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The TXLA conference in Austin last week provided a plethora of learning opportunities for librarians!  I’ll be sharing a few notes over the next two blog posts.

First off, I attended a paid preconference – “Use Your Library Voice: Personalizing Advocacy”.  This preconference has the unusual opportunity when the conference is in Austin of taking the attendees to the capitol to actually lobby their legislators at the end of the day.  (While I was unable to do that, I did catch part of the preconference).

The session provided a real treat to hear Seth Turner, a guest speaker from the Congressional Management Foundation, an organization that helps manage a functioning Congress. (I was unaware this organization even existed, so hearing how they work with Congress was illuminating!) The foundation works “directly with Members of Congress and staff to enhance their operations and interactions with constituents. CMF works directly with citizen groups to educate them on how Congress works, giving constituents a stronger voice in policy outcomes.”

Turner spent time outlining what the life of a Congressperson is like, from the long hours to the exploding volume of email, to the fact that their staffing ratio was set in 1974 and hasn’t increased since then.  All of which is to say – if you want to get “through” to your Congressperson, you have to seek impactful ways to do that.

What’s the best way to impact your Congressperson, according to surveys conducting by the CMF?  What does influence their decisions?

Form email  3%
Visit w/lobbyist 8%
Individualized email messages  30%
Contacts from Constituents’ representatives 46% (someone who knows part of a larger community)
In person visits from constituents 54%

Obviously, we can’t all make in person visits, but individualized emails have much greater impact than form emails, for example.  Form emails do little good at all.  Phone calls can be effective if you can get past the initial person answering the phone and ask for a legislative aide who is in charge of a particular issue.

Turner suggests building a relationship with the office – either by phone, mail, or in person.  He also mentions that contacting your local area office might be more effective than a D.C. office, because typically a state director has a longer tenure than other staff, and so that relationship can pay off for longer.

Who to get to know?

Chief of Staff 23%
Scheduler 25%
Get to know the STATE director 62%  (tenure is about 11 years)
Legislative assistant  79%  who has jurisdiction over your issue

When trying to build a relationship, there are some helpful reminders:

  1. Business cards: Don’t leave without theirs (so you can get their direct email) and if you’ve met with them, it’s personal
  2. Keep emails short and concise with a bullet point, signature.
  3. Subject line important – make it something they will open and searchable.
  4. Think about how the email looks on a mobile device.
  5. Right information at the right time.  What is on the agenda right now?
  6. Say thank you and not just when angry.
  7. Nights and weekends are good times to send an email.
  8. Also, mine your acquaintances — do you know anyone who knows someone in Congress or in their office?

He shared that 80% of people who meet with Congress are not prepared; only 78% are partly prepared.

Develop a profile of your legislators interests — what are their causes, what legislation have they sponsored, what committees are they assigned to, and what schools did they attend?  Use this knowledge to help make connections with them.

Know what legislators need to know:

  1. What action do you want them to take?
  2. What impacts will it have (numbers, maps)?
  3. What are personal stories that relate to this cause? (he reminded us of the deep impact of stories).

Remember the elements of a story (but to keep it short and to the point):

7 elements of a story

  1. Begin with end in mind(what is relevant to the goal).
  2. Set the stage (what are the stakes; context).
  3. Paint the pictures (details-visual, “on the scene” details).
  4. Describe the fight – the struggles (that might be the result of legislation that person could change).
  5. Include a surprise (teaching opportunity- Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader).
  6. Introduce the potential for success and joy- invite lawmaker to be part of winning team.
  7. Finish with a hook (catchy).

(This reminds me to recommend Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick which elaborates on how to tell a story that sticks.)

Lastly, follow up! Don’t neglect extending the connection you made.

  1. Before a meeting, block time on calendar for followup.
  2. Recruit a colleague to be the details person.
  3. Plan thank you communications in advance (email and social media?)
  4. Consider how to get staff to ask about some document you are carrying, “Can you send me that?” — make the report look well loved and refer to it.  Can I get a copy of that? results in a followup connection that helps build your relationship.

Turner’s insights into advocacy were very helpful and based on research their group does about Congress or by interviewing Congressional staff. It was fascinating how their perceptions of their work and the general public’s perception differ, so his session was very illuminating.

While these don’t all apply to lobbying at the state level, most of them do, and some tips could even carry over to working within your own district.

For more info, you can follow the Congressional Management office on Twitter @congressFDN.

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The TXLA conference in Austin last week provided a plethora of learning opportunities for librarians!  I’ll be sharing a few notes over the next two blog posts.

