Louis Riel School Division
If anyone is ever in doubt as to what it means to practice exemplary teacher-librarianship, one needs to look no further than Louis Riel School Division’s own, Zoya Osipova. In any given year, Zoya would be a worthy candidate for the title of Outstanding Teacher-Librarian of the Year, but perhaps now, more than ever, this is the year to recognize her invaluable contribution to school libraries and educational leadership. As Dakota Collegiate embraces e-learning on a school-wide scale and their “bring-your-own-device” initiative continues to expand, Zoya Osipova is on the frontlines, transforming teaching and learning in her school community and school division.
For Zoya, teacher-librarianship is a commitment not only to honour, but to apply, the core values of the profession such as service, literacy, learning, equity, intellectual freedom, and democracy. Zoya’s career as a teacher-librarian has always been about supporting new learners in developing transferable literacy habits that will serve them well throughout their lives, regardless of what the future may hold. Educational visionary and futurist, Marc Prensky would probably label Zoya a digital immigrant, but she remains more relevant and more digitally savvy than many of the digital natives she supports, including not only students, but also young teachers who are new to the profession.
Zoya Osipova began her teaching career in Louis Riel School Division in 1975, as a high school English teacher at Glenlawn Collegiate, and classroom teacher at Victor H. L. Wyatt School. By 1987, Zoya had moved from the classroom to the school library when she accepted the position of teacher-librarian at Lavallee School. In 1989, she returned to Victor H. L. Wyatt School in the role of teacher-librarian, and became itinerant between both Wyatt and St. George in 1997. By 2000, Zoya had transferred to Dakota Collegiate to accept a full-time teacher librarian assignment, a position which she still proudly holds today.
Zoya is perhaps best described as a highly dedicated, grassroots educator with a passion for learning that is contagious. She is enthusiastic about great literature, and students and colleagues will attest that she tells the best stories ever. Before leaving any conversation, she will always ask the question… “So what are you reading?” She asks because she cares that we read, and that we make time to read for pleasure, and completely to lose ourselves in the experience through story. She even makes time for storytime, especially for our English as an additional language (EAL) learners, to ensure that they don’t miss out on hearing the works of Chris Van Allsburg read aloud.
Zoya ensures that the school library is a vital part of the school’s academic culture and a hub for student learning in the school. In a recent school newsletter, she describes the Dakota Collegiate Library as “a place for lively minds to seek information, share, collaborate and create,” and as “a safe, calm place during spares, lunch and after school for unwinding, and for seeking help with assignments, or relaxing with a book or magazine, in print or online.” During the school examination period, it is not at all unusual for Zoya to apply for an after-hours permit and keep the school library open until 9:00pm in the evening for students to meet in study groups or connect with her for some extra exam prep and assistance.
With the launch of Dakota Collegiate’s 21st Century Learning Initiative, students are now coming to school, equipped with their own electronic devices. In preparation for the new “bring-your-own-device” initiative, Zoya was proactive in researching similar programs, both in Canada and internationally, in order to support students and staff more effectively. She sourced professional articles, online documents, and websites of similar school exemplars, and synthesized her findings for school leaders to consider as the school embarked on this new vision for teaching and learning. Her research provided the school with a clearer picture of what to expect, including some of the challenges other schools with similar initiatives had encountered. The staff anticipated that the increased availability of technology in the school would significantly change the way they taught and how the students would learn, so Zoya provided leadership in organizing sessions on inquiry-based learning for all staff, in all curricular departments, as part of a 2-day professional learning institute.
As teacher-librarian, Zoya collaborates with teaching staff to plan rich, inquiry-based learning experiences that challenge students to ask questions, investigate big ideas, and construct personal understanding. Now that students are carrying their own personal devices, instructional partnerships between Zoya and the staff have become increasingly invaluable for personalizing instruction, incorporating student interests into assignments, exploring innovative ways to use technologies, and creating a school-wide culture of inquiry. Zoya also enhances teaching within the school by supporting classroom teachers in the development of new instructional strategies for incorporating information literacy skills into the inquiry process. With the new emphasis on technology, Zoya makes it a priority that students know how to find information, validate it, synthesize it, and communicate it in meaningful and thoughtful ways. She knows that the acquisition of these skills is invaluable because they will transfer seamlessly to future research projects, learning tasks, and eventually, the workplace.
