ON LIBRARIES: The Return of Burnout

Burn out is a common problem at the end of the school year, but here we are a month or more after schools have ended and for many the challenge continues. You are not alone. The workload, the assessments – of students and you – and the feeling that you aren’t valued are all contributing factors.  Add to this all the ways COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, and it’s hard to change course. How can you rekindle your enthusiasm?

Moving at top speed to get everything done will not help.  Once you recognize you are burnt out – whether from things at work, home, or a combination – your first step is to pause and breathe.  To create a pause, do what you can to remove yourself from the environment you are in. Go sit outside. Take a walk. Drive to park and, if necessary, sit in your car. Just get away from your usual surroundings with its reminders of all you have to do.

Next consciously take a deep breath, slowly in and slowly out (this is good even if you can’t change your environment).  In the article The Benefits of Deep Breathing, Andrea Watkins, LCSW, writes that the benefits of this one action include:

  • Decreasing stress, increasing calm,
  • Reliving pain,
  • Stimulating the lymphatic system (and detoxifying the body),
  • Improving immunity.

Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll be better able to think clearly and see the ways you’re capable and succeeding. You are used to dealing with many demands. You have proven how flexible you are. Throughout the quarantine you have been a source of information –and comfort – to students and teachers. Trust yourself to continue to be that. And make sure your principal and even your superintendent know what you have been doing and how it has contributed to learning and student engagement throughout this time.

Another action that can help is to reconnect with your “Why.”  It’s amazing how powerful this can be. Think back to the reasons you became a librarian.  Recall the special moments you have had with kids, teachers, and others. Maybe even some that took place during this crazy final semester. Remember your Mission and Vision statements.  This is who you are and what you bring to others.

You can also try reorganizing your day and possibly your work environment. A change-up will help to energize you. Be sure you are including “me-time” of at least 30 continuous minutes. You will get more done by taking a break than if you worked through it.

When you’re feeling calmer, identify what was the “straw” (or strawS) that triggered the burnout. Look at both your work and personal life. Each may be a contributor. Once you’ve determined what that breaking point might be, taking action – even one step – can help.

I’ve been reading on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that many of you are worried that after all you have done, you won’t have a library to go back to. You might be re-assigned to the classroom if libraries and other specials are being cancelled for the year, or perhaps the administration is talking about eliminating you entirely. Your action step can be stepping up your advocacy. All across social media you can find numerous charts and infographics for “sharing” with your administrators.  Here is  one from New Jersey Association of School Libraries or this one from Arlen Kimmelman, also of NJASL. AASL has one specifically for administrators.  You might also request time with your principal to discuss how you can impact student learning in the various potential configurations for school in the fall. Bring your awareness of trauma-informed learning and teaching. Discuss how you can assist in helping teachers who are also suffering from trauma.

The switch to distance learning, helping teachers who are struggling, and doing the same for students has been incredibly draining.  As you look toward a new school year, the extent of uncertainty about how the new configuration will look, and what your role in the new configuration it will be is increasing your anxiety and exhaustion. But if you take the time to use your support systems, make a plan, and take a step, you will discover you can do this.  You have already done so much.  Don’t let burnout stop you now.

Take the time you need and, as always, breathe!

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ON LIBRARIES – Making Your Presence Known

Schools are creating – and recreating – their reopening plans for the fall. Budgets are being slashed in the wake of the pandemic. As administrators wrestle with tough decisions, you need to ensure that you and the library are seen as essential to making the new configurations work and work effectively.  If you haven’t been sending this message, start immediately, or it may be too late.

The workshop I give, “Making Your Presence Known,” was designed for what, in retrospect, was a simpler time, however its central premise, using Emotional Intelligence and the Four Truths, is extremely relevant now.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is vital to your success because it means you know yourself, manage your emotions, and, most critically at this juncture, know how to read others’ emotions – whether in a Zoom-type meeting, in an email, or in person.  What messages are you getting from your administrators’ emotions? Your teachers’ emotions? What can you do to act on those?