First off, I attended a paid preconference – “Use Your Library Voice: Personalizing Advocacy”.  This preconference has the unusual opportunity when the conference is in Austin of taking the attendees to the capitol to actually lobby their legislators at the end of the day.  (While I was unable to do that, I did catch part of the preconference).

The session provided a real treat to hear Seth Turner, a guest speaker from the Congressional Management Foundation, an organization that helps manage a functioning Congress. (I was unaware this organization even existed, so hearing how they work with Congress was illuminating!) The foundation works “directly with Members of Congress and staff to enhance their operations and interactions with constituents. CMF works directly with citizen groups to educate them on how Congress works, giving constituents a stronger voice in policy outcomes.”

Turner spent time outlining what the life of a Congressperson is like, from the long hours to the exploding volume of email, to the fact that their staffing ratio was set in 1974 and hasn’t increased since then.  All of which is to say – if you want to get “through” to your Congressperson, you have to seek impactful ways to do that.

What’s the best way to impact your Congressperson, according to surveys conducting by the CMF?  What does influence their decisions?

Form email  3%
Visit w/lobbyist 8%
Individualized email messages  30%
Contacts from Constituents’ representatives 46% (someone who knows part of a larger community)
In person visits from constituents 54%

Obviously, we can’t all make in person visits, but individualized emails have much greater impact than form emails, for example.  Form emails do little good at all.  Phone calls can be effective if you can get past the initial person answering the phone and ask for a legislative aide who is in charge of a particular issue.

Turner suggests building a relationship with the office – either by phone, mail, or in person.  He also mentions that contacting your local area office might be more effective than a D.C. office, because typically a state director has a longer tenure than other staff, and so that relationship can pay off for longer.

Who to get to know?

Chief of Staff 23%
Scheduler 25%
Get to know the STATE director 62%  (tenure is about 11 years)
Legislative assistant  79%  who has jurisdiction over your issue

When trying to build a relationship, there are some helpful reminders:

  1. Business cards: Don’t leave without theirs (so you can get their direct email) and if you’ve met with them, it’s personal
  2. Keep emails short and concise with a bullet point, signature.
  3. Subject line important – make it something they will open and searchable.
  4. Think about how the email looks on a mobile device.
  5. Right information at the right time.  What is on the agenda right now?
  6. Say thank you and not just when angry.
  7. Nights and weekends are good times to send an email.
  8. Also, mine your acquaintances — do you know anyone who knows someone in Congress or in their office?

He shared that 80% of people who meet with Congress are not prepared; only 78% are partly prepared.

Develop a profile of your legislators interests — what are their causes, what legislation have they sponsored, what committees are they assigned to, and what schools did they attend?  Use this knowledge to help make connections with them.

Know what legislators need to know:

  1. What action do you want them to take?
  2. What impacts will it have (numbers, maps)?
  3. What are personal stories that relate to this cause? (he reminded us of the deep impact of stories).

Remember the elements of a story (but to keep it short and to the point):

7 elements of a story

  1. Begin with end in mind(what is relevant to the goal).
  2. Set the stage (what are the stakes; context).
  3. Paint the pictures (details-visual, “on the scene” details).
  4. Describe the fight – the struggles (that might be the result of legislation that person could change).
  5. Include a surprise (teaching opportunity- Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader).
  6. Introduce the potential for success and joy- invite lawmaker to be part of winning team.
  7. Finish with a hook (catchy).

(This reminds me to recommend Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick which elaborates on how to tell a story that sticks.)

Lastly, follow up! Don’t neglect extending the connection you made.

  1. Before a meeting, block time on calendar for followup.
  2. Recruit a colleague to be the details person.
  3. Plan thank you communications in advance (email and social media?)
  4. Consider how to get staff to ask about some document you are carrying, “Can you send me that?” — make the report look well loved and refer to it.  Can I get a copy of that? results in a followup connection that helps build your relationship.

Turner’s insights into advocacy were very helpful and based on research their group does about Congress or by interviewing Congressional staff. It was fascinating how their perceptions of their work and the general public’s perception differ, so his session was very illuminating.

While these don’t all apply to lobbying at the state level, most of them do, and some tips could even carry over to working within your own district.

For more info, you can follow the Congressional Management office on Twitter @congressFDN.

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As always, my taste at #SXSWEdu run towards an eclectic mixture of topics – from library related to teaching to technology to policy to…..well, you get the idea! I love browsing the SXSWEdu bookstore for ideas since it’s an amazing curation of all the authors speaking at their conference!  Here’s a couple I picked up(and a few more that are on my future shopping list!)

