Getting to Know Your School Librarian from a Safe Distance

I am starting a new position in a new school in a new district this fall after working for 16 years in my previous district. With safety guidelines related to the global pandemic, I know that the way I have proceeded in the past when it comes to joining a new staff is not going to be the same this year. But I also know that for a high school librarian especially, it is important to get to know your staff, as without them, collaboration will not occur.

The way teachers interact with each other on those initial days will be different this year. I hoped that the smile I would show behind my mask reached my eyes so my colleagues knew how happy I am to be there. I wondered if I would be able to join a group of teachers at a table during one of the meetings so I could get to know a few folks. I know how powerful that can be. At my very first teaching job, three teachers invited me to join them at their table and then for lunch that first day. We have been the best of friends ever since. With the amount of time and ways to connect in question, I wanted to make sure I could still share with the staff what I hope my role will be within the instructional and cultural framework of the school.

With all of the uncertainty of the year ahead, I focused my plans on two easy-to-accomplish and safe-to-implement ways of greeting staff members and letting them know I am here to support them and their students.

  1. Provide a menu of services shared in virtual and print form.
  2. Welcome individuals or small groups to the library during back-to-school days.

In May, the Nebraska School Librarians Association (NSLA) offered meetings with school librarians in the state to discuss how they were supporting their school communities. The board thought it would be a good idea to take what was shared and create a repository of ideas for school librarians to reference when either discussing what they had done or what they could do in the future to support distance learning. The “Inspiration & Ideas from Nebraska School Librarians” document includes ideas that were shared during these online discussions between Nebraska school librarians and ideas that were shared via e-mail. One recommendation that I made was to take the ideas included in the document and create a menu of services that the school library could offer during distance learning to help guide discussions about the school librarian’s role in the fall.

As I thought about how I could share what I could do to support the teachers and students in my new school, I thought a similar menu would work well to give some ideas of how I could work with them. With the format of school in the fall still very much up in the air at the time of creation, I wanted to make sure that I included the possibility for in-person and virtual opportunities. Around that same time, I stumbled upon a post on Twitter from Sarah Sansbury (@SuperSansbury) about a menu she created for her school. AND she was gracious enough to share her Canva template with the Twitterverse. 

I put my own twist on what she shared using some ideas from the document shared by NSLA, and then reached out to my mentor librarian and a few folks in library services in my new district to get feedback. My mentor librarian shared with me the menu she created for her school, and the director of library services shared a list that the department compiled of ways school librarians could support their schools. Based on their examples and feedback, I made a few more changes. One change was to include a mission statement. The one I chose is on the library services department homepage for the district as I felt it would be best for my mission statement to match theirs. Another was to put contact information at the top, so teachers knew how best to contact me. The version that will be e-mailed to teachers will also include my cell phone number.

Once I was satisfied with my final working copy, I sent that off to my new principal to receive his feedback. I was thrilled when his response included an offer to have a Zoom call with me to discuss plans for the library for the coming year. Our discussion led me to believe I was on the right track, and I also learned how best to share the information out with staff. (P.S. I’ve gotten several unexpected complimentary reactions to using my Bitmoji on the menu. People thought it made the document look more friendly.)

Shortly before reporting back for teacher days, we learned our district was adopting a 3/2 model of learning for all of the high schools for now. Our elementary and middle schools will still be at 100% capacity. For high school, half of the students will report on A days (Mon-Tues) and B days (Thurs-Fri) with alternating Wednesdays. Students who are not physically present at school will Zoom into their classes on remote days.

With this hybrid model, I wanted to make sure the staff knew that I could support in-person and virtual opportunities. After our first big staff meeting where they introduced new staff, which was held in the auditorium with us sitting well apart from each other, I sent an e-mail to the staff letting them know a little about me, how much I look forward to collaborating with them, and sharing my menu of services. I will also put a paper copy of this menu in teachers’ mailboxes as soon as they arrive from the print shop.

My e-mail also included an invitation to stop by the library to say hello and receive a small free welcome gift anytime during our work days before school begins. (I used the many coffee mugs we weren’t using at home from various sets of dishes, and I added a selection of coffee pods, hot chocolate packets, and a variety of tea bags.) Normally, I would hold an open house of sorts for a few hours on one day, but I thought spreading it out over several days would be safer as people could stop by individually or in small groups. It was important to me to make sure I still had a way to welcome staff to the library and meet them in person in as safe a way as possible. Meeting someone in person builds a connection in a way that an e-mail or introduction video cannot.

I was absolutely thrilled that I already had several replies to my initial e-mail the next morning and the following day, and quite a few more people have popped into the library to say hello. Through one of the conversations I was even able to swing an invitation to the English department meeting to introduce myself and plug collaboration. While the beginning of this new adventure has been unusual in many ways, I am thankful for the connections I have already been able to make.

If you have a menu of services that you have created for your school, please consider sharing it!

I want to thank Christy James, the district library media services coordinator for Charleston County School District, for sharing her district’s menu of services with me during the August 5 AASL Town Hall. You can make a copy of her Google Doc here.

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Author: Courtney Pentland

Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha Library Sciences program and is the AASL Liaison and PD Committee Chair for the Nebraska School Librarians Association. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary



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