ON LIBRARIES – Effective Feedback

Feedback, in essence, is evaluation.  When given at the end of a project or unit, it’s summative.  When it occurs while the learning is taking place, it’s formative. While both are important, formative evaluation is the most effective, giving the receiver of the information a chance to correct any mistakes. Both, of course, have their place.

It’s best to provide feedback as rapidly as possible. The longer it’s delayed the more distant the learner is from the event, making it difficult to integrate the information in a meaningful way. However, time is only one factor.  The feedback also needs to be meaningful.  Whether you are correcting a written paper or making comments as students are working, what you say should be focused and specific.

“Good job” is not specific feedback. It’s nice to hear but what does it mean?  Far better to add, “Your conclusion clearly sums up the issues and the points you raised.” This is something that can be used in the future.  The learner can see what is considered to be a good conclusion. 

For most people, it’s more challenging to make a negative comment, but these can be even more valuable, especially when the project is still underway.  Saying the sources selected are not authoritative and suggesting the student review the criteria for finding such sources points makes the feedback a learning experience and provides a direction for success.

Don’t overlook receiving your own feedback.  It’s important that you have an accurate picture of how your lesson or a complete project went.  As you see what your students have done and given them constructive feedback, identify what concepts they are getting and which ones are causing them difficulties.

Reflect on this information.  Why were you successful with the concepts they understood and integrated? What kept them from getting other concepts?  How can you reintroduce the difficult ones so they are learned?  And how can you teach it differently in the future so you need not review it from another perspective?

Exit tickets are another way of getting feedback from students.  Come up with thoughtful questions to ask and give the class time to reflect on their responses before ending the lesson. Don’t make it too complicated but give them the chance to decide what they want to let you know.

For example, you can have one box of exit tickets that say, “The most important thing I learned today was….”  A second box of cards might ask, “I’m confused about….,” while a third set has the statement, “I’d like to know more about….”  When students get to choose which card they wish to complete you will get more relevant responses.

Don’t get defensive or upset about getting many “I’m confused about…” cards.  This is your opportunity to refine your teaching.  In addition look carefully at the ones answering “The most important thing I learned today was….”  Are the statements only surface learning?  Did they receive an Enduring Understanding?  Did they deal with the Essential Question? If not, how can you better focus your lessons?

You also need to get feedback from the teachers with whom you work either collaboratively or cooperatively. Don’t just ask, “Did the lesson I gave go all right?”  You most likely will get back a reassuring affirmative answer.  Like, “Good job,” this doesn’t tell you anything.

Although it’s more difficult, and sometimes painful, ask the hard questions to learn how to improve your instruction.  You can start out by asking what they think worked for them and the students and then follow up with, “What didn’t?  Was there something I should have done differently?”

I once did a unit with a general science teacher on composting.  She was passionate about the subject and knew what she wanted students to discover.  I thought I did a great job with the first lesson, but when she got back the initial reports from students they hadn’t located relevant sources.  As is so typical, they grabbed the first two hits.  Even though they had used a database, their searches were not sufficiently refined to target the key ideas.

I retaught the lesson and students did better.  The teacher also realized how she could frame the assignment better.  The following year when we taught it again, the students did much better.  Because they did, the teacher saw ways of continuing to improve the lesson.

Incorporating regular feedback in your dealings with students and teachers will help you do a much better job and improve your students’ learning.

Do you give and get feedback regularly?  How?  Do you use exit tickets?  What are your best questions?


ON LIBRARIES: To Do and To Don’t

I am very disciplined.  Usually.  And sometimes I am not. I have a feeling many of you share this duality, and I think there is a good reason for it.

Back in August, I did a blog called A Matter of Time. In it I discussed time management techniques to keep you from getting overwhelmed.  I advocated various forms of To-Do lists to keep you on track, recommending you find one that works for you.

And I certainly have a To-Do list.  I couldn’t function without one, yet there are some days when almost nothing gets checked off.  I used to become upset with myself for being so unproductive and not completing all those important tasks.  But I have come to realize it isn’t all bad to take time off.

I have found I am most likely to procrastinate the day after I have been extremely busy and productive.  It’s as though my mind and body are sending a signal they need to recharge.  And we do.  We can’t keep draining ourselves.  There is a cost.

Most of us have numerous obligations outside of work.  Whether it’s getting kids to sports or other activities, preparing dinner, doing laundry, taking care of the lawn, or shopping.  The list is long.  Consider what happens to your attitude and your patience when you have been on the run for days on end.

When you have been going full tilt on your job, you are likely to get impatient when you are interrupted, whether by a student or a teacher.  And yet, our jobs are full of interruptions.  It’s who we are and we want people to know we are there to help them.  I once wore a button that said, “Please disturb me.”

You know by now the importance of building and maintaining relationships.  They are key to our success.  The last thing you want is for teachers and students to think you don’t have time to respond to their requests.  You can destroy a relationship much quicker than you can build one, particularly if it isn’t well established.

