Diary of writing a book to manuscript completion

Today I have submitted my monograph (solo-authored book) manuscript to my publisher. No this is not an April fool’s joke!

Book writing is quite a drawn out process. I’m sure it looks different for each author, but I thought it might be useful for other authors and aspiring book writers to see a timeline to manuscript completion and submission. Below I outline the dates and steps that have gotten me to this moment.

January 2018: My husband and I are chatting on the long drive home from a family holiday, talking about our goals for the year ahead. I say that writing a monograph is something I would love to have a go at in 2018. As we talk I start to formulate the book’s purpose and structure.

When we get home, I paste up a little piece of cardboard on the bathroom mirror. It says: ‘don’t wait until you’re ready; start now’. I start.

I write a book proposal and send it to the publisher (with whom I have a previous relationship as co-editor of Flip the System Australia). The book proposal is sent out to reviewers.

February-May 2018: My book proposal floats in the review-stage ether. I wait for all of the reviews to come in. Luckily I am readying Flip the System Australia for publication as editor, so my spare time is put to good use.

June 2018: I (finally!) receive the reviews to my book proposal. I amend the proposal in response to reviews and resubmit it to the publisher.

July 2018: Negotiation of and signing of book contract happens. Wahoo! I have a date, a word limit and a mandate.

Let the writing begin.

I stick a word count timeline to my fridge. My kids begin to keep me accountable to it. “Mum, how many words have you written?” “You know you’re meant to have written X thousand by now?” “Can I cross this one off?”

August-December 2018: I write (in between working, parenting, living). I send a few chapters to peers around the world to get some early feedback.

In October I invite someone to write the foreword. They accept.

January 2019: The first draft of the book is complete. Little do I know how much work is still required in order to revise it properly.

I tweet a poll asking how an author knows their book is done.

Tweet Jan 2019

A number of people tell me I need to get some other people to read the whole thing. The whole thing? How can I ask anyone to read the whole thing?

I suck up the courage and ask some experts in the field for feedback and also for endorsements. I am delighted and surprised by people’s generosity.

I also send it out to my editor. I show my husband the introduction and he tells me it needs to be punchier and more interesting.

February 2019: Revising, revising, editing, editing. Repeat. Responding to feedback as it comes in.

March 2019: Proofing, proofing, proofing. Responding to any more feedback.

I take references out of the text to allow more space for my own words, voice and ideas. (I am a chronic over-referencer and need to remind myself: more me, less others! This is my book after all.)

I move the text from one big Word document into separate chapter documents. I finalise reference lists. I finalise the acknowledgements. I write chapter abstracts and complete the art log.

April 2019: On April Fool’s Day I wake up to the foreword in my email inbox. Hoorah! The final piece of the puzzle is here. And it is wonderful. I am super pleased.

I electronically submit my manuscript and ancillary documents to the publisher. This is not a drill.

I feel that weird feeling of wanting to keep tinkering, tinkering, tinkering. But I know that the book is as good as I can make it, in this instant. I wonder: Is done better than perfect? I assure myself that this process (unlike the PhD thesis) involves a copy editor. And that I will stand by my words in the future, even if they only capture my thinking at this moment in time.

While I know it will be exciting to hold the real book when it is eventually printed and released, the publishing reality is that by the time an actual work comes out, the author has often moved on in their thinking. My book is not yet finished, but this is a milestone worth celebrating.

I buy the same special champagne I bought in October 2015 when I submitted my PhD thesis: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. I haven’t opened it yet, but I will find a time to enjoy it, and a few people with whom to share it.

From here there will continue to be about 6 months of checks and communication as the book moves through the publisher’s copy editing and production process. This includes proofing by an independent copy editor, cover design, index writing and printing.

Some time this year I’ll get the actual book in my hands!

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Future of Schooling Policy: VIDEO

Last Tuesday I was part of a panel on the future of schooling policy (i.e. education policy that affects schools and schooling experiences of young people) at the University of Western Australia’s Public Policy Institute. The video is embedded above.

Some points I make (when I start speaking at around 23.30):

  • Those who work in schools should be part of education and policy conversations.
  • Education is full of polarising discourses. For instance, the inspiring hero teacher vs. the teacher failing their students and schools blamed for a gamut of social problems. Knowledge vs. skills and capabilities. Increasing control vs. autonomy of schools and principals.
  • Our educators are committed people doing outstanding work.
  • School leaders are responsible for navigating the tensions between policy expectations and accountability measures, and meeting the very human needs of their communities.
  • NAPLAN is one data point but this data is not necessarily valid for school comparison.
  • Measuring school and school leader success via standardised testing makes them high stakes and encourages gaming the system rather than the education of students and the support of staff.
  • Wellbeing and workload of those working in our schools, including teachers and leaders, is of concern.

