Circles of Concern, Influence, and Control

Everything we do in our work is an opportunity for advocacy, and we should take full advantage of each opportunity. Every email we send, every conversation we have, every resource we curate, and every event we plan all have an impact on others’ perception of us as professionals, our school library, and on libraries and librarians in general. It is an enormous responsibility to be our entire profession’s representative to thousands of people, and that is exactly what we signed up for when we took on the role of school librarian.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how much time and energy we put into various levels of our circles of concern, influence, and control, and whether or not we are budgeting our time and energy wisely. If you’re unfamiliar with these concepts, please take a moment to read “The Circle of Concern and Influence.”

According to Ms. Taylor, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gets us off to a good start by identifying the circles of concern and the circle of influence. She takes the concept a step further by adding a more central circle of control, and that, I believe, is where we should focus the majority of our time and energy. We all have issues that concern us, but fall outside of our ability to influence them significantly. We also have issues that we do have influence over, and, of course, there are issues in our lives over which we have direct control.


Here’s a personal example: I am a passionate person, and I wear my emotions pretty close to the surface most of the time. I get excited about teaching, helping learners realize their potential, and making a difference in the world. This enthusiasm has helped me create a varied and interesting career in school libraries, and it has also gotten me into hot water more than once. I express frustration quickly, I do not tolerate injustice easily, and I often open my big mouth before fully processing the impact of what I am about to say beforehand. While age and experience have helped me learn some coping strategies, I still have a LONG way to go.

What does this have to do with school librarianship and the circles above? Part of my ongoing professional development has been a focus on the innermost circle–that which I can directly control, moment to moment. Chief among them has been my communication; I have learned to listen more and to say less. I have learned that it is not always OK to share what I am thinking before I have had a chance to fully process the impact of those thoughts. I am very much a work in progress here, and this has helped me to focus my energy on projecting positive, uplifting communication to a much greater extent than in my past, which admittedly, has seen me exhibit episodes of harsh criticism, tirades, and other, extremely unproductive emotional outbursts.

By focusing on the innermost circle–the things I directly control–I have created safer spaces for my colleagues, a more positive, upbeat reputation, and I believe, a more collaborative environment for others to shine. Isn’t that the type of environment we want in our school libraries, and in our profession? I believe we should still do work in both our circles of influence and concern, but we have to start in the middle and deal with the things we can most directly control first.

What does this look like in our daily work as school librarian? I’ve touched on communication, and there is a bit more to unpack here. Do we get defensive when someone calls us out on our less-than-stellar behavior? Do our amygdalas take over? Do we truly listen to feedback that is uncomfortable or even threatening before we react? How do we respond to challenges, to our materials, budget, responsibilities, and positions? Do we create a space where we can listen to the reasoning behind these challenges, or do we jump to making quick assumptions? Our circle of control contains many aspects, and our reactions and responses to everyday situations and more extreme, stressful situations are some of the most important factors over which we have direct control. I am still learning here, and this is what I find works for me in the face of stress:

1. Take time. I pause and take stock of my emotional and physical reactions to stressful events or information. I listen to my heart and respiration rate. If it comes in the form of an email, I wait before responding, or at least compose a response, then save it in my drafts folder to read later after I have calmed down, before sending it. I do the same with information I get via social media. If it comes in a face-to-face conversation, I try to say as little as possible and focus on listening closely, not to respond or rebut a point, but to be sure to listen actively and get as much accurate information as possible.
2. Consider options. If time allows, I do a little research to see how others have dealt with similar situations. I reach out to my PLC for advice, and I try to imagine how different responses might help me advocate for my library. I look for the most positive, mutually beneficial solution to propose before I respond. I use data and research to support my position and proposed solution to the issue.
3. Maintain the relationship. One of my primary objectives in crafting a careful, thoughtful response to challenging situations is to maintain or strengthen the relationships involved. I sent out a tweet a few weeks ago that really seemed to resonate with many people:

The most important thing school librarians can #Curate is relationships - with learners, staff, parents, the community at large. Having the best collection in the world does not matter if people are not at the center of the work.

We must strive to make relationship building the center of our work, and I believe focusing on our circle of control helps us do that. In my case, it means focusing on how I communicate with others, and worrying less about stuff that I cannot powerfully influence.

What are some factors within your direct control that you can use to advocate for your library program? Comment below or tweet me @lenbryan25–I’d love to have an ongoing conversation!

Work Cited
Taylor, Jane. “The Circle of Concern and Influence.” Habits for Wellbeing.

Author: Len Bryan

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

Tags: , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Len,

    This is an incredibly powerful post about the importance of focusing on what matters. Thank you for your candid reflections and thoughtful commentary on finding our circle of control and focusing on what matters most. I loved this quote, “By focusing on the innermost circle–the things I directly control–I have created safer spaces for my colleagues, a more positive, upbeat reputation, and I believe, a more collaborative environment for others to shine.” and think this is something I can apply to my professional directly. You are a valued advocate for our profession and a true thought leader. (((hugs)))

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