There’s also the matter of burnout.  When you keep going without a break, you stop enjoying your job.  As I have said, much of our communication is non-verbal.  Your exhaustion sends a message that you are uninterested.  And that definitely you don’t want to be disturbed.

Worse, discipline problems in the library will increase. Students who are at loose ends because they didn’t think it a good idea to ask for assistance can get into trouble quickly.  Then there are those who love disruptions and recognize a great opportunity to set you off. Usually, you are able to distract them and prevent most problems.  But not when you are in overload.

Yes, when you get back to your usual helpful demeanor, people begin approaching you.  But if you spend too much time in that harried place, you may find fewer teachers dropping by to see you and ask questions.  Students will not risk a rebuff. What you need to do is recharge.

ticking now on check boxes on blackboard

You will have to focus on high priorities.  Classes must be taught, but you can scale them down.  At the elementary level, instead of a major lesson, consider having a coloring day, and join the kids.  More and more adults are discovering what a de-stresser that can be.  And the kids can use that too. At the end of the class, discuss if they liked the activity and why.

In upper grades, let kids research on their own and walk among them seeing how they are doing.  Ask them about what they are finding.  Close the period by having a group discussion on how successful they were and what they can do differently.  It’s a good self-assessment lesson.

For those of you who picked up the challenge of leadership, you may have been thinking that this is why you didn’t want to become a leader.  It is too time-consuming.  However, leaders must learn to set an example for others.

Among my favorite quotes is the one by Tom Peters, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” If a leader is seen as being exhausted and constantly in motion, no one will want to emulate them.  You need to show the rewards of leadership.

So ask for help. It may take time before you can figure out just what you need, but you will also be giving someone the opportunity to see what leadership entails. Librarians don’t usually know how to delegate, and if you are accustomed to being in control, it’s hard to give some of that up.  But the benefits are worth it.

Don’t overlook how your being overwhelmed affects your family and personal friendships.  Even if you are able to be your usual wonderful self on the job, when you get home you are not anywhere near your best for them.  Much as you love being a librarian, your work should not be the priority in your life.

You need to live a balanced life so you maintain your joy. Moments you chose not to spend with family and friends because you had “too much to do” can never be recaptured.

To rejuvenate look for small ways to procrastinate.  There are several things I do.  I play solitaire on my computer or spend time on Facebook.  As long as I keep an eye on the clock, the “away time” lets me return with new energy.

My favorite downtime activity is taking a walk.  It clears my head.  I can figure things out so much better than when I am on the computer.  Most of my blog ideas and how I am going to discuss them are figured out while I am walking.  At the same time, I stop and talk to people walking their dogs or take note of the change in season and how the trees and plants are changing.

I also make sure to see my friends on a regular basis.  I work at home primarily, but when my son comes over I stop what I am doing.  I have learned the task will get done.  It always does.  And cherishing the joys in my life helps me do a better job in completing them.

What gives you joy?  How are you living a balanced life?

ON LIBRARIES – Personality Plus

successWhy are some librarians successful and others are not? It’s not about knowledge and competencies.  I have seen highly experienced librarians unable to regularly get teachers to work with them while some newly degreed librarians are quickly embraced by the faculty.  What makes the difference?

My blog on “It Begins with Relationship,” posted on April 4, 2016 began with almost the same words.  I discussed some ways to build relationships with students, teachers, and administrators.  Everything I said is still valid, but there is something more.pq

Back in the very sexist 1950’s, a self-help book for teenage girls asked, “What’s Your PQ?” It stood for “Personality Quotient.”  While the advice was to employ tactics I would never use, the question is relevant for librarians of both genders.

Personality is a major factor in how people relate to you, how they connect – or don’t – with you.  And I am sure some of you are thinking that your personality is ingrained.  It’s how you are.  But as someone who has seen her own personality evolve over the years, I am convinced you can work with who you are and by knowing how to accent the positives of it, bring out a more engaging personality.

Attributes of an engaging personality include:

optimismOptimism It feels good to hang out with someone who has a positive approach to life. This doesn’t mean a Pollyana who believes life is wonderful no matter what happens.  It’s a person who doesn’t focus on the negatives but deals with them by seeing them as “chopportunites” – challenges that can be turned into an opportunity (click the word to see the original post).

But perhaps you are a pessimist.  What can you do about that?  It’s who you are, right?  Face it, living with pessimism isn’t pleasant.  Even for the pessimist.  So take one page from the optimist and find the “chopportunity” in a given situation.  Change your mind set.  Affirmations seem too corny for most pessimists, so instead try “I can handle this.”  It’s not a ringing statement but it moves you from looking at whatever is occurring with a sense of despair.  With practice you will get better at it.

Introvert/Extrovert – Oddly both can be leveraintrov-extrovged to animate your personality.  If you are a librarian and an introvert you can’t retreat from being with people.  What you mean is that you don’t initiate a contact.  But introverts are great at listening and that is very attractive to others. Use this in a focused way and people respond.

