A recent listserv thread addressed the importance of school librarians having a place at department chair meetings (thanks for starting this important conversation, Aly!). This got me thinking about my role outside of the library not only in terms of academia but in student life. Seeing kids outside of the library (in non-library-related situations) goes a long way towards developing relationships that enhance our effectiveness inside the library.
None of this is rocket science, but I thought it might be helpful to the newer librarians out there to note what has worked for me.
Go to chapel / assembly / community gathering
While all of our faculty are encouraged to attend morning chapel services, the pace of life at my school often means that a 30-minute student-free block is precious time quickly filled up with class prep, meetings, administrivia, etc. As an assistant housemaster of one of our girls’ day houses, I attend 2 of 4 chapel services each week – to greet the girls in my house, to hear the day’s message, to be part of community announcements. It allows for context, understanding how the kids are starting any particular day. Further to this; consider getting involved in house/residential life – it can enhance your school experience immeasurably.
Chaperone a dance or school outing
Seeing kids in a purely social context allows you to see them out of their classroom persona and get a fuller picture of them as people. Volunteer to chaperone a dance; if you’re in a boarding environment, sign up to accompany a group of kids on the “sushi bus” or on a shopping trip into the city on a weekend.
Attend games / plays / concerts / etc
15 years of watching cricket and rugby have not helped me understand either very well, but the kids don’t care – they’re just excited when we show up. Seeing a big play being made, a role well tackled, an impressive performance all make for a great future conversation starter.
Sign up for beginning of year / end of year outings
I’m not going to lie – spending a day with 100 Grade 9s is pretty exhausting, but the investment of time and energy pays off big time. Learning their names, seeing them interact with their peers, sharing a laugh all helps to forge a connection that can last until they graduate.
Volunteer to coach or lead an arts/service group
I was pretty upfront in my job interview; I have no athletic skills to offer my school, but many of you do, so go for it; I just ‘got to know’ Laurie Sears in the May 12th blog post, and she coaches tennis (#soawesome). Those like me can help with the musical, improv or community service. A library colleague and I signed up for Thursday Arts programming; in the past, we’ve offered bookbinding, jewelry-making and we’re currently doing build-a-buddy (sewing stuffed animals). Last term, I had a Gr 12 boy in this group who rarely darkened the library’s doorstep; we now talk regularly in the hallway, and he’s even stopped by to say ‘hi’. My colleague also runs a service activity in the library, working with a group of students to make pet treats (dog biscuits, catnip mice) for a local animal shelter.
Keep up with school social media
We can’t all be at every school event, so watch the Twitter and Instagram feeds, keep up the newsletters, read the blogs – and then mention something you saw to the kid in question and see their face light up (with joy or embarrassment – either way it’s worth it).
Knowing kids (and as many of their names as I can remember), is such a bonus for me when interacting with them in the library. Introducing a database, helping with book selection, guiding through citation, and dealing with noise or technical issues is much easier when I have a prior connection with the student,
How do you engage with student life at your school?
I couldn’t agree more! I have heard excellent book recommendations while out on a run with students, and they always notice (and thank) teachers who come to their games. Coaching the Academic Team takes me out of the library far more than would be ideal, but getting a sense into the students’ world and learning from their curiosity is priceless.
Thank you, Shelagh, for these great reminders! I’ve been at this for a while and perhaps because of that I’ve lost track lately of keeping up with kids outside library and classroom time. You’re right–games, assemblies, and student performances are so much fun and often the best way to get to know our fabulous kids. Thanks again. 🙂
This is a great reminder that in our busy lives, showing up matters. It’s so easy to let attending events outside of the library slide when there never seems to be enough time between work and our personal lives. One of my goals is to just do it! I always regret not going because students do notice.
As others have commented, I wholeheartedly agree that it is important for us to get out of the library and connect with our students in other meaningful ways. An added benefit, I have found, is that it helps break the stereotype of the stuffy, book-centric librarian. While I have only been at my school for two years, I have noticed an incredible difference in how the students use the library and interact with me and my assistant, because we make the effort to be involved in as much as possible with them outside our space. Thank you for taking the time to write about this!
Yes, yes, yes! I echo the chorus that is lauding this positive reminder. Can I tell you that I chaperoned an 8th grade trip to Six Flags on Friday and prior to the trip, I only knew the names of two of my nine group members? You better believe I know them now! Watching them play, or even better, playing WITH them, gives me that “I can’t believe I’m being paid to do this” feeling and reminds me why I’m so grateful to be a school librarian. I love the work we get to do inside the library, but also love the outside of the library, relationship building. I will also share that while at Six Flags, a dehydrated lady behind me in the hour long line for the Superman ride puked and it hit the back of my Chaco bound feet (mostly clear, but still…). My students will forever be bonded with me over the shared horror and I am certain will feel comfortable coming in to tease…or to talk books, get research help, you know, whatever.