Being Hospitable

I had to go to the bank recently. Not the ATM. I needed to talk to a live person, and it was more challenging than I expected. The first branch was closed, and the second had a line out the door. Fortunately, there was a greeter who asked what service I needed, then immediately took me to her desk. She listened attentively and let me know this could be handled expeditiously. Even when my business was complete, she continued our conversation, not rushing me out the door. When I left the bank, I was feeling extremely positive about the bank and the person I spoke with. She saw me, not just my concern. That’s hospitality. She had invited me into her “house” and made me feel welcome.

The library is your place. How do you welcome people into it? Hospitality is the ultimate in reaching out to others and making them feel comfortable, safe, and welcomed. It’s hard to measure which can cause it to be overlooked as a factor. Surveys help, but don’t reveal all the emotions, which is what the best hospitality generates. As school librarians, we work at creating a safe, welcoming place. Incorporating hospitality skills will add to that atmosphere.

It’s a concern for business as well, and Disney, an expert at delivering it, offers training sessions. I have commented on Disney’s Four Keys to a Great Guest Experience, which is written with employees in mind, and offer examples relating to our environment. The second and fourth are particularly important.

 Safety

  • I practice safe behaviors in everything I do. By following safe behaviors for COVID and other school safety issues, we model it for others.
  • I take action to always put safety first. We are often in a better position than classroom teachers to spot the bullying of students and make certain they feel safe in the library. We can also find ways to alert teachers and learn the needs of both students in a bullying dynamic.
  • I speak up to ensure the safety of Others. We step in when students use hateful speech, teaching about diversity and inclusion.  

Courtesy

  • I project a positive image and energy. Consciously projecting a positive image, especially in difficult times, improves our mindset and resilience.
  • I am courteous and respectful to Guests of all ages. We don’t cut off a conversation with a student when a teacher or administrator comes into the library. We practice active listening.
  • I go above and beyond to exceed Guest expectations. We don’t just help kids find the answers they were searching for. We guide them to go deeper and find the best answer, teaching them new technologies and making them aware of additional resources.

Show

  • I stay in character and perform my role in the show. Remember, you bring a unique view to your students, teachers, and administrators. Your role plays an important part in their success.
  • I ensure my area is show-ready at all times. This doesn’t mean neat and tidy. Libraries that are overly tidy tend to be libraries that aren’t used. It means that you have displays and materials that send their message of welcome and inclusion. Student work is present and celebrated.

Efficiency

  • I perform my role efficiently so Guests get the most out of their visit. In addition to doing your job efficiently, you bring your passion for it and your “guests” in your interactions. This allows them to get the most out of their time in the library.
  • I use my time and resources wisely. Plan, budget and develop programs with an eye to the future and a focus on your mission and vision. This brings the best of the library to those who have entered your “home”.

Not surprisingly, the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit segments of the economy in the pandemic. It relies on us being face-to-face. Even as we fumble our way to a new normal, we haven’t come close to pre-COVID levels of personal interactions that were a part of our daily lives. By bringing hospitality into our libraries, we can improve everyone’s experience. The more welcoming we are, the more our students and teachers will enjoy being there and come to understand how we are there for them.

ON LIBRARIES: Safety First

One of our cherished core values is that the library be a safe, welcoming space for all. The word “safe” is an umbrella term sheltering a broad variety of things we do and what we provide for others – and ourselves – from creating a collection with diverse books and resources to providing a sanctuary for those who sought to escape bullying and other torments of school. Today, COVID-19 is integral to our thoughts about safety. The pandemic has added an important layer of meaning to the term. No matter the aspect we are focusing on, safety is imperative for student learning and success, and we have to do all we can to ensure our libraries are safe.

Abraham Maslow first proposed his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. In the 77 years since, educators have gone from embracing it to ignoring it and then returning to it. The stages of this pyramid feel relevant again especially since the second level is Safety.

According to Maslow’s pyramid structure, until you have secured one level, you can’t move up to the next. The base includes your physiological needs for survival   — food, water, warmth, and rest. The financial impact of the virus is making this a challenge for more of our students and without it, they cannot move to Safety.