Four Truths:

  • All libraries, regardless of their type, are part of a larger host system.
  • All libraries, regardless of their type, get all their funds from this host system.
  • These funds are dependent on the value of the library to the host system.
  • That value is determined by the host system, not the library.

Are you valued by your host system?  If you are not, you are likely to be gone.

Now is the time to make sure you are highly regarded by your administrators, recognized for what you do, and turned to for ideas and advice.  It’s time to increase the volume as you speak and speak out.

Joel Garfinkle in an article entitled How Fauci Exemplifies Executive Presence  identifies these four necessary characteristics which are key to combining EI and the Four Truths:

Gravitas: It’s the ability to project calmness in a crisis. You may be churning inside, but you don’t show it.  This is the managing your emotions/self-regulation part of EI as well as being aware of the emotions of others. Where is their fear?  How can you address it and, even if only part, ease it?  You are bringing a perspective to the table others might not have. If you work on this now, you stand a good chance of staying at that table because you will show your value to the “host system”.

Acts with Authority:  Yes, you do have authority when you speak from your strengths.  You have been curating information on COVID-19, on alternatives to managing it within the school environment, and the pros and cons of the possibilities.  Because of the help you have been giving teachers and students, you have direct knowledge of their challenges.  As Fauci does, you can bring the downside while you inform them of the upside.  You tell the truth.  It’s not sugar-coating; it’s reality put in a constructive framework and that becomes usable information, something everyone needs.

Establishes Credibility: You can cite the research.  You know your stuff. This is part of where your authority comes from. But you also have built relationships.  People trust you because you have proven yourself to be trustworthy. Again, your EI comes into play as you empathize with others’ fears. By doing so you reduce their concerns and increase your value.

Communicates Powerfully: Keep your administration informed about what you are and have been doing. Use infographics and other visual means. In a Zoom-type meeting don’t dominate the conversation.  Be succinct and don’t use library jargon.  People are tense and overwrought.  Speak simply and clearly – with gravitas. Speak slowly and don’t end your sentences with your voice going up as if you are asking a question, which sends a message that you are uncertain.

You already have some of these four skills.  Now that you are aware of them you can make certain you are integrating them into your communications, particularly with the administration. This will put you in a position to show – and have them believe – that you and the library must be part of the new normal.

ON LIBRARIES: Turning Hope Into Action

The posts and comments are familiar and often repeated. We are exhausted.  It’s been going on too long.  We hoped it would be over by now. A note of despair has entered our lives. The old normal will never be back. I’m hearing and reading more absolute terms being used such as the “never” in the previous sentence.  Or “always” as in, “it’s always going to be this way.”  We need to be careful of thoughts like that. It is a mindset that feeds despair and drains us of something vital – hope.

Our world has always been filled with “ills and diseases,” but hope is there as well. As Emily Dickinson has said, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”  Perhaps we need to give the tune words. Hope is vital to our well-being.  We need to nourish it. Instead of thinking of hope as wish, take steps that will bring it to life.

In a long post on 3 Things the Most Resilient People Do Every Day, Eric Barker proposes a simple approach for creating hope.  His idea is to “Fill the Gap” with the formula:

Goals + Agency + Pathways = Hope.

Only three steps, but it takes work  – and time – to correct our negative mindsets.

Goals – Always a powerful place to start.  You write them for your library and for your lessons. Perhaps you write them for personal achievements.  But to use goals for creating hope is a bit different.

If you are accustomed to writing SMART goals (Specific Measurable Attainable, Relevant, and Timely), how can this work for Hope? Baker says begin the process by starting a sentence with “I want …”  But then make it more specific.  For example, if you start with “I want to build a relationship with my principal,” drill down to “I will research my principal online, and regularly send them a link to something that interests them along with new achievements from the library.”

What goal might foster hope?  Perhaps if you notice yourself using never and always too often, you can set a goal of “I will decrease (don’t try to eliminate) absolutes in my language by changing the wording after I use them.”