During the question time, I comment that:

  • An overemphasis on testing comparison and metrics of measurement can oversimplify education.
  • Teacher quality is an important in-school factor that influences student learning, but there are other more influential factors such as socio-economic status, parents’ education and early reading.
  • Digital nativity does not equate to digital literacy. Considering technology in schools should be based on first considering purpose, tools fit for purpose, equity of access and teaching students to be savvy, responsible users.
  • The proliferation of information and resources on the internet, adaptive learning technologies, and does not do away with the need for teachers.

Happy watching!

How to #BalanceforBetter this International Women’s Day?

IWD2019

I realise that this year’s International Women’s Day theme #BalanceforBetter is focused on advocating for more gender balance for a better world. It’s about more women as leaders, on boards, and in STEM. It’s about closing the gender pay gap and accelerating gender equity.

But I keep seeing the #BalanceforBetter hashtag and thinking about my personal battles with ‘balance’ as a woman. I have over the last 12-18 months been working on the notion of balance in my life. Redressing the balance towards self-care, wellbeing, health and mental space, factors that have been crowded out by busyness, work, commitment to family, wanting to make a difference. I have written about trying to say ‘no’ to more things and to prioritise what matters.

I’ve been writing a book as part of my push to be ‘10% braver’ as the #WomenEd squad would say. Two other projects are examples of my advocacy for women; as co-editor of the recently-published book Flip the System Australia: What matters in education, we ensured that more than half of the chapters were contributed to by women authors, and I have co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Educational Administration and History in which we offer female-authored papers on re-imagining school leadership. I’ve been lifting heavy weights to feel physically stronger and floating in floatation tanks to feel mentally lighter. I know this is a first-world take on the notion of ‘balance’. I’m in a privileged enough position that I can consider my writing, wellbeing, family and leisure time. I have choices available to me, which is not the case for all women.

This week I saw the following sculpture at Perth’s Cottesloe beach as part of the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition.

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It is by Hamish McMillan and is called ‘Internment’. The wire figure interned within the cage slumps over his desk, met by the words, ‘Nice work, Jeff!’ on his computer screen. He is surrounded by boxes with messages of those things perpetuating his imprisonment in a toxic work culture: “obligation to colleagues”, “I make a difference”, “credit card due”, “mortgage due”, “failure is not an option”. How many of us are chained to our devices or caged within our work worlds because of obligation, inspiration, ambition, bills to pay, or the desire to make a difference? At what cost? Is it being a ‘bad feminist’ if a woman does not aspire to a powerful, well-paid management position? Or is it just making good choices that suit us, even if it does nothing to balance gender roles at the highest levels of the workforce? Three female politicians have recently left the Australian Liberal Party. Sticking it out in an unsatisfying, harmful or misogynistic work environment may not be worth the power, pay and prestige it provides.

In my field of education, the longitudinal Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey of principals and deputy principals has found that in these top school roles, a disproportionate number of women are consistently paid less than their male colleagues. It also found that physical violence towards principals and deputy principals is now 37% or 1 in 3 principals (9.3 times the rate of the general population). Women are most at risk with 40% experiencing violence compared to 32% of men. So women principals and deputy principals in Australia are more likely to be paid less and also more likely to experience physical violence in their work than their male counterparts. This survey also reveals worrying trends in work hours, mental wellbeing and physical health for principals and deputy principals, something that dissuades potential candidates, particularly women, from aspiring to and applying for these roles.

Those who lead organisations or who stand on the stage normalise ideas about who can lead, who should speak and to whom we should apparently listen. Often in leadership roles, keynote presentations and film, advertising or media representations of leadership, women are under-represented. So what can we do to #BalanceforBetter?

Organisations can consider how to advance women in their ranks, including into top jobs, governance positions and roles traditionally held by men. Conference organisers, event planners and awards panels can continue to work on broadening the diversity of those who present, sit on panels (no manels, please!) and receive awards. The media can stop asking women how they cope with juggling work with family, while not asking the same of men. Colleagues can refuse to tolerate off-hand remarks that are sexist or demeaning to women, even when masked as ‘jokes’. Men can question those things they take for granted or see as normal, that perhaps work in their favour, but do not benefit the women around them. Researchers can consider the diversity of their citation practices. Women can consider how to equalise and advocate for gender balance in their organisations, and also how to find a sense of balance and wellbeing in our own lives. We can all take positive, even micro, actions towards more balance.