When we don’t feel safe, our cognitive processes shut down as the brain searches for ways to make us feel secure. Our students and staff are not feeling safe. While there is usually some percentage of our school population who feel threatened in some ways, we are faced with the entire population we support experiencing this which impacts everyone’s ability to move up to higher levels.

For the library to be a safe and welcoming place, we have to look out for our needs, take care of ourselves, and then address the needs of others. Executive Coach Ed Batista provides some direction in his article, Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World. He suggests that trying to control the uncontrollable and finding certainty in an uncertain world will not solve our problems. Instead, he recommends getting more in control of our emotions, which affect our worldview. To do so, he offers the acronym MESS as a path for regulating our emotions.

Mindfulness – Batista recommends 10 minutes (or more) of meditation a day as the best way to develop mindfulness. Whatever method works for you – sitting in mediation, walking, yoga – is an important place to start. It gives you the ability and opportunity to be aware of your emotions, and from there you can be more in control.

Exercise – Physical activity is important since, as Batista points out, your emotions are physiological before you even aware of them. Moving our body allows our emotions to move through us and allows us to be more aware and then more in control of them. Exercise allows us to be “better attuned” to our bodies. As a bonus – walking and yoga address both mindfulness and exercise.

Sleep – Your body requires it and racing thoughts makes it harder. The difference between a good and bad day can sometimes be as simple as how we slept the night before. When we’re not well rested, it’s harder to understand and manage our emotions. Just as you had a bedtime routine as a child, stick to one now – preferably one that gets you off your devices an hour or more before bed (e-readers not included but physical books at bedtime may be preferable).

Stress reduction –  Batista rightly points out that stress-free is not an option, and stress isn’t always inherently negative. Plan a big project and you’ll feel stress – but it’s worth it for the results you want. What’s important is noticing how you are responding to that stress. If your stress levels are increasing, look at the things that may contribute (the news and social media are likely high on that list). Step away from the things that aren’t supporting you and increase your time for meditation, exercise and sleep.

When we feel safe, when our emotions are not in a constant turmoil, we can make others feel safe. Life is not neat and tidy. It never was, and it is far from that now. So be a MESS to make your physical and virtual library a safe, welcoming space.

ON LIBRARIES: Teen Talk

Whether a teen is well-adjusted – or as well-adjusted as any teen can be – or one dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – they need an adult they can trust. And they need to find the library a safe, welcoming space.  For that to happen, you have to build a relationship with them. This starts with communication.  So, how do you open the conversation and build on it? If you are going to be successful at it, you should like the students and have empathy for the emotional stew in they are living in.

Having just completed the manuscript for my upcoming book Classroom Management for School Librarians, I am mindful of the importance of being able to reach teens.  Among mammals, the young adolescents push at the boundaries, learning their strengths and how far they can go before being stopped.  In our world, there is an underlying disagreement about how grown up they are.  Teens want to be treated as adults in the very areas adults think they are not ready.  At the same time, adults want teens to take on certain responsibilities that teens feel they shouldn’t have to do because they are still kids. It’s an ongoing challenge.

In the school setting, you rarely get involved in the same sort of push-pull tension that occurs between teens and parents.  However, you do have to get past any resistance they may have to you and to school in general. The best way to reach them and create a relationship is to interact with them as adults, while being quietly mindful that there are areas where they are still decidedly kids.

In a post on We Are Teachers, Alexandra Frost explains Four Ways to Show Teens Respect So You Can Earn It from Them.

Treat your students like an old friend you enjoy hanging out with – This is about talking with the students not at them.  A brief conversation when they are in the library, or even smiling as you see then enter creates connection.  You are letting them know you see them as a person.Do be careful here.  You are not their buddy.  You are still an adult, but hopefully one they can trust.

Ask something not “basic” – The conversation may be brief, but it shouldn’t be superficial. “How are you doing?” is not a good opening.  You are most likely to get a one-word answer.  A better question is, “What are you working on?” Or “What is your favorite app?  I learn so much from my students.”  Once you get to know them better, you can ask about upcoming plans or a movie they have seen.

Be awesome in your field – You are awesome, but you need to share it.  If you have found a great website or app, say, “Do you have a minute?  I have something to show you?”  Follow up with “Let me know what you think of it.” Not only will this keep the conversation going, you get clues as to what the student finds interesting – or not.  Give them a book you think they will love. Of course, be there to help and guide as they work on academic or personal explorations.  You are a master in the field, and they will appreciate your knowledge as long as you are not treating them as though they know nothing.

