ON LIBRARIES: LEAP into Leadership – And Beyond

I recently returned from ALA Annual where, as the delegate from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, I attended Affiliate Assembly.  Everyone there was a leader. Some early in their journey, others who have been active in both state and national level for some time.  As I worked with my colleagues on ways to promote school librarianship, I thought of those who weren’t in attendance but were leaders in their own right.

The bottom line is you are all leaders. Leadership is built into what we do each day.  Whether it’s being a technology integrator or managing the library, we are leaders.  What some of us are not doing is recognizing our strengths and finding ways to promote it.  It’s time to see and show how terrific you and your program are.

Dr. Cathi Fuhrman

LEAP is an acronym created by Dr. Cathi Fuhrman, president-elect of the Pennsylvania School Library Association. She shared it with the delegates and gave me permission to share it here:

L – Listen with your mind and your heart. What are others trying to tell you that your mind NEEDS to comprehend, and you can act on – but also what are they saying that your heart needs to hear? Being a leader isn’t just about being logical – our lives and our work are wrapped up with our heart.

E – Energy and Empathy. Energy for the work that needs to be done and empathy for all those that you’re leading.

A – Accountability– As a leader you’re accountable to the work that you’ve agreed to do. The buck stops here.

P – Passion. You have to be passionate about the work you’re doing as a leader. And you have to share that passion with who you are leading. They have to see and feel your passion – because the passion we have for this profession – the passion we have for students and how we impact them – it’s everything!

I think the one most of us struggle with is Listen because we don’t trust ourselves enough. Cathi is so right that the best leadership is tied to heart. Leaders without heart are not really followed – they are obeyed.  She also points out that it is also important to listen for the things we gloss over. Is there encouragement, and support being offered that you didn’t notice?  Take them in.  We’re so ready to hear the complaints and concerns we don’t hear the compliments.

Our job requires enormous Energy for the day to day requirements, but to build and maintain the relationships, Empathy is required. When those two work together, the library becomes a safe space, sometimes the first safe place a student finds.

You have full responsibility for the library from the budget to the collection and to the teaching you do formally and informally.  For all this, you hold yourself AccountaBLE. Take time to notice what you’ve accomplished because you’ve owned the success of your program.

And as for Passion, I know you have it. I can’t improve on Cathi’s words describing it.

To strengthen the qualities in LEAP, it helps to add in the soft skills of Emotional Intelligence which is widely recognized as vital for true leadership.  Joel Garfinkle lists 5 Qualities of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders (one of which duplicates Cathi). Garfinkle recommends that we be:

  1. Empathetic – Both Fuhrman and Garfinkle note the importance of this quality. It’s the process of putting yourself in another’s shoes before responding.
  2. Self-Aware – You probably are well aware of your weaknesses, but do you know your strengths? Focus on developing projects that require them.  What types of situations cause you to stress, feel panic, or get you angry?  Plan how to handle these before they arise.
  3. Positive – As I have often noted, people don’t like to be around those who have a negative attitude. Being positive is about mindset.  It’s how you reframe adverse situations, which will happen. It can be anything from the Internet going down to being given additional responsibilities.  How you handle it will define how you are as a leader.
  4. Considerate – In some ways this ties to empathy. We sometimes get so wound up in believing we are not valued, we forget the teachers feel the same way. By listening (back to the L in LEAP) we make the library a safe, welcoming environment.  And that is often the route to collaboration.  Don’t forget your administrator in this. Principals are drowning in details. They often feel assailed on all sides.  Look for ways you can help them out.
  5. Authentic – None of this works if it’s not real. You can’t use Emotional Intelligence to manipulate people.  It will eventually be recognized.  A leader has integrity.  There needs to be an honest caring for the people you work with.

The librarians I know have most these qualities.  They may not always be positive (it’s hard to do every day) and aren’t as aware of their strengths as they should be, but they all have everything necessary to be a leader.  Make your own LEAP and you’ll soon make your mark in your school – and your state – as a leader.

