When, Why, and How I Say ‘No’

I’ve been reading Let ‘no’ Be ‘no’: When Librarians Say ‘no’ To Instruction Opportunities by Anna White over on In the Library with the Lead Pipe and it has me thinking about when, why, and how I say ‘no’ to instruction opportunities. Upon first reflection, my thinking was that I almost never say ‘no’ unless there is an unresolvable scheduling conflict. But I don’t think it’s actually that simple.

When I get a request from a teacher that’s unclear (either because I’m not sure where in the research process students are, or if it’s a project I’m unfamiliar with, my typical response is either ‘yes, and…’ or (more likely) ‘yes, if…’ If a teacher is coming to me, I want to work with them – but I also want to make sure that the work I do with them is helping students build skills, and also laying the groundwork for future collaborations. The ‘if’ can be about what kind of lesson I’ll do, where in the process I’ll work with students, or how research skills may be assessed. When a request comes midway through a project there’s often less room for adjustment. In that case, my ‘if’ is often about sitting down with the teacher after the project to look at student work and to think about what comes next – either for that class or for future iterations of the project.

Like many librarians, I came into this work with some heavily rose-colored glasses about what collaboration would look like. And I have had some amazing collaborators throughout the years. But I have also worked with lots of folks where the relationship is far closer to parallel play than to true collaboration. Which can be frustrating! Even though I know I can’t maintain deep collaborative relationships with as many colleagues as I’d like to, I still wish it were possible. The longer I do this work, however, I’ve realized that there can still be positive outcomes from one-shot lessons or instruction that feels out of sync with either my or the teacher’s goals. It may not have the outcomes I hope for, but getting to spend time with students and building relationships makes it more likely that they’ll come to me for help outside of class. 

There are times I say ‘yes’ to requests that, in my heart of hearts, I would like to say ‘no’ to, and I’m thinking more and more about those. Sometimes I’ll say ‘yes’ to a teacher who hasn’t tried to work with me before, in the hopes it will lead to more collaboration. Sometimes I say ‘yes’ if it will give me an opportunity to teach a new or different skill/lesson that I’ve been wanting to try. And, if I’m being honest, sometimes I say ‘yes’ because I worry about the reaction if I say ‘no’ – am I closing the door? Am I abdicating responsibility? Am I making it seem like integrating the skills I teach is optional – no big deal if I can’t come to class? 

I have had increasing demands on my time in the past year, and I am truly excited about so much of the work I get to do with colleagues. But if I want to do more truly collaborative work I simply do not have the time or the bandwidth for all of the requests I get. I haven’t figured out what to always say ‘yes’ to, what to say ‘yes, if’ to, and what to say ‘no’ (or, ‘no, but…’) to, but I am looking closely at my goals and at my school’s priorities as I figure out how to make those decisions. 

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