Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Journey to Becoming an Author

I never imagined I would have authored or co-authored a book, let alone six.  My unexpected journey began with a decision to give Twitter a try in 2009.  This should never have happened either as I was convinced that any and all social media tools were a complete waste of my time and would not lead to any improvement in professional practice. Apparently, I was dead wrong on this assumption and quickly learned that Twitter in itself wasn’t a powerful tool, but instead, it was the conversations, ideas, resources, and passionate educators that connected with me.  The rest is history. 

As my mindset began to shift from one that focused on the “what ifs” instead of the “yeah buts,” my staff and I started to transform learning in our school to better meet the needs of our students.  Social media not only gave us the inspiration but also empowered us to take action.  It is important to note that we weren’t doing a bad job per se.  The fact for us, like every other school on the planet, was that we could be better.  In the beginning, we really weren’t sure what we were doing or whether it would lead to improved outcomes, but we did our best to align every innovative idea with research and sound pedagogy.  Thanks to my amazing teachers, innovative changes began to take hold and outcomes improved in the process. 

My essential role in the transformation efforts focused on helping to clarify a shared vision, supporting my teachers, showing efficacy, and celebrating success.  Sharing why we were innovating coupled with how we were doing it and what the results were, gathered a great deal of attention that was unexpected at first.  To this day I still remember sitting in a district administrator meeting in November 2009 when my secretary called to tell me that CBS New York City wanted to come to the high school and feature how we were using Twitter in the classroom to support learning.  To say that I was floored by the interest from the largest media market in the world would be putting it mildly.  This point in time was a catalyst for the eventual brandED strategy that evolved.  I learned that social media was an incredible tool to tell our story, praise staff, and acknowledge the great work of my students.  

Little did I know, or plan for that matter, that sharing our transformation efforts would lead to me becoming an author.  This was not my intent or even a goal.  One day in 2010 I received a Twitter message from Bill Ferriter asking if I would be interested in co-authoring a book with him and Jason Ramsden titled Communicating and Connecting with Social Media.  My first thought was, “Heck no! I am no author.” Bill, the master teacher he is, reassured me that I could do this and would guide me through the writing process. Through his tutelage and many hours spent writing over weekends and breaks, the book took form.  Thus, my author journey began all because of the consistent efforts to share the work of my teachers.  

Shortly after this book came out, Solution Tree asked if I would work on another project. This one focused on a book for principals about teaching science, as this was where my experience was in the classroom.  I agreed to take this on only if one of my teachers could co-author the book with me.  This was just a small way of paying it forward since I would not have been in a position to author any books had it not been for the willingness of my teachers to embrace change and have the results to show efficacy.  

My teachers and students, as well as the support I received from the district, helped me evolve into the unlikeliest of authors.  Not only was I supported in writing books, but I was also encouraged to share our work at local and national events.  I cannot even begin to explain the sense of pride I felt by being asked to present on the work occurring at my school.  It was during one of these presentations at the National Association of Secondary School Principals Conference that I was asked by Corwin to consider writing Digital Leadership. At first, I said no as I really did not have the time needed to write a book all on my own.  After some persistence on behalf of my acquisition editor, I later agreed and scheduled the majority of the writing during the summer months when my students and staff were off. 

The publication of Digital Leadership in 2014 changed everything for me as the book performed exceptionally well and continues to do so.  As a result, I was flooded with speaking requests and asked to write even more books, including Uncommon Learning.  To this day I still can’t believe that anyone asks me to write a book.  The time then came that I knew a decision on my future had to be made. Even though I was fully supported by my district and dedicated myself 100% to the school, I came to the conclusion that I was not going to be fair to my students, staff, or community shortly. It was at this time that I made the painful decision to leave the principalship. 

You might be wondering what the actual point of this post was. As of late people have taken to social media to attack or discredit other educators who have written books while working in schools.  My take on it is this.  I am all for practitioners utilizing their time outside of classrooms and schools to write books that use research as a foundation while showing how their work and that of colleagues has improved teaching, learning, and leadership.  There is nothing more inspiring, and practical for that matter, to read about what actually works in the face of the myriad of challenges that educators endure on a daily basis.  There will never be enough books that lay out how efficacy can be achieved in the pursuit of providing all kids with an awesome learning experience.

There is a fine line here though. Authoring books should never conflict with, or have a negative impact on, professional responsibilities.  It goes without saying that all writing and sharing of books by practitioners should happen outside of regular school hours or on weekends and breaks.  My schedule as both a teacher and principal were jam packed so there was never aforethought about putting aside time to work on a book (or blog) that would take away from my contractual duties.  Sharing during the school day also sends a potentially negative message to colleagues and staff. 

Many people, like myself, never intended on becoming authors.  It was an unintended consequence of sharing successes of others who are in the trenches every day.   To this day I can’t thank my teachers, students, and district enough for not only believing in me but also empowering me to share the ideas and strategies that we put into practice.  I hope more and more educators contribute to the field by authoring books that will add to the vast knowledge base already available while providing practical solutions to transform education. 

1 comment:

  1. I am a pre-service elementary teacher and have just been required to create a twitter account of my own. As you had mentioned in the beginning of your post, I was also unaware of the possibilities and information that were out there in regards to the realm of education. Connecting on social media can be an incredibly effective way to share ideas and grow as educators. I thought your journey to becoming an author was very inspiring and just goes to show what someone can accomplish when they set their mind to it! Thanks for the great read!