Saturday, September 28, 2013

Change is Hard. It's Okay To Ask For Help.

The things I post here don't, typically, generate a lot of comments.  Which is fine.  I decided a long time ago that this space would be about mulling over what's important to me, in a way that I can be proud of, regardless of whether or not others play along.  That said, I could probably take a leaf from the book of Doug Johnson or Bill Ferriter when it comes to engaging with the feedback I do receive.  They both do an excellent job of not *just* responding to each and every comment, but they also use that feedback to move the conversation forward.  It's one of the things I like most about both of their blogs.

Anyway, the other day I received this comment from an anonymous reader:
"You and others like you are ruining this job by taking away the most fundamental part of our works: books! I am NOT a teacher. Nor do I want to be. I predict that in the not too distant future there won't even be school librarians and it will be because of people like you. Thanks for convincing so many people that I am no different than a teacher. Thanks for NOTHING!"
I've gotta be honest.  My first instinct was to just press delete.  But then I realized that I'm no good at playing malevolent overlord, and so I published it.  And then lots of other folks came to my defense and left other comments that were, for the most part, gentle and wise.

But the truth is, I'm not angry at Anonymous.  If anything, I wish I could wrap my arm around his/her shoulder and say, "it's gonna be okay.  We're in this together."  Because, listen, change is hard.  But, trust me, NOT CHANGING, is harder.  What's more, we can't do it alone.  And our colleagues, even those that I lovingly refer to as zombies, need our help.  What's more, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it's a demonstration of strength.  Which may be why so many of us never ask.

Change happens.

And look, Anonymous might be right. There may not be any teacher librarians left in a few years.  But if that happens, I believe it will be because there are too many of us who either choose not to face the changing world around us or who refuse to ask for help navigating it.   Having said that, maybe it's time we stop waiting for those folks to ask.

Of course, this is easier said than done.  After all, how can we help those who seemingly refuse to help
themselves?  Here are my thoughts.
  • Establish trust:  A few weeks ago I met a librarian in a tough situation and after several hours of back and forth about the future of her library program she said, "I know I've been tough to deal with, but I want you to know I respect what you're saying because I know you know what I am going through." Sometimes it does seem as though our profession is made up of those who feel like rock stars and those who feel like, well... rocks.  And that divide can't be healthy.  Don't get me wrong, I will continue to call-out zombie like behavior and provide alternatives to stagnant pedagogy, but having a little empathy goes a long way.  If we can help those who need to move forward see that we're all playing the for the same team, the more likely we are to see results.
  • Keep the focus on what's best for kids:  In my experience, even the most change-phobic among us feel obliged to do right by children.  And the good news is, there's lots and lots of research out there establishing what an impactful library program looks like and how, if certain things are true, our work helps kids grow and flourish.  Plus, as arguments go, "this is what's good for librarians" is no match for "this is what's good for kids."
  • Help build safety networks:  This job is hard.  And we can't do it alone.  These days, having an authentic PLN, a group of professionals with whom you can learn and share, is not optional.  And yet, still, many of us remain disconnected.  One way that we can help those who are afraid of change is to connect them with others who can help them navigate tough situations, generate new ideas, locate new resources and, perhaps most importantly, help them realize that they're not alone.
  • Hold them accountable.  It's not okay to let our change-phobic colleagues remain stagnant because they either seem really happy that way or because it's easier for us or because we know exactly how many days they have left until retirement and we feel we can outlast them.  In my experience, all learners, be they kids or adults, respond to respectful work and expectations that are both challenging and realistic.  And yes, our administrators have a massive role to play in this regard, but so do we.  Evaluating the work of our colleagues may not be within our purview, but sometimes saying "I disagree" or "that's not okay" or "you know, you should try this AND I'm gonna check back in two weeks to see how it's going" is.

I'm a big fan of saying that people do the wrong things for one of two reasons:  either they don't know what the right things are or they don't care.  But today I am amending that statement to include a third reason:  they're afraid.  Either way, it's time for those who don't care to move out of the way so that the rest of us can get on with it.  But those who don't know what to do or who are too afraid may just need our help.   And it is in that spirit I say to Anonymous...

I know change is scary.  
                    But we're in this together. 
                                           Let me know how I can help. 



PS: A CC licensed, full size, hi-res version of this and all of my zombie librarian creations can be found here.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for your thoughtful comments. I am continually inspired and encouraged by you to stretch out of my comfort zone and to be the best teacher-librarian I can be for my students and staff. You are making a positive impact on so many.
    Keep up the amazing work!

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  2. I didn't see Anonymous' comment but I have sure felt that way! I've been a librarian for longer than I care to admit and sometimes I do go to that place of "if I wanted to be a teacher, I would have been a teacher." Change is HARD. My job every day is HARD. But like you said, I'm in it for the kids and if that means I have to change, then I have to change. Slowly, maybe. Painfully, for sure. But I'm grateful for any help to get me to the place I need to be today!

    Jennifer M.

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  3. This is the line that I've used in my signature file for several years: .............................................................................
    "If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more." - Eric Shinseki
    .............................................................................
    I can't tell you how wrong I think your anonymous poster is and how responsible I feel the person is for the negative impact that kind of attitude brings to the profession.

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  4. We must credit "anonymou" for reading about zombie librarians. Change is hard, but if anonymous is reading, then perchance anonymous is working towards breaking out of zombie mode and into a vibrant, relevant librarian! Kudos for a start anyway. We are all somewhere on the spectrum of learning, and if anonymous is reading about 21st century learning and the changing landscape of libraries in schools today, anonymous is probably further along the spectrum than many. Thanks Jen for being empathetic and compassionate in your response. I know how I am. I probably would have kneejerked and accused anonymous of putting my job at risk, with little to no empathy. Shame on me. KUDOS to you.

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  5. Another thumbs up to you for such a gracious, positive, and supportive response.

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  6. Fantastic response to a very unnecessary comment. Every profession must change as society and technology evolve, and we are no exception.

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