Building trust in schools: A long game

source: pixabay @geralt

“Good schools are intrinsically social enterprises that depend heavily on cooperative endeavours among the varied participants who comprise the school community. Relational trust constitutes the connective tissue that binds these individuals together around advancing the welfare of children.”

Bryk & Schneider, 2002, p. 144

As the new school year begins in Australia, I have been reflecting on our staff days, on future professional learning and staff development, and on how the work we have done in this space has, over time, been shifting the culture of the school. In this post I describe some of the actions take over recent years towards a professional culture of growth, collaboration and trust.

As a school we have been clear in our goals for professional culture: that we are about growth and development, not deficit. We are about expecting and supporting our excellent staff to be better, not policing or fixing them. Each of us works to improve what we do, because no matter how good we are, we can always be better. Each member of our staff has the right and responsibility to develop professionally, and the school has the responsibility to support the development of our staff as professionals through ongoing professional learning. We know that teaching, and teacher professional learning done right, can improve student achievement. Our internal processes of professional learning and collaboration are important because we know that immersive, sustained and collaborative professional learning is more likely to have a positive, ongoing impact than one-off experiences.

Between 2012 and 2014, we researched, planned, piloted and refined a coaching model and trained all coaches and leaders in Cognitive Coaching. We used the Danielson Framework as a tool for teacher reflection on low-inference lesson data. In 2015 and 2016 we implemented and bedded down the coaching model across the school.

Since the implementation of the coaching model, we continue to work persistently on the underpinning philosophy, norms and protocols for professional conversations, shaping our organisation’s semantic space, or ‘how we talk around here’. We continue to iterate the ways in which professional learning happens within the school, in addition to supporting staff to pursue external professional development opportunities.

In 2017 I wrote a new professional learning policy and launched a refreshed professional learning application form in order to make clear the principles, practices, staff expectations and decision-making frame for professional learning for teaching staff. I worked to build a research culture. Coaching of teachers by trained coaches continued. Coaching and mentoring of leaders by senior leaders was trialed. A teacher mentor role was introduced that provides a more directed and consultative alternative to working with a coach. We have found our teacher mentors are appreciated by new graduates and by those staff wanting to work closely with an experienced, expert colleague on an element of their teaching practice. New leaders continued to be trained in Cognitive Coaching. Some leaders additionally completed Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability courses on having difficult or performance management conversations. We introduced a once-per-term leadership forum, an evening event during which all school leaders have the opportunity to come together around leadership. These forums have involved sharing the expertise of those leaders within our school and also external experts such as Dylan Wiliam, Pasi Sahlberg, Eric Sheninger, Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh and school principals.

In 2018 we made a few more changes in response to the needs of our staff. We introduced GROWTH coaching training for coaches and leaders, especially to facilitate goal-setting conversations between managers and direct reports. This has spilled over into staff coaching one another informally, and in teachers and pastoral leaders using GROWTH coaching for student goal setting in subject and pastoral arenas. We moved away from a linear, chronological cycle of mandated internal professional learning processes and introduced negotiated internal professional learning pathways for teachers and for leaders. These allow for differentiation, voice and choice for our staff, acknowledging them as capable, self-reflective adult learners who know their own needs. This included the addition of professional learning groups around common areas of interest. It also included an internally designed and run leadership development program for new and aspirant leaders.

This year we are continuing to refine what we do for staff learning and culture, based on data. Senior leadership constantly seeks feedback—through both anonymous surveys and open conversations or focus groups—in order to iterate what we do to better serve the staff, students, and parents of the school.

Over these years as I have led the coaching model and professional learning at the school, I have noticed incremental shifts in culture. Coaching language and behaviours have seeped into daily conversations. Staff are increasingly willing to give honest and critical feedback, including to management, with a view that their views will be listened to, taken seriously and used to inform decision making. People have more tools for having tricky, sensitive or uncomfortable conversations. They are more often–gently and respectfully–holding their peers or their direct reports to account.

