Opening a New Door

Happy New Year! I’ve got a tough question for you – is it time for a new position?

Last week I blogged on Gratitude, Reflections, & Resolutions. In reaching your resolutions, you identified what you don’t want in your life and what you do want. Some of you may have faced an uncomfortable realization. What you don’t want in your life is what your job in your district has become, and what you do want is to be in a school where you have the opportunity to grow and be all you can be.

In the last few years, being a librarian has become more stressful, and you all have been stretching and leading as you do whatever you can to make the library essential to teachers and students. In some places that hasn’t been enough. The administration thwarts every idea you have and gives you more tasks far removed from your Mission and Vision.

If this is your situation, it is time to consider an exit strategy. That’s a scary thought. Naturally, adages such as, “better the devil you know” and “out of the frying pan into the fire” jump into your head. On the other hand, remember your two lists from last week. To decide if it’s time to “read the handwriting on the wall”, ask yourself, “Is there any chance the situation will improve?” If not, recognize the cost of continuing where you are. It is likely your relationships with your family will suffer, you’ll face each day with dread, and the joy you once had in being a librarian will be gone.

When I was in a situation with a horrible principal, my saving grace was a very supportive superintendent of schools. When she announced she was retiring, I got busy job hunting. I knew eventually this principal would become superintendent. My prediction proved true, but by then I was happily in a new district where I had more opportunities to take a good library program and make it better. All I lost after 22 years in the district was my sick days.

Consider these steps to make this change as successful as possible:

Planning to Leave – Update your resume. Prepare an e-portfolio of your accomplishments. Quietly let any vendors who visit your library know you are job hunting. They often hear about potential openings first. Check your state library association job board. Check in with your peers -and me – on the School Librarians Workshop Facebook group.

Zeroing in on Your Target – When you learn of a possible position, research the district. Does the school’s website match their stated Mission? They may say academics are important but do they only show pictures of athletic success? Check the library’s webpage. Use social media to learn about the administrators. What can you learn about their budget? Call the librarian and talk to them in advance of the interview.

Preparing for the Interview – Check websites such as Elementary Librarian Interview Questions or the School Librarian Interview Guide. Prepare a list of your questions for the interviewer(s). Remember – you’re interviewing them, too. Ask what they like best about the library currently and what they would like to see in the future. Their answers will tell you how much they know about the library.

Acing the Interview – If possible, take a test drive to the location so that you’re comfortable with the drive. On the day of the interview, arrive early. Dress nicely but comfortably. Shake hands with the interviewer(s). Position your seat to give you the best possible view of them. (This also gives you time to calm yourself.)  Pause before answering questions and ask for any clarifications you need. Listen for what they are saying and not saying. Make sure you have a chance to see the library and look around. What messages is it sending? During the interview, never criticize your current school. Focus on the positives of the one you hope to get. You might say you want an opportunity to work in a forward-looking district.

After the Interview – As soon as possible follow up with a thank you message to the interviewer(s). Email is fine, but handwritten ones are better. Be sure you have the correct spelling of names.  Chris Littlefield details the steps in How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview. Some highlights are:

  • Referencing something said that was of significance.
  • Reminding them of your interest in the position.
  • Keeping it brief. Don’t add too much detail.
  • Making sure there are no typos, and the grammar is correct.

In closing, note you are looking forward to hearing from them. The value of the thank you message, as Littlefield explains, is that it helps you stand out from the crowd. You remind the interviews of who you are and what you said. It shows your people and communication skills.

Leaders take risks. Sometimes the risk is knowing when to leave and find something new. Whatever your new year brings, I wish you a great one!


Stay or Go

Did the beginning of the school year feel like the beginning of a prison sentence? Are you already counting the days until the winter break?  If so… it may be time to start a job search.

As scary as this may be, there are many great reasons. You may be in a toxic environment or an unsupportive school district. Maybe there’s been a recent change in administration, and you know your program will soon be under fire.  It is probably affecting your relationships with family and your health. But what alternatives do you have? Librarians and teachers rarely think of leaving a job when they have tenure, but as a leader, hopefully, you have become good at reading the “handwriting on the wall.” It’s worth it to take the time to be honest with yourself. You know when things are not going to get better.

I have been in that place, and I took the leap after being in a district for 22 years. I had a brand-new library I had designed, a small but decent budget, and the respect and support of my teacher colleagues. What I didn’t have was a supportive principal who had been there for about 5 years. He would thwart my efforts whenever he could. What helped me was a very supportive Superintendent. When she announced her retirement in two years, I knew my work life would be completely miserable with him in charge. And he was likely to become the Superintendent once the Assistant Superintendent had a chance to take over for a few years.  I began my job hunt that day.  My new job proved to be everything I wanted and more, and my prediction was also correct. Three years later, the principal was the Superintendent. 

