Opinion
Teaching Opinion

Education Leaders Write Collaboratively

By Starr Sackstein — July 09, 2017 3 min read

As educators, we have a responsibility to not only work with students we teach, but also with colleagues to raise awareness about challenges our young people are facing.

These kinds of collaborations foster growth as a community and develop professional relationships that make our profession stronger.

So without thinking too much, I said yes to Jeff Zoul when he approached me about joining the #EdWriteNow project, a book that would invite 10 authors to write a chapter a piece around current educational topics. And the bonus was that the money generated from this project would be donated to The Will to Live Foundation to support teen suicide prevention.

I mean, how could I say no?

The last time I wrote collaboratively was with Connie Hamilton and that ended up being a tremendous success, not just because we wrote a great book together (Hacking Homework), but because we developed an enduring, potentially life-long friendship through the experience. And although I had never really collaborated with someone on a writing project beyond a short blog post (and honestly I had my fears and doubts about it), I grew so much from the experience.

So since taking risks is right in my wheel house, at the least, I knew the experience would be both fun and rewarding. How can writing with nine other people who bring an interesting perspective to educational landscape not be?

We all arrived in Philly on a Thursday and started our conversation by hearing about the organization the royalties of the book are going to. We watched this video about John Trautwein’s son and his family’s story. Setting the tone for the purpose of the project, we got to a brainstorming session around how to structure the book and the particular topics we would address.

The common thread between each of our chapters was to discuss “Changing the way we think about...” and then dedicate the chapters to a person or people who we know struggled with mental health issues and/or committed suicide.

Working with a group of people is very different than working alone. By myself, I’m pretty motivated, but writing can also be very isolating. This experience was the opposite of that. Jeff Zoul made sure we had a schedule and Lauren Davis from Routledge helped keep us focused. The writing routine gave us opportunities to write independently and also buddy up with other people in the group. This peer time could be used as we needed and was often spent either talking through ideas, sharing our written work, providing feedback or sharing a needed laugh.

At first we were all a little skeptical that an actual book of 50,000 words would get written in two days (because it kind of felt like we were living in an episode of the Real World on MTV), but as we start to draw to the close, it seems we’ve met our deadline and it’s a pretty awesome book.

Thank you to each of the amazing educators that I spent the last few days with:

Sanee Bell, Lauren Davis, Kayla Delzer, Bob Dillion, Joe Mazza, Tom Murray, Joe Sanfelippo, Tony Sinanis, Amber Teamann, and Jeff Zoul. I’ve learned so much from working with each person and at the least I made new friends.

Each person has helped to make me a better writer and a better feedback provider and listener. Although I’ve always been a little nervous about working in groups, this one was really successful. At some point we have to rewrite our narratives about experiences and honestly, I can’t say that group work doesn’t work anymore. Too many of my adult collaborative experiences have been positive. Goodbye old stigma about being the only person who works in a group.

I’m completely sold on the power of the collaborative writing experience.

Here are some of the thoughts from other author/educators who participated in the experience:

It was an opportunity to try something new, and it was a great platform to have meaningful conversation with some amazing people. [Since] there is a genuine desire for change in the room. This is the start of a conversation, and there are a lot more questions than answers. [But] writing is an energy based journey and having everyone together really inserted a lot of positive momentum into the space. Change is difficult and 50K words will never make it happen, but it does feel great to be on the right side of solution making." - Dr. Robert Dillon, Director of Innovative Learning in School, District of University City "I decided to be a part of this project as a way to challenge myself, especially when you look at the experiences and accomplishments of those also involved I want to always make sure that if I can surround myself with people who are smarter than me that I am able to push myself further than where I am both personally and professionally. Thanks to the support of the connections of the colleagues I get to now call friends, I was able to come across the country, alone, to attend a writers retreat to make a statement about things we all believe and have dedicated our lie too...what an incredible opportunity! of course, I said yes!" - Amber Teamann, Principal, Whitt Elementary Wylie ISD "Writing tends to be a solitary experience. This collaborative venture was an exciting and helpful exception to the rule. It makes me ponder the other ways we can come together to publish works as opposed to the traditional method of each of us going to our own corners to write. In one short weekend we produced a 50,000 plus word book! Something that alone would have taken me close to a year was accomplished just as effectively (if not more so) and a whole lot more efficiently. The ten folks who came together for this project are amazing human beings. They each sacrificed quite a bit to be here with zero remuneration. I admire these people as professionals and as friends." - Dr. Jeffrey Zoul, recently retired Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Deerfield, Illinois

Ultimately, I echo Bob Dillon’s thoughts about the challenge of this experience, “the greatest challenge was not being in conversation all of the time. So many amazing people in one room, and all you really want to do is learn and talk with everyone.” I’m really glad I got to participate in this experience.

What was one truly great collaborative experience you have had and how has it changed the way you think about learning? Please share

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