The Ugly Brown Couch

“The couches in the hall are so ugly. We should just throw them away.” I don’t know how many times I thought that as I made the trek down to the fourth grade hall in my elementary school. I loved the library, the beautiful solid wooden tables and sturdy chairs; until you had to move them once a week for a faculty meeting! The rocking chair for sharing stories, the rows of shelves, the quiet and orderly everything seen as you walked into that wonderful space. At least that was how it was when I took this job and the PreK-4 campus. The only thing that was missing was the spontaneity, collaboration, and comfort.

After TLA (Texas Library Association) Conference several years ago, I walked away with a whole different perspective. It was time to make a change. I had been to multiple sessions on collaborative research, makerspaces, and noise! I visited with vendors showcasing flexible seating, furniture design, and digital tools. I came back pumped and ready to completely revamp my space and my delivery.

My principal was used to my enthusiasm for new adventures and listened with rapt attention as I described my plan for a new library design! Nodding her head in agreement that the change was needed. Smiling as she agreed that maybe we could do something. She asked me to put together a plan and boy did I; to the tune of about $10,000.00. As we talked further, I realized that this was a pipe dream. I teach in a public school with limited funding. But, I was not to be swayed from my goal. So I began trolling the hallways, talking to friends, posting on Facebook, reaching out to our parents and slowly but surely the transformation took place.

It started with those ugly couches from the fourth grade hall. One afternoon, I asked a couple of parent volunteers to help me move one into the library. I just wanted to see if the students would even want to sit there. The volunteers thought I was crazy, but an amazing thing happened. Over the next two days the students started showing up, getting comfy and reading together, talking, doing homework. It was amazing! One ugly brown couch was a catalyst for change. Over the next two weeks, we added an old electric fireplace from a faculty member’s grandmother, another couch, several chairs, bean bags, throw pillows, a LEGO table that a kinder teacher didn’t want, etc. As the space transformed, the learning transformed, the space became a more active, vibrant place. It was warm and inviting. Teachers met there for planning, PTO meetings started happening in the library, and students wanted to be there. They still checked out books, but now they were working together, playing games, reading; they just wanted to be there. So take a look around….. You’ll be amazed at how little it takes to start the transformation.