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ON LIBRARIES: Raise Your Emotional Intelligence

Caring is central to the philosophy of the library program which seeks to make the library a warm, welcoming space for all.  A library mirrors the personality of the librarian. If you want to create that space, you must always be welcoming. How well we manage our own emotions and how we perceive the emotions of others affect our success as librarians and the success of our programs.  We need to be able to “read” the person we are talking with, so we know if they are paying attention, are truly interested, or are taking offense.  That knowledge allows us to make adjustments in what we say so that our message is heard.

That is just one example of how Emotional Intelligence (EI) impacts us. Businesses today recognize that, more often than not, “soft skills” are more important than hard skills.  It is far easier to train someone in the tasks and responsibilities associated with a job than it is to develop their relationship skills.  And many corporations will hire someone with good soft skills over another candidate who has greater expertise.

In her article What Are Soft Skills? Alison Doyle explains that soft skills “the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with others.” The social cues and communication she speaks of are part of EI.

I knew a librarian with several years of experience who was proud of being a graduate of a pre-eminent library school. However, she didn’t particularly like students and did only what was required.  By contrast, a clerk working in that library who was studying to be a librarian was genuinely interested in students and would extend herself to help them and teachers.  As you can imagine, teachers and students gravitated towards the clerk, even though the librarian knew so much more.

The “higher” your EI, the more likely you are to be successful.  But is there a way to raise you EI? I found an unlikely helpful source.  A GQ article offered suggestions since many men today are feeling uncertain of the messages they are sending out into a post #metoo world, and it’s affecting their careers.

The GQ staff spoke with Daniel Tolson who proposed 10 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence.  Here are his tips, followed by my ‘tweaks’ showing how this plays out in our world:

  1. Ask an honest, trusted friend or advisor to help you consider if your perceptions of yourself are realistic from a different perspective. The challenge here is for you to be able to state your perception of yourself and then having the courage to ask someone if it’s accurate.
  2. Practice self-restraint by listening first, pausing and then responding. Active listening is a difficult skill for many of us.  The pause before answering will help you become more accustomed to listening better.
  3. Summarize frustrations you may experience and determine triggers. Frustrations are part of our lives, but if you allow these feelings too much room, you send off negative vibes which others pick up.  Remember, the person you’re talking to has their own frustrations. Think, “We are all in this together.  How can I help?”
  4. Define what motivates you and what you most enjoy doing with your time. A reminder again to write a Mission if you haven’t done so and read it daily if you have. You might even consider creating a vision board if visual cues help you to stay focused and inspired.
  5. Think on paper! Identify your comfort zones and define your obstacles in writing. In medicine, they say “an accurate diagnosis is 50% of the cure.” Those who journal find it as effective as meditation and perhaps more so as it can presents a direction to follow along with a deeper awareness of our thought processes.
  6. Be aware of the message your body language is communicating. Whatever you are thinking, your body is saying. Watch for crossed arms, pulling back and not making eye contact.
  7. Implement strategies to make an excellent first impression. Try walking into your library as though it were the first time.  What does it say?  What does your website say? What about your typical dress?  Look for ways to send positive non-verbal messages.
  8. After a negative interaction or misunderstanding, accept responsibility and find ways to make amends. The faster you deal with it, the sooner it can be fixed.
  9. Allow others to take the lead role so you can learn from their leadership style. This is a great way to have an unknowing leader mentor you.  Is your principal viewed as a leader? How does s/he communicate that?  Is there a teacher who is regarded as a leader? Why and what can you learn from that?
  10. Whenever you experience stress, stop and ask yourself this question: “Knowing what I now know, what would I do differently?” Once you have the answer, resolve to make that change immediately.  You will make errors in your EI judgment. When it happens, examine what led you down the wrong path. What would have been a better approach or reaction?

I know this list can seem daunting if it’s not something you’ve done, but look at the ideas on this list which you think could benefit you. Pick one or two that seem most helpful to you.  Practice them for at least a week.  Did your interactions with other improve?  Slowly add additional tips and take note of the results. Better relationships and more connection – in and out of your library – is always a valuable thing.

ON LIBRARIES – Emotionally Connected

For several years I have been writing and speaking about Emotional Intelligence (EI) and its importance in leadership success.  Emotions drive us in our lives and are at the root of, according to some studies, at least 80% of all of our decisions.  The more we are attuned to them, the better we can use them to achieve our goals. And when we connect EI with empathy, we have a powerful leadership tool.