The first title is Nonobvious: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future(Rohit Bhargava).   I love reading about trends that might impact libraries and thinking about how to translate them into practical ideas.  The book is not only a list of new trends for 2019, but even more valuable, it provides suggestions for how to do your own “trendspotting.” It also suggests how to apply trends and then the appendix shares Bhargava’s lists of past trends.

And yes, though it’s a business book, how could I fail to love a book that starts out mentioning the Dewey Decimal system, and later adds that “curators add meaning to isolated beautiful things”?

The second book I picked up was Mindful by Design(Caitlin Krause).  I met Caitlin at a session at SXSWEdu with Steve Dembo – they led a great campfire discussion called “VR is Visceral” which was a fascinating discussion of what is real and how to navigate the moral and ethical questions that face us with AR, VR, and MR development.  I was surprised(at first) to learn that she was the author of Mindful by Design which shares mindfulness activities for teachers and for their students.

She defines mindfulness and makes suggestions for space design, too.  For teachers, the goal is to offer practical exercises that can be helpful as we try to maintain balance during stressful and overcommitted times.   The last section is on mindfulness in the classroom(and community) and again, offers a series of very clear exercises that can be practically used with students in the classroom. Krause sagely points out that “meaningful exchanges in a classroom are build upon a firm foundation of trust and respect.”

(A related book I wanted to share is Calm(Michael Acton Smith)  We’ve been exploring the tremendous CALM app recently, which is now free for educators (a bargain). They also have a book entitled Calm, which shares wonderful ideas and inspirations that could be incorporated into any classroom or library. It’s great in combination with Caitlin’s book.)

Three other books that grabbed my eye at the SXSWEdu bookstore were Team Human(Douglas Rushkoff), The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time(Maria Konnikova), and Making & Tinkering with Stem: Solving Design Challenges with Young Children.(Cate Heroman).  And for you geeky designer types who like to venture away from education types of titles, I fell in love with the Product Field Reference Guide(Klaus-Peter Frahm) — sort of a field book for design in a drafting format.

There were of course so many other titles, and not enough time in the bookstore (as always)!  Now I just wish I could get into the main #SXSW bookstore too!

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As always, my taste at #SXSWEdu run towards an eclectic mixture of topics – from library related to teaching to technology to policy to…..well, you get the idea! I love browsing the SXSWEdu bookstore for ideas since it’s an amazing curation of all the authors speaking at their conference!  Here’s a couple I picked up(and a few more that are on my future shopping list!)

The first title is Nonobvious: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future(Rohit Bhargava).   I love reading about trends that might impact libraries and thinking about how to translate them into practical ideas.  The book is not only a list of new trends for 2019, but even more valuable, it provides suggestions for how to do your own “trendspotting.” It also suggests how to apply trends and then the appendix shares Bhargava’s lists of past trends.

And yes, though it’s a business book, how could I fail to love a book that starts out mentioning the Dewey Decimal system, and later adds that “curators add meaning to isolated beautiful things”?

The second book I picked up was Mindful by Design(Caitlin Krause).  I met Caitlin at a session at SXSWEdu with Steve Dembo – they led a great campfire discussion called “VR is Visceral” which was a fascinating discussion of what is real and how to navigate the moral and ethical questions that face us with AR, VR, and MR development.  I was surprised(at first) to learn that she was the author of Mindful by Design which shares mindfulness activities for teachers and for their students.

She defines mindfulness and makes suggestions for space design, too.  For teachers, the goal is to offer practical exercises that can be helpful as we try to maintain balance during stressful and overcommitted times.   The last section is on mindfulness in the classroom(and community) and again, offers a series of very clear exercises that can be practically used with students in the classroom. Krause sagely points out that “meaningful exchanges in a classroom are build upon a firm foundation of trust and respect.”

(A related book I wanted to share is Calm(Michael Acton Smith)  We’ve been exploring the tremendous CALM app recently, which is now free for educators (a bargain). They also have a book entitled Calm, which shares wonderful ideas and inspirations that could be incorporated into any classroom or library. It’s great in combination with Caitlin’s book.)

Three other books that grabbed my eye at the SXSWEdu bookstore were Team Human(Douglas Rushkoff), The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time(Maria Konnikova), and Making & Tinkering with Stem: Solving Design Challenges with Young Children.(Cate Heroman).  And for you geeky designer types who like to venture away from education types of titles, I fell in love with the Product Field Reference Guide(Klaus-Peter Frahm) — sort of a field book for design in a drafting format.

