the kindness hat




If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind,” spoken by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer in R. J. Palacio’s seminal text, Wonder  has not only resonated with many but has sparked the #choosekind challenge movement inspiring people to pledge ” to create and spread more kindness in the world.”

Wonder - R. J. Palacio

Wonder – R. J. Palacio

While there are those who need such an inspiration and motivation to be kind to others, I think kindness is an innate prerequisite for being a teacher as we put ourselves aside to meet the needs of the 30 little ones in our care, and teacher librarians must have a double dose as we interpret our role as one of service to not only a school of students, rather than just a class, but also the staff.  Our days, and often our nights, are swallowed by trying to anticipate, interpret and meet the requests and needs of so many that in being kind to them we are often being unkind to ourselves.

We  try to be all things to all people in our complex role that embraces both teacher and librarian with so many stops and tangents in between, perhaps afraid that if we are not, if we miss helping someone it will be the beginning of the end for the role in the school.  We know that when budgets are under siege administrators look to the ‘peripheral’ staff to cut first and it’s often the TL whose job is the first to be questioned. But while we are trying to be kind to others we neglect to be kind to ourselves, beginning a spiral that can end up with us being unable to be kind to anyone.

Back in 1996 as I first started the transition from a classroom teacher of 24 years to an apprentice TL , an astute principal introduced me to the works of Stephen Covey and, in particular, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.   

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey

I read it from cover to cover and back again – the first of this sort of text I had ever read – and while all the habits resonated and taught me much, one became the guiding principle for my life…  begin with the end in mind.

To quote Covey…

Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself.

Understanding and accepting this led to goal-setting so “the steps that I took were going in the right direction” – goals which led me through a successful transition at a traumatic time in my life when my very teaching career seemed in doubt; through discovering that teacher librarianship fitted me like the proverbial glove and studying and gaining three masters degrees; through the need to give back and mentor other ‘apprentice’ TLs; and through to the final goal of “being able to retire  from school-based work satisfied and still intact at the end of 2016”.  However, when I realised that I would not meet the “intact” part of that goal if I continued the way I was, I brought the end date forward and finished at the end of 2015 with ‘intact” intact – barely.

Even though in 2015 I was in a part-time position it was too easy to fall into a full-time mentality and a range of circumstances meant that I was not being kind to others in the way I should be, simply because I was not being kind to myself. 

Because that is the key – if we are not kind to and take care of ourselves then we cannot be kind to and take care of others.

But if we are to be kind to ourselves we need to identify those issues that trigger unkindness so that they can be addressed.

While each of us is unique, it’s fair to generalise that there are at least four that are common…

  • matching the ideality of university to the reality of school
  • wanting to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of all
  • time management
  • work-life balance

ideality vs reality

We know that learning is most effective when

  • there is a need and purpose to learn
  • the learning is within a real-life context
  • it is based on what we already know and believe
  • there is an expectation of success
  • there is opportunity to apply and practise the new learning
  • it offers clarity and understanding
  • it is owned by the learners

We know from our university research and readings that the ideality of the teaching role of the TL is at its best when delivered within the context of classroom learning, planned and taught in collaboration with the classroom teacher so that the TL’s specialist subject of information literacy -in its broadest context – is embedded into the everyday learning in the classroom, can be readily transferred to other situations and support and guidance is offered at the point of need.

But for a range of reasons, the reality is vastly different with such things as

  • fixed timetables
  • students and classes coming infrequently for short periods
  • teaching in isolation to cover teacher prep time
  • lack of time to consult and plan with classroom-based teachers
  • lack of a library “curriculum”
  • lack of understanding of and appreciation for the role of the TL within the school

If we are to be kind to ourselves we have to manipulate what we know to match what we have so that it is win-win for everyone (Covey’s Habit #4)  The solution, and the pathway to it, will be unique to each of us but it is important that we work to achieve something that we can work with comfortably so we don’t start the day frustrated and on edge.  That’s not to say we abandon the ideal, but if we can develop a plan that will move more towards it -‘begin with the end in mind’- and accept that it might be a long journey to its achievement then we are more likely to accept the current lot, work with it and have some peace of mind.