Agency – This is the action step.  Agency is what gets and keeps you moving. It’s related to persistence and perseverance.

As I have seen in WW (formerly Weight Watchers), it’s easy for people to leave the program when they experience a setback.  Agency means you make a choice to continue even when it gets difficult.  If you think you quit, share your goal with a friend.  That tends to cause you to be more accountable.

And to keep yourself going, don’t beat yourself up when you have a bad day and fail to follow one of the steps towards your goal.  That way leads to defeatism and abandoning what you want to achieve (and an absolute “See, I’m never going to get this right”).  Instead, focus on previous successes you have had after experiencing a setback. You have done it before, and you can do it again. This is part of the process not an end to it.

Pathways – You have to have a plan.  As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  Barker says to visualize the path, and by that he doesn’t mean dream.  That might be how you start, but you must take action and move along the path in specific ways to get to your goal.

Your opening steps are probably obvious. You are going to outline textually or visually how you are going to reach the end.  The opening is easy.  The middle is where things tend not to go as planned (and where agency helps).  You are on your way.  If things veer off course, you need to find an alternative or create a new plan.  It happens.  Just remember what I said in Agency, “you have succeeded before and you will succeed again.”

These three pieces together – a goal, the agency to stick with it, and a path to follow – can lead to an increase in hope. According to the Greek legend, Pandora was given a box with all the world’s ills and diseases. She opened it, letting them all out. When the box was shut, only hope remained inside. I like to believe she opened the box once more and let it out. The uncertainty of our time, not knowing what will happen next, and fear tend to keep us in despair. By giving yourself a direction you want to go – something with more certainty – will bring hope.  And that hope will make you feel more positive about today, tomorrow, and the days beyond.

ON LIBRARIES – Do You Need a Mental Reboot?

Are you feeling drained?  Let’s see why:

  • You have been working hard to keep your library a valuable presence while we are doing distant learning and you still don’t know what’s coming for the fall.
  • Although you have been aware of the importance of having a diverse collection for some time, Black Lives Matter has put the challenge front and center in everyone’s mind. You need to be ready to communicate to the administration and teachers the diverse resources you have acquired for your collection.
  • Your own fears about the virus and coping with stresses at home which can include your children, partner, and parents combined with health and economic challenges you may be facing.

It’s a lot. You are handling so much; you don’t have time to think.  And therein lies a problem.

When you don’t think – you just react and that isn’t sustainable. What you need is a mental reboot. A chance to clear your deck and allow yourself the time to get your head back in order.  The first recommendation of most health practitioners is to breathe deeply. When we are harried, we shallow breathe which reduces the oxygen flow to the brain.  You need your brain working on full power. Deep slow breathing helps. It also slows our heart rate, making us feel instantly calmer and more focused.

Another common recommendation is to get outside and walk. This is a favorite of mine. (Take a mask with you if there is any likelihood that you will encounter other walkers and bikers.)  If there are woods nearby, so much the better. The combination of a change in scenery, fresh air, and physical activity does wonders – and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  Fifteen to twenty minutes can make a difference.

After your deep breaths and walk (and any other self-care that works for you), you can then contemplate the advice given by Marcia Reynolds in How to Help Others Do a Mental Reboot. In this instance, it’s a case of “physician heal thyself.”  Once you get your head back in place, you can help others do the same. She has a relatively simple two-step approach, and simple is needed now.

Her first recommendation is to do a safety check.  When you feel threatened, you go into fight or flight mode which, as you know, shuts down the cognitive part of your brain.  Ask yourself “Do I feel safe?” or, perhaps a better questions is “What is making me feel unsafe?” The virus is ever present in our minds, but have you been following the guidelines?  Is there anything you could do differently? You have been managing it well so far.  Is there any reason to think you won’t continue to do so? If you can start noticing where you’re doing well, you will start to relax.

