ON LIBRARIES – Staying Curious

There used to be a commercial that had the tag line, “Inquiring minds want to know.” That mindset is what we want to instill in our students.  It is also one that is essential to a leader. In following the rabbit, Alice discovers a new world and a lot about herself. You never know what you will find if you go down that rabbit hole.  How can you develop a vision and take your school library to new heights if you are not seeking out new possibilities? Leaders are lifelong learners, and so are librarians.

What stimulates your curiosity?  Is it related to a hobby you have?  Do games engage your attention? As school librarians, we are constantly helping students search for information on a subject of academic or personal interest.  Do you ever continue to explore it even after the student leaves because you were still curious?

The nature of our profession requires us to be connectors.  We are constantly connecting people with information, but we also connect one piece of information to another.  That is how new knowledge is created.  When we follow the rabbit, we find ideas that can add greater dimensions to our program.

One way to stimulate your curiosity is to read outside school librarianship. I keep an eye on what is happening in technology and what administrators are focusing on. In addition, I look frequently to what the business world is doing.  Their purpose and goals are not necessarily the same as ours, but there are enough commonalities to see how their ideas can make us and our programs more effective.

A case in point is a post from Stephanie Vozza on 8 Habits of Curious People. She suggests that being single answer driven results in our being trained out of curiosity. How can we re-ignite the curiosity we had as young children?  Here is Vozza’s list of habits along with my usual comments.

  1. They listen without judgment – This implies active listening. You need to hear people out.  Sometimes they say something that sparks an idea you would never have considered. A rush to judgment shuts down your thinking on the subject.
  2. They ask lots of questions – If you have that inquiring curious mind, you want to know more. And the questions you ask should provoke a more detailed response and a way to continue learning.  Questions that can be answered with a yes or no will not add to your knowledge or lead you anywhere.
  3. They seek surprise – This one surprised me, and then I realized how true it is. If you look for something different, whether it’s a scenic attraction or an exhibit of technology, you don’t want to find what you have always known. The surprise generates new thoughts and who knows where that may take you.
  4. They are fully present – This is about knowing when to not multi-task but to focus on what is happening in the moment. How many times are we doing something else while someone is asking us a question? Are we really listening to what is being said? Is anything being said?  Why bother being with someone if you are not going to be “fully present?” Conversations with people outside the profession can bring up an idea that has relevance to what goes on in the library.
  5. They are willing to be wrong – This can be scary territory. I was involved in leading a library renovation project that was using moveable bookcases on tracks to make more floor space available. I planned on putting fiction on the counter height bookcases and reference along with the rest of the nonfiction on the tall bookcases.  My co-librarian noted that having heavy reference books on high shelves was not a good idea. She was right, and I made the change.
  6. They make time for curiosity – The suggestion here is to take one day a month to consider what things might be like in three years. You probably can’t schedule a full day to do this (although if you can – do it!), but you can plan time on a Friday at the end of the day to reflect on what isn’t working as well as you like or what is going better than expected, on what the kids seem to be interested in, and then on what can be changed or enhanced to respond to these situations.  You might then explore your thinking further – just because you are curious.

    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
  7. They aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know” – Not knowing is the perfect launch to finding out. It’s giving rein to your curiosity. As librarians we are accustomed to saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Use that in how you respond to something new you haven’t come across before.
  8. They don’t let past hurts affect their future – Don’t live in your previous experiences. Just because you understand them and perhaps have had some bad experiences with pursuing a new course, you shouldn’t shut the door on curiosity.  Learning should never stop.

I challenge you to find one new idea outside librarianship that excites your curiosity.  Follow the rabbit.  Then create a plan for bringing your idea into your program.  It’s what leaders do.



ON LIBRARIES – Inquiring Minds

from The Purposeful PreSchool

Inquiry-based learning is embedded in our National School Library Standards. As the Key Commitment of the Shared Foundation, Inquire states, “Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 67). Inquiry is where learning begins, and we work hard to develop it in our students. In the business world, leaders are continually searching for “what’s next.”  They know that they can’t afford not to anticipate what is coming. They have to be ready to shift their business model, and sometimes we do, too.

Inquiry, or curiosity, is essential to lifelong learning.  And as role models for lifelong learning, we need to model it in our daily lives. Too often we have a passing curiosity about something new and because of time pressure we don’t Explore (another Shared Foundation) it, and we lose the opportunity to “discover and innovate” (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 103).

Curious minds keep growing, and as I and many others have said, “You are either growing or dying.” To be a successful leader you need to curious about the world around you in large part because, as I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago you are more than your job, however much that defines you.  Keep an eye on what’s happening outside the world of school librarianship, beyond education. Connect to what interests you as often as you can.

Obviously, curiosity is another quality of leadership and it is time to cultivate that mindset. The challenge is to do it when you are so busy just keeping up.  Once again, the business world has faced the same issue and offers a solution.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Mara Swan explain What Happens When Leaders Lack Curiosity?  Interestingly, their first observation is that those with intellectual curiosity are more open to new experiences. They are more likely not to pre-judge people.  They are more tolerant and able to see beyond the narrow frame of their own perspective. They are, simply, more successful.

Tolerance for others is part of our Shared Foundation Include which has as a Key Commitment, “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community (AASL, National School Library Standards, p. 75). When you reach out to collaborate with teachers, do you choose the ones who are most like you?  Or do you recognize those with different backgrounds and interests can add a deeper dimension to the learning experience – and be a model for students?