The reason that this blog is called “500 Hats” is because that reflects the complexity of our role, and we tend to think that we must be across every aspect and like Bartholomew Cubbins, each time we take one hat off another one appears. In addition, each person perceives not only our role differently but also sees their needs as the priority. So often we are torn, if not shredded, and left wondering if we will ever get all the pieces together.

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins - Dr Seuss

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – Dr Seuss


Joyce Valenza writes about this dilemma in her blog post A Belated Confession , offering insight into the issue and revealing that even when we see our hero colleagues looking like ducks swimming serenely along, they, too, are paddling like crazy to stay on top of the water.  She offers a personal survey to help us reflect on the key aspects of our role, and help us develop some priorities that are in alignment with both our school and personal mission statements, strategic plans and personal goals.  Areas of strength can be identified as well as those for which we might need to establish a professional learning plan. 

Rather than working harder we can learn to work smarter.

time management

There always seems to be more work than time left at the end of the day and as one task tends to lead to another not previously considered, the to-do pile mounts up and up and up and the must-do task list gets longer and longer 

It was scary how fast my part-time position became a full-time commitment as I effortlessly slipped back into the practice of taking stuff home just so I could stay ahead.  In my previous position, my home work was confined to creating an award-winning, cutting edge school website alongside working through three masters degrees, but this time with the library management system online, easy access to SCIS, Scootle, and a zillion other resources, social media and so on, apart from the 150km commute, nothing seemed to separate my work life from my home life.  And with a hubby who worked even more ridiculous hours than I did, it was easy to slip into old habits and watch that to-do list grow again.

Once again, my friend Stephen Covey came to my aid.  I returned to his time management matrix to start identifying priorities and getting things back under control and practise Habit 3 – putting first things first.

Time Management Quadrant

Time Management Quadrant –Stephen R. Covey

While Covey explains its function and operation fully in his book, I learned to ask myself these questions whenever a new task popped up…

  • Does this need to be done now or can it wait?
  • Is it more important that what I am doing right now?
  • Is it more important than the other things I have planned for today?
  • Will doing this help me achieve what needs to be done in the short, medium and long-term?
  • Does it require my time and attention or can I delegate?

Setting work-based priorities has to be tied into your strategic plan so you are not suddenly confronted by something that has moved into Urgent and Important because it was swamped by other things.  The big picture has to remain as clear as the daily detail so if, for example, you are required to write an annual report or contribute a page to the school yearbook, start on the first day of first term taking photos, jotting notes and so forth so that when it is due most of the work is done. 

Because being a TL encompasses two distinct sides of our profession, even though the T side should be the predominant side we must also have time for the L side if we are not to end up in a series of crises.  Workplace awards should delineate a certain percentage of at-work time that is set aside for administrative duties, a time that is independent of lesson preparation and planning.  You need to know what your individual rights are and ensure that these are delivered by your administration. If you are forced into a corner and are not given sufficient time then enlist the help of the staff to help you determine your priorities by sending out an Information Needs Audit. Such a document not only educates your colleagues about the extent of what you do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, responses will help you establish priorities and also act as a defence if your time allocations are questioned.

Keeping all the balls in the air is a juggling act but by being pro-active with time management, even down to creating a daily timetable for your at-work time, you can be much kinder to yourself than you have been.

work-life balance

Anyone who is a teacher, is married to a teacher or even knows a teacher knows that the job is not “9 till 3” despite popular opinion.  Those hours are our performance time, the other 18 hours in the day are for the preparation and evaluation of that performance (and the performance of others.)  It is so easy to slip “stuff that can wait” – the important but non-urgent things – into a basket to lug home at the end of the day, often returning to school the next day still in the basket untouched.

Each of us has a different way of trying to achieve that magical work-life balance -if we ever do – and we must know ourselves if we are to set up an effective and efficient routine.  Some like to stay at school until the work is done and take nothing home; others are so tired at 3.00pm they prefer a break and to attend to what needs to be done at home, either early or late depending on our circumstances and body clock. But whichever method we choose it needs to work for us and our families.  The consequences are too great if they don’t.  

