether you are seeking help or giving it, you are part of the library community.  It will shore you up on good days and bad. It’s what we do for each other, and how we serve our students, teachers, and administrators. Some days you need the group – some days the group needs you.

Her three companions contribute to the journey, and what they represent is key. There is no doubt you will most need: Brains, Heart and Courage.

Brains:  The Scarecrow, who claims not to have a brain, shows good thinking throughout.  We may start out confused, but ultimately we are able to create important and worthwhile plans to provide the services your educational community – which more than ever includes parents – need.

Fortunately, as a librarian you are a lifelong learner – thinking is your strong suit. You have been going on webinars, checking new apps, and curating the ones that apply.  You share them with the appropriate people.  And you are there to provide technical and other help as needed.

Heart – The Tin Man longs for heart, but, of course, he has one.  He loves completely.  You, too, love your students and the job you do.  You feel for your teachers and your administrator and are doing your best to be there for them and show them you care.

Empathy is an important leadership quality.  It builds trust and draws others to you. Educators have been working on trauma-induced teaching and learning long before COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, almost all of us are dealing with trauma – ours and others.  Using your natural inclination to be of service, you bring this quality to everyone.  They count on you, even if they haven’t before. (And a reminder – be sure to document what you have been doing so it isn’t forgotten.)

Courage: The lion recognizes his fear, but doesn’t believe he has courage. However, when the time comes, when it is needed, he shows it completely. Being frightened doesn’t mean you aren’t courageous.   Getting up each day and carrying on is an act of bravery.

You also show your courage in your dealings with others.  You focus on the possible and look for solutions, trusting you will find something that works. Like the lion, you admit you are scared, but your actions show your community how you demonstrate courage in the face of it.

Finally, it is important to notice Dorothy. She starts out feeling confused and uncertain. (And who isn’t these days?).  But she soon shows she is a leader. Dorothy builds her team, accepting help to reach her Vision and Mission. The Vision – To get back home and be there for her family.  The Mission – Get to Oz and get all of them what they need. With the team she inspires with her passion, they each make their own contribution, and attain their desired results. She has empowered them to become better than they knew they were. She is a true leader.

So, put on your red shoes and start following the Yellow Brick Road.  We know it’s not Kansas,  but this is where we live now and no matter what, there’s no place like it.

ON LIBRARIES: In Search of Resilience

Has your get up and go got up and went? This is not the usual end-of-year tiredness.  We have had too much to do, a huge learning curve, and an increased workload coupled with fear of the virus and economic concerns.  And while you may want a nap, a glass of wine and a lot of chocolate, what you need is to develop resilience.

Before we look at what resilience can offer, consider the distinction between three words which are similar but not the same: Perseverance, Grit, and Resilience.

Perseverance is the ability to keep going no matter what.  It’s how you have mostly been getting through your days. One foot in front of the other. Grit is when you focus your mind on what needs to be done, bear down and power through. It’s perseverance with a dose of determination. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back or recover in the face of challenges and difficulties. Unlike the other two terms, it isn’t about just coping.  It carries a connotation of growing and improving as part of dealing with challenges. It is a growth mindset and one that could be a tremendous benefit to you in the weeks ahead.

Perseverance and grit are good traits in their own way, but resilience will carry you through.  In a post from KQED in California, Katrina Schwartz discusses the work of Elena Aguilar on 12 Ways Teachers Can Build Resilience So They Can Make Systemic Change. Many are familiar, but this presents it in a new way. The idea is not to survive, but to thrive and grow.

  1. Know Yourself – Start with self-reflection to give you the base on which to build your resilience. What are your strengths? Where do you struggle? Your weaknesses probably come to you first, so promise to take the time to be honest and recognize your strengths. (Ask a good friend if you struggle with this!) Also look at your traits, your background and what life experiences you’ve had. They all contribute to your becoming the person you are.
  2. Emotions – You are well-schooled by now in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for your students, but don’t forget to apply it to yourself. Emotions power almost everything from our choices to our reaction. Notice how you have been using your EI in approaching the day. Practice noticing and naming the emotions you’re experiencing.
  3. Tell Empowering Stories – I often talk about the “stories we tell ourselves” that have a basis in truth but keep us from stepping out of our comfort zone. Instead, start telling yourself stories about your successes. Now re-write a story about a failure, putting the emphasis on what you learned as a result and how you used that. Reframing a situation and changing the context can be powerful.
  4. Build Community – Relationships are at the heart of what we do. In the days of social distancing they are more important than ever. Be sure your community includes many librarians. Join and participate in the library-related social media groups.  They will support you, soothe your hurts, give you laughs, provide information and rejuvenate you. They will understand and support you in vital ways and contribute to your resilience.
  5. Be Here Now – Aguilar says this is about mindfulness and being aware of the “story” you are telling. It is also about focusing on what is in front of you without letting yourself be distracted by what’s beyond that. This is a form of mental multi-tasking which reduces your concentration on what you are doing, making current projects take longer and be done less well. Staying focused can lower your stress and increase your productivity.
  6. Take Care of Yourself – This is the advice given most often, and it’s the most often ignored. It’s not that you don’t agree with it.  But you don’t have time at the moment.  That’s not sustainable. Include at least 30 minutes of the day for “me time.”  Don’t use it to get dinner started or do any other of the tasks you do for others. This is all about you.
  7. Focus on the Bright Spots – They are there. Hold on to them as the treasures they are. As I have written before, I note my successes and things for which I’m grateful in a journal. Keeping those thoughts in front of me means the negatives can’t dominate my consciousness.
  8. Cultivate Compassion – This leans on your Emotional Intelligence (EI). Everyone is stressed and many are having difficulties managing it. Students and adults alike are lashing out in anger and frustration.  Instead of focusing on the emotion being broadcast, look for the underlying cause and speak to that. You will likely defuse the situation.  And when you do this, add the success to your Empowering Stories.
  9. Be a Learner – This one is second nature for us, but make time to learn about something new that catches your attention, not just the learning you do for your job. Broaden your horizons. You may discover something wonderful.
  10. Play and Create – Adults need play time as much as children, Some of you are very crafty and show it in your displays, so find other outlets for that talent. Because being creative is a kind of risk, it takes some courage, but courage is part of resilience.
  11. Ride the Waves of Change – Change is part of life. It is happening at a fast pace these days, but your Empowering Stories remind you that you have survived and thrived many other changes both professional and personal. You have what it takes to learn and grow as more changes come into your life.
  12. Celebrate and Appreciate- Celebrate small things as much as large. Celebrate yourself and celebrate others. Our lives are what we make of it. We are resilient.  We are strong.

In going through this list, it struck me how it connects to the four Domains of the National School Library Standards: Think, Share, Create, and Grow.  A good recipe for building resilience.