There were of course so many other titles, and not enough time in the bookstore (as always)!  Now I just wish I could get into the main #SXSW bookstore too!

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Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a panel of librarians at the Educational Books & Media Association conference in Austin, Texas.  Why were librarians there?  It was an experiment to allow publishers to get more in touch with how librarians discover book titles and how our ordering processes work.

photo by Rich Dupre

Whenever we have the opportunity to build bridges between librarians and other professionals it is a great chance for improved understandings!  (This is an example of why saying “yes” leads to unexpected learning opportunities.)

It was also a great opportunity for me personally to be reflective about what my own methods were for gathering book titles for orders and thinking about how books get my attention.  So–a big ask — I am sharing  this in the hopes that you will respond to this post and share YOUR habits so that publishers can learn from more than just our one panel!

What gets your attention?  How do you find books?  How do books find you?  (including audiobooks and ebooks?).   Check out some of the questions below and share your comments, too, so we can all learn from each other.

Questions to reflect on:

  • What catches your eye?  How do new books get your attention?
  • How do you decide on what books you purchase?  How big a role do curriculum connections play in what you buy?
  • Role of ebooks in. your decision making?
  • Would webinars or online presentations of new titles (like book buzz) be helpful?
  • How often do you like to receive information about new books? Is there a difference between information for fiction and non-fiction titles?
  • How important are reviews to your purchasing decisions? Have you ever read a publisher’s ad in a journal/magazine and made a decision to purchase based on it?
  • Do you attend library shows at the regional/state/national level? How useful do you find this in determining what titles to purchase?
  • Do you prefer print catalogues or emails to learn about upcoming titles or featured products?  What other methods would you like to see?
  • Do you use social media for libraries? If yes, have you ever made a purchasing decision based on a post or a tweet from a publisher?
  • Do you use any electronic preview tools like Edelweiss or Netgalley or others?  What’s your process?
  • What  gaps do you see in children’s/YA publishing?
  • Do you see any trends starting to surface …at the elementary school level? Middle school? High school?
  • Are you being asked for other languages? If yes, would you like to see the books as a bilingual edition?
  • Are your purchases influenced by teachers or students or do they have input into the process?

Hope you can share your reflections in the comments area below on how you pay attention to purchasing!

My own habits?

I realized in sharing that I have a variety of ways I engage with book titles.  There’s no one “route” I take but seek discovery in many streams.  Just like we share what the library has to offer in many different marketing ways, I similarly “discover” new book titles and publishers through many different avenues.

One thing that is really helpful to me since my job has several different roles  is sessions at conferences that are overviews of many upcoming
titles, or book talks, or author panels.  I love skimming booths at conferences for Starred Titles or other titles of interest(though often my time at the exhibit hall is very short).  I like getting very targeted fliers – best new graphic novels, best new SEL titles, etc. that I can grab and go, or if they come in the mail, I can set them aside for when ordering.  I do use ads in School Library Journal and other magazines to alert me to titles that might be of interest.  I take note of books on booklists and state award lists, definitely, and do order many of those.

Social media and influencers

I notice books recommended by influencers within our field, too…people like Jennifer LaGarde and Andy Plemmons in particular. Because I know colleagues like the two of them have exemplary tastes, I pay attention to their recommendations.   I notice posts on social media, whether they be Twitter photos, Instagram, or Facebook comments on book titles.

Online trail – Email and newsletters 

Like some of you, I’m inundated with emails, so often I never have time to peruse newsletters I sign up for.  They have to have a very unique voice like Book Riot’s to get through to my “reading list”- but the ones that DO make my list, I regularly read.  They have to be short enough to consume in one sitting, link to good content, and inform me about more than just a good book.

I do look through catalogs at peak ordering time – particularly at nonfiction titles when trying to fill gaps.  I use Amazon best seller lists and GoodRead recommendation lists also as a discovery tool for titles in certain categories.  As I said, I do cast my net pretty widely when discovering titles.

Student and Teacher voices

Titles that students and teachers recommend always go on my ordering list.  Units they are working on change from year to year, so being sure that I have the books they require or titles they want to read is of paramount importance.  We keep a student suggestion line open for students and send out periodic requests to teachers for new titles they would like us to add.  We want to create a culture that feels communal in terms of purchasing.

Trends I’ve noticed lately?

