Collecting and Celebrating the Small Wins

Whether your library is virtual, in-person, or somewhere in between, there’s no doubt that these last two school years have been simply overwhelming. Connecting personally with our students in order to deliver them their next great read or resource has never felt more challenging. Instead of getting bogged down in the “what coulda shouldas,” reframe your thinking around the idea of “small wins.”

What Are “Small Wins?”

In the best-selling book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown defines one aspect of a successful “essentialist” as someone who “checks in with people in a gentle way to see how he or she can remove obstacles and enable small wins” (2014, 242).

The idea of a “small win” is appealing. First, it doesn’t involve layers and layers of action. Second, it encourages connectivity, something we all need. Finally, it promotes your role of librarian as essential in a time when obstacle removing is a full-time endeavor. Let’s think about what small wins may look and feel like in your school.

Collecting Small Wins

Note: Do NOT try all of these at once, no matter how good it sounds. Small wins work better when collected over time! 

Small Win

Time Needed

Sending an e-mail to a student with a few book suggestions on a genre or topic you know they enjoy may respark a faded flame for reading and also remind the student that you haven’t forgotten about them. 

2 minutes

Creating a simple display of humorous books to help relieve the heaviness. Suggest that teachers also pick them up and use them to begin or end a class. Maybe they’ll even choose one as the next classroom read aloud. 

1 hour

Address a student by name. 

1 second

Use a white board or electronic device to display a joke or riddle of the day outside the library or online. 

2 minutes per day

Book delivery? Add a sticky note to the front with a simple smiley face or a “Hope you enjoy this one!”

15 seconds

Ask a student you think might be falling through the cracks to assist you with a task. Sometimes just being noticed is invaluable. 

30 seconds

Seek opinions from your students. Send out a Google poll with a few short questions about what they would like to see/read/participate in the library. Choice drives buy-in.

15 minutes, plus time for analysis

Send a note (electronic or paper) to the parent of a student that deserves recognition, whether it’s for consistently participating or someone who has just started participating. Ripple effects are powerful and can stem from a simple two-line email.

2 minutes

Instead of noticing what’s wrong, notice what’s right during each class. As you practice, think about how you can share your observations. Is it a compliment to the class or some individual students? Is it a reflection about what’s working well or what needs to be tweaked in your lesson plan?

30 seconds

Ask to have a small corner of the school (or classroom) newsletter to share some new books or materials you’ve recently added to a collection to increase awareness. 

10 minutes per newsletter

Hall duty? Bus duty? Car duty? Use it as an opportunity to connect. Quickly ask a student how they are enjoying a book. Share a joke. Compliment them on their smile. Notice something about them that makes them feel like you’re paying attention.

As short as 10 seconds

Lunch duty? Most lunches seem to have some built-in time at the end when students are waiting to be dismissed. Use this as a time to ask trivia questions. First table to answer correctly gets to line up first! 

5 minutes

Celebrating Small Wins

If you can remember to record these small wins, you won’t regret it. Not only will you realize the connections you’re making, it provides an excellent document to share during an evaluation since they can easily fall under our AASL Standards. Most importantly, celebrate the small wins. Reflecting on your role in your school community and the potential you have to impact your students is easy to dismiss, but should be at the top of your list. You are contributing to a positive culture, therefore increasing awareness of your importance.  Here’s a sample: 


Small Win: 


Ripple, if known:


Complimented class on effort in front of teacher at pick-up

Teacher was thrilled, told class she would add a few minutes of extra recess

Everyone left happy, kids might be more motivated to work hard next class, more energy released during recess!


Added Joke of the Day to the white board in the cafeteria before lunch duty started

Kids read them while in line, practiced telling them to each other.

Cafeteria staff appreciated the effort and kids got some extra reading time in!


Jotted a note to a student on a sticky note before dropping it off to classroom

Student told me at bus duty it’s her new bookmark! 

Increase use of bookmarks? Yes, please! 


Emailed parent of student who is recently showing a better attitude

Parent emailed back with a big thanks. 

Student and parent both know I care and am observant. Student will hopefully continue trend. 

Work Cited:

McKeown, Greg. 2014. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. London: Virgin Books.


Author: Renee Bowman

Renee Bowman is the co-creator of the blog for parents and caregivers Raising Real Readers.  She’s twice been a teacher of the year for her district and was awarded the 2019 Samuel F. Hulbert Educator of the Year at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She will complete her school librarian certification from IUPUI in May. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram at @RaisingRealReaders or on Twitter @RaisingReal.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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