What principals know and think about school libraries we have learned largely from our own past experiences and school librarians. I have had the distinct honor and privilege to work with and learn from some amazing librarians over the course of my career. These innovative educators have shaped my belief in the indispensable value of robust school libraries. They also have transformed how I think about learning and how I make decisions as an instructional leader.
Connecting School to the World Outside the Classroom
The new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries were released by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) in 2018 and provide a fantastic resource for principals. I would challenge any school leader to review the standards and not see the very real connections and links to the instructional work that our schools aspire toward. The standards can be found at https://standards.aasl.org/.
In their 2016 book Most Likely to Succeed, Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner outline the skills that students—and educators—will continue to need as they progress forward in their personal, civic, and professional lives. Many have deemed these “21st-century skills.” Dintersmith and Wagner’s proposed skills include:
- Critical thinking and problem-solving
- Collaboration across networks
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneurship
- Effective oral, written, and multimedia communication
- Accessing and analyzing information
- Curiosity and imagination
When comparing the new AASL standards with these skills, the role of excellent libraries and school librarians in every school becomes compelling—even essential. School librarians are the resident experts in the development of these skills. Accessing and analyzing information, collaborating across networks, cultivating curiosity and imagination—this is the life blood of an outstanding school library. More importantly, these are the skills that will allow our students to become thoughtful and engaged citizens equipped to navigate a world full of increasingly complex information.
The Hub of the School
Establishing the library as the hub of the school can have a dramatic effect on what learning looks like for students and teachers. Department silos begin to break down as collaboration increases among teachers and across content areas. When schools are at their best, teacher and librarian co-teaching and collaboration are ubiquitous, and this practice can be a game-changer. Imagine the veteran social studies teacher who is the master of their content teaming up with a school librarian who is a master of accessing information, research, and sharing new knowledge on a broader, or even global, scale. The possibilities are endless. For example, librarians might assist students in taking their knowledge and demonstrating understanding through diverse, varied, and deep project-based learning products that are then shared with a wider audience. In short, libraries take learning to a place that is more authentically connected to the world outside of school.
Librarians are experts in inquiry, inclusivity, collaboration, curating resources, exploration, innovation, and engagement. They help students to think, create, share, and grow.
Libraries specialize in student choice and student voice.
Libraries specialize in establishing cultures of literacy and inclusiveness by exposing students to invaluable new perspectives.
Questions for Reflection
Are you including your librarian(s) on your school leadership team?
What is your vision for your library?
What pre- and misconceptions might you hold regarding your library and/or your librarians? How are these pre/misconceptions limiting the effectiveness of your library?
How are you advocating for increased library staffing and funding?
How are you supporting your librarian to do transformative, not merely clerical, work?
Is your library a place that students want to be? How can you help make it so?
As leaders of learning in schools, principals set the tone for the culture, and we must begin with a powerful “why.” If our why includes empowering students to be engaged citizens and creators of new knowledge who value inclusiveness, collaboration, accessing information, and thinking deeply, we must ponder carefully the support and vision that we offer to our libraries.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the new AASL standards and to consider the culture of deep learning that you wish to provide to students. You have a strong asset right in your own backyard. Take a moment to sit down with your teacher-librarian to dream together and to chart a course. Unlock the power of your library to drive a culture of deep learning in your school and always remember, school is not preparation for real life, school is real life. At least, it should be—and your school librarians can help with that.
Scott Beck, PhD, is the director of Student Services for Secondary Schools for Norman Public Schools in Norman, OK. From 2011–19 he served as head principal at Norman High School, a large, comprehensive high school of approximately 2,000 students. Scott became a National Board-Certified social studies teacher in 2008 and was named the 2019 Oklahoma Principal of the Year by the Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals. Follow Scott on Twitter (@scottabeck).