Even if we think we are indispensable and “my students need me”, the truth is that they don’t need you as much as your family does.  There are thousands of teachers but most kids only have one mum or one dad.  A brutal but powerful way to put things in perspective is to imagine what would happen if you were involved in a major car accident or struck down with a serious disease.  Whose lives are likely to be the most impacted?

If you find it hard to let go of school work and feel guilty if you take time out to go on a family outing because there are reports to write, assignments to mark, books to accession or whatever, go anyway even if you ‘justify’ the time by imagining how what you experience and learn can add to what you offer the students in the morning.  Anything we do to enrich our own lives also enriches that of our students because it is something more we can bring to the table. 

When I finally retired from school-based work in 2015 (having been practising retirement since July 2006) I still had stuff in my important-non-urgent pile on the floor of my study, but, amazingly the school continued without it being done and after tripping over it for a few months I finally sorted it, consigning most of it to the recycling bin.  AND THE WORLD STILL TURNED.

At last I had learned how to #choosekind


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12 thoughts on “the kindness hat

  1. I totally agree with what you have said Barbara. Covey played a huge role in my TL life too. I do hope you have found your next calling in life – you have so much more to offer and I know helping others brings you joy. Thank you for still iinspiring TLs and others through your blog!

  2. Thanks Barbara for a wonderfully articulate post that so many of us need to read and then reflect about. Being kind to everyone in a school setting without taking the time to find kind in our own lives is another cause of teacher burnout I think. So relevant to any time of the school year but especially now at the start of the year. Awesome!

  3. Barbara, as I enter my first studies in being a TL I have felt more than a little overwhelmed with the first week of a new school semester (secondary teacher), my first week in a new course, and all the demands (which I gladly undertake) that my children and family require. Yesterday (a Sunday) I felt completely snowed under having spent most of my day behind a laptop and was left feeling like I was missing and neglecting my children. Your reminder of ‘being kind’ and ‘being kind to oneself’ first and foremost resonated with me so strongly. I decided that in fact that evening needed to be spent with my family, so I packed up and promptly took my children out to dinner. It was exactly what I needed to alleviate my stress and bring back my ‘happy’. In turn, I was kinder to my children and kinder to my students the next day. I love that my principal reminds us that family always comes first. And thank you for reminding me as well.

    • So glad that you listened to that inner voice Shannon – your family will remember the dinner better than you will remember anything you might have read instead because you wouldn’t have concentrated very well. Being kind to yourself is so important – putting yourself first means you have the inner strength to keep on keeping on.

  4. Barbara, I appreciate your advice and honesty. As I am just beginning my journey in becoming a TL I found so much of this post helpful. In my classroom I have often read and discussed Sean Covey’s book, “7 Habits of Happy Kids,” but have not yet read his “7 Habits of Effective People,” although I plan to now! I feel that I am quite organized but could manage my time better and as I juggle many roles as a teacher, student and mother I found that my work/home balance needs some revisions. As your said, “rather than working harder we can learn to work smarter.” Thank you!

  5. Hi Barbara,
    I want to thank you for this post. I am just starting my learning journey towards becoming a teacher-librarian, and the past couple weeks have been a challenge to balance everything. I feel like I need a pause button. Your post about kindness really spoke to me. I am currently reading ‘Wonder’ with my class, and I realize that we often forget that we need to be kind to ourselves as well. We spend so much time, as teachers and mothers, encouraging kindness towards others, but we also need to feel ‘nourished’ so we can give that kindness, or we may end up resenting it. We each find our nourishment in different ways – it may be exercise, or reading, or knitting, but we need to take that time, so that we are also able to give. I have always set limits on my teaching days, and as my kids have grown, and family has become my centre, I have been more selective with what comes home with me and how often. My reality is that I cannot do it all at school, but I try to limit what I do at home. I totally agree that what we do with our family enriches us, and what we bring to our job. I will need to remember this as the course work tries to take over. Maybe it is important to play that board game or go for that walk.

