What happens when all the pupils and staff at a school read the same book at the same time, and what impact can this kind of whole-school project have on CPD? Lesley Hutchison explains

In 1998 an ambitious librarian got thousands of people in the American city of Seattle to read the same book, The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks, over the same period of time. This project, entitled ‘If All Seattle Read the Same Book’, fulfilled her aim of broadening the appreciation of literature through reading and discussion. Many cities across the world have since followed with their own projects, where free copies of a book have been distributed to whoever wanted one in a movement that has come to be known as ‘One City, One Book’. However, as far as we know, no school had attempted such an ambitious project before  we did so at Dollar Academy.

At the end of the 2006-07 session, our rector, John Robertson, suggested the academy should come up with its own version of ‘One City, One Book’. Treasure Island quickly emerged as the strongest contender because of its appeal to the widest possible range of pupils, as well as to staff and parents.

Nearly all members of staff across the junior and senior schools were involved in one way or another, with many reporting enhancement of their own professional development. It allowed some to investigate processes beyond the normal domain of a school and to collaborate with outside bodies. It encouraged cross-curricular and cross-age working as well as inventiveness within specialist subjects. The head of art and design, Angus MacLean, had never done any kind of illustration work before agreeing to illustrate Dollar Academy’s edition of the novel, published at the end of 2007 and distributed to every child in the school. He had to work to an extremely tight deadline, at breakneck speed, something that professional artists have to deal with every day. But he found it exhilarating, adding urgency and impetus to the project, and it allowed him insight into professional working that he could communicate to his students.  He also felt he gained from being asked to do something that was outside what he describes as his ‘normal comfort zone as an artist’.  The only way in which Angus could do the illustrations in the time was to try a technique with which he had never experimented before: PVA and black acrylic paint applied with a palette knife. He piloted this with his Form VI class and the response from the pupils was so positive that he has now integrated the technique into his teaching. The rest of his department expressed curiosity, then real interest, and finally energetic enthusiasm. The technique is now being used in a number of classes across all age ranges.  Around the same time he was working on the illustrations, Angus met with teachers from other Scottish schools and inevitably the talk came round to personal art projects. His account of the One Book, One School idea provoked a reaction; if this worked in one school, why not in others? And so ideas are spread. Other members of staff were equally enthusiastic. Alison Morrison, who teaches in the junior school and who was instrumental in setting up the project, found she not only gained an insight into the publication process, but also ‘had a chance to explore cross-curricular possibilities and cross-age/stage opportunities, leading to a broader picture of the whole school’s learning potential.’ Kate Murray, chair of English, who also provided inspiration for the project, agrees that the level of collaboration with other areas within the school and with outside bodies such as Edinburgh’s City of Literature Project has had a positive impact on her own professional development.  She declares herself ‘amazed by the inventiveness and imagination’ of her colleagues and says the project gave real momentum to her classroom teaching.  Teachers within other departments also embraced new ideas and teaching methods, working together to develop lessons based on piratical themes. The classics department explored Stevenson’s story as part of an age-old tradition and soon had Form I pupils studying treasure hunts in the ancient world, while the biology department devised a treasure hunt for Form III pupils during their field trip to Inchcailloch Island.  All the English teachers immersed themselves in Stevenson’s work, not just to teach our ‘One Book’ but also to take Form VI Advanced Higher pupils on a Stevenson walking tour of Edinburgh.  Perhaps most intriguing of all, members of the chemistry department brushed up on their alchemy to instruct Form II in the creation of gold doubloons from base metals. Printing a Dollar Academy version of Treasure Island was at the heart of our project, but it didn’t have to be. Other schools could simply pick a book and encourage students to buy it or get if from the library. The most important aspect is getting the departments to work together to create a buzz in the school through themed lessons and events. Over the past few months, musical evenings, charity events, quizzes, performances, displays, assemblies and themed lessons have involved pupils at every stage of the school. It has been fun and has caused a real gelling of pupils and school. But, in order that all this might happen, members of staff had to develop new ideas and teaching strategies, enhancing their own professional development as they did so. No one – so far – has asked for an inservice course on keelhauling, but I await this possibility with interest.

A positive impact on CPD for Dollar Academy’s school librarian, Frances Breslin Dollar Academy school librarian Frances Breslin’s involvement in the One Book, One Dollar project has allowed her to experience every stage of book publishing, something, although immersed in the world of books, she had no knowledge of. She is now aware of key decisions made during the publishing process, including what type of paper to use, its weight and shade, whether the front cover paper should be glossy or matt, and how each of these decisions can affect the overall cost of the project. She managed to get 3,000 copies of the school’s own version of Treasure Island printed for just over £5,000. But, perhaps more importantly, as decisions had to be made quickly, sometimes within hours rather than days, she truly experienced the fast pace of the publishing world. Other staff from the school helped. Peter Nelson, the school’s design consultant, taught Frances how to purchase fonts, transfer illustrations from canvas to screen and how to use Adobe InDesign. Beyond the academy, Frances liaised with professionals from outside her usual sphere. She met with Ali Bowden, manager of Edinburgh’s UNESCO City of Literature Trust, who had been in charge of Edinburgh’s One Book, One Edinburgh project. She talked Frances through the processes involved in executing the Edinburgh project, and was available throughout the Dollar project to provide advice and support.  Frances was also in daily contact with Barr Printers and its managing director, Frank Chalmers, who provided advice and support during the decision-making process. As well as organising the printing of Treasure Island, Frances was also involved in publicising the project to staff, pupils, parents, former pupils and beyond. Having worked in PR before becoming a librarian, she had the necessary promotional and event management skills, but the experience allowed her to refresh them.

Overall, it was an interesting and exciting project for Frances, but it also had a positive impact on her CPD.

Lesley Hutchison, assistant rector with responsibility for CPD at Dollar Academy in Clackmannanshire, Scotland