Above: Matthew Malcolm poses with colleagues Lauren Spaxman (left) and Val Couwenberg (right)
On the Job with… Matthew Malcolm, Head of Guidance and Special Education, Delhi District Secondary School
Matthew Malcolm’s office door is basically always open, and there’s no such thing as an interruption.
“I fit in what I need to get done around what students need,” says Malcolm, Guidance Counsellor at Delhi District Secondary School. “No two days are the same, and if something comes up, the open-door policy means there are literally no barriers to finding a solution.”
Right: Malcolm poses with students helping to lead Grade 8 Day activities
His role requires this flexibility because students’ future successes are on the line. Sometimes it’s an application deadline a student might be rushing to meet, or a timetable change that’s required quickly to get the courses needed to apply to a specific program the following year. Other times it could be a matter of well-being.
The open-door policy isn’t just literal, either; it creates a sense of comfort and a collegial atmosphere where students feel like they can express anything.
“Sometimes a student might just need to come in for a quick chat, and that’s a great opportunity to see where they’re at in other regards,” says Malcolm.
Knowing he needs to expect the unexpected means Malcolm starts his work day at about 7:30 each morning in those quiet moments before the school begins to come to life again. It’s post-secondary season, so this gives him a chance to log onto a database which shows the statuses of Delhi District’s senior students’ college and university applications. If something is missing – a transcript not linked properly or grades not showing up, for example – he can make the needed adjustments to ensure it’s complete.
Malcolm’s whole approach to his day could be considered open-door. He turns up all over the place: at basketball practices, in the cafeteria at lunch, and in and out of classrooms. It helps that he’s also the Health and Safety representative for the school, and hallway walks are a routine part of that role.
As he passes a group of students hanging out at their lockers, a chorus of greetings follows, and one senior student excitedly calls out, “Hey, Mr. Malcolm – I applied!”
“Excellent! I should be able to see your application soon,” he responds.
Malcolm himself is a Delhi District graduate and knew from the beginning it was a place he wanted to put down roots. His educational goals took him on a detour to the University of Guelph, where he completed a degree in criminal justice and social policy, followed by a master’s degree in justice and security administration. Deciding the next stepping stone on his path led him to education, so it was off to Buffalo, N.Y. to earn his M.Ed. Following that, he came full-circle, securing a one-year contract teaching at Delhi District. His career in Grand Erie has also included a six-year stint at Grand Erie Learning Alternatives teaching and developing courses.
Right: Malcolm at work in his office
Back in the office, Malcolm has a scheduled appointment with a student who is new to the school this term. With this comes an opportunity to help that student navigate the opportunities available at the school – trying out for sports teams, joining clubs, and getting involved in other ways. To set a positive and comfortable tone, Malcolm starts with a review of the student’s midterm marks – which are very good – and suggests ways to continue that momentum.
Teamwork makes the dream work for Malcolm, and he relies on Guidance Secretary Joanne Hill’s expertise in prioritizing what needs attention in a given day. Rounding out the Guidance team at the school are Lauren Spaxman and Val Couwenberg who provide valuable collaboration, brainstorming, and support.
“Relationships drive everything, and creating a culture where each of us can be who we are and do our best work is paramount,” says Malcolm. “We’re invested in these roles, are receptive to each other and know what we’re working to achieve.”
In addition to the team of support within the school building, Malcolm also relies on an extended network of colleagues at other school sites, working toward the same goals with a whole-system perspective.
“We have a phone-a-friend approach for sure, and don’t hesitate to reach out when questions come up,” he says after wrapping up a phone call with a fellow guidance councillor who was encountering difficulty navigating an online application for a mature student. “I think of each student as a Grand Erie student first and foremost, rather than Delhi students or PJ students, because we’re all working together with the collective resources, community partnerships, and Board programming available.”
Hanging on Malcolm’s office wall is a poster depicting Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan and its six indicators which work together to support the goal of Success for Every Student.
“For me, equity is the connecting thread; it sends a strong message that our schools are places for everyone – where they have access to tools and technology, where they can express themselves and highlight their abilities and uniqueness,” he says of the Multi-Year Plan. “Knowing that you matter and you contribute drives achievement and well-being, connects you to your community, and presents opportunities and a sense of meaning that’s crucial.
It’s a special day at Delhi, and over the lunch hour, students and staff are hosting Grade 8 Day, welcoming students from area feeder schools, and even a couple schools beyond Grand Erie’s borders. It’s a high-energy pep rally that serves to introduce the soon-to-be secondary students to the broader school culture.
“School spirit is very high here,” he says. “This is a kind, compassionate, accepting place where you can do your best in and outside of school, so it’s a privilege to be a part of the atmosphere as we meet new students.”
Lunch for Malcolm doesn’t usually consist of a sit-down meal, but rather grazing throughout the day.
“This keeps my energy up, and it means I can leave my door open at lunch,” he says.
He’ll need the energy for the afternoon, which involves an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) meeting with a student, parents, and Principal. He liaises with college and university personnel, sometimes with in-person school visits. Malcolm also checks in with teaching staff to determine any student meetings that need to take place before the end of the day. He checks in with his to-do list and plans for the next day as best he can before finally closing the office door.
Life at home is equally busy as Malcolm and his wife Jenn are parents to 18-month-old twins Everett and Emerson, future Delhi District students.
“It’s satisfying to know that I’m helping create a culture at the school that will allow them to be supported and thrive when they get there.”