Leaving is not always the answer, which is why you need to seriously consider all aspects of the situation.  A colleague of mine had been in charge of school library with a very limited budget. She jumped at the opportunity to go to another district which paid more, and her daughter was starting college. In the new situation, she was the junior librarian.  She thought it wouldn’t be a problem.  The senior librarian was a good friend.  Within six months, the friendship was in tatters, and the dream job had lost all its luster.

The first step in planning to leave is to know what you want and what you cannot accept. If the job has everything you want, but there are things you cannot accept, don’t take it. For example, I was willing to drive 1 hour but no more to a job, I had to be the senior librarian, and the library had to be attractive. For my colleague, the money was her primary and overriding purpose in changing her job. Having made that choice, she needed to remember it was her choice and to find ways to adjust. She ultimately moved to an elementary school in the same district.

If you are considering leaving, read Greg Vanoourek’s post Why We Stay in Bad Jobs Too Long. He goes through the reason why people stay, what makes a job wrong for you, and the downside of staying in a job too long. Although it is tailored to the business world, there’s enough there to help guide your decision. You are not likely to find a job in the middle of the school year, so you have time to contemplate the pros and cons of staying or leaving over the next few months. Be strategic. Think about your priorities and your deal breakers. Be clear about what excites you and what you bring to a position. Consider where you want to be in the next five years. Talk to your librarian colleagues in your PLN.  And do talk to your family. A job affects so much of your life; it is worth it to have one that brings you joy.

ON LIBRARIES: Making a Successful Move

It was interesting and helpful to hear all the responses in the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group to last week’s blog. Thank you for all your input, comments and feedback. I’m glad so many of you got something from the post. If you decided based the blog that it was Time to Move On, (or if you’d already come to this decision on your own) now the question is – how do you do get the job you want?

First, dig out your resumé and review it.  It likely needs updating.  Although an Objective might work for those looking for corporate positions, every librarian (and teacher) seems to have almost the same objective: “To create or expand a 21st century library program.”  There are variants of course but it uses up valuable page real estate – the opening of the resumé – to add nothing of value.

Spend some time thinking of what you do very well as a librarian. Then, instead of an Objective do a Profile with three or four bullet points highlighting your outstanding skills, such as Experienced Tech Integrator or Skilled User of Social Media.

Under experiences which you list in chronological order, don’t just describe your job.  Highlight what you did. You might have started a One Book, One School event or created a Makerspace.  In other words, how did you make your program successful?  This reinforces what you featured in your Profile.

Include a section on Related Experiences such as being an advisor to a club or making a presentation at a conference.  Next, of course, is Education. You should also have a section on Professional Associations which shows that you are a professional and here you should include any volunteer positions you hold currently or held in the past. Other sections include Publications which include blogs, Honors you have received. Some people close with References available on request, but since this is a given it also takes up valuable space and doesn’t need to be included.

Using your state association’s listserv and other resources, locate (and keep searching for) job openings.  Once you have spotted one, do research and find out as much as you can about the school and district.  Check their state report card. See what they say on their website. Is their Mission Statement mostly boilerplate or does it give an indication as to what they value? If they have photos of students, what are they doing?

With your research in hand, you are ready to write your cover letter. It’s invariably three paragraphs.  The first paragraph states what position you are applying for and where you learned about it.  Use this space to start your pitch by referring to what you learned in your research. For example, if it’s a high performing school you might say, “I am looking for the opportunity to work with the best and the brightest.”  If it’s in a school that is focused on improving student performance, you “want to be part of the challenge in helping students discover what they can achieve.”

The second paragraph is where many applicants tend to waste the space, restating things that are in the resume, such as the places where they worked.  Instead, show why you are the perfect candidate for the position. You can point to how your abilities as a tech integrator led to increased collaboration with teachers and 21st century learning experiences.  This sets up questions that will be included in your interview.

In the final paragraph, don’t close with the traditional, “I look forward to hearing from you.” Instead, say “I look forward to discussing what and how I can contribute to the school program.”

As soon as you hear they want you to come in for an interview start doing additional research. Find out who will be interviewing you. Will it be just the principal, or will there be a supervisor and perhaps the current librarian?  Google them and see what you can learn. Take a close look at the library’s page on the school website.  If there isn’t one – that tells you something about the current program and a possible way for you to improve outreach. You need to learn as much as you can about what they have accomplished and what they seem to value. Do a dry run to the school preferably at the same time as your interview so you know exactly where to go and what kind of traffic to expect.

You should also consider going online for sample interview questions so you will be ready what they might ask. Inevitably one will be, “Why do you want to leave your current position?” Do not say anything negative about the administration or the teachers.  Instead, answer with something like: “Budget constraints had me teaching two classes resulting in the library being closed. This was unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, and it’s important to me that the library be available to students throughout the day.”

Prepare questions of your own in advance.  Too often when applicants are asked if they have any questions they ask something foolish such as what the salary is or what their schedule would be like. Ask questions that will help you understand the vision and culture of the school and district.

Prepare a portfolio to bring with you showing your best lessons and projects. Bring enough copies for everyone present since you will be leaving it there. In addition to or instead of a printout, consider putting it on a thumb drive.