Another characteristic of curiosity is being able to deal with ambiguous situations and issues. Although your roles as a school librarian are clearly spelled out in the National School Library Standards, how this plays out in your school setting is not always so clear.  Every day you are faced with people who think they know what you are to do and while they are usually right about part of your job but often doesn’t take in the whole nor see how the pieces all intersect.

One of you may have an administrator who is so enamored with technology, he or she wants you to focus on that exclusively.  Another is totally committed to literacy and only wants to see that in the library. There is nothing wrong with technology in the library and certainly reading is one of our Common Beliefs.  What you do is follow the directive you have been given.  And then you get creative. You support your Makerspace or STEM programs with books that stimulate thinking.  You read stories to the kids and have a display of nonfiction related to what you read.  You blur what you were told to do so you can deliver a comprehensive library program. In doing so, you make your students curious as well.

Most of all, Chamorro-Premuzic and Swan say curious people have a “hungry mind.” They are not committed to creating a plan and sticking with it no matter what.  They accept that things change and changing direction can improve the outcome. Indeed, that’s a concept we would like our students to develop around their research.

copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co

In March, I blogged on building students curiosity.  We need to cultivate it as well, no matter how busy we are.  To me, it seems librarians are naturally curious as a group.  We need to know – and we love knowing.  We can’t let the demands of our job keep us from this vital leadership quality. I hope you find lots of ways to indulge and enjoy your curiosity this summer

ON LIBRARIES: Curiouser and Curiouser

In the opening to Chapter 2 in Alice in Wonderland, Alice describes the events unfolding by saying, “Curiouser and curiouser” going on to comment, “now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!” With this book, those words, and what occurs on Alice’s adventures, Lewis Carroll created a world antithetical to the Victorian education of his day.  In a society where students recited “How doth the little busy bee…” chorusing it by rote, curiosity was not encouraged.

But Carroll was right. Curiosity lets you open out like the largest telescope. Curiosity leads to innovation and growth for students and for ourselves. We need to introduce curiosity into more subject areas and bring it further into our lives as leaders. Where standardized tests are the “Little busy bee” of our time, curiosity must be cultivated and celebrated.

Schools and libraries have been creating Makerspaces and STEM labs which are giving students the space and resources to follow their imagination. They love the activity and become skilled at problem-solving.  In a Makerspace, students don’t worry about failure.  In that environment, they accept failure as part of the learning process.  It’s like their video games where they die, learn from it, and are then able to use the information to go back then go on to the next level.

In Makerspaces, students are asking themselves, “What if I …?”  “I wonder if …” Those are the questions of the curious, but problem-solving is not just for Makerspaces.  It needs to be everywhere. But what is happening the rest of the day?  What are classes and assignments like?

Unfortunately, there the emphasis is still on success and correct answers. As librarians, we need to lead the shift to have students focusing on and learning to ask important questions. In February 2016 I blogged about Quality Questions and spoke about the role of Essential Questions in creating learning experiences for students.  There is a link at the end to an article in Edutopia on 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners.  It’s still a worthwhile read, but we need to do even more.

Many of librarians use KWL (know, want, learn) charts with students.  I suggest adding a fourth column- “Q” which stands for “Questions I still have.”  Having them complete this final step encourages kids to think deeper and possibly explore aspects of the topic that haven’t been covered in the project.

Inquiry is the first Shared Foundation in AASL’s new National School Library Standards (NSLS).  In the Framework for Learners. The Competency for it under Think, the first Domain, reads, “Learners display curiosity and initiative by: ….”  From curiosity and initiative come the new ideas that will power tomorrow.  But first students must develop the ability to do so.  Our lessons must stimulate curiosity and the questioning that comes with it.

Explore is the fifth Shared Foundation in the NSLS.  In the Framework for Learners, the Competencies for Grow, the fourth Domain, states “Learners develop through experience and reflection by:…”  Reflection is an important word (and is used throughout the standards).  We grow through reflection because we think about what we know – and what we don’t.  And that should make us curious.

We need to give the student time to reflect and come up with questions that begin, “I wonder….?” and “What if ….?”  Questions that can’t be answered by a quick Google search.  And when they come up with these questions, ask them where they can find answers to their question.

As leaders, we must cultivate curiosity in ourselves as well.  It’s how we move out of our comfort zone which is the only way we grow as leaders. Is there a teacher in your school whom the kids love?  Consider asking if you can observe him/her during your free period.  You might learn so much, and the teacher will likely appreciate being recognized.

Reach out to your colleagues at other schools and other grade levels and ask questions. If you are at the elementary level, talk with the middle school librarian to see what students read and research at that level.  If you are at the high school also check with the middle school librarian to see what experiences they have had.  Middle school librarians can go either or both ways.

Be curious about your coworkers and their lives outside of school.  Sometimes we are like the kids who think the teachers sleep in the school because they can’t imagine them having a life past the school walls.  In getting to know the teachers as individuals beyond their subject/grade you begin building trust and relationships which lead to collaboration.

An article from Experience Life by Todd Kashdan discusses The Power of Curiosity.  The fact that curiosity increases intelligence and social relationships is logical, but you may be surprised to see how it increases health, happiness, and other benefits.  I love the ideas of thriving on uncertainty, reconnecting with play, and finding the unfamiliar in the familiar.

Curiosity, in my opinion, is a foundation of a growth mindset.  It makes the world a more exciting place – and you a more interesting person.