Perhaps you’re feeling unsafe about how school will look in the fall. It may be distance learning or back to a physical space with differences.  Or a combination of both.  Yes, there are unknowns and things you can’t control, but, as a librarian, you are flexible and good at adapting to change.  You will adjust.

You may also be feeling unsafe about job security.  Many places are making cuts. To help you feel safer, up your advocacy.  Consider giving your principal reports on the ways you have supporting teachers and students.  Have you been talking to them about the diversity issue and what you are doing and can do to help with it? You are needed now more than ever.  Be sure administrators know how vital your work is to the continued success of their school.

The second step is to take time for reflective inquiry. Reflective inquiry allows us to separate what is real from what we imagine.  It’s not that we don’t have concerns, but we may be worried about things that haven’t happened. We take what we know and project it into the future.

To make a change, consider what you can do about each of the situations that have been draining you or taking up space in your thoughts. Then, decide whether to tackle the one that is most concerning or least concerning.  Identify it clearly, recognizing why it has been wearing on you. Gently ask yourself

  • How real is the possibility?
  • What did you see/read/hear that is making you more concerned? Is the information accurate and reliable? (We’re good at checking that!)
  • What can you do about it?

While advocacy should always be part of what you do, you may have been worrying unnecessarily. Even though other places may be losing jobs, that might not be the case for you. If you have a good relationship with your principal, you cab even ask about it.

Are you very worried about getting the virus?  Tests are much more available now.  See if you can have one done. It will be a relief to know you are not infected.

Finding the daily tasks of managing your home overpowering?  Maybe you can have a family discussion and find a way to organize it better. There could be things you don’t have to do or things other people would be willing to help with.

And once you’ve taken time for doing a safety check and a reflective inquiry for yourself, you’ll be better able to check in with the people around you and give them support. Reynolds quotes John Dewey (so appropriate!) who said that provoking people to think about their thinking is the “single most powerful antidote to erroneous beliefs and autopilot.”

We’re all prone to unhelpful, panicky thoughts. Do what you can to give yourself a break. Once you do that, you’ll not only feel calmer and more focused, you’ll be able to help you colleagues and family do the same.

ON LIBRARIES – A Trauma-Informed Mindset

For the past several years, we have been discovering the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The result has been recognizing how many of our students have experienced trauma in their lives and how this affects their behavior and learning. Now we’re in the middle of a pandemic and nine weeks into distance learning, we are all suffering from trauma to one degree or another, our most vulnerable students are even more so. How we respond to this trauma in our students will go a long way in helping them – and our programs – thrive in the months ahead.

In a post for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD.org), Jason A. Haap discusses The Private Logic Behind a Trauma-Informed Mindset. Haap writes about the way those with trauma interpret the world around them. When a student, particularly oe affected by trauma, believes s/he is unworthy, they translate even an innocuous comment as proof you see them that way. Their response can then seem out of proportion and unrelated to what was going on.

Whether or not we realize it, our mindset and beliefs interpret situations and then we act on the assumption that we are correct. As with many aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion, we can be very wrong.  Our language to describe what happened and our ability to see it is affected by our own private logic.  Do we recognize the response as a reflection of the student’s needs or do we attribute it to something done purposefully to get our attention? By considering the possibility of it being a need, we can attempt to address it in a way that might defuse the situation.

As Haap says, “We never can know what’s going on in someone’s mind.” However, we can work at altering how we perceive students’ behavior in a more positive, understanding way. If you adjust your mindset about the cause of the behavior, you will reduce the number of confrontations you have with those dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).

With distance learning, you may not be experiencing the sometimes violent student reactions that occur in person, which may seem to make things easier.  However, at the same time you need to be more mindful of the possibility that the home environment, often a major cause of the students’ trauma, is increasing their stress. Hopefully, you can draw on the guidance counselor or the school’s psychologist for additional help when needed.

A big take-away from the Haap article is that “behavior is communication.”  What is the student saying? What needs are not being met?  If you can identify that, you can give a constructive response and you are also less likely to act from faulty assumptions.

