Reaching out through the library

Our secondary school is one of 11 in our school board and one of 4 with a full-time teacher-librarian.  Other than guidelines from our provincial school library association (OSLA) there are very few mandates for library.  The community of Orangeville is about 30 000 people and while initially agricultural, it is now a commuter town to the Greater Toronto Area for employment.  About ⅓ of our students are bussed to the school.  Our school is also a hub for special education and have about 400 identified students including 60 students with identifiable developmental delays.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also graduate about 300 students per year and about ⅔ of them will seek post-secondary education.  Our community houses three college satellite campuses where students can continue their studies.  Although the community is beginning to become more multicultural, we do not have the student population to yet support an ELL program.  One of the most unique parts of our school community is the huge range in socio-economic status found in our student body from homeless to affluent.  As such, issues of equity are always important factors in decision-making. The Upper Grand District School Board was formed about 12 years ago when two boards were amalgamated, and the board office is an hour away from Orangeville.  Board opportunities are often limited by this geography.  The county of Dufferin, surrounding Orangeville, still exists much on its own philosophically despite the amalgamation.

Prioritizing the implementation of change, providing a library program to satisfy the needs of individuals and groups and supporting the goals of the school are the main professional competencies that are most significant in my work.  Dealing with a well-established community and its traditional philosophy, I am often asked to prioritize staff relationships and leadership in the implementation of change.  I was hired specifically because of my enthusiasm for new literacies.  My principal constantly pushes me to embrace technology in education so much so that our physical collection suffers as a result.  I am aiming to develop new communication paths to make our online resources more accessible to staff and students.  As outlined above, our very diverse school community often means that I am developing information, resources and instruction to satisfy small groups and even individuals.  As such, I have become increasingly aware of data collection to help in advocating for resources.  One of my goals is to make the library’s resources and instruction available according to student needs, online and outside of school hours.  Students and staff now understand that they can reach me anytime for assistance.  For five years now, my school principal has asked the staff to focus on backwards design and critical thinking in our curriculum delivery.  As the librarian, I have worked with 4 departments so far in professional learning communities towards these goals.  A large focus of implementation has been a continuum of digital and informational fluency working with key courses to ensure that all students develop the same level of competency.   Being a leader of change, and ensuring adequate support for implementation in my school is how I spend the majority of every working day.

While I’m busy, I often feel really anxious about staying connected to the community.  I live 45 minutes away and so after hours I’m not physically connected to the community at all.  Lots of people have questioned my decision to let staff and students contact me outside of school time for help.  I don’t have a landline, just a cellphone which I barely use as a phone anymore and just get all my emails pushed to it.  I choose when to look at my email or my phone and have it on silent all the time.  So I maybe get 5 – 10 staff requests per week and 12 – 20 student requests per semester after school time sent to my work email address for extra help and I don’t mind at all reaching out to them.  Having 1450 students and 100 staff for me means that I need to connect to them anyway that I can, and I think they really appreciate me being available.  I don’t find that my time is compromised at all.  I actually brag about kids contacting me outside of school hours.

There are a few pockets of staff and students that I can never seem to reach though.  Students who are economically disadvantaged, for example, means I can’t reach them if they don’t have a phone with internet access or other internet access. I try to reach out any way that I can. We have a homeless shelter in Orangeville that has a computer and adult support.  Sometimes if there’s an overdue book, or any other reason, I reach out to those supervising adults in the same way that I would a parent or guardian.  Our public library is also hooked up so kids really do have online access … even if they’re couch-surfing or unsure of where their next meal will come from.  The hangout for this particular group of kids is actually right next to the library and we say hello all the time.  They’re starting to come to the library for any kind of help, and we’ve even had a few cases where our library staff has been able to facilitate a meeting between our social worker and those students once we’ve earned their trust.  About 3 years ago, one of our students, homeless, recently ‘out’ to her parents, committed suicide.  Her community of friends and her parents wanted to have a memorial service of sorts, but had no money or contacts to make it happen.  We had it in the library and our foods courses volunteered to make and serve refreshments.  Last year we had a mental health forum with a panel of experts, a Twitter hashtag and about 150 students who came … a lot from this group.  It was a huge success. I guess these things are really about creating a welcoming place both physically and through those online connections. Being available is one of my biggest priorities as a teacher-librarian.

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