As a classroom teacher of 8 years, 3 years as a high school assistant principal, and 6 years as a head high school principal, I have had the opportunity to learn from many colleagues. In no area has this colleague-driven growth been more pronounced than in my conceptualization of the role that school libraries and school librarians play in deep learning and conceptual understanding for students.
By and large, what principals know about libraries we learn from the librarians that we work with. This concept is of the utmost importance as we begin to talk about how to bridge the divide between school librarians and the school administrators who have the power to unlock the library’s true potential in schools.
Librarians must see themselves as advocates and as lead learners in their buildings. More specifically, librarians must see their role as lead teacher for both students and for the adults in their building and in their respective districts (yes, this includes principals, too).
Like any great educator, the foundational work of school librarians must be relational. Actively seeking out ways to remain relevant to both students and teachers is of critical importance. School leaders want libraries to help them achieve the broader goals of their schools. Librarians must understand this role and find ways to stay engaged with their principals to better serve the broad mission of the building or district. Of course, as previously stated, librarians must also see themselves as critical advocates for the deep and powerful work of school libraries. Never make the assumption that your building and district leaders possess a sound understanding of what the role of the 21st-century school library might or should look like.
Why exactly are librarians so critical in helping a school fulfill a mission of 21st-century readiness for students? Librarians are masters of student choice and student voice. Consider the Guided Inquiry process and lesson design in this regard. In a highly effective model, librarians collaborate with content teachers to construct robust and thorough units of study that activate student curiosity, provide choices, and navigate the complete research process where students are forced to make sense of varied and diverse sources and information.
Additionally, school libraries deepen conceptual understanding and help to cultivate the intellectual virtues. By helping develop the habits of mind to think well, learn well, and live well, school librarians give students the skills required to tackle challenging instructional experiences that mimic those often ambiguous and complex problems that they are certain to confront for the rest of their lives both professionally and personally.
School librarians must become exemplars of learning in their building who are viewed as the go-to experts for adult learning and professional development. Make yourself the most valuable team member in your school and if you are not on your school and/or district leadership teams, now is the time! The voice of school librarians must be present in the conversations and planning that work to chart the direction of instruction and learning in schools if we are to aptly prepare students with the skills they will need where they are headed. Be “elevator speech” ready at all times to clearly articulate the importance of school libraries and school librarians in your district. When the conversation comes to discuss funding cuts and staffing adjustments, it is up to us to ensure that world-class libraries staffed with world-class librarians never becomes the topic of conversation.
Thank you to the amazing librarians that I have had the opportunity to learn from; you have taught me the importance of your work in the education of young people and our school is all the better for it.
Author: Scott Beck
Scott Beck, Ph.D., is Principal at Norman High School. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and a National Institute for School Leadership Administrator.