Even recognizing this, there is another challenge.  We, too, are under stress.  There is trauma happening in our lives. How are you handling your needs? What would those close to you think you are communicating by your behavior? Are you aware when they’re responding based on incorrect assumptions?

It may seem unfair that we have to worry about how others are perceiving us while also trying to be aware of their needs and challenges, but if you’re feeling as though you’re not being heard or understood (a daily issue for your ACE students), then take the time to be as clear as you can. If you need help with something, an hour of uninterrupted quiet, someone else to make dinner – ask. If you’ve never made a request like this before because you’ve been able to balance your life, then not only is it important to be clear, but to also give yourself the compassion you’d show your struggling students or family members.  You are navigating a new mindset professionally and personally, and that will be an adjustment for everyone. The more you can “reframe your attitude,” as Haap says, the more successful you will be.

ON LIBRARIES: Routine Matters

COVID-19 has affected all of our routines, some out of necessity and others out of our emotional responses. It has also changed our habits which may be one reason we feel so out of sorts.  Although routines and habits are similar, habits are repeated actions that happen with little conscious thought.  Routines need some attention.

For example, your commute to work was routine. (Although some days you may have done so on automatic pilot.) Washing your hands was a habit.  Now you are not driving to work, and you are focused when you wash your hands.  Eventually that routine, repeated often enough, will become a habit.

Many parts of our job were habits.  Signing in, opening the library, and booting up computers were automatic — habits. Interacting with students and teachers were, for the most part, comfortable routines that were a regular part of your day.

Routines help us organize our time.  Knowing what we accomplished at the end of the day gives us satisfaction and the incentive to keep on going.  With our old routines gone, we have put some new ones in place, but they aren’t always as good a “fit” as the old ones.  Our lives work better when there is structure.

In thinking about our interactions with others as a “routine,” I found a post by  Eric YaverbaumHow One CEO, Positive for COVID, Is Continuing to Lead. I am hoping his leadership style, which he says was always rooted in “openness and optimism” will help him defeat the virus as well as offer us some pointers.

Check in to start your day – Many of you are required to do this, but if you aren’t, make a point of officially starting your day.  It’s helpful if you do it at the same time each day. Differentiating between work and non-work is particularly important when home and work are the sharing the same space.  If it helps – change your clothes. It tells your brain you have begun working.

My first September after retirement, I indulged myself in sleeping late and lounging about in sweats and going without makeup. I soon discovered I was getting nothing done.  How I dressed affected my attitude and my routines. To this day I get washed, dressed and put on makeup even if no one but my husband sees me.

Support and gratitude- This doesn’t sound like a routine, but it deserves to be.  You support your teachers and students every day, but you should be aware of doing it regularly. Equally important is to be a cheerleader to keep them going. And don’t forget to get the support you need. Use your PLN, family and friends to bolster you.

Gratitude both in and out of work will help keep your focus on the present. You can use a small notebook or a Google doc to regularly note what you are grateful for and writing it down can become a very inspiring routine. Before or after your lunch and as the last thing in your workday, reflect on what you have in your life that makes you grateful.  It’s one of the simplest techniques I know to keep a positive mindset.

Take breaks – Don’t sit in front of your computer all day.  Get up and do something you like.  For me, of course, that’s walking, but give yourself at least an hour to separate yourself from your tasks. Pick a new series to binge watch, take out that coloring book again, look for a new recipe. And if it stresses you – stay away from social media.  Find the things that fill you up and make them part of your routine.

Cultivate empathy and compassion – This must always be for yourself as well as others.  If kids are late getting something done (students or your own kids), find out why.  If you don’t get a response from someone, assume they have a good reason when you check back in with them.  Don’t beat yourself up for what you haven’t done.  Celebrate what you have. Cheer on the people in your life, including yourself. Every step forward is an achievement.

It’s been a tough few months, and it is likely to continue for quite a while.  Given the routines we’ve been forced to adapt, we need additional ones that give us the support we need to keep going.  We need to nurture and cherish the things in our lives that are working, be grateful for the support that’s available, and keep finding more things that make us – and those around us – feel successful.

