The role of the principal and school leadership team is critical in establishing a school culture that supports the school library. A library that is a learning centre linked to student outcomes, aligned with the school’s vision and learning goals.
The New Jersey School Library survey (2011) (PDF) explored the dynamics that inhibit and enable school libraries to contribute significantly to learning outcomes.
The key point for me is the fact that libraries in schools must be considered as an essential part of the overall learning environment, and their use must be integrated at every level into what is happening. – Derek Wenmoth
The role of the school leadership team in creating a culture of collaboration, community and participation is pivotal. These supporting educational beliefs and a collaborative culture ensure the effectiveness of the school library as a learning centre.
Central to shaping the role and perception of the library is the expectation that school librarians are learning enablers. Key staff who actively engage with the teaching team to support students in shared instruction in diverse ways.
A paradigm shift in education set within the context of a rapidly changing information landscape has meant rethinking the school library, as a physical and virtual space and (most critically) its role. School libraries need to engage and connect with today's students in ways that have previously never been explored.
The actions of school principals contribute directly to a school library’s impact on student achievement.
Proactive school leadership is essential
School leaders need to:
- establish processes and structures that embed the library team within the teaching team. Encourage participation, communication and collaboration by including the library team in meetings, committees and professional learning and development programmes
- implement flexible scheduling of classes and/or smaller groups of students visiting the library (as dictated by curricular and instructional needs rather than a fixed schedule)
- address collaboration with the librarian in teacher evaluations.
The New Jersey School Library survey highlights the benefit of principals who nurture a school culture that:
- supports the most effective operation of the school library
- enables trust and collaboration between teachers and librarians.
The school library as silo, as a stand-alone entity, is as emblematic of impoverished learning places as the closed classroom door - Dianne Oberg
In this video school leaders talk about the importance of leading a learning community. One that supports the school library and encourages collaboration between teachers, library staff and families:
School leaders as models
The school leadership team will shape the culture of the school by:
- modelling and encouraging all staff as readers
- modelling and encouraging digital citizenship
- creating a safe and supportive environment for exploring new ideas and embracing change.
The NZCER report Key messages about changes in schools (2012) noted that change in schools is a ‘fragile endeavour’. Shifting understandings and perceptions of the library must "carefully consider the process as well as the product and start to build in processes that will support sustainability and scale-up from the inception of the initiative".
Many of the findings of the NZCER study are directly relevant to the implementation of change in school libraries.
Each school and community is different and there needs to be sufficient time and planning to support change in schools and the capacity and commitment to find creative solutions to any conceptual or structural challenges that may present.
Understanding the ‘why’
To be effective, the designers of new initiatives need to move past the idea that change is a technical process. It takes time, support, resources and an understanding of the why for teachers and librarians to adopt new approaches and ideas.
Any change process in schools needs to pay close attention to the types of professional learning experiences planned for teachers and librarians. And also how these might support the whole school team to:
- clearly understand the principles underpinning the change
- work together to create new ways of working that honour these principles while also fitting their local context
- engage in deep change which challenges prevailing beliefs and creates new practices
- work together in an ongoing way in a community of practice.
Empowering your team
As noted in the NZ Ministry of Education's Key principal leadership activities, although the principal is in a critical position to lead change, he or she cannot do it alone. Empowering others throughout the school to develop and exercise leadership roles and to share in the leadership of change is both desirable and achievable. This, along with the engagement of support from external agencies, is vital for principals working in difficult or challenging school contexts.
The National Library Services to Schools is an independent and impartial ally to all schools in their journey to transform their school libraries. We encourage all school leaders to use the resources, services, advice and support freely available to them.