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John Iona

John Iona
Librarian and Information Manager
Oasis Academy Enfield, Middlesex

John IonaSince graduating from De Montfort University, Leicester, with an English literature and media studies degree, John Iona has spent his entire career in the north London borough of Enfield, where he grew up. His inspiring A-level English and media studies teachers at Chase Community School encouraged a passion for literature, which he now wants to pass on to the students at Oasis Academy Enfield.

John joined the new school in its second year. It has just reached full capacity of 1,300 students with the first Year 13 starting this term. “I’ve had time to get to know the students as the school has grown.”

Autumn 2013 will be a busy term for John. He is about to take over running the Extended Project Qualification Level 3, which builds students’ research and analysis skills, for the sixth form. He has already created a level 2 programme for GCSE students which started with a study of the north London riots of summer 2011 before the students developed their own questions to explore in a 2,500-word mini-dissertation, with John teaching the information literacy skills they needed at the point they needed them. “It was equivalent to half a GCSE course and 14 students passed it. It was an opportunity for me and the library to contribute to the school’s GCSE results.”

He’s excited about resourcing the new weekly timetabled Drop Everything and Read literacy for Years 7 and 8. “They will be directed by established members of staff and represent a commitment to literacy enrichment,” says John. He supplies Drop Everything and Read boxes for which encourage students to increase the range and depth of their reading.

His constant campaign to build students’ appetites for reading has been extended to the staff: among the initiatives chronicled on his blog is this year’s mystery summer reading challenge. He sent his colleagues home at the end of the summer term with mystery teenage novels wrapped in brown paper, presented in front of their classes. In the autumn term, the adults will re-wrap the books and choose a student to pass them on to. So teaching staff across the school enjoy a taste of young adult fiction, the students see their teachers excited about their summer reading (and read their tweets about it) and the students themselves get an intriguing parcel and a chance to share their teachers’ enthusiasms: a triple whammy.

His World Book Day 2012 resources won a Times Educational Supplement award. They included a lesson plan to support a visit from performance poet BREIS (“the Year 7s were captivated”). John aims for two author events a year and this year’s headliner, Rick Yancey, involved Year 8 students from Oasis Academy and four other schools. “You don’t always get feedback or a very clear sense of how an event has gone down among the students so I was very touched that a whole class wrote me letters saying how they had benefited from the event.

As a SLG national committee member, John sees a lot of his role as “advocacy to get librarians recognised for the work they do” but believes that librarians are responsible for making the most of their environment. “You have to try to fit in with what the school wants and create opportunities within that. It’s very easy to think, ‘This is my job and it stops here’. I’m lucky because I’m at a brand new school where everything is still open and I’m offered opportunities and encouraged in everything I want to do. At the same time it’s a big school and you have to work at getting to talk to new people and get into department meetings to find out what’s going on. I try to attend the English and science department meetings. You have to assume that you have a contribution to make.”

As this will be his first year with a full-time assistant, he says, “I’ll be able to spend more time on medium- to long-term planning and on making more connections with departments.”

John’s first job was at Enfield FE College as a learning adviser, based in the college library, after completing an MA in modern literature at Birkbeck College. When a plan to teach secondary English came unstuck after an unhappy teaching practice, his thoughts turned back to libraries and he returned to Enfield College as a library assistant. “I’d always wanted to be in an educational setting and I personally love studying which is thanks to the school I went to: I was taught in a way that made the subjects seem exciting and I think everyone should have that experience.

“I was quite young when I tried classroom teaching and it was a stressful time. As a librarian I get the best of both worlds, the bits of teaching I really love and the chance to give individuals what they need. I feel that the door is open to me to try teaching again now.”

His first school library post at Gladys Aylward School in Tottenham (now Aylward Academy) coincided with the birth of his first daughter, who is now five. During his year at Gladys Aylward he began studying for a two-year part-time MA in librarianship and information management with the University of Northumbria via distance learning.

“That was a busy year, but it was important to me to get a professional qualification,” he said. The move to Oasis Academy followed. He now has two more daughters and has recently submitted his Chartership portfolio. “I’m always busy and my daughters wake me up before 6am but that’s how I like it.”