ON LIBRARIES – A Don’t-Do List

How long is your to-do list?  Whatever system you use to keep track of your ever-growing lists of tasks – both personal and professional – it has probably gotten too long.  And despite all you are doing, you probably feel you are still behind, which adds to the strain of an already grim situation. Something has to give. You don’t have to get the virus to get sick.  Stress takes a toll on the body.

To manage the situation differently, you need to acknowledge two factors that are making things difficult. First is the dramatic change to your workday. It is more complicated to teach and collaborate online, and you may have more meetings than you used to, sometimes daily. This, along with requests from teachers and parents, keep coming. The second factor is the pandemic itself. Television and social media are bringing continual updates, frightening stories, and conflicting information all mixed into a divisive political climate. You fear for yourself, your family, and your friends and you have the challenges of the new schedules of the people with whom you are at home.

Since it will be awhile before either of these factors change, it may be time to find some things you can stop doing so that you can feel successful going through this time.  The Ebling Group blog recommends Three Things to Stop Doing This Week. Targeted to the business world, the advice holds true for us as well.

Stop Sitting All Day; The medical profession has said that sitting all day is dangerous. Without your usual commuting time and reducing your regular shopping and errands, you are walking much less. You brain and your body needs the stimulus of movement.  For me and many others, walking is a refresher. I’ve even taken to doing laps around my house on bad weather days. It clears the mind, opens up ideas, and focuses you on something else besides your tasks and your fear. (Although you should consider having a mask on if you will be passing people.) Fitbits give users reminders, or you can set an alarm on your phone.

Stop Making Every Meeting a Zoom Call: Zoom and other meeting platforms have been invaluable in allowing us to get our jobs done.  We can stay in communication with students, teachers, administrators and parents while having the added benefit of seeing familiar faces.  But several articles have made note that one Zoom meeting after another is even more draining than a series of face-to-face meetings.  It may be following the various faces or finding everyone on a large call or underlying worry about how you look or sound since you can see yourself as well as others. When possible look for ways to limit these meeting/calls. Obviously, there are ones that can’t be changed, but reach out to your PLNs to see what alternatives are being used to reduce your time on Zoom.  And see if you can get up and walk between calls.

Stop Holding on to Your Original Plan: What did you imagine you would be doing when you were told schools were closing and you would be teaching online?  Whether it sounded scary or like something you could handle, it probably hasn’t turned out the way you thought. And remember when you thought you would have a chance to get to those tasks around the house you had put off because you didn’t have the time.? Yeah, most of us aren’t getting those done either.. None of this could be anticipated – neither the workload nor the emotional toll. In addition to everything else we don’t know, we can’t predict how productive we will be on a given day. Some days you’ll make progress and others will be a battle for every inch. Do what you can to be unceasingly kind to yourself no matter what.  You’re doing your best even as your best changes from day to day (or hour to hour).

I’m not sure of a lot right now, but I do know librarians have flexibility and resilience. We use both these characteristics all the time.  We adjust and we persevere.  Just remember to put these three things on your Don’t-Do Lists.  Keep making time for yourself, move, and breathe.

ON LIBRARIES: Scoping the Future

We are starting our seventh week of social isolation and distance learning, and everyone is looking to see when it will end and “life will get back to normal.” Prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork but no one knows what our future will look like. The question is, how do you plan for an unknowable future?

A method I developed when my district added a wing to the high school including a new library may help you get through this with a minimum of fear and a readiness to take on the next stage. I call my method Microscoping, Periscoping, and Telescoping.

Microscoping is what you do first. You only focus on what is happening and possible in the here and now.  It includes the things under your immediate control.  You do whatever is next and it allows you to feel grounded in the moment. This can mean planning tomorrow’s lesson, creating a video to send to teachers or families, or doing laundry.

