An Opportunity for Leadership

By: Shelley O’Rourke, Librarian/Instructional Coach, North Middle School, Great Falls Public Schools

Hero's JourneyEvery good writer knows the key to crafting a memorable story is the balance between character and plot. To hold a reader’s interest, events in a story, as in life, impact a character, positively and negatively. When things happen to us in life, how we respond determines the outcome of our hero’s journey.

In the spring of 2018, my district administration presented me with an “opportunity for leadership.” When two high school librarians retired, the decision was made not to rehire their positions in order to fund two secondary coaching positions. Coaches use data to support administration and teachers in improving instruction in all academic areas. As a librarian, I focused on inquiry and research, mostly with English teachers. The administration asked me to fill the middle school technology coach job. Like Bilbo Baggins before me, I resisted this call to action. Faced with no other options, I eventually accepted the challenge and the trials and tribulations that are part and parcel of the journey.

My new role affected our middle school libraries because the librarian who traveled between the schools was now full time in my building. The workload increase was difficult to manage. At the middle school level, librarians have several duties, including supervising study halls, homerooms, and safety/building sweeper. With one less person to help in the library, they were stretched thin.

The librarians felt like our district valued coaches more than librarians, but I think, for the most part, the administration was not well versed in what school librarians do. As a coach, I have access to my principal and superintendent that I did not have as a librarian. I regularly advocate for the library and librarians.

Unlike Bilbo, I have not been gifted with any supernatural aid, but I receive excellent training and mentorship from the other coaches. We meet at least twice a month to collaborate. The secondary superintendent and curriculum director often join us.

Serving my school as a technology coach was a natural fit, given my skill set. However, my school staff, in general, was not open to working with a technology coach, so for the 2019-2020 school year, I was reinstated as a half-time librarian and a half-time instructional coach.

Early in the school year, scheduling has been the biggest obstacle. On odd days I am a librarian and on even days, a coach. However, on many odd days, I have coaching duties. Arranging for the traveling librarian to cover for me on odd days takes patience and organization. The odd/even schedule is necessary because Montana has a state law mandating schools have one librarian for every 500 students. Each middle school’s enrollment is approximately 800, so each school needs 1.5 librarians. My coaching schedule demands flexibility so I do not supervise study halls. The traveling librarian supervises a study hall in my school but not at the other school. We share a homeroom and a club.

My hero’s journey continues; my ultimate reward remains elusive. I anticipate the new normal will include a greater appreciation for the school library across the district as I support teachers and administrators in achieving our goals for the school year.