If you are an extrovert, the caution is to “curb your enthusiasm.” Enthusiasm can be infectious, but it only work if you aren’t overpowering others with it.  Rein it in a bit and give others a chance to respond.

empowerEmpowering – As AASL exhorts in Empowering 21st-Century Learners, one of the things you do is to empower your students—and teachers.  In addition to giving them the skills they need, you can also empower others by recognizing their accomplishments and cheering them on.  Quite different from empty complements such as “good job,” this is specific.  You might say, “that was a very creative use of this technology” or whatever else they did.

Teachers and students need to be validated as much as you do.  Many don’t see where they are special.  Those with a positive personality know how to make others feel good about themselves. It ties to the Tom Peters quote, “Leaders don’t make followers; they create more leaders.”

inclusiveInclusive – What pronoun do you use most?  Listen to yourself. If you are saying “I” very frequently you can easily be viewed as egocentric.  It’s not about you.

Start thinking, “We are all in this together.  Together we can make things work better.” It’s important that you identify with the faculty.  So it’s “we teachers” not “you teachers.”  Your language will affect how others start viewing you.

In addition, as a librarian you should have plans at least in the back of your head for how to improve your program.  You can’t do it alone.  When you are inclusive you build the basis for a team. Using the other aspects of personality, your team will be ready to work together with you.

And finally the “Plus”

Related to personality but not exactly the same thing is Charisma.  When you think of charismatic leaders you might name President John F. Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and others.  Not everyone liked them but a large segment of the population did and followed them, glad to help them achieve their goals.plus

To be sure there are negative charismatic leaders and they have successfully led their people down dark paths.  However, I trust you are not heading in that direction.  The fact is charisma is a powerful leadership attribute.

You might think charisma must be innate, but like any element of leadership it can be learned. LaRay Que wrote a blog post on her website called 6 Ways to Become a Charismatic Leader. Among the things she talks about is how to win the hearts of followers – an important lesson for librarians who want to get support from their teachers and administrators.

She also explains how to use story.  We have been focusing on this increasingly, but she brings an additional thought to it. Her last point is on how to create a strong persona.  By polishing your personality and recognizing your own skills and strengths you can do it.

So how is your 21st century PQ?  Where does it show up in your relationships?  And what how can you make it more engaging?

ON LIBRARIES: Fake News and the Teachable Moment

teachable-momentsEvery librarian and teacher knows the magic of the teachable moment. Something occurs in the life of students or in the world and suddenly the kids are eager to find out more.  Whatever you teach at that moment, helping them get a better understanding of the situation will stay with them, possibly forever and with unending and unexpected ripple effects.

Much attention is now being given to what is being called “fake news.”  Although librarians have been using hoax sites for years to teach how to validate information, this issue goes far beyond that, and it’s important that students from older elementary and up learn how to recognize it when they see it.fake

As you prepare to do a unit on this, make sure you are being impartial.  Both sides of the political spectrum have indulged in this practice.  It’s not about you showing your personal perspective is correct. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association states, “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources,” and we need to uphold it in our teaching as much as in our book selection.

A change of terminology might also help alter the climate around the issue.  It’s been my experience that words need to be chosen carefully.  They often carry heavy emotional meaning.  I have had students look at the different terms used on websites when they were researching pro/con assignments.  For example, “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life” or “embryo” vs. “fetus.”  It’s how biased sites work, and they are fine to use as long as you recognize and take into account their point of view.

One excellent sources to use for this “teachable moment” was posted on my School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group page.  I liked it first because it refers to fake news as imposter news and it is a simple, easy-to-reproduce list of simple questions to ask. You can distribute copies to teachers for use with their class and use it in working with students.  For the elementary level, you might want to simplify the language.

liar-liarIf you search “identifying fake news” you will find a number of other sites you can draw on for your lesson.  I like the eight suggestions from FactCheck.org and the seven from the Washington Post.  FactCheck points to the existence of humorous sites such as the well-known The Onion, and the Washington Post suggests searching Google to locate the information. Be careful here. It’s not whether it shows up several times.  Some sites copy each other and looking at some of the URLs shows that they aren’t that “factual.”

Do direct students to Snopes. For years the site has been known for identifying urban legends and reporting on whether that warning email you received is true.  Now it has expanded into fact-checking reported news stories.

I have seen a number of infographics showing which sources report imposter news and which ones lean in a particular political direction. Again exercise caution here.  Some of those carry their own bias.propaganda

If you are concerned about working on the topic from its political aspects, you might want to try looking at fake health news. Introduce the topic using this website, and go on to have students explore the more controversial aspects and dangers such as the anti-vaccine group and others.  Collaborate with a science teacher on the project.

The “power of the teachable moment” goes beyond making learning relevant to students.  It also can and should be used to power your leadership.  (You knew I was going to make this connection, right?)