#Weneeddiversebooks of course is a huge influence, and more and more diverse and authentic titles are coming out. Also SEL titles are being requested at our elementary libraries, and with several new Spanish immersion campuses in our district, Spanish titles, in particular, are needed.  STEM titles are still big and there’s still a need for #LGBTQ titles.   We also need more well written dystopian series with nontraditional male leads and more YA fiction that incorporates video gaming and technology naturally into the content – fantasy/sci fi especially.  Authentic voices are a big trend which is such a positive — the titles that are surfacing aren’t copycats or formulas, they are authentic stories by authentic writers who have compelling stories to tell.  I encourage publishers not to resort to easy “formula” books but to make their more authentic books discoverable by thoughtful lists shared with librarians.  Submitting your book titles for state awards lists are a way to get them noticed as well.

What are your preferences and processes?  Would love to have you share in the comments section below!  Or write your own blog post and ping me so we’ll keep this thread going!

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Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a panel of librarians at the Educational Books & Media Association conference in Austin, Texas.  Why were librarians there?  It was an experiment to allow publishers to get more in touch with how librarians discover book titles and how our ordering processes work.

photo by Rich Dupre

Whenever we have the opportunity to build bridges between librarians and other professionals it is a great chance for improved understandings!  (This is an example of why saying “yes” leads to unexpected learning opportunities.)

It was also a great opportunity for me personally to be reflective about what my own methods were for gathering book titles for orders and thinking about how books get my attention.  So–a big ask — I am sharing  this in the hopes that you will respond to this post and share YOUR habits so that publishers can learn from more than just our one panel!

What gets your attention?  How do you find books?  How do books find you?  (including audiobooks and ebooks?).   Check out some of the questions below and share your comments, too, so we can all learn from each other.

Questions to reflect on:

  • What catches your eye?  How do new books get your attention?
  • How do you decide on what books you purchase?  How big a role do curriculum connections play in what you buy?
  • Role of ebooks in. your decision making?
  • Would webinars or online presentations of new titles (like book buzz) be helpful?
  • How often do you like to receive information about new books? Is there a difference between information for fiction and non-fiction titles?
  • How important are reviews to your purchasing decisions? Have you ever read a publisher’s ad in a journal/magazine and made a decision to purchase based on it?
  • Do you attend library shows at the regional/state/national level? How useful do you find this in determining what titles to purchase?
  • Do you prefer print catalogues or emails to learn about upcoming titles or featured products?  What other methods would you like to see?
  • Do you use social media for libraries? If yes, have you ever made a purchasing decision based on a post or a tweet from a publisher?
  • Do you use any electronic preview tools like Edelweiss or Netgalley or others?  What’s your process?
  • What  gaps do you see in children’s/YA publishing?
  • Do you see any trends starting to surface …at the elementary school level? Middle school? High school?
  • Are you being asked for other languages? If yes, would you like to see the books as a bilingual edition?
  • Are your purchases influenced by teachers or students or do they have input into the process?

Hope you can share your reflections in the comments area below on how you pay attention to purchasing!

My own habits?

I realized in sharing that I have a variety of ways I engage with book titles.  There’s no one “route” I take but seek discovery in many streams.  Just like we share what the library has to offer in many different marketing ways, I similarly “discover” new book titles and publishers through many different avenues.

One thing that is really helpful to me since my job has several different roles  is sessions at conferences that are overviews of many upcoming
titles, or book talks, or author panels.  I love skimming booths at conferences for Starred Titles or other titles of interest(though often my time at the exhibit hall is very short).  I like getting very targeted fliers – best new graphic novels, best new SEL titles, etc. that I can grab and go, or if they come in the mail, I can set them aside for when ordering.  I do use ads in School Library Journal and other magazines to alert me to titles that might be of interest.  I take note of books on booklists and state award lists, definitely, and do order many of those.

Social media and influencers

I notice books recommended by influencers within our field, too…people like Jennifer LaGarde and Andy Plemmons in particular. Because I know colleagues like the two of them have exemplary tastes, I pay attention to their recommendations.   I notice posts on social media, whether they be Twitter photos, Instagram, or Facebook comments on book titles.

Online trail – Email and newsletters 

Like some of you, I’m inundated with emails, so often I never have time to peruse newsletters I sign up for.  They have to have a very unique voice like Book Riot’s to get through to my “reading list”- but the ones that DO make my list, I regularly read.  They have to be short enough to consume in one sitting, link to good content, and inform me about more than just a good book.

I do look through catalogs at peak ordering time – particularly at nonfiction titles when trying to fill gaps.  I use Amazon best seller lists and GoodRead recommendation lists also as a discovery tool for titles in certain categories.  As I said, I do cast my net pretty widely when discovering titles.

