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Why we started a Staff Book Club in our School

Group of adults discussing a book together with tea
A guest blog by Mrs Linda Canning, St. Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School, Birmingham
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This year, the staff and students of St. Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School have been on a journey, a journey which took us through enchanted forests, across endless oceans and into new and unknown worlds. A journey of discovery, empathy and awareness. A journey through books. 

It has been our aim to become a ‘Reading School’, to open both literal and metaphorical doors for our students. We have rewritten our reading curriculum, afforded pupils the opportunity to interact with authors, bought an abundance of new reading materials to enrich our reading areas and provided endless opportunities for children to share their thoughts as critical and discerning readers. We’ve introduced book clubs, book challenges, reading displays, a monthly reading newsletter, bought each child a copy of their own book… the list goes on and on.

One thing, however, had evaded us. All of the research we did on developing volitional reading habits in children pointed us in the direction of the importance of reading role models. Every training course stressed the importance of teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature, of making personalised recommendations and of expanding reading repertoires. But how could we achieve this? How can we get busy adults, with demanding jobs and heavy workloads, to read children’s literature for ‘fun’?

For many months, we pondered this quandary. We made tentative suggestions and had small successes – a few teachers signed up to NetGalley, others read recommended reads from their year band list of ‘Top 20 Books’. But progress was limited: we were impacting on the few, rather than the many. The idea of a book club niggled at me, but I brushed it aside, until I could no longer ignore the little voice inside me telling me to try. At the end of March, I decided to be brave and send an email asking staff if they would be interested in a staff book club: a low-threat, no-judgement-if-you-don’t-finish-the-book club. I crossed my fingers and hoped – if we could even get ten members of staff on board, I would feel that we had taken a real step in the right direction.

By now, staff had attended countless training sessions on reading. They knew about its importance and the impact developing volitional reading habits could have on our pupils; they had seen these changes first hand in some students. Within half an hour of sending the email, the magic number of ten members had been achieved. By the next day, we were at fifteen and I was overjoyed.

But what would we read? As a keen reader and reviewer myself, I had a number of ideas of ‘brilliant’ books, so narrowing this down was the real problem! In the end, I took inspiration from our Year 5 and 6 pupils; a number of whom had been Blue Peter Book Awards judges. Time and time again, they had remarked how we ‘must’ read their favourite book – A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll. The idea of reading a book so many of our pupils had enjoyed had immediate appeal: having a shared canon text that so many children could discuss with their teachers made the decision a ‘no-brainer’.

Toppsta
2021-05-22
Why we started a Staff Book Club in our School
Book pages Placeholder Book

A Kind of Spark

A KIND OF SPARK tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there's more to the story of these 'witches', just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make her voice heard? A story about friendship, courage and self-belief, perfect for fans of The Goldfish Boy. "Definitive and funny" Susin Nielsen "A fabulous, brilliant debut" Lisa Thompson

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The next week, I gave out copies of the chosen text to all fifteen readers (with the addition of a cupcake and bookmark!). Word started to spread a little further, with other adults in school approaching and indicating that they would like to, “Give it a go!” Over and over again, I was warned that they, “might not finish” but that they would try their best. Entering the Easter holidays, I had given twenty books out to a mixture of teachers, support staff, leadership and even one to a Sister of Mercy linked to our school!

Throughout the course of the break, I received a number of texts with staff proudly proclaiming that they had finished, that they had, “stayed up until 3am reading”, “couldn’t put it down”, “hadn’t got dressed yet” as they were so busy reading. The feedback was incredibly positive with some staff saying it was the first book they had finished in years.

The week after the Easter break our first book club meeting was scheduled. Throughout the week, more and more staff asked to borrow the book as they had heard from their colleagues how good it was. The book ‘buzz’ was well and truly spreading, even amongst adults. The corridors were alive with book talk. We had shared our book choice with parents and pupils and some of them were also reading it. The children in Year 5 and 6 particularly enjoyed asking us our opinions and discussing the story. Book talk had increased, as had demand to borrow the book from our school library. In total by the end of that week, twenty-seven members of staff had read (and finished!) the book, with more asking to borrow a copy. Staff had lent copies to their own children, to their siblings and even to their mother-in-laws!

As I had already promised staff, the meeting was very informal and attendance was not mandatory – they could read the book without attending the meetings and they didn’t have to share their thoughts in front of everyone. The meeting was short (about twenty minutes) and we worked hard to make it feel informal and inviting – soft lighting, relaxing music, hot drinks, sweet treats etc. Around eighteen members of staff chose to attend. We briefly discussed the book using a few prompts e.g. what score would you rate the book? Which child would you recommend it to? Which one word would you use to describe the text? Some people spoke, others didn’t. All contributions were respected. I had organised an area in our meeting to share other recommended reads (If you like A Kind of Spark, you may enjoy these…), and a small number of staff chose to borrow another book too. We finished the meeting by voting for our next read (The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell).

Moving forwards, we have decided to read one book per half term, always including a holiday in our as it gives staff more reading time. Staff can opt in or out after every book. They don’t have to attend meetings and they don’t have to finish the book. Next week, we are due to begin our second book, so later this week I will be, again, sending out the nervous email asking about interest. Next year, we will look to roll our book club out to parents; to build a community of reading role models. The impact of even one session has been incredible and a true testament to the desire to open those doors for our pupils felt by staff. The book club was a very positive experience and I look forward to continuing our reading journey surrounded by these passionate and committed individuals. A journey of one thousand miles starts with a single step and our step forward could not have been more positive.

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1st April 2021

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Featured Book
Bumble and Snug and the Angry Pirates: Book 1
Bumble and Snug and the Angry Pirates: Book 1

BOOK OF THE WEEK - We love this full-colour, graphic novel, pirate adventure. It's perfect for young readers and fans of Dog Man.

View book