Taking students beyond the textbook and the often confining nature of the curriculum is part of what we do as librarians.  As you use these “teachable moments” to make an impact on students’ lives be sure you are sharing it with your teachers and more importantly with your administrators.

Show them what students are learning. Let them see the final presentations so they see the “enduring understandings” students’ are taking away. Video your students in action and “interview” them.  This is how your administrator learns what you bring to the educational community and to student learning.

What “teachable moment” have you addressed?  What was the result?



ON LIBRARIES: Raising Readers

raising-readersIn 1977 I wrote Raising Readers along with Ruth Toor my long-time co-author and friend.  Turning kids into lifelong readers has always been a priority of librarians. The challenge of doing so is nothing new, but in some ways it’s become more difficult.  Your creativity and leadership is needed to instill a love of reading- and by extension its benefits – in all our students.

While I fully support the Common Core concept of students being able to do “deeper reading,” some of the ways it has been interpreted have created a barrier to having students become lifelong readers.  The balance of fiction vs nonfiction texts was the first barrier.  Although the distribution was to be across all subjects, many districts imposed it on ELA classes which benefited nonfiction readers, but “punished” fiction lovers. To be honest, books students have to read for a class—whether fiction or nonfiction—has never turned kids into lifelong readers. reading-on-the-pile

That’s where librarians come in. While classroom teachers first teach students how to read, and in the upper grades expose them to “literary classics” which some do enjoy, it’s the librarian who brings the love of reading by connecting students with books matching their interests. The reduction and elimination of librarians in schools has meant that connection is not made for many, and even when a librarian is present there are challenges.

First and foremost is the emphasis on Lexile scores.  Common Core stipulates the Lexile range for grade levels and too many libraries now have the collection so labeled.  Students aren’t allowed to borrow books below or above their Lexile score. In the drive to improve students’ reading ability, administrators they are killing it.

lexileI understand the need to use the Lexile score for instructional purposes, but it doesn’t work for personal leisure reading.  It’s like the old “five finger rule” where you read one page and you lift your finger for each word you don’t know.  If you lift all five fingers the book is too hard for you, assuming readers shouldn’t choose a book where they don’t know five words on every page.

When students read below their instructional level, they develop reading fluency.  They can get into the book. They interact with characters whether it’s fiction or biography. If they are reading nonfiction, they easily grasp the history of a sport or team or how an invention was developed. They enjoy the book. And that’s what builds lifelong readers.

And students sometimes read above their Lexile level.  It frequently happens with nonfiction readers who are interested in a particular subject. Some Harry Potter lovers started the series when it was “too hard” for them.  But their interest motivated them and they took on the challenge.  Why would you deprive a kid of that experience?

I have a similar quibble with Accelerated Reader and programs which are supposed to promote reading by awarding points for what students read – sometimes earning students tangible rewards.  Because of the lure of the reward, kids tend to choose books based on how many points they will earn, not on their own interests.  When there are no longer points for reading, they stop.  That doesn’t create lifelong readers.every-reader-every-book

Ranganathan’s second law of library science is ‘Every reader his/her book.” While he was referring to the requirement of libraries to serve all their patrons without judgment, for me it also means connecting a student to the “perfect” book for him or her is very often the first step in becoming a lifelong reader.

From my own children and members of my family, to people I have met, that initial connection with a book was transforming. These people either were disinterested or even disliked reading until they were matched with the perfect book. It was as if a world opened up to them.  Often they re-read the book – sometimes several times.  The aforementioned Harry Potter fans are one example of this.

These new readers may have discovered a series or a genre then might begin reading the series or books in the genre almost obsessively.  It’s not a problem.  Fluency and a lifelong habit of reading are the results.  Once the early euphoria of “where has this been all my life” has subsided, they are open to exploring reading more widely.  And as we know, “Kids who read succeed.”

So where does your leadership fit in? Back to Lexile scores.  What goes on in the classroom is fine for instructional purposes.  You need to ground yourself in what we do as librarians and become “fluent” in explaining it so the distinction is understood. Collect stories of kids and their perfect book.  Make sure the library is the welcoming place where kids can explore their interests and you can match them with just the right book regardless of scores.

What stories do you have of kids and the book that was perfect for them?

ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Distrupter?

distruption-aheadOf course you aren’t.  You are a team player.  You don’t rock the boat.  But maybe…you should rethink the question. Leaders are disrupters, and it’s time for more librarians to envision themselves this way.

The business world, which I turn to regularly, recognizes the importance of disrupters.  A Forbes article points out the difference between disrupters and innovators saying while all disrupters are innovators not all innovators are disrupters in the way that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Disrupters change how we think and behave.

The article links to a list of leading disrupters in business. Of course Bill Gates made the list as did the three founders of Kickstarter and the man who started Buzzfeed. You won’t recognize most of the names but they upended how we think of retail, get our television programs, and use social networking.

