ON LIBRARIES: How Leaders Learn

Just as you continue to increase your knowledge of technology, you also need to increase your understanding of what makes a leader successful.  And when this knowledge becomes integrated into your practice, you’re a better leader.  Leaders stand out. When you are a leader, you stand out.  Others watch you.  To continue to be viewed as a leader, you need to up your game.  As you well know, if you are standing still, you are likely are falling behind.

In past blogs, in my books, and at presentations and workshops, I have discussed leadership qualities including leading with integrity, being a team player, having a sense of humor, and being a visionary/risk taker.  No doubt these are basic as are some others.  Working on these qualities do help you become a better leader, but there are behaviors that are also essential.

One aspect of leadership that is rarely discussed is how leaders continue to learn and grow.  Lolly Deskoll whose posts I have discussed before explains How the Best Leaders Invest in Themselves. She offers seven ways for you to do that.

  1. They’re open to feedback As much as we want to know the truth, egos are sensitive things. We don’t like hearing negative comments even when they are objective and helpful. Sure, we ask for feedback, but how do ask for it?  For example, if you say, “Did you like the way the class went?” chances are you’ll only get one-word answers.  It might have gone well, but that is not necessarily the whole story, and if you want to improve, you need to get legitimate feedback.  Instead, say, “What did you think I could have done better?” or “What do you think was helpful and what wasn’t?” And remember – some feedback will be positive.
  2. They’re always readingThis is easy for us, but it depends on what you are reading. Deskoll notes that Bill Gates regularly goes on retreats and reads 20 books.  I get several “SmartBriefs” in my Gmail.  While some are educational, many are business and tech related.  It is from the business ones that I get a new perspective on development (including today’s topic). I also am a member of ASCD.  Not only do I get e-newsletters, I also get their magazine Educational Learning.It’s how I keep up with what supervisors and administrators are interested in. Find new things to read that will inspire you from a new perspective.
  3. They learn from their mistakes – Although we teach our students the importance of failure, it doesn’t feel the same when it happens to us. But you never grow without risks and there’s always a chance a risk won’t pan out. You also can learn from the mistakes of others. I even observe this with corporate America.  The ones who try to cover up their mistakes end up in worse shape than if they hadn’t tried to hide it.  Those who own up to what went wrong and have a plan of action to make changes gain the confidence of their customers and come back from the failure stronger than ever.
  4. They grow their network No one understands what goes into being a school librarian the way other librarians do. The more librarians you have in your PLN, the better able you are to deal with new challenges – and bounce back from setbacks. There are many Facebook groups for librarians.  Join them.  If you are not a member of your state library association, you are cheating yourself and your students from a valuable source of help.  And if at all possible, you need to belong to a national association. As you know, I am very active in ALA/AASL and I continue to learn from it. I know I wouldn’t have become the leader I am without my participation.  I’ve chosen to belong to ISTE as well. I’m not active, but their journal keeps me informed.
  5. They know how to ask questions In general, leaders are big picture people. It’s a necessary part of being visionary. That means they sometimes overlook details, and, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.”  Asking the people you work with to look over your ideas and critique them is not a sign of weakness or even insecurity.  It is recognizing their value and showing you know that no one has all the answers.  Good leaders know their strengths – and also know their weaknesses.  They look to others to fill in the spaces where they aren’t strong. It also creates places for collaboration.
  6. They make time for reflectionI admit this has always been hard for me.  Fortunately, I discovered walking.  When you are so busy, it seems like a waste of time to step away from the tasks at hand, but in actuality it is the pause in the day that rejuvenates and can inspire you. Deepak Chopra once said people who don’t have time to meditate once a day should meditate twice a day. Find a way that works for you such as keeping a journal, coloring or knitting.
  7. They have a coach A coach or mentor is an invaluable resource. I have had a few over the years, although I never put a name to the relationship. I don’t have a specific person now, but I do have a number of “go-to” people I reach out to when I have a question. Who is a leader you admire? Is there someone in your PLN who seems to be very knowledgeable in an area that concerns you? Consider asking that person to be your coach/mentor.  It might surprise you to discover that some of the major leaders in the field are willing to help you.

Strong leaders are lifelong learners – something we librarians do naturally. These behaviors aren’t new tasks – they are new places to learn. And always make time for yourself.  Remember you are a human being—not a human doing.

ON LIBRARIES – Leaders are Lifelong Learners

Invariably, I come across articles on the qualities of leaders.  Over the years, my list of these qualities has been slowly growing and I pass the knowledge along in my presentations, books, and blog posts.

It recently occurred to me I have never seen lifelong learning given as a leadership quality. The more I thought about it though, the more I felt perhaps it was such an obvious trait many simply overlooked it.  You can’t be a leader if you are not growing. You need to know as much as you can about the world and community you inhabit so you can be prepared for changes and, in many cases, be the change agent.

In most of our Mission Statements, we as librarians refer to empowering students to become lifelong learners.  We sometimes forget we are an important model of lifelong learning. We can’t help it. It’s vital for our jobs.