Telescoping is how to plan for the future. It’s done rarely, but is still important. This happens when you look down the road to see what’s ahead. It allows you to make your best estimate of what needs to get done in order for you to be back in your library working with students and teachers or what’s necessary to end the year online. It keeps you aware of the steps in between today and the future.  At this point, you can’t spend too much time on Telescoping, but you can create lists and steps for what will most likely need to be done.

Periscoping is what keeps you from missing something important. In Periscoping you pop up and look around.  What is the next step you can take in connection with something you identified when Telescoping?  Is it coming up soon?  Does something need to be altered or changed?  Once you’ve taken a look at what’s happening around you, Periscoping helps you adjust your daily Microscoping to ensure you are staying on track.

We can never forget that the truth is we are still living through a crisis and don’t know how the ripple effects are going to play out. Becky Robinson says A Crisis Is Not a Marathon — But It Is a Call for Endurance.  She acknowledges four ways this crisis is different.

  • This crisis is not predictable– Unlike a marathon we are uncertain of the distance or the route we need to take. Different states will make different decisions and some are having a harder time than others.
  • We did not train for this – As a profession, we are good at tech, but no one was ready for full-time distance learning, supporting both teachers and students and dealing with the trauma they (and we) are living with all while dealing with other things happening on a personal front. Many of you are doing double duty on distance learning as you help your children as well as support the needs of your school.
  • We are isolated from our support crews – We miss the daily interactions with our students and teachers. Some of you didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.  You went home on Friday and were told over the weekend not to come back. And I’m sure many of you hoped for a return before the end of the school year. This separation is a huge challenge. I hope you’re finding ways to use your PLN’s Facebook groups as a source of information and strength as well as finding ways to stay connected with friends and family who can give you support and strength.
  • We can’t see the finish lineThis is much like the first on the list. It’s not only that we can’t see it, we have no idea of where it is. We can hope and plan, but not knowing when restrictions may ease up is a huge challenge.

These key differences add up to a great deal of stress – both personal and professional. Robinson’s recommendations on how to face this call for endurance are very similar to my approach. She cites Ryan Hall’s book Run the Mile You Are In reminding us that you cannot look to far ahead. If you see how far you have to go, or notice that you can’t see the finish line at all, you will want to give in. It’s not unlike trying to lose a lot of weight. If you focus on 50 lbs it can seem impossible. Instead, you must take it in small goals, daily challenges, and doable steps.  It may not be a perfect solution, but nothing is.

This pandemic more like runnng a marathon on a treadmill. Lots of energy required but not getting anywhere – or so it seems. To get to the future, we can only manage the now. Keep a close focus on what we can do today, how we can be there for each other, and what we need personally so that when the finish line finally comes into focus, we’re as ready as possible.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Crisis Leadership

For most of my career I have discussed leadership and its importance to school librarians but leading in the pandemic requires another set of skills. Crisis leadership necessitates the traditional leadership skills of confidence, empathy, and vision – but on steroids. You can see these skills at work in the governors who are getting respect for managing the pandemic in their states.  They stay calm, reassure but tell the truth, and seem to have a plan for getting through and past these surreal times.

The Leading Blog zeroes in on Dealing with the Two Fronts of Every Crisis—Issues and Fear. The post quotes Harvard Business School Professor Herman “Dutch” Leonard’s definition of a true crisis as “there is no precedent for it, there is no playbook for handling it. There is no script for managing it.”  Sounds familiar.

You are accustomed to being flexible, adjusting to the mini crises that are part of managing a school library but this is unprecedented. On the Issue front, although you are just attempting to do your job in a different environment, you really are in uncharted territory. You need to invent answers to managing it as you go. The clearest way to deal with the situation is to define a process and make it work as you go.

To create this process, the post suggests you first identify all the concerns or priorities. Next, get information on the crisis focusing on who has information relating to your concerns.  It could be the school district, or it could be resources from ALA. Finally, knowing the priorities, you develop a plan for getting things done.

You may have already done this but are still feeling harried.  What likely is draining you is the second front of Crisis Leadership – Fear.  The article presents four ways of dealing with fear in a crisis.