Okay, great for them.  But you can’t see how to “disrupt” your school – even if you wanted to take such a huge risk.  Let’s try a less scary term.  How about taking on the role of Change Agent?distrupt

Another Forbes article has the compelling title, “Every Leader Must be a Change Agent or Face Extinction.”  We have all seen how school librarians and libraries have been eliminated across the country.  Granted the economic crisis of 2008 caused much of the loss, but part of the reason was the perception that we didn’t make a sufficiently worthwhile contribution to be a good economic decision.

When confronted with widespread slashing of programs, what did many librarians do? They whined they weren’t appreciated.  They crossed their fingers and hoped their jobs wouldn’t be next on the chopping block.  What was and is necessary was to change the way we do business. There are numerous librarians who are doing that, but it’s incumbent on everyone to accept the challenge.

The second article has two quotes that stick with me. “Change is the new normal for leadership success, and all leaders must accept this fact,” and “Change is difficult; Not changing is fatal.” I have repeatedly said all librarians must become leaders or risk disappearing.  If you agree that is true, you need to accept the risk of becoming a change agent.change-is-difficult-not-changing-is-fatal-1

I had a Superintendent in the late 1990’s who alarmed everyone by saying, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  This was when technology was rapidly expanding.  I am sure he got the quote from the title of a book by Robert J. Kriegel. It is a more confrontational statement but is aligned with the premise of another book, Good to Great by James C. Collins, which states as a premise, “Good is the enemy of great.”

Ranganathan, the father of modern library science, said “Library is a growing organism.”  But any organism either grows or it dies.  Now more than ever, the status quo is not sustainable. If you think your current situation is “good,” it’s time to make it great – even if you have to break it to do it.

What can you do to ensure you are growing?  Or what should you do as a Change Agent?  Librarians who are change agents are the ones who introduced Makerspaces and/or transformed their libraries into Learning Commons. If Makerspaces haven’t come to your district yet, that is one way to begin the change process. Makerspaces have had a dramatic impact on schools.

Creating a Learning Commons is more daunting, particularly in districts with small or nonexistent budgets, but you can move in that direction.  After researching various examples, consider what is possible through contributions.  You need a vision of course, and then, with the approval of your principal, consider developing a GoFundMe campaign.

A relatively simple change is to cover tables with whiteboard paper. This allows students working in groups to visually record their ideas as their project evolves. Anyone coming into the library will notice this dramatic difference instantly.  It alters how they see the library, which is what you need to have happen as a Change Agent—or a Disrupter.

Integrate the community into the library.  Just about every place has a local history and horticultural societies.  What else is available in your town or neighborhood?  Contact these groups and ask if they would like to set up an exhibit of interest to your students in the library. When they do, display resources you have on the topic.  Post everything to your website (or on a LibGuide on your website) and add online information.

Video and photograph students viewing the exhibit. Give them comment cards or record what they think.  Turn it into a presentation with Animoto or other similar resource and share it along with a thank-you note (from you and some of the students) to the society.  They may even display it in their location.  Suddenly their members are recognizing the library is not anything like the one they remembered.

agent-of-changeWith administration approval, reach out to the business community through Kiwanis and/or Rotary.  Ask for local business to share their “communications” with your library.  You can feature what they do and again create a supporting display.  Make a visual record and see if you can speak before the group and share what you did and how the kids reacted.

If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. Ignored – for the most part.  Disrupt thinking.  Become a Change Agent.

Have you “disrupted” your school?  What have you done? What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had for your library program?  Could it actually work?

ON LIBRARIES: The Art of Communication

the-art-of-communucationI often say “We are in the relationship business” What goes along with this is without communication you can’t develop a relationship.  That shouldn’t be a challenge.  After all, we are always communicating, aren’t we?  Not necessarily the message we want.

Communication has three distinct elements:

  • the sender,
  • the message, and
  • the receiver.

If you remember the game of telephone you played as a kid, messages can easily become distorted, and in real life that distortion can occur within any of these three elements. In order to communicate effectively you need to be aware of how this happens and what you can do to prevent it. It is your responsibility to make sure the message is sent on a “clear channel.”Vector businessman online communicatiion connection business

Assume you are the sender.  Before you do anything you need to identify your receiver, your audience.  Is it your principal?  A teacher?  A parent?  Next you must consider what your message is.  Are you reporting something to your principal?  Offering help to a teacher? Responding to a parent query?

To be sure your message will not be garbled as it is received you must be sure it is in language the receiver understands.  Educators have jargon they use so frequently they are not always aware they are using it.  Scaffolding and differentiated instruction are quite specific terms for educators, but would parents understand them? Librarians have their own jargon as well.  We talk about information literacy and digital citizenship and don’t stop to think that not even our principals or teachers fully understand what we mean.