Student and Teacher voices

Titles that students and teachers recommend always go on my ordering list.  Units they are working on change from year to year, so being sure that I have the books they require or titles they want to read is of paramount importance.  We keep a student suggestion line open for students and send out periodic requests to teachers for new titles they would like us to add.  We want to create a culture that feels communal in terms of purchasing.

Trends I’ve noticed lately?

#Weneeddiversebooks of course is a huge influence, and more and more diverse and authentic titles are coming out. Also SEL titles are being requested at our elementary libraries, and with several new Spanish immersion campuses in our district, Spanish titles, in particular, are needed.  STEM titles are still big and there’s still a need for #LGBTQ titles.   We also need more well written dystopian series with nontraditional male leads and more YA fiction that incorporates video gaming and technology naturally into the content – fantasy/sci fi especially.  Authentic voices are a big trend which is such a positive — the titles that are surfacing aren’t copycats or formulas, they are authentic stories by authentic writers who have compelling stories to tell.  I encourage publishers not to resort to easy “formula” books but to make their more authentic books discoverable by thoughtful lists shared with librarians.  Submitting your book titles for state awards lists are a way to get them noticed as well.

What are your preferences and processes?  Would love to have you share in the comments section below!  Or write your own blog post and ping me so we’ll keep this thread going!

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How many of you  have planned a program, a lunch and learn, a book club, etc. and not had many patrons show up to participate?  Online, we tend to share our successes but less so, our struggles or dilemmas.   In the interest of being “real,”  I wanted to share a recent anecdote.

Our campus is trying to build a culture of reading, in line with Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller’s work.  We’ve been working on daily ISR in the classroom, building classroom libraries, and other activities, like having teachers share what they are reading on their doors.  This year, we decided to help communicate to teachers what books are popular in the library and preview hot new titles coming out, since we may be able to better monitor those trends.  We came up with a idea called Book Buzz, monthly lunch gatherings, where we can create a culture of book sharing.  The idea is that each month, the librarians will book talk some hot books on different topics, and then teachers can share anything they are reading.  We think getting those opportunities to share reading and authors will strengthen our teacher’s knowledge of what their students are reading.

We visited the English department meeting last month and suggested the idea, and the teachers seemed receptive.  We were asking whether to hold it during the English teacher PLC meetings so they could “opt in” during a time they already allot, or whether to hold it during lunch so teachers in all departments could attend.   We found a date that would work, and scheduled our first one, designed a flyer to put out, etc.  We bought snacks for teachers since we weren’t sure how many would attend the first one.  We prepared books to book talk, and also a table full of books that circulated frequently, since some teachers aren’t readers of YA and we wanted them to get a preview.

Now Get Real

So, what’s the “real” part of this story?   Last week was our first Book Buzz. We had a good time sharing books, but unfortunately we only had two attendees one lunch period and nobody during the other lunch period.

So, what do you do when this happens?  That’s the real question.  It’d be easy to get discouraged, but understanding teaching at a large high school means understanding all the demands on teachers’ time.  A large school also means that it takes awhile to build any program.  In this case, it also means self-reflection.  It’s usually what we do when an activity doesn’t work out the way we hope.  To start with, I know we inspired the people who came (take a look at @techchef4u instagram or Twitter page to see the titles she picked up after our meeting.)

But how do we craft something that attracts more participants, which is our goal?  I want others to share the excitement that our couple of attendees felt about finding new books and authors!

I think running any program requires the stamina to be part cheerleader, part patient person, part reflective.  When things like this happen, I’m trying to go back to self-reflection.

Some things that have occurred to me are:  1) Is there a need–do teachers see the need for this?  And how can we speak to that need more clearly, because I think there is a need.  2) Did we survey teachers about the time period to offer this? While I went to a meeting and asked, only a couple of people responded aloud.  I am reminded that it’d be better to send a survey and get more specific buy-in from each person at the meeting than a verbal vote.  A survey could also allow me to assess the program more carefully.   3) Pitching the program in person.  It’s easy to send an email with the flyer a few times, but could we go to each PLC meeting and promote the idea in person?  Making those personal connections might improve excitement and attendance or help us pick dates for the events.   4) Does it matter where are we holding it?  I like holding events in the library because it highlights the library, but is it better to rotate it to different rooms?

This post just reflects a few of the thoughts that might run through my head.  But the larger reason for this post is that I want to share what’s real.  Online we might share the great photo ops, the Facebook posts, or the tweets, but sharing the reality of our foibles and what DOESN’T work is more rare.

