Making Progress by Fives

December 30, 2011

At the Australian School Library Association conference in October 2011, Executive Director Karen Bonanno offered several excellent insights in her keynote (Vimeo, 31:46) that are useful to all librarians in this era of tightened budgets and job opportunities. School librarians in particular may want to implement Bonanno’s five-finger mnemonic to craft that one-minute elevator speech we should all have at the ready to explain to anyone who will listen what it is we do and why it is important.

Here’s Bonanno’s adaptation of the ideas in The Midas Touch: Why Some Entrepreneurs Get Rich—and Why Most Don’t by Donald Trump and Robert T. Kiyosaki (Plato Publishing, 2011):

  • Your thumb represents strength of character and the essential qualities of your position on a school campus.
  • Your pointer finger points in your direction of focus, where you head with determination to successful implementation of your strong library program.
  • Your middle finger is your brand, what you stand for professionally.
  • Your ring finger is a reminder of your relationships on campus, the ones you build to ensure strong collaboration and excellent teaching.
  • Your little finger represents the little things you do that others don’t, your array of efforts that support students and teachers in their quest for excellence.

Bonanno also drew from Marc Dussault’s recommendation (YouTube, 2:11) to focus on strengthening any single aspect of your skill set for five minutes a day. He calculates that a 1% improvement per week multiplies into 167% worth of positive change per year (remember compound interest?); a daily 1% improvement adds up to a 3,778% gain per year.

This approach reminds me of a talk I attended a few months ago by Dan Heath, coauthor of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Heath uses the analogy of a rider, an elephant, and a path. Change requires that the rider understand where he is going, that the elephant wants to follow the rider’s guidance along the path, and that the path is as smooth as possible.

School librarians have clarity of purpose and are already standing up for their centrality in providing youngsters with a good education. We also need to be sure community stakeholders—from fellow educators and administrators to parents, journalists, and legislators—understand that purpose and motivate them to support us along the not-yet-smooth road.

Observers viewing our professional-developments efforts from a selfish perspective might conclude that we just want to keep our jobs. Of course we do, but what’s most important is that our jobs depend on the success of our students, not only their success in test scores but also their success in life after graduation. For example, we need to focus on ways to increase access to technology devices and information literacy skills for our students in poverty. Of those who have cellphones, many are unaware of the wealth of information they have at their fingertips to improve their futures.

If we use our five open fingers to push the totality of our mission for five minutes daily, we can make the goal clear to the rider and smooth the path toward it. We can also motivate the elephant to follow the path we’re clearing. That makes a Switch in focus.

Use the five-finger focus to promote Switch thinking; five minutes a day, practiced consistently, can lead to huge change. We can build these three perspectives into one structure to promote strong and essential school libraries—to ensure that our communities, administrators, and legislators understand what we do in school libraries, why we are essential to strong education, and how we can lead our students to success.

More Resources

Buffy Hamilton, Unquiet Librarian blog

Wendy Stephens, Professional Development for School Librarians slideshare

Joyce Valenza, NeverEndingSearch, November 20, 2011 (or Open Mic Smackdown)

DORCAS HAND is librarian for Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston. Her website is Strong School Libraries.


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