By Carolyn Foote
I recently sat in on a school board meeting, where members debated whether to move full-speed ahead on deploying an innovative technology plan or implement the program in stages.
My first thought was: If we hesitate, are we selling our students short? The board, in this case, adopted the program and decided to proceed quickly. But too often we hesitate when considering new strategies and products that could significantly help our students or teachers. If dotcoms were as tentative, would they be so successful?
At this year’s TEDxAustin—an annual event that brings together leaders in technology, science, and design—the theme was “Fear Less.” For librarians and educators, this might be our motto. Fear limits possibilities. It keeps us from venturing out on that limb, experimenting, and pushing the boundaries. In a fearful state, we focus on our limitations and the judgment of others, which hampers our ability to do what’s best for kids.
When our students graduate from high school, are they adequately prepared to take their place in the world? Being skilled in information literacy is paramount to navigating their personal and professional lives. So we must be fearless in advocating for our students’ needs.
Being widely connected professionally is an essential piece of fearless advocacy. Not only can we find courage and support from a network of educators, but we can also tap the “best of the best” in terms of our practice, resources, real-life experience, and relationships. Whether you build a network of local librarians, join an established online discussion group, or create your own on Twitter or on sites such as Teacher Librarian Virtual Cafe and Library 2.0 Ning, outside support can provide invaluable resources and strengthen your resolve. Use your networks and your “librarian powers” to curate reading lists that inspire fearlessness—titles such as Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick (Random, 2007), Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (Little, Brown, 2000), Tim Brown’s Change by Design (HarperBusiness, 2009), Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot’s Innovation (Crown, 2006), Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s The Impact Equation (Portfolio, 2012), Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment (Portfolio, 2011), and Carol Dweck’s Mindset (Random, 2006). Books are also powerful resources to reach for when you become discouraged.
As managers, we have a great deal of autonomy over what we bring into our library programs. We can introduce the first ereaders to our campuses, purchase some tablets and try them out with teachers and students, or press for a new local filtering policy. You’re bound to encounter obstacles along the way. So knowing how to maneuver school or district politics becomes an important skill. Again, maintain the focus on student need—this isn’t about the library per se—and understand that the decision makers have many constituencies to serve, not just the library (as important as it is to us).
Ask yourself (and your district), as Chris Lehmann, principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, suggests, “What’s the worst consequence of my best idea?” If the worst consequence is that someone might say “no,” then nothing ventured, nothing gained. Also consider: What’s the best possible consequence of your best idea?
Two years ago, I got permission to pilot a tablet program at my school library. We started with six iPads. It required lobbying, negotiating, and securing funds. And the best possible consequence of that idea? Our school board recently voted to fund a 1:1 program, providing iPads for every student in our district. It’s taken a village to get there, but change begins with an idea and a few people who are willing to bring it to fruition. It takes a little fearlessness.
Carolyn Foote is a “technolibrarian” at Westlake High School in Austin, TX. Fascinated by the intersection of libraries, technology, students, and creativity, she blogs at “Not So Distant Future.”