Learning from Failure

But we learn most sometimes by our royal failures, our small misfortunes, or minor disappointments because they cause us hopefully to pick ourselves up and reflect. When I was in the Lilead Fellows, one of the most impactful pieces we read was from John Kotter on the change process.  I use it now as a tool to revisit often to help me analyze events after the fact. Kotter suggests 8 reasons why changes fail, and looking at them, I see where we could have done better on these:  #1 – Failure to create a sense of urgency #4 Undercommunicating the vision  #5 Not removing obstacles to the new vision  #8 Not anchoring changes in the organization’s culture.

I see that beyond the particular questions I had above, that tackling this in a larger fashion — about how the library fits into the “reading culture” of the school, how we want to help support that, and clearly and repeatedly communicating that vision to teachers would make a difference.   This is the power that using reflective tools brings.

Another tool for reflection is reaching out to your community.  So, I’d love to hear your stories of something that didn’t work and what you learned from it.  OR your ideas for our project.   The reality is, not everything works the first time and we need to be willing to share our failures.  Otherwise we set up librarians in our profession to feel like they are underperforming, or no one else has these experiences.  So…please join me in sharing yours!

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“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”  — author Peter Drucker

“Failure is my teacher. One step forward, two steps back.”  @RonGrosinger

When you are a leader, spearheading initiatives of any kind, there are bound to be bumps in the process, and amidst successes, discouraging moments that didn’t work out like you planned.  How we learn to handle those challenges can give us the opportunity to make them moments of growth.  Taking time to reflect on those moments and evaluate them helps you grow as a leader.

Just as in the research process, sometimes we leave out the reflection step, especially if a project has been successful.  In our Lilead Fellows leadership course, we recently read “Why Leaders Don’t Learn From Success” in Harvard Business Review.  The authors posit that when we are successful, that lack of reflection can also lead to future failure — because we don’t always understand WHY we were successful.  If we can build reflection into our leadership process, whether a project succeeds or fails, then we can gain more understanding for the future.

Reflecting on failure is a challenge, because failure bumps into all of our insecurities, preconceived beliefs, and often our relationships with other colleague as well.  There are both external and internal dynamics that impact our reactions to failure.  For example, if we are in environments that celebrate failure and encourage reflection, then we are more likely to be reflective about it and use it for growth.  If we are in an environment or school that deals with failure punitively, we are likely to also be more punitive to ourselves when something fails.  The ways our colleagues or teams deal with failure might also impact our feelings about it.

Internally, our family dynamics, our own perfectionism, and our own mindsets impact our reactions to failure. Do we come from situations where there were negative consequences for failure?  Do we hold ourselves to impossible standards?  We may have to relearn new internal strategies for confronting failure as well.

And the nature of the failure itself impacts it — was it a minor project or was it a major endeavor?  Was it personal or business?  The amount of energy we expended might make it more difficult to regroup and reexamine what happened.

The power of reflecting on our work is that we can also begin to tackle some of these challenges above, in addition to learning from our failure about the project itself and how to make it more successful in the future.

So what are some steps we can take when reflecting on a failure?

  1. Build reflection into your project cycle.  Make an appointment with yourself, after a project is over, to evaluate both the process and the end result.  Even if it was a success, take time to reflect on what could have gone better and how you might change it in the future.
  2. Help make your workplace a more positive environment so that your team or colleagues AND your students feel like failure is a part of life and that being reflective about it is a plus.  Create an environment where failure can be celebrated by modeling that for others.  Acceptance and reflection help.  Being transparent and having a sense of humor about your own failures helps create that tone as well.  We are all afraid to make ourselves vulnerable, but it’s a lot easier if we create the conditions for that.
  3. Don’t beat yourself up.  Especially for those of us who are perfectionists,  we need to do the internal work to praise ourselves for trying something.  We have to come to understand that this is not about blame(either ourselves or others).  It is about analyzing what we could do in the future, not agonize over what we didn’t do.  It’s about stepping back so we don’t take it all personally, because it is likely MANY factors were involved in something not succeeding.   And it’s also about taking a little distance if we need to, and then coming back later to reflect more on it when we have more data.
  4. Build your skills around leadership, failure, and reflection.  One of the valuable parts of being a member of the Lilead Fellows this year is that we’ve been taking mini courses on leadership.   We have discussion boards as we move through each unit, where we can talk to other school leaders about their experiences.  We’ve read articles on leadership from academia and business, and learned new strategies and tools.  How can you consciously build your own leadership portfolio so you have resources and colleagues to help you with the really difficult challenges? (In a campus innovation group I belong to, we’ve used some protocols from the National School Reform Faculty as very conscious reflection activities.  John Kotter’s chart of 8 reasons changes fail have also been very beneficial reading).
  5. Build a network of trusted colleagues who can help.  We all need people who can listen to us vent, but we also need colleagues and friends who can point us to alternative ways of looking at things.  Sometimes that might be our students, another librarian, family members, teachers…but having a variety of people to give input helps.  And, we can consciously ASK those people — what would you like a leader to do in this situation?  What would that look like?  So we can not only vent, but we can get their reflections on how a leader might handle something.
  6. Build a network of cheerleaders.  This is different from a reflection network.  We all need a network of folks who believe in us NO MATTER WHAT.  Because sometimes we are going to be very challenged by a particular issue that arises and we all need those confidence builders.

