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: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.

ON LIBRARIES: What’s Your Why

Being a school librarian is a demanding job.  We love it – until we don’t.  Too many added tasks.  Too little appreciation.  Fear of being eliminated.  All these contribute to losing our passion for what I think is the greatest job in the world.  Don’t let outside forces drain the love you have for being a librarian.  When times get tough, having a limited view of our purpose can cause us to give up.  You need to identify your “Why.” When you make this connection you’ll be able to tap into your passion and even bad days will go better.

I first learned about “Why” in Weight Watchers.  Everyone joins to lose weight.  That’s obvious.  Some people have more specific or focused reasons such as wanting to lose weight for a special event such as a wedding.  They achieve that limited goal being at or close to their desired weight for the event. Then what?  They go back to their old ways of eating and the weight comes back with interest. Or they find a bigger Why and keep going.

When I first joined fourteen years ago, I wanted to look better in clothes and pictures. What’s kept me going all this time, my bigger Why, is my continuing good health and being able to enjoy the foods I like and not put on pounds.  I don’t have to be perfect, and my Why keeps me on track.

So, when it comes to your work, what is your Why?  It is not the same thing as your Mission.  Your Mission is your purpose for being a librarian, but it’s not why you are doing it.

For example, here are two well-crafted Mission Statements:

  • The mission of the Blank School Library is to provide students with the opportunity to become lifelong users of information and also creators of information. The library strengthens the curriculum by collaborating with teachers, developing a collection that is representative of the community, and implementing literacy instruction for students.
  • The Mission of the Blank School Media Center Program is to create lifelong learners with critical thinking skills and an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.

Is that Why you became a librarian or is that what you are committed to doing because of why you became a librarian?  Why speaks to the purpose for your life.

My Why is tied to who I am as a person.  I want to reflect back to people (students and teachers and everyone I connect with) the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it in their lives so they see and believe it. I can carry out much of that in a library with either of those two Mission Statements – or many other equally good statements.  But when overwhelmed or having administration block my ability to carry out my Mission Statement, rather than feeling hopeless, I can go to my Why.

In a post on Goalcast, Scarlett Erin says, “Your ‘Why’ Matters” and gives 10 benefits for knowing your purpose in life.

  1. It helps you stay focused: Just as your library Mission Statement does, this gives you a larger and more personal perspective on what really matters.
  2. It makes you feel passionate about your goal: It’s more than doing a great job; it’s about making a difference.
  3. It gives your life clarity: Knowledge is power. When you know yourself, it’s easy to make choices.
  4. It makes you feel gratified: When you see you made a difference, you automatically feel great.
  5. It helps you live a value-based life: You recognize and embrace the values that represent who you are.
  6. It makes you live with integrity: When you know who you are and what matters to you, you realize these are core values that can’t be compromised. You can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to requests more easily by staying aligned with your values.
  7. It encourages trust: Because you are confident with who you are, you are more open to others.
  8. It infuses an element of grace in your life: Your life is smoother, with fewer trips and stutters, because you act from a deeper place, aligned with what matters to you.
  9. It helps you find a flow in life: Fears are easier to manage because you trust yourself and accept whatever happens you can stay grounded and centered.
  10. It makes life even more fun: You are more likely to live in the moment and appreciate what is happening as it occurs.

During your break as you are taking time, I hope, to do the things you love and that fill you up (see last weeks blog on this), I hope you also take time to reflect and determine what your Why is. Having fun and being relaxed is the best time to connect with and be aware of the things that most matter to you.