In communicating, it’s important you don’t make assumptions.  You might say, “Our teaching of information literacy ensures students are able to identify their need for information, locate relevant facts, evaluate them, and use them to communicate effectively.”  In essence you included the definition without either insulting someone who knows what it means or using a term they didn’t understand.

illusionYour next challenge is to select the right medium for the message. In the previous century, your choices were limited.  Do you want to talk to the receiver (in person or the telephone) or write to them (memo, report, or letter)? Today you have an array of options. To some extent it depends on what the message is, but there is a further consideration.  What is the users preferred source of communication?

If your principal wants e-mails, use that.  If he or she is a technophobe (getting rarer) schedule a meeting. Do the parents in your school use Twitter?  If they don’t it’s not a good medium for communicating with them. Do they go to your library website, your blog, or only like the print or emailed newsletters?  You need to take your message to where they are.

Besides language, the structure of the message is critical.  When you are tweeting you are limited to 140 characters. Conversations, emails, and memos have not such limit. It must be self-imposed.  Most of you are aware that text messages need to be fairly short and emails should also be brief.  If they are too long people skip some of the last part of the message. I work to keep these blog posts to a specific length and no longer, knowing they are being read on devices more than computer screen.

What isn’t as well recognized is how to craft a message, oral or written, to an administrator, and this works for others as well. We have a tendency to provide “background” so the receiver knows we are well versed in the topic and have done research, when appropriate, to be certain that what we are proposing is the best course of action. By the time the recipient gets your point, they have become lost in the verbiage.

As journalists have always known, “Don’t bury the headline.”  Lead with it. Give one or two supporting statements.  Particularly if the message is directed to your administrator let him or her know that if more information is needed, you will be glad to provide it. The same is true if you have a face-to-face meeting. Start with what you are seeking.

Note how this and all my blogs are written.  I keep paragraphs to a few lines.  Too large a block of text tends not to be read.  In my presentations I almost never have a PowerPoint slide with a lot of text.  It doesn’t work in today’s world.

Once you have “sent” your message, you may become the receiver. When you are on the other end you must do what you can to be certain you heard the message correctly. This means engaging in active listening and restating in your words what you understood.understanding

Although the focus here is on verbal/written communication, never forget the presence of nonverbal communication. Any written messages should be proofread.  We hit send (or replay all!) too fast. It’s not serious when dealing with your friends, but when communicating with administrators, teachers, and parents it communicates a message about your skills and how much you care about what you are saying.  When it’s important, I create my emails in Word first and then do a copy/paste.

non-verbalWhen you are speaking to someone, watch their non-verbal communication.  Are they subtly checking the time? Are their eyes glazing over?  Do you need to rephrase for their understanding or is it time to bring the conversation to an end?  Stay aware.

Good communication skills can be learned and can always be improved.  Practice makes perfect – or at least better.  How well do you communicate?  What’s your best medium?  What do you need to work on?

ON LIBRARIES: Show Me The Evidence

evidence-2 We live with assessment every day.  High stakes tests are used to determine what students know and whether you are doing a good job.  The tension it causes leads many of you to dislike the term, and yet it remains a critical part of teaching and leadership.

When you teach you are always assessing your students’ progress and that is the mark of a good teacher. But how often are you assessing your library program?  Is it as good as it can be?  What can you do to make it better?  That form type of assessment is necessary if you want your stakeholders to recognize your value and that of your program.

You are probably aware of Evidenced-based Practice (EBP) which started in the medical profession, but you may have dismissed it as too complicated to add into your already crowded day. Just because it sounds very academic doesn’t mean it’s difficult.  It’s as hard as you make it—or as easy.

To review for a moment. There are three aspects of EBP.

  • Evidence for practice involves using the research to determine best practices.
  • Evidence in practice is taking the research evidence coupled with your own evidence (possibly from your formative assessments with students) to identify what is necessary to improve your program. Here is where you want to connect what you are doing to the Mission and/or Vision you have for the library. It is how you transform learning.
  • Evidence of practice is the results you get. The data you collect from using evidence in practice showing the outcomes of what you put into practice.assessment

For more on the subject you can go to Ross Todd’s 2008 article in School Library Journal, “The Evidenced-Based Manifesto for School Librarians.” The article points out a number of ways you can gather evidence including student interviews, their reflective journals, and surveys.  While these may still feel like a lot of extra work, you need to build a portfolio documenting your accomplishments. To remind yourself of some of the significant research go to Scholastic’s School Libraries Work 2016.

Although the academics might not fully approve, you can also get your evidence in somewhat less formal ways.  If you are focusing on a specific change in practice, perhaps developing students’ ability to think critically or building their understanding of digital citizenship, you can create exit tickets to determine how close you came to achieving your goals.

Why is all this important?  Many years ago a principal came to me and asked if we could speak confidentially.  I had worked for him at the elementary level before transferring to the high school. He had a problem with his current librarian.  His difficulty was while he could go into any classroom and see whether the teacher was doing a good or poor job.  He was at a loss to do the same with the librarian.