I want to share a scenario in the interest of transparency about my own learning experiences.

Recently, I led a meeting of our librarians in the district.  I’ve been working with a committee all year of community leaders, librarians, teachers, etc. to identify our learning space needs in the libraries across the district.   For our library meeting, I wanted to brainstorm the idea of rebranding the libraries with a new name.  I wasn’t set on this idea as a leader, but I wanted to play around with some ideas with the committee but before I did that, I wanted our librarians to have input.  I like creative activities so at the last minute I came up with a game.  I printed out a bunch of names of innovative spaces, cut them up, and made “poetry magnets” of them on slips of paper.  I gave each group of librarians a set, and gave them five minutes to combine the slips and come up with lots of possible names of spaces.  I thought it might spur more creativity and then we could launch into our own ideas now that our thinking was stirred up.

Part way through the exercise, some of the librarians started to push back when they realized I was talking about renaming the libraries.  I’m glad they felt able to speak up and push back, but it led to a lengthy discussion and the positive energy behind the activity was lost(at least from my vantage point) and we ended up in a philosophical discussion that we have had many times before.  Maybe we needed to have it again, and I still need to reflect deeply on that since this happened recently.

After the meeting, I felt disappointed and stressed.  I was caught off guard by the reaction and we didn’t accomplish the goals I had for the meeting because we got derailed in a repetitive discussion.  I felt like I had been defensive or put on the defense during the meeting and I disliked what that projected and how it made me feel.  I felt frustrated that I seemed to hear that they were reluctant to change.  And lastly, I didn’t walk away from the meeting with much of a sense of direction in terms of if we DID rebrand the libraries.

I took out a folder of articles I’ve read in the Lilead Project in trying to reflect on what happened. (Ironically, on the front of my folder it says in big letters CHANGE IS HARD.)

A few things I’ve realized since the meeting.  One, I could have listened differently.  Once it was clear we were going to have this discussion, I should have just listened–maybe passed around a “talking” stick so each person could have their five minute say, and then given myself the talking stick at the end to let them know I’d been carefully listening and during which time I could respond to their concerns and present my thinking.  It would have felt less defensive that way and less contentious.

I also realized, after reexamining Kotter’s 8 reasons change fails, was that I had failed step one–make the change feel urgent.  It IS urgent to me that we keep moving our libraries forward.  But that might not be as urgent to our librarians — they, after all, are only concerned with one library, for the most part.  And maybe some of them feel satisfied or even overwhelmed by their current work.  How could I have conveyed that urgency better at the outset of this activity?  As part of this, I realized I didn’t reflect on who my audience was for this activity.  I know our own librarians. Did I take time to think about how they would react?  Or was I just thinking about that I thought this was a fun activity?(I can tell you that I was thinking about my own approach to it, not theirs)

WE have been reading Strengths Based Leadership in the Lilead Fellows and I have asked my own librarians to take the Strength Finder test.  We are sharing our strengths with each other.  I actually went back to the book after this incident to think about what I missed, to look at the strengths of our team, and how I can work towards addressing different people’s strengths with different messages.

I also realized, I didn’t communicate the reasons for the activity very well at the outset.  I was tired, and had another frustrating meeting right before this one.  So I know that I could have done a better job of planning it and explaining it.

This wasn’t a disaster–we have trusting relationships between us, and I emailed a reflective note to all of the librarians about it.  Not everyone was even that concerned about it, either.  We have monthly meetings and there will be many opportunities to discuss these things.  However, I wanted this information before another meeting that was coming up, and now I didn’t have it, so that led to my frustration.

I wanted to share this example because I think the more WE ALL become transparent as leaders to our larger library community, the more that we can help each other growth as reflective leaders.  I invite all of my readers to think about and share times they could be reflective on leadership challenges.  I also want to thank the incredible team in my cohort of the Lilead Fellows who have been willing to be transparent, share their experiences. and help us all learn together, and to the leaders who have given us such valuable resources.

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