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.