The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," is commonly used to convey the importance of individuals and groups working together to support children in a community. Our belief is that the concept of “it takes a village” has never had more meaning or relevancy than it does for our children today, especially in the school setting. Schools are the one place where all children in a community, despite different socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds, come together for a single purpose—to learn, a purpose supported by the power of shared responsibility for the learning and overall growth and development of our students at Loudoun County High School. So much in fact, "it takes a village" is one of five core areas of focus that continually drive our academic and social endeavors to create a holistic approach to the teaching and learning process.
With that said, public schools are often not purposefully built to foster the community approach to learning. Teachers are often isolated by department workrooms and content specific hallways. Students are often separated by grade-level courses, locker assignments, and other scheduling or logistical processes put in place to manage the flow of the school day. Built in 1954, our school is beautiful and rich with tradition, but it, too, poses some design challenges associated with the community approach to learning.
Despite the logistical and physical barriers, there is one place in our school where all students and staff consistently come together—the library. Our library is the epicenter of our village. Why? Because we have made it so. We are responsible for creating conditions that provide our students and staff with opportunities to interact meaningfully with one another on a daily basis, and the library has become the center of teaching, learning, and growing for all members of our learning community. The location of our library is in the heart of the school and within its walls lie opportunities for all to connect and contribute to personal growth and to the growth of others.
In “Preparing the Principal and Librarian for an Invaluable Partnership,” Gerry Sokoll, Frances Reeve, and Shannon Mann Flater (2015) stated:
The 21st century has produced a new outlook in public education. Through interconnectedness among school programs and subject areas, there is a great emphasis on the development of student achievement through curricula that emphasizes critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Two key professionals who can impact these curricular changes are the school principal and the librarian.
Taking a cue from the 2005 movie Robots, our motto is “See a need. Fill the need." As the most utilized classroom and resource on campus, we have come to realize that our space must be fluid and comprehensive to accommodate the needs of our ever-growing and changing community. For this reason, our library has been transformed to become the resource hub for students and staff members. The library is now the home base not only for our librarians, but the technology department, the reading specialist, and the English language learner instructional coach. Each of these specialists offers valuable tools, resources, and information to meet the learning and social needs of our school community.
Unlike other classrooms in the building, the library has no prerequisite to enter its doors. All are welcome; no matter the reason or need. Students and staff come to the library for a myriad of reasons, each bringing a diverse and rich range of life and learning experiences. To honor and accommodate the different needs of our community, we offer purposefully designed learning spaces: a quiet Student Study Center, created by consolidating the librarians from two offices into one office space; a Raider Professional Development Center, repurposed from a storage room, to provide space for in-house professional development sessions for both teachers and students to learn and lead, pub-style tables and restaurant booths provide collaborative work areas for smaller groups; and a technology bar, crafted by our very own LCHS Technical Education Department, that provides a place to work and charge devices. We painted chalkboards in specific areas for group project collaboration. A large conference-style table was constructed from the salvaged LCHS 1954 center basketball court to accommodate larger collaborative groups.
The setup of our library supports the growth mindset of the school and its members. Our plan is to be adaptable, to make adjustments based on the needs of our community, to provide instruction that ensures that our students are prepared for academic or vocational life beyond high school, and to be future ready.
The more teachers believe in the library as an instructional partner, leader, and resource, the more they will feel comfortable and confident in bringing their classes to the library. The more classes that come into the library, the more students are introduced to and become familiar with the library. When individual students become more comfortable in the library and see it, too, as a valuable partner, leader, and resource, the closer the instructional circle comes to being complete.
Our library is a classroom where teachers and students are leading the learning. Teachers schedule the library and often work closely with our librarians or other resources to co-plan and co-teach a lesson. We have hosted more classes in our library than ever before for instruction, collaboration, and computer use. The library is the one classroom in the building that can directly serve and support every student and staff member despite student enrollment and staffing numbers. Within the walls of the library lie opportunities for the development of literacy, collaboration, communication, technology, socialization, and reflection. Our combined workspace and professional collaboration serve to positively impact student achievement and support these essential skills in addition to accessing, using, and evaluating information needed for their coursework.
Since the 1950s, ongoing research has been conducted on the correlation between the impact of school libraries and the increase in student achievement. Gary Hartzell's findings show that "effective library programs—when led by active, involved teacher-librarians—can have a discernible positive impact on student achievement regardless of student, school, and community demographics."
In order for the library to become the heart of the school, school librarians must have support from the principal. As the instructional leader of the school, the principal is responsible for creating and sustaining an environment that encourages all members of the learning community to thrive and become integral players in the teaching and learning process, and, ultimately, student achievement.
We have come together at Loudoun County High School to promote collaboration (instructional coaching) and to develop instructional best practices associated with co-planning and co-teaching, to form a Friends-of-the-Library Network to raise funds to reimagine and renovate our largest classroom, to hire and retain excellent teacher-librarians, and to create and maximize our space to advance student and adult learning. For this to happen, the principal must be visible in the library to see what is taking place on a daily basis; must learn about the library systems, resources, and opportunities to impact the school community; and must become actively engaged in the teaching and learning process. The principal cannot be a spectator on the sidelines. She must become a member of team.
We are fortunate to have a shared vision for our library and a growth mindset at Loudoun County High School. We understand that we are not defined by our shelves, but rather by who comes into our library. It is our mission that each individual leaves with more than just a book; but also with a confident knowledge, a safe place to learn and grow, and a desire to come back.
Hartzell, Gary. “Why Should Principals Support School Libraries?” Teacher Librarian 31, no. 2 (2003): 21-23.
Sokol, Gerry, Frances Reeve, and Shannon Mann Flater. “Preparing the Principal and Librarian for an Invaluable Partnership.” Radical Pedagogy 12, no.2 (Summer 2015): 2.