The news that Liz Millett had won the School Librarian of the Year 2014 title spread like wildfire around Weatherfield Academy in Dunstable, Bedfordshire.
As she received her award from author and artist Chris Riddell at a School Library Association ceremony in London a teacher colleague rang the school.
Headteacher Joe Selmes immediately announced Ms Millett’s success to students and staff and a huge cheer went up.
Ms Millett started working as a teaching assistant at the special school for seven to 19-year-olds 15 years ago. She has been the library co-ordinator for the last five years and has had a huge impact on reading.
The library originally consisted of four shelves in a study area but is now housed in a former classroom, with colourful displays and 3,000 books. She holds a lunchtime library club every Tuesday, awards a library trophy to the most enthusiastic reader every term, and runs a weekly library lesson for every class.
The 117 Weatherfield pupils all have moderate learning difficulties and Ms Millett is committed to finding books that will inspire them to read. A 13-year-old girl improved her reading level by 23 months within a year after Ms Millett discovered she loved horses and suggested books like Moonshadow: The Derby Winner and Team Spirit by Pippa Funnell.
“My aim is to increase their pleasure from reading, whatever level they are at, and to make sure they are not frightened by books or put off them – so they will come to see reading as something they will always have for themselves,” Ms Millett explained.
Her own favourite books for secondary SEN students include Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry series and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips and War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.
Ms Millett’s tips for engaging secondary SEN students to read include:
Engage reluctant boy readers with graphic books like Batman and Superman and Barrington Stoke and Badger Learning titles.
Get to know students’ interests and suggest related books.
Organise a reward system for pupils who have read a certain number of books.
Introduce reading mentors who will listen to children read and chat to them.
Motivate and engage students to see the library as a welcoming place by creating colourful, book-themed displays.
There were two runners-up in this year’s award: Tracey Needham from Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Barrow-in-Furness, and Helen Cleaves from Kingston Grammar School in Kingston upon Thames.
For more on the award, visit www.sla.org.uk/slya CAPTION: Honoured: Liz Millett in the Weatherfield Academy library with one of her students (top); School Library Association dignitaries pictured with this year’s finalists (front row, from left) Tracey Needham, Liz Millett and Helen Cleaves.