  1. Always Keep the Big Picture in Mind – Leaders always need to look at the big picture. Don’t be pulled away from what you are doing by the latest news, the newest curation, or the most recent outpouring of free resources. The news needs time to be validated as do the curations and free resources. Don’t let them immediately distract you.

Instead, use your Mission Statement as your anchor.  Too much is happening too quickly. Keep your direction in mind. Sift through the new and only deal with it if it moves you in the direction you want to go. Is the curation or resource worth your time to explore? Are they of immediate value to your students and teachers? Is it information you need to share with an administrator? If not, let it go.

  1. Educate to Bring Clarity – Being able to communicate clearly is a core leadership skill. In a true crisis there is continuous confusion (have you noticed?), and people need help in dealing with their fears and their insecurity about what they are doing and if they are doing it right. As teachers cope with how to do their jobs online your expertise as a tech integrator can support them and their students.  You can share the best resources to guide them through this uncertain landscape or offer to do an online tutorial.
  2. Remain Steady – If you look at those who are best regarded and trusted during a crises, you see they remain calm even as they refer to uncertainties. Part of a crisis is there is so much no one knows. Instead of adding to fear, look for positives.  Acknowledge your teachers and your students for where they are successful. Look to your PLNs to acknowledge you and take time to cheer for others.
  3. Make People Agents of Something Positive – Along with acknowledging, leaders empower others. In crisis leadership this is more important than ever. We are often reminded that together we are stronger (the needs of social distancing not withstanding). Consider creating a newsletter of sorts to highlight the great things being done by teachers, students, and parents. You might even give a boost to your administrators.  Encourage people to email you contributions. It’s a wonderful chance for your community to see how it is working together.

Iron is forged in a super-heated fire.  The pandemic is our fire. Crisis leadership needs a cool head and the ability to alter course quickly. You have what it takes to be a crisis leader. Follow your Mission and priorities. Take time to get clarity before acting. Do what is necessary and don’t try to do everything. Lean on others even as you lead the way and remember to take time for yourself.

ON LIBRARIES: PLN’s and Advocacy during COVID-19

We are approaching two weeks into most of the school closures with the likelihood of at least another month.  From the first, librarians have been doing what we do best, getting information for ourselves and then out to our communities.  Many of you quickly tapped into your PLNs and began asking for and exchanging information, but this influx of resources has created an information overload that is adding to already existing stress. What can we do to meet the needs of our teachers and students without becoming more overwhelmed?

A good place to start, if you haven’t done so already, is to make a list of your priorities. Stop and think:

  • Are you doing any teaching? If so, you need resources for that.
  • What types of help do your teachers need? How can you be a resource?
  • Are your providing parent support?
  • How are you communicating with your administration and beyond?

In a Google doc, or whatever format you prefer, keep separate files/folders for the different topics. Go for quality rather than quantity. Even before this crisis, teachers frequently ignored what you showed them if you offered too much information. Now they are more overwhelmed. Keep things focused and brief. Add (and delete) to your lists as necessary.

Besides what you create for teachers, keep a separate file with the highlights of what you are doing. Every so often, send this to your administrator, website, and consider posting to the appropriate places on social media. This can be an important opportunity for advocacy.

Advocacy is about building partnerships with others who support you since you helped them. By showing your contribution, others will recognize that the library program is invaluable to the school system, even with the students can’t go to the library. You are the lifeline teachers and students need.  Parents and administrators need to see this as well.

And don’t forget to make time for yourself. I saw one meme showing a librarian working on her computer and saying, “I have this feeling that if I just curate everything, I can stop the virus.” While we are working hard to serve, we cannot forget the rule about taking care of ourselves first so we can do our best.

To practice what I preach, I am keeping this blog shorter than usual.  Less for you to read and me to write.  And since I have been sitting for an hour, and it’s too rainy for me to go out, I am going to walk 250 steps in my house.

Stay healthy and stay connected.