Listen carefully to what is said and what is not said.  Almost all administrators say the library is the heart of the school. What do they mean by that?  You can and should ask what they like/don’t like about the current program. The response will tell you how well they understand it, as well as where they would like to see it go.  Do ask to see the library and learn as much as you can about the technology it has.

As soon as possible, send thank you letters to all who interviewed you. In general, hand-written is better than e-mail.  It will carry more impact. Again, don’t waste the real estate.  You don’t want to say that you appreciated their time and look forward to hearing from them soon.  Take the opportunity to remind them of who you are.  Refer to something specific the person said that you found informative.

If all goes well you will get a job offer.  Think carefully before you accept it. Mentally review the interview.  What are the negatives about the position?  Do the positives outweigh them?  Know your priorities and if his position supports them. If you don’t evaluate the offer completely, you may jump from the frying pan into the fire.  A mistake here will require that you remain a few years before you can consider a new move.

And although the process is challenging – stay positive. Jobs are opening up.  There are opportunities for those who are willing to leave their comfort zone and go after what they want. Finally, for those of you who are happy where you are, consider bookmarking this post. You never know when things change so it’s best to be prepared.

ON LIBRARIES: Time To Move On?

changes aheadElecting to stay in or leave a job is rarely an easy decision, but it can be a vital one for your career. When your passion and enthusiasm are being sapped by what is happening on a daily basis, how well can you do your job?  How long will you go to work each day without the joy that first filled you?

I have been exchanging emails with a librarian who is dealing with difficult problems in her district.  She is a recent part-time hire but has found both the job responsibilities and relationships are causing a problem.  Her principal wants her to teach lessons in the classroom, but when she created a sign-up sheet no one was interested.  I suggested direct contact with the teachers first, but as a part-timer she doesn’t get lunch and has no opportunity to meet with teachers.

The principal said if she couldn’t manage to set up some lessons he would transfer or get rid of her. He has also asked for an SGO (Student Growth Outcomes) but she is not yet clear on her responsibilities.  There are two other librarians and at this time they are refusing to share lesson plans with her.  The younger one has become openly hostile.  frustrated

Whether or not the librarian made some errors in creating relationships with the other librarians, anything she does now will take twice as long to get results.  It is also quite possible that she won’t be able to accomplish much.  It’s time to start job hunting.

Another librarian with whom I have spoken has seen her budget cut in half and then completely eliminated. Her part-time clerk has been let go and the position won’t be refilled.  Being able to read the handwriting on the wall is a critical but often ignored skill.  Even more challenging is acting on it.

There are a number of situations where it is toxic to remain.  If you find yourself constantly frustrated by one or more administrators who ignore you completely; if you are now obsessing about how they are creating roadblocks to your program to the extent that you are bringing it home every day; it is time to consider moving on.

Are you in a district with antiquated technology and dusty library books with no hope of a change?  Recognize that the situation is keeping you from staying current with the profession.  You may want to think about leaving.

But, you argue you have tenure. Jobs are hard to come by.  What if the new place doesn’t work out?  It’s far easier to deal with the devil you know, and it’s a truism that teachers (and librarians) don’t leave a job voluntarily unless they retire or a spouse is transferred.  I have faced that challenge.  I was in a district for 22 years.  I had built a strong reputation.  However, a principal who came on board saw me as competition, feeling too many people turned to me (I was also head building rep for the union) and he wanted to be the absolute boss. My superintendent always seemed to know what was afoot and would run interference. On the day she announced she would retire in two years, I began job hunting.  I knew the principal would become the superintendent a few years later, and even the interim would be exceptionally difficult with superintendent gone.

jobI was fortunate, I found a job within a few weeks.  I was at my next district for nine years before retiring and loved every minute of it.  I didn’t worry about the loss of tenure, although I did regret losing my sick days.  Yes, finding a good opening was easier then, but jobs are opening up again.

If and when you decide to leave – be careful.  You never criticize your district or people in it. When you interview for a new position, point to what you want to learn by being in this new district.  Suggest that you are looking for more opportunities to create a truly 21st century library and 21st century learning experiences for students.  Talk about what you want to achieve, not why you want to leave.

There are times when you shouldn’t or truly can’t leave. If you left your previous position less than three years earlier, you need to find a way to stick around a while longer. Employers are wary of those who can’t seem to hold a job. I know someone who stayed in a job because she couldn’t equal her current salary and had two kids in college.  That is a sacrifice you make at times.  In that situation, when you have a rough day you need to remind yourself why you made that choice.going up

If you are thinking of leaving, you are in a good position to search for a new one. You have a job which means you interview from strength.  Should you hear of an opening that sounds interesting, go for it. Listen to what they tell you in the interview — and what they don’t.  If you like it, and they make an offer you can negotiate knowing you don’t have to accept the job.

You want to make a difference for kids. If you are fortunate enough to be in a district where you can give your best, enjoy it.  If not, maybe it’s time to move on.