ASCD  began promoting Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in the late 1990’s. The May 1997 issue of their journal, Educational Leadership  was devoted to the topic, and included an article on “How to Launch a Social & Emotional Learning Program.”  The article discussed attitudinal and logistical roadblocks to instituting a SEL program. Those attitudinal roadblocks are undoubtedly why it has taken so long for districts to develop SEL programs. 

Also in 1997, ASCD published Promoting Social and Emotional Learning by Maurice J. Elias, Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissberg, Karin S. Frey, Mark T. Greenberg, Norris M. Haynes, Rachael Kessler, Mary E. Schwab-Stone and Timothy P. Shriver. In the opening chapter, the authors state,

  • “The challenge of raising knowledgeable, responsible, and caring children is recognized by nearly everyone. Few realize, however, that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to children’s social and emotional learning (SEL). Indeed, experience and research show that promoting social and emotional development in children is “the missing piece” in efforts to reach the array of goals associated with improving schooling in the United States.”

The book is still available or you can read it online – amazing to find something from 20 years ago that isn’t completely out of date!

Recently, I have been seeing more districts add SEL to their curriculum. Education is finally accepting the fact that emotions do affect learning.  In New Jersey, my home state, the Department of Education has a page on their website on Social and Emotional Learning filled with helpful links.

Interestingly enough, the website page falls under the heading of “Keeping Our Kids Safe, Healthy & In School” and is part of a section on “Safe and Positive Learning Environment.” While we have recognized for some time that feeling safe is required for learning, it is only recently the role of emotions is being seen as playing an important role in that safety.  Without directly referring to EI, the core of the information shows how to develop and improve EI.

If your district hasn’t gotten started with SEL, discuss it with your principal.  You can start by sharing this PDF from the New Jersey site. You will notice that the first three are the “what” about EI and the remaining two are the “how” to infuse it.

Despite the slow reaction of districts to adopt SEL into the curriculum, librarians have always been doing it even when they didn’t have a name for it.  It’s intrinsic to making the library a safe and welcoming space for all.  Now you have the opportunity of being at the forefront of incorporating it throughout the school.

One aspect of SEL – and EI—that many find difficult to master is empathy. According to LaRay Quy, “empathy is the most important instrument in a leaders’ toolbox.” Good leaders take care of their people who in turn take care of them.  If you are fortunate enough to have a clerk or even more staff, you must take care of them.  But your teachers need care as well, and to do so effectively you need empathy. 

Quy, who used to work for the FBI, notes that empathy is like a mind reading tool.  By being attuned to another’s words and body language you can tell what they are thinking/feeling. To take care of them as you learn what’s going on with them, you can’t make your need to be right a priority.  One of my long-time mottos is, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?” Because if you want to be right, it’s not going to work.

This connects to another aspect of empathy, showing that you value the other person’s work.  As librarians, we know how we struggle to feel validated.  Don’t forget others in education feel the same way. Validated another is a way to start an important change throughout your district.

When you are talking to someone, focus on them.  Look at their eyes even as you note their body language.  Don’t multitask.  This is not the time to go through junk mail, or see if another email has come in.  As with the other leadership techniques, it’s as important to use this with students as with your colleagues.

And if there is someone—teacher or student—who seems to rub you the wrong way, you still have tools that can help smooth this relationship. Start by watching your body language as you interact with them. They may be responding to something they are reading in you. By staying open, you may be surprised to discover you can feel empathy for this person.

Graphic from http://www.teachingwithdesign.com/empathy-skill-sets.html

I remember a teacher who I felt was highly confrontational.  My first instinct was to draw away. But by listening and focusing on what she was saying and her body language, I became aware she was reacting to the way people responded to her.  She was very intelligent and had high standards.  Many students disliked her because she was “tough,” which meant she dealt often with angry parents.  By letting her see I respected her knowledge and valued the way she got her students to succeed beyond their expectations, we developed a wonderful relationship.  She became one of the strongest advocates for the library program.

Does your district integrate SEL into the curriculum?  What training did everyone get? What’s your part?  If your district doesn’t include SEL, how will you bring the idea to your administrators?