    I also really heard your thought that a trigger for unkindness is trying to be a ‘master of all.’ We have been reading a lot about all the roles a TL needs to play, and it made me realized that it is ok not to be excellent at all of them. Our learning is and always will be continuous. All the jobs seem overwhelming right now because they are new, but we will get there. Having things to work on gives us goals and a routine of little achievements. This adds to our ‘nourishment’ and confidence. I think I will have to go look for Covey’s book. I have heard about it so many times, maybe now is the time to take a closer look. I can see myself using the priority chart for sure – at work and at home.
    Thanks again for your thoughtful words.
    I leave your blog with the intent to come back, a reason to go to the bookstore, a better sense that I can manage things, and less guilt about wanting to go for a bike ride later today.

  6. Hi Alison,
    Every one of us who puts on the TL’s hat, either trying it for size or as a permanent accessory finds things overwhelming at first, not just at the range of roles there are – that’s why this blog is called 500 Hats – but because our preconceptions about the role are so often challenged. It’s not just about being an English teacher on steroids!

    That said though, it is also one of the most supportive and collaborative professions even though we may be the only one of us in the school thanks to the online world. There are the subject forums (which I urge you to take advantage of);international, national and state listervs like OZTL_NET; Facebook groups; local networks and so on, all of which are there to answer questions, share resources, and be a soft place to fall. As long as you remember that you are not alone and there is an answer to that, you will navigate this side of your journey successfully.

    Remembering that will help you navigate the other parts of your life so you eventually get things working for you. Don’t expect things to be in “balance” – depending on circumstance one will always dominate – but you can get a working co-existence.

  7. Thank you Barbara for this! As I was reading this, I kept nodding and agreeing with everything you said. I have been a classroom teacher for the past 10 years and I am hoping to transition to being a teacher librarian soon. When I tell people this, they comment that being a TL is less work compared to being a classroom teacher but I disagree. CTs and TLs both play a critical role in schools and wears just as many hats. Teaching is not getting any easier but what we need to do is learn to balance and be kind especially to oneself.

  8. Barbara,
    This has been such an inspirational blog post for me to read. I am currently working as a TL and working through a TL course online to enhance my knowledge in my field of work.
    As a mom of three, dance mom, homeowner, and full time teacher I often find myself to be pretty low on the kindness scale by the time I get home to my own family. The lunch making, child taxi’ing, meal making, house cleaning, and multiple roles I take on at work, I end my day feeling just spent.
    After reading your blog I feel as though it is time to stop being the ‘yes’ person at work and start prioritizing what I am taking on and putting in my ‘to-do’ pile. My schedule at work is so filled that by the time I get top our small allotted prep time that I have inserted where convenient for my schedule I find myself staring at the ceiling with my feet on my desk enjoying the silence and absence of company.
    This year I am going to plan my schedule knowing that I need to insert collaboration time, rather than squeezing it in at the end of my block with the teacher while the students work. I am also going to insert time for administrative duties and library “technician” duties in order to keep my space more organized and not rely so much on the real technician. I am also going to delegate and accept the help of those parents and teachers who offer to take ‘some of the load off’.
    Your blog has been more inspirational than you will ever know!
    Thank you,

  9. Thank you Barbara. As always your wisdom is so needed.

    Thank you for teaching us that we are not alone in our excellent work even on the days when we aren’t sure we are winning. 🙂

  10. Barbara,
    What can I say, but “thank you.” I agree that as teachers we are (or should) be innately kind. However, being kind to ourselves so often falls by the wayside. We all know the importance of self care, but still, I end up filing being kind to myself under unimportant and not urgent. How can we, as educators, pour kindness into our students if we are not first being kind to ourselves? How can we care for others if we are not caring for ourselves? Educators are so giving, that’s a big part of why I became an educator. I am a helper. I come alongside my students and support their learning needs. That is who I am as a person and why I became an educator. When it comes to taking time for myself, I feel selfish, or that I can take care of myself later. I like the analogy of putting on an air mask on a plane, I need to put mine on first so that I can help those around me. Thank you for the tips on self care, time management and work-life balance. As always, having a clear vision of our purpose, helps us identify and prioritize tasks efficiently and effectively. Thank you for the reminder!

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