This should sound familiar to those of you who say, “My principal doesn’t know what I do.” I took an hour to go over the many big and small ways a librarian impacts student learning and helps teachers, even good ones, do a better job. Feeling more capable of evaluating the librarian in question who was up for tenure, he went back to his school. (For the record, she wasn’t rehired.  He did have a sense that something was wrong, but he had no resources to substantiate his feelings.)

Action Research is very similar to EBP and you may find it easier to do.  First of all it is not research in the typical sense.  Rather you embark on a series of steps:

  • Identify a problem
  • Gather and interpret data on the problem
  • Create an action to address it
  • Put it the action into practice
  • Evaluate the results

portfolioIn many ways, you may already be doing this, but not formally.  For example, your students turn to Google all the time instead of using more helpful databases.  So you incorporate a mini-lesson on one or two databases in connection with a research project they are doing.  Then you observe them in action and check their work-cited page. All that work but you have no evidence to show for it.

Instead document it from the beginning.  You have identified the information.  Now gather evidence of them at work, even if its anecdotal record what you observe and date your observation.

Your lesson plan is the documentation of the action you put into practice. For the results you can record them in action and their work-cited.  You also use a survey (before and after if you like) to show their past practice in research, their change, and whether they found it worthwhile. You now have evidence of the efficacy of your instruction.

Bring a portfolio of your EBP and /or your Action Research to your annual evaluation.  Even better  – share it with your principal (and your board if you reach out regularly) as you complete it.  Included highlights on your quarterly reports.  Not only will you principal know what you are doing, he or she will value the contribution you are making to the educational community.

ON LIBRARIES – Dress for Success

dress-for-success-1I am taking on a somewhat controversial topic.  Not everyone sees this as necessary, and it’s not the most important thing you can do to promote your leadership.  However, with so much at stake to keep library programs and librarians visible and vital, I believe we should use every tool available to us.

You know that you communicate a great deal without words. When you walk into a room, before you say anything, you have sent a number of messages. Some are totally unfair as people will make judgments based on arbitrary prejudices such as age, weight, and any number of other irrelevant criteria.

body-languageIn addition to visual clues, body language tells a lot about what you are thinking and how you are feeling.  Arms crossed signals you are closed.  Whether you look at people or away from them reveals how secure you are feeling. Tight lipped smiles shows you are hiding something or feel insecure. You make these decisions about others.  They do the same about you.

How you dress also sends messages. I go to every ALA and AASL Conference and I am always amazed at how easy it is to distinguish between the vendors and the librarians in the halls and elevators.  I know many librarians feel they can relax and dress solely for comfort, but I have a feeling that many of them dress that way when they are in their schools.

wonder-womanLook around your building.  Notice how the teachers dress.  Is there a difference between those who are well-regarded and others?  The dress of the secretarial and clerical staff is rarely the same as what teachers wear.  Paraprofessionals and aides mostly have their similar dress “code.” This is not a hard and fast rule.  There are always exceptions, but in general this holds true.

Now look at how administrators dress.  Compare that with what you wear.  Where are you on the scale?  If you look like some of the less-regarded teachers you are opening yourself up to being ignored or not valued highly.  If your clothes are similar to teachers who are highly regarded you are in a better position.

But you want more than that.  You want to be viewed as a leader.  Increasingly you will be in the presence of administrators. If you look as though you are one of them, you will be treated as though you are.  It may seem shallow, but it’s effective.

I have known a few librarian leaders and one administrator who didn’t “dress for success” who are highly respected, but they are rarities.  They are incredibly skilled at showing their worth and so were accepted by everyone for the leaders they are. You, on the other hand, may still be at a place where you want to prove yourself and emerge from how you are currently perceived.dressed-professionally

Dressing for success is much discussed in the business world, but hardly ever mentioned in education. Indeed, in some corporations a person who is being primed for promotion to higher levels of management might be sent to a personal shopper to be able to present a more polished, successful appearance.  Unlike the corporate world, in a school system, upgrading your wardrobe doesn’t mean you will be purchasing clothes with designer labels, but being mindful of the message you send with what you are wearing is important.

A reality check is necessary here.  If you are at the elementary level, skirts and dresses for women and suits for men are impractical.  You frequently get down on the floor to work with kids.  However nice pant suits or their equivalent and ties and such for men are a subtle change that will be taken in subliminally as part of your message.

While you are unlikely to work on the floor with students in high school, the same suggestions can hold.  Most important at any level is to feel comfortable with what you wear. Jewelry that is too flashy and earrings with long dangles are generally to be avoided as they are distracting.

shoes2Shoes are another consideration.  High heels for women are impractical unless you are very accustomed to moving with them on. Sneakers, on the other hand, need to be carefully thought out.  Some are far too casual. Others might work depending on what the norms are in your building and district.  Although it’s not fair, men are more easily able to get away with them.