If you look back twenty years or more, you can see that teachers’ jobs have changed to a degree while much remains the same. For example, the focus and reliance on PARCC testing are onerous for them and us, but standardized tests have always been with us. Chalkboards are gone replaced by smartboards, but the purpose is the same.  The specific technology is what has altered.  Desks may not be in rows as they once were, yet in most classes, you still find the teacher in front of the room.

By contrast, our jobs have altered drastically. For us, we live the message of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who said, “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” Most of us start our day on a run and never slow up.

You work at being Instructional Partners with teachers and that takes effort whether you try to coordinate with their units at the elementary level or find ways to collaborate at the middle and high school.  You look for websites, apps, and other resources they can use with their students and offer it to them freely.  You may even send out a newsletter or an e-mail blast to share a new tool, offering to show them how to use it with their classes.

And how do you find out about those resources? By building your Professional Learning Network. You use what AASL offers.  You belong to several librarian Facebook groups.  You join librarian Twitter chats.  You are on the lookout for what’s new and possibly better than what you have been using. It’s exhausting and exhilarating – depending on the day.

Because librarians have more one-on-one interactions with students, we learn from our students more frequently than teachers do.  When I went to school, world history didn’t go farther east than Egypt and Africa had no past before Stanley and Livingstone. Working with my students on their research papers, I learned as much as they did. From a student doing a math research paper, I learned that Arabic numerals came from India.  While subject teachers are aware of new developments in their field, I was learning about them in all areas.

My students have often taught me about technology.  They love sharing and realizing they know more than I do. They enjoy seeing me learn as much as I enjoy watching them.

As a librarian, I love learning.  By showing them I am a lifelong learner, they, too, embrace the concept. We don’t “teach” lifelong learning, we model it. 

A librarian once said to me, “We shouldn’t be called library media specialists.  We are library media generalists.”  Quite true.  While we each have our preferred subject areas and reading tastes, we are always eager to learn—whatever the subject.

Are you modeling lifelong learning? Where do you go to discover what’s new – and what’s next? What have you learned from your students?

ON LIBRARIES: On The Level

reading is a windowThe very first “Common Belief” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world” noting that it’s a “foundational skill in learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”  I want to focus primarily on the last word—enjoyment. As school librarians we are committed to guiding our students to become lifelong readers. We recognize the habit only develops when they find reading is a pleasurable experience.

Over the past years a few developments in education are making it difficult for us to carry out this critical role. Most recently, Lexiles and leveling have invaded the library and students are being steered away from what they want to read and are being directed toward what they “ought” to read. Elementary librarians are being told to “level” their libraries in the misguided belief it will improve student scores on tests and make them more college ready.

What many don’t realize, is this is a giant step backwards. In the mid-20th century, library shelves were labeled by grade level and students were required to only select books from the appropriate shelf. It didn’t work. Some students read above or below their grade level and others wanted different books.  And libraries changed.window to the world

Now we are heading back to those times. Granted teachers determine individual levels for students so students are expected to read at their current Lexile level, but tit overlooks the core reason the old system didn’t work.  Restrictions on reading, interferes with enjoyment.

I have no problem with teachers using Lexiles for instructional purposes in the classroom.  I recognize the underlying reason Common Core assigned Lexile ranges for each grade level.  Students do need to be challenged and encouraged to stretch. That is what learning is about.

What is being overlooked is enjoyment.  Reading for pleasure should not be work.  It’s about relaxing, choosing what is of interest to you, and learning without being aware it is happening.  I have never liked the “5 finger rule” for choosing a book.  If I had difficulty reading five words on every page, I would read the book.  Reading should be fun (an alien concept in schools today).

When having freedom to choose, students for the most part select a book below their instructional level. This makes perfect sense.  There are students who also want a book far above their instructional level. If they love a sport, for example, they don’t care how hard the book is. They will struggle through it to get what they want.  They may not finish it.  There is no requirement to finish something chosen for fun.  How many young people read Harry Potter books even when it was “too hard” for them?

are you there gdice magicForcing students to always be “stretching” when reading for pleasure, is a sure way to turn them off reading.  It is especially true for those who aren’t fond of reading in the first place.  I can remember the books that enticed my own children to become readers.  Both of them developed the reading habit because they read the one book that “spoke” to them.  For my daughter it was Judy Blume.  For my son, it was Ice Magic by Matt Christopher, which was at least one year below his instructional level.

Accelerated Reader and similar programs, while not as damaging to developing lifelong readers, also interfere with pleasurable reading. Students seeking to earn as many points as they can, will pass over a book that interests them if its point value isn’t high enough.  They will ignore books they might like if it doesn’t have an assigned point value.  Reading for points is not the way to make reading a habit. The purpose from the student’s perspective is not pleasure it is competition.

When parents read to their children, the association of reading and good times is built.  When librarians make story time a pleasurable experience the connection is reinforced.  When a librarian helps a student find the perfect book, the habit of a lifetime begins.

What can you as a librarian do if you are told to level your library?  Be the leader you need to be. Don’t accept the directive without explaining why it isn’t in the best interest of students.  Show administrators Keith Curry Lance’s studies on reading.  Share this blog also. If they still insist, see if you can get them to agree to leveling shelves for teachers who can direct students to them and keeping other shelves open.  This way students can take one leveled book and at least one of their own choosing.

We are all about creating lifelong readers.  Is your library leveled?