Use courtesies you would with a coworker – Show respect and you receive respect. When you interrupt a conversation with a student to help an adult, you are showing the student they are not as valuable. Be mindful. When you are giving a direction, say “Please.” Offer “thank you” when necessary.  These are small things, but students notice and it sets up positive expectations for future interactions.

That’s four suggestions, but Frost gives one more, and it’s my favorite.

Show them your mistakes – Let them know you are human and show them how to handle mistakes. When you do that, you are also teaching them that failure is a part of life and wise people learn from it.

In your dealing with teens, you want to be a role model for a caring, trustworthy adult.  In showing them the respect they crave, you will make them feel safe and welcome in the library and with you.

ON LIBRARIES – Building Relationships with Students

Students are our priority. No matter what else we do, what programs we create, what books we choose, everything we do in some way should further their development as lifelong learners, users, and producers of knowledge. We build relationships with teachers because they are the gateway to the students, but we also must build direct connections to students.

We want the library to be viewed as a safe, welcoming environment for all.  For students to feel safe and welcomed a relationship needs to be in place.  Students need to see you as a trusted adult with whom they feel safe in asking questions of all types.  Students (and adults as well) tend to avoid displaying ignorance and so may shy away from asking for help.  We know it’s in the questions that we all learn and grow so creating a place where they can ask is important.

To begin, smiles are an obvious way to welcome all. It’s not just for the opening week but how you want to always greet students and teachers.  Think positive thoughts as you do so to ensure your smiles are seen as real.

Using proper names is a good next step.  Unlike smiles, these can be a challenge for librarians because we have the entire population to learn.  In a large school, it is probably impossible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep working at it. Try to add at least five or six names each week.

Sometimes we get help. Elementary librarians should have rosters for their classes.  Mark it with the correct pronunciation and students’ preferred nicknames.  You can use tents, fixed seating, and other similar techniques for the first few weeks until you learn names.

For middle and high school librarians who see students mainly as teachers bring their classes in, you can have them introduce themselves the first time.  There are a number of mnemonic tricks online to help you remember but apologize in advance because you will be asking them to repeat their names as you work to learn them.  You will soon know any regulars by name. And show your willingness to not know something by asking students to repeat their names when necessary.

Brief conversations can also help you remember names. Orientations are a good time to start.  Don’t ask kids what they did during the summer.  Some had terrible ones and are thrilled to be back where it’s safe. Instead, ask, “What do you want to learn this year?” It’s an excellent way to learn about their interests. Use their names in conversations to help you learn.

In ASCD’s May issue of Educational Leadership, Mary Ann Ware and Jodi Rath wrote an article entitled “4 Must-Haves for Positive Teacher-Teen Relationships.”  Although targeted toward high school, their recommendations work with even the youngest students.  You are probably implementing some of them even unconsciously. Their four must-haves are:

Consistency – Students need to have routines and boundaries.  It makes them feel safe if they can count on how you will react to situations and their behavior.  It helps them develop their own self-discipline.

Respect – Everyone deserves it. You will never get it if you don’t give it. Kids will reflect back to you what you demonstrate towards them. Be mindful of interrupting a conversation with a student in order to respond to an adult who came into the library.

High Expectations – Show you believe in students by letting them know you expect them to perform well.  You are still there to guide and coach them to reach their goals, but you don’t make things easy.  There is pride in completing a difficult task. This builds their self-confidence and motivates them to continue tackling other challenges.  Acknowledge their achievements specifically including their perseverance when things didn’t go right.

Kindness – The world is a tough place, and school is often no different. There are articles now about burnout in kindergarten. Be observant and note when a student seems distressed and, if possible, quietly ask about it. They may need to just be by themselves for a bit or sometimes talk to someone.  Your noticing and taking the time to reach out is how the library becomes a sanctuary and safe haven for so many students.

Your students are your priority and your advocates.  How you treat them and how they feel about you becomes known to their parents and teachers.  But most importantly, by building positive relationships with them you help them become global citizens who embrace learning and growing.