What Zoya brings to the new “bring-your-own-device” initiative is a “minds-on” approach to a “hands-on” digital device. She believes that the technology has the potential to engage, challenge, and support student learning in new ways, but she is never fazed by the cool factor of the technology itself. She demands that these devices push students and staff to become more complex thinkers and she is relentless in her pursuit of infusing academic rigour into curricular programming. She challenges all of us to think critically, act ethically and solve problems creatively. She makes us think, and think deeply about important issues and ideas. She teaches us to question what we read and evaluate the credibility of sources of information… and she leads by example. Who else would challenge the mighty ProQuest when they stated in a student database service that the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekov, was in fact, a Ukrainian? … and who else would receive an immediate response and apology for the error from the ProQuest product manager? An authentic, teachable moment for students and staff… absolutely!
The school library program at Dakota Collegiate has always maintained a focus on student learning. Zoya continues to see her role as not only helping students find information, but helping students do something worthwhile and meaningful with that information.
Zoya Osipova exemplifies what it means to subscribe to a learning lifestyle. Zoya has always been a strong advocate of personal professional learning and models professional reading and research as a professional responsibility.
At Dakota Collegiate, Zoya is an active member of both the school’s Literacy Committee and Professional Learning Committee. She is the driving force behind the school’s commitment to inquiry-based learning and has personally challenged and coached staff to rethink how they approach student research assignments. She is also an active member of a cross-curricular group of high school educators who are in the process of designing a contemporary research continuum for students in Grades 9-12 in Louis Riel School Division.
At the divisional level, Zoya is a long-standing member of the LRSD Teacher-Librarian Professional Learning Committee. She always ensures that this committee is knowledgeable in current research and innovative ideas concerning school libraries. With our focus this year on providing evidence of the impact of the teacher-librarian on teaching and learning, Zoya has collected countless examples and testimonials that have been shared in a formal presentation to our school board.
This year, Zoya also participated in a new Professional Learning Network with divisional colleagues to investigate the implementation of ebooks and ereaders in our schools. The result was a new LRSD Digital Library designed for students in Grades 5-12. Before the library was launched earlier this year in our high schools, Zoya took the lead in evaluating and selecting the senior high content, creating a new virtual, recreational collection for students and staff in the division.
Zoya effectively models transformational leadership as she empowers colleagues to rethink how we teach and how students learn. She has the ability to recognize the potential in others and learn from the expertise of others. By identifying the strengths of those around her, she also encourages and nurtures the talents of her teaching colleagues, but Zoya is always modest about the great impact her work has on others. Instead, she prefers to scaffold opportunities for others to become successful and extend their learning in new and innovative ways.
As a long-standing member of the Manitoba School Library Association, Zoya has frequently attended and supported the annual SAGE Conference. On previous occasions when LRSD has hosted the conference, Zoya has done it all – organizing the program, sourcing presenters, hospitality, and catering. In recent years, she has diligently worked behind the scenes to assist the SAGE Publishers’ Display Chair in securing vendors, door prizes, and assisting with set-up.
As a mentor to her divisional and metro colleagues, Zoya is someone we seek out for inspiration, collaboration, and affirmation. Whether you are a novice or a veteran teacher-librarian, a library assistant, or a library coordinator, we all count on Zoya to share her knowledge and expertise on everything from the latest picture book to the pros and cons of social media. Divisional coordinators co-present with her, teacher-librarians job shadow her, and school-based colleagues co-teach with her. Her library door is always open and everyone is welcome.
All being said, what we admire most about Zoya is her commitment and dedication to the students and staff she serves. She always makes both their information and social-emotional needs her first priority. Library technician, Kristen Mazepa describes Zoya’s extraordinary compassion and support for students and co-workers as “unwavering.” Her motto for her students is “I want them not to need me when they leave me.” Her gift to the recent graduating class at Dakota… a few words of wisdom on Internet safety and a reminder to “to protect your identity… think carefully about what you post… try to do no harm… all the best of everything to you, dear Lancers.” This is “embedded librarianship” at its finest.