In becoming a leader, it pays to be mindful of things big and little.  You show your leadership in what you do and how you are and that is what is most important. But you don’t want the small things to take away or diminish in any way from how you are perceived.

Are you mindful of how you dress? Do you think it matters in your building and district?

(EDITOR’S NOTE Based on a section of Hilda’s forthcoming book Leading for School Librarians: There is No Option.)

ON LIBRARIES – To Be Valued and Valuable

the-future-starts-todayThe libraries, librarians, students and teachers of tomorrow — need you NOW.

I have been writing for school librarians since 1979.  I have been speaking and presenting to them for almost as long. Many would say those first years –1980’s and 1990’s – were a golden age for school librarians.  Certainly we weren’t seeing librarians being eliminated, but the times weren’t perfect and many of the seeds of today’s challenges were planted then.

While this look at the past may seem laden with doom and gloom, hang on.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  You can and must be part of the change. Yes, you are part of that light.

Articles in the early issues of School Librarian’s Workshop dealt with budget constraints.  Libraries still got money, but it was often cut.  Principals saw that large chunk of funds as a source for some of their pet projects.  And how did the librarians respond?  They complained to their fellow librarians.  “Woe is me. My principal doesn’t see the importance of the library program.”library-closed

Sound familiar? I would give a workshop at a state conference—usually my home state—and invariably one or more librarians would tell me, “My principal has no idea what I do.”  There is a connection between an administrator having no idea of what you do and not recognizing the importance of the library program. But too many librarians didn’t want to undertake more work to change perceptions.

Time and again, I was told by elementary librarians, “I am needed because I provide teachers with their contractual duty-free period.” The unsaid message was, “my position is secure.”  I would respond that times change and so do contracts.  The answer mostly fell on deaf ears.  These same librarians would also complain that teachers dropped their class off and came back to pick students up without caring about what happened during the “library period.”  “They think of me as a babysitter.”  Yet, the librarians did nothing pro-active to raise teacher awareness.

perceptionAt the high school level, more librarians had staff and reasonable budgets, but these were cut on occasion as well.  Teachers who liked libraries and had a project would bring their classes in. Some of them worked with the librarian.  So in a typical high school, English and History classes were likely to be the only ones who ever used the library.

High school librarians had rules.  I know of one situation where the two librarians would not schedule all the sections a teacher had for the same day. Too much work.  They only permitted teachers who gave them a copy of the students’ assignment to be sure the period wouldn’t be used to give the teacher a break.  Students were allowed in the library at lunch only if they had work to do.

This is not what school libraries are like to today, but this is what they were like for a long time and what teachers saw.  Librarians had a cushy job. A number of those teachers went on to be administrators.  They took their perceptions of the librarian and the school library program with them.

In 1997, Gary Hartzell wrote a two-part article for School Library Journal on “The Invisible Librarian.”  He pointed to the omission of the role of librarians in teacher training, the absence of librarians in many professional organizations, and the difficulty in measuring the value of librarians contributions. There was general agreement with Hartzell’s views.  Librarians saw it as confirmation that they were ignored and one positive result emerged.  Library researchers began investigating the contributions of a library program and developed ways to measure them. Those studies continue being made today. steve-martin

Unfortunately, most administrators and lawmakers don’t seem to care—or even know about them. They remember the librarians from their early career.  Sure they would have continued library programs and kept librarians, but then the economic crisis hit.  School budgets were slashed.  Time to cut the expendable and not vital. Library programs were a logical place to begin.

In the slashing of programs, many wonderful librarians with outstanding programs were eliminated.  We are all still reeling from how quickly we lost so much.  But bemoaning the past doesn’t get us anywhere. We need to learn from it and use the current scene as an opportunity to emerge better than ever.

The big lesson is, if the school community doesn’t know who you are, what you do, and why it is unique, they won’t value you.  If your principal doesn’t know what you do, how can he or she be expected to see you as vital to student learning and helping teachers teach their students critical thinking and the host of other information literacy skills which are integral to what we do?  You must always find creative ways to let your administrators know about student projects and activities you developed in collaboration, cooperation, or conjunction with teachers.

because-of-youYou must make your presence known.  It’s imperative that you step out of your comfort zone and become a leader in your building.  By working with teachers, helping make their jobs easier, showing them how to integrate tech into their lessons, you become invaluable to them.  They know what you do and want more of it.

Serve on building and district communities to show how you contribute. And finally, you must help other librarians in your district be leaders as well.  The past has shown us it’s not enough for one of you to be great.  The broom sweeps out everything at once.

You must do whatever you can to build that advocacy program.  Get ideas from the AASL Health and Wellness Toolkit. Look for programs on leadership and advocacy at your state association’s conference.  Re-read the blog from two weeks ago on mentorship—and become one.

And if you need an incentive, think of Elizabeth Warren’s quote: “If you aren’t at the table, you are probably on the menu.”

How are you demonstrating leadership? How are you building more leaders? How are you contributing to the future of school libraries?