‘You will never make it as a teacher. You haven’t got it in you,’
These were the words said to me by my Head of Year when I was nervous 16 year old with a strong desire to become a History Teacher on the threshold of my GCSEs. I was lucky, my History teacher had faith, kept me going and was my Yoda (we all need a Yoda in our lives). Fast forward 23 years and I was thinking my Head of Year might be right. Educational politics were becoming ‘difficult’, I was rapidly approaching 40 and I was questioning whether I wanted to stay in a profession I genuinely loved but finding it difficult to hang on in there.
It was Half Term in February 2014 and, out of blue, Holly Gardner from Bloomsbury Publishing messaged me on Twitter asking me if I would be interested in a writing project she had in mind. Asking for more information, Holly swiftly replied with an offer of writing a book for the 100 Ideas series based on the resources and ideas she had seen on my blog. Without hesitation, I said yes and chose the offer on writing ideas about revision and never looked back. It was the spark I needed – a project to immerse myself in – to share creative teaching ideas with as many people as possible.
The first stage of writing the book was the planning stage, where I had to produce a plan which included at least 40 ideas, one fully written idea, my background, the intended audience and the aims of the book. I was very much inspired by Ross Morrison-McGill’s 100 Ideas book on Outstanding Lessons for Secondary Teachers – which a review appears elsewhere on this blog. I thought his approach was groundbreaking and the first book I had read that tapped into the Twitter teaching revolution. His extensive use of his extended PLN, hashtags and nods to Twitter coupled with his practical, common sense approach to the profession was something I wanted to emulate in my own offering to the 100 Ideas series. However, I wanted to put my own stamp on my book and did not want it to become a poor copy of someone else’s inspirational work. This was reflected in my plan where I wanted to give as many practical and easy to implement ideas where busy professionals can dip in and out of which reflected my approach to teaching. Also, I wanted a broader audience base and tried to include ideas which students and parents could also access and use away from the classroom with initial guidance from the teacher. My plan reflected these aims and thankfully was passed quickly and after signing the contract I had to get down to it and write the thing!
I accepted that most of my free time over the ten months was going to be committed to researching and writing the book. This was a challenge as my teaching load was increasing and the demands made in my main managerial responsibility of running the House System as well as providing whole school revision sessions for Year 11 were also becoming more intense. However, I loved it. Researching for the book brought me back to my undergraduate days and I threw myself into researching and testing revision ideas with my classes.
The part of the process I thoroughly enjoyed was the dialogue I encouraged with my students discussing the revision ideas and finding out what worked, what did not work and how revision resources should be presented and used. I work with many fantastic students who are open to new ideas, willing to ‘go with it’ and give honest and constructive feedback. Indeed, my students became an active part of the planning of the book and their feedback and engagement informs every section of the book. As part of this dialogue, I gave them links to my blog and resources which they used initially for revision.Since then, my students access my resources as a regular part of lessons through their phones and other devices and use them instead of text books and worksheets. This has transformed how I prepare for lessons and now my students give regular requests about what resources they want to see on my blog. Fantastic.
The actual writing took place during every school holiday in 2014. I did a little every day rather than having splurges of writing day and night. This kept my approach fresh and creating small, achievable daily targets were helpful in thinking I had made regular progress in the writing. It also meant I did not have a holiday for the best part of the year and was a bit obsessional – so I apologise to any of my friends if I did go on a bit about the book. I felt I could not go home after a long day at school and write on a regular basis while producing quality publishable material. Therefore, writing in the holidays was the answer, however, that did not stop me writing in term time when those eureka moments hit me and the mood took to write and write and write. These were important moments to capture and happened at any time, including during one important department meeting!
One of the hardest things I had to be mindful of when finding new ideas was keeping these new gems away from inclusion on my blog. Before the book offer, I was including lots of teaching ideas which I found exciting and effective and wanted to share them. However, of course, when you are researching and writing a book which you would like people to buy you cannot include these ideas on a blog for free. Therefore. I had to exercise considerable restraint in keeping these new ideas off the blog. This can explain the drop in the ideas I have included in the blog and the increase of teaching resources found on the blog since 2014.
Writer’s block – this happened more than once. When this happened, I left the desktop or laptop and went out and did something else. Forget writing and get some exercise. The writing mojo would come back later.
Timing – I negotiated a two month extension of the proposed deadline as I knew I would not meet it having a full time job to juggle as well. I am so glad I did. I met the deadline with a couple of days to spare and even then it was touch and go!
Length – the final word count totals 45,000 words. It was originally 47,500 words! Never I had written anything near that length – not even my final year dissertation for my History degree comes anywhere near it. The challenge here was to make every word count, to make every word relevant and to ensure that there was something in the book for everyone regardless of subject, age group or ability. Also, that the vast majority of the ideas could easily be implemented with minimal, if any, preparation time required. I find it so frustrating when I see a great idea but it takes ages to set up and the impact may be questionable. So many of the ideas included are easy to set up and create with significant impact on student progress. Also, the bonus ideas …. There are 29 of them in the book, so really the title is wrong, it should be 129 Ideas for Secondary School Teachers – Revision. Even then I would like to erase the word secondary as many of these ideas can be adapted for the primary classroom, the college lecture room or the university seminar room.
The final product
I saw the book two weeks before publication and it was emotional moment. To see my own book in the stunning 100 Ideas series cover in a rather fetching lime green with my name on the front was something I could never have imagined when I started teaching or even when I started my Jivespin blog – which was the trigger for the book offer in the first place. It was an overwhelmingly a moment of great pride. Going through the book, I am very proud of its contents and although, I could still improve it here and there and eradicate the occasional error, I truly hope it is a book which many people – teachers, parents and students – will find useful, helpful and inspiring to try something new.
I am so grateful to a number of people who were an integral part of this book project and deserve every thanks for supporting me. The book was a real team effort and although it is my name on the front, it had many contributors. They are –
Holly Gardner from Bloomsbury who made the offer in the first place and was hugely supportive and encouraging every step of the way. Without her, the book would never have existed and I am genuinely honoured that she chose me to write the revision book. Thank you for this opportunity.
Isobel Doster from Bloomsbury took oversight of the book on Holly’s departure from Bloomsbury and saw the book over the finishing line. Wonderfully positive and a delight to work with.
Sophie Scott -@binarygenius – provided two of the 100 ideas lending her expertise in ICT with great generosity and adding something to the book which was outside the boundary of my knowledge.
Sam Hartburn, editor extraordinaire! Sam licked the book into shape and made me look better than I really am!
Caroline Bentley-Davies – @RealCBD – an author who I greatly respect and who contributed some lovely endorsement comments for the cover of the book. Thank you!
And then there was the support on Twitter from so many people in the week leading up to the publication date. My Twitter account went into overdrive with so many people making kind comments and who are excited to read the book. I hope it does not disappoint and you get as much out of it as I did producing it.
The book has reignited my passion for teaching again. I have replenished my teaching toolkit and I never been so confident in the classroom. I am genuinely excited in further engaging in discussions about teaching ideas and experimenting with new ideas. I have already finished my second book – I am a co-author for a revision guide for the new GCSE in History – which is released in June.
The future has never been more promising.