Development and Discussion 2019 11: Precision engineering the role of school library staff - Using Inquiry to engage teachers across the curriculum

17 December 2019 Share


In this month's Development and Discussion blog Elizabeth Hutchinson guides us through her perspective on engaging teachers.


Literacy and reading for pleasure are important but schools believe that they have this expertise within their teaching staff. If you look online there are some very well-read teachers sharing what they know just as well as school librarians and in some cases actually looking as if they do it better than we are. The education Twitter world is playing a huge part in this and the voice of the teacher and reading for pleasure is huge; leading to more questions about the need for school librarians. 

Saying that I do think literacy and reading for pleasure is an important role for the school librarian and we need to make sure schools have a distinct understanding between a volunteer who loves reading and a school librarian. However, we also need to ensure schools understand what else they have in a school librarian. Our information literacy skills are our secret weapon and this is the problem, we need it to be known not secret! This untapped area of expertise will add value to education and the curriculum and learning how to talk about what we do is essential.  Many teachers really don’t understand what information literacy means and we need to do something about this, we have to find a way to talk about our skillset however this is not easy. 

So how do we go about this? I thought I would share my 4 top tips:

  • Know and understand your expertise. The simple truth is that we have skills that our teachers and students don’t. We work with databases every day, we know and understand keyword searching, we can support critical evaluation of websites, we know how to create bibliographies. Don’t be fooled that your teachers and students know more than you do. Just because they can turn on an iPad and type a question into Google does not make them experts in research and critical thinking.
  • Widen your vocabulary.Don’t hide behind your library terminology, widen your vocabulary and speak to teachers in their own language even if we mean the same thing. We need to move into the teaching world as they are really not going to move into ours.  It is important that we understand we are learning to become a teacher and the more comfortable we are with this the easier it will be to talk with authority. We are not pretending to be teachers we are learning to become teachers. 
  • Commit yourself to an ongoing process of purposeful profession learning.Join in any CPD (Continued Professional Development) provided by the school at inset day. It might not always seem relevant but being there and learning what the teachers are being taught is important. Ask to be sent on relevant courses, even just asking raises your profile. Find free CPD, there is some out there. Check out my website here for more information https://www.elizabethahutchinson.com/schoollibrariescpd
  • Practice, Practice, Practice - Once you have started on the above 3 it is important that you learn how to talk about what you can do and why you do it and the only way to do this is practice talking about it. With your colleagues, with your teachers, with your friends (ok not too often unless you want to lose all your friends). Remember that you are the only one who knows what you are capable of. You are the only one who can make this happen but you are not on your own. We have a wealth of knowledge and expertise around us and we just need to be prepared to find it and use it. 

It’s also worth adding that it’s not too late to get involved if you’ve never learnt about information literacy before.

What can you do about this now?

The SLA course which I’m leading, Using Inquiry to engage teachers across the curriculum is designed to help you with all of the above. FOSIL is a Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning and is the perfect tool, in my opinion, to help you on your journey to becoming confident in teaching information literacy and supporting inquiry learning. 

Darryl Toerien, Head of Library and Archives at Oakham school, introduced me to FOSIL back in 2013. This framework has enabled me to easily demonstrate to teachers where the school librarians fit into the inquiry process. It has opened doors I had not realised were possible and helped teachers to see the library beyond reading for pleasure and English to a resource that can and should be part of their classroom and curriculum. 

During this course I will explain what FOSIL is and how it works, I will give you examples of how it is currently being used and if you bring along some topic ideas we can create a plan of action for you to take back to your school ready to use. It is aimed at both primary and secondary staff who’ve heard about FOSIL but aren’t 100% clear what it is, or who know what it is but aren’t sure how to implement it in their context. FOSIL is not just for those students who want to go on to an academic future, but these skills are equally important for all children - Alison (SLA CEO) explains more here: https://www.sla.org.uk/article/alison-tarrant/uk-parliament-week-school-libraries-and-democracy-more-than-meets-the-eye

The courses are taking place in Leatherhead (Surrey) in March and in Manchester in April, and you can find out more here: https://www.sla.org.uk/events