Guest blog: Andrew J Stark, Head of Libraries and Information Services, The Southport School, Queensland, Australia

Establishing cultural change in schools is not an easy task – it needs to be managed efficiently, seen to be beneficial, and considered a necessity by those most affected by it.

While many argue that a principle role of schools is to prepare students to deal with a digitally-driven world, for students to perform at their peak we need to redefine what ‘information literacy’ involves. Sure, the value of teaching digital literacy skills is a given, but to develop a more grounded culture of information literacy in schools, we also need to consider two other vital elements. Firstly, the essential role visual and emotional literacies play in the learning process for young people. Secondly, we have to extend the learning journey to include the entire school community; that is students, teachers and parents.

When you consider the amount of visual information presented in the digital world, it makes sense to spend time investigating and analysing the way images shape how and what we learn. In fact, digital literacy may be more aligned with the production and consumption of images that the reading of prose. As the literacy skills required for visual analysis are similar to the comprehension and analysis of written texts, the value of teaching effective visual literacy becomes more evident.

No one is immune to stress and, essentially, stress can fall into three categories: foreseeable and avoidable (being punished for bad behaviour), unforeseeable and unavoidable (the sudden death of a pet or relative), and foreseeable but unavoidable (sitting exams or going to the dentist). A student suffering from anxiety or whose head is not ‘in the right space’ will not learn effectively and may need extra attention to survive the rigours of the education system.

Information literacy programs must now extend beyond the confines of digital literacy and include a solid focus on the development and understanding of visual and wellbeing literacy. If it does not, we are not preparing our students for the educational journey that awaits them.

So, how do you develop this new culture of information literacy in a school? The answer lies in becoming more ‘user-centred’ and connecting directly with the three main elements of the client base: students, staff and parents. By delivering information literacy upskilling to each of these groups, the entire school community will become more informed, aware and directly involved in the learning culture within the school.

Furthermore, parents who are directly involved in the learning process develop a clearer understanding of what the school is trying to achieve and how, as parents, they can support their child’s learning.

An effective way to involve parents is to design a tailored program that covers the essentials of visual literacy, wellbeing literacy and digital literacy. One such program is The Southport School’s Study Skills Orientation Program for Parents. The program includes four modules and focuses on upskilling parents to provide support and advice for their child at home. It reflects a ‘pincer movement’ where the enemy is approached on both flanks rather than head-on. When parents feel more confident to deal with the educational demands and requirements their child is facing, they can support at home while teachers continue support in the classroom. Information literacy support becomes available at both home and school.

Module One of the Parent Program explores recent brain research findings, how humans (especially young ones) actually learn, and what the brain needs to perform at its peak. Module Two focuses on reading and writing and includes some upskilling in visual literacy development via analysis of picture book images, political cartoons, and charts and diagrams.

Module Three focuses almost exclusively on developing digital literacy skills and introduces parents to the extensive range of online resources provided by the school. This session, more than any other, it a real eye-opener for most parents many of whom have been completely unaware of the range of instantly accessible, authoritative educational resources available via the library webpage. Module Four focuses on time management and coping with the stresses of school life. Here, the school’s extensive range of wellbeing and study skills resources are explored, and strategies relating to scheduling and planning are presented.

In a perfect world, cultural change would happen smoothly and to everyone’s relief. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world. Change takes time and effort and, if warranted, it is worth the journey. Obviously, not all parents come on board with the Parent Program, but at least they know it exists and is there for their reference.

If we can extend the realm of information literacy to embrace new areas of concern, and share the educational journey beyond classroom walls and into our students’ homes, then we stand a better chance of preparing our young charges for their life-long learning journey.

You can view Andrew’s presentation from the JCS 2019 Conference here