Collaboration and productive work doesn’t happen because we are a bunch of people in a room or a school together. We don’t do our best collaborative work when we are all getting along. High functioning organisational cultures have high levels of support for their people, but also high levels of challenge. They also have clear roles, expectations and norms. There is a sense of collegiality, shared purpose and shared identity, but also a willingness to work through honest feedback, respectful dissent and graceful disagreement. As I look back and look forward to the work we have done at my school, and continue to do, it is about incrementally moving the culture forward to one of increasing trust, productive collaboration, and a place of balance where all members of the community are at once respected, honoured, supported individuals, and an integrated, valued part of something bigger than themselves. Building trust in schools is a long game, and one in which the outcomes are slippery and hard to quantify. But it’s worthwhile and rewarding.

References

Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York: Russel Sage.

Flip the System Australia: Book club questions

Steven Kolber and others on Twitter have been discussing the possibility of a Twitter book club around the recently published (and excellent!) education book Flip the System Australia: What matters in education. Based in the unique Australian context, this book situates Australian education policy, research and practice within the international education narrative. It argues that professionals within schools should be supported, empowered and welcomed into policy discourse, not dictated to by top-down bureaucracy. It advocates for a flipping, flattening and democratising of the education system, in Australia and around the world. It brings together the voices of teachers, school leaders and scholars in order to offer diverse perspectives, important challenges and hopeful alternatives to the current education system.

As one of the editors, and author of Chapter 1, below  I share a first pass at some possible questions for readers, based around the sections of the book. My co-editors and the book’s various authors may have additional or alternative ideas.

Foreword and Introduction

  • What do you understand the editors to mean by the term ‘flip the system’? How is this relevant to education? Does the phrase connect with you, or would you describe it in a different way?
  • Why do you think this book might be important? What might Australia have to offer the education world?
  • What do you hope to get out of reading the book?

Part I: Teacher identity, voice and autonomy

  • How do the authors in this section focus on what matters, rather than what works? What does matter in education?
  • What comments do the authors make about commercialisation in education? Do these resonate with your own experience?
  • Why and where might teachers voices be shared? Do you think this is important and even possible? Why / why not?

Part II: Collaborative expertise

  • What kinds of collaboration do the authors present as effective and beneficial? Why is collaborative expertise something worth investing in and pursuing?
  • What warnings do the authors offer around collaboration in education? What differentiates good, productive collaboration from toxic or ineffective collaboration?
  • What is the role of wellbeing in collaboration between teachers, school leaders, schools and education systems?

Part III: Social justice

  • To what systemic inequities do the authors refer? Which of these reflect your own experience?
  • What is the role of voices and stories, versus policies and systems, in democratising education and addressing inequity? In what arenas could and should equity in education be addressed?
  • What are teachers, schools and systems already doing? What could they stop doing and what could they start doing to address social justice issues in education?

Part IV: Professional learning

  • What is the role of professional learning in a flipped education system? Why is it important?
  • How do the authors describe effective professional learning? How does this sit with your own experience of professional learning for educators?
  • What seem to be the necessary conditions for professional learning to be effective and make a difference? What points made by the authors should be considered by school and system leaders?

Part V: Leadership

  • What are the tensions and complex demands of school leadership, as described by the authors?
  • What do the authors of this section suggest as ways to effectively lead in schools and education systems? On what should leaders focus? What should they do and what should they avoid doing?
  • Do the authors in this section agree, or are there conflicting accounts of what is important in school leadership? What does this reveal about the complexities of leadership in education?

Conclusion

  • This is a book that shares diverse perspectives from a range of authors from a multiplicity of contexts. What threads and themes did you notice as you read the book? What draws the book’s contributions together? What differences did you notice?
  • What quote stuck with you from one of the chapters? Whose chapter stood out to you, spoke to you, or surprised you?
  • What is your overall response to the book? How are you left feeling?
  • What do you now understand the phrase ‘flip the system’ to mean? How might you flip the system in your own education context?

My 2019 #oneword: LIGHT

YeePeng Festival

source: John Shedrick on flickr

In recent years, I have been choosing one word to take into the new year as an anchor for my decision making and thinking for that year.

In 2015 it was CONQUER, as I worked at a ruthless pace to submit my PhD in between parenting my two young children and working a 0.8 FTE at my school.

In 2016 it was MOMENTUM, as I tried to capitalise on my PhD through lots of presenting and writing from my thesis.

In 2017 it was NOURISH, as I worked to clarify my work and life by focusing on that which nourished me, and by saying ‘no’ to more things and ‘yes’ to those things that energised and sustained me.

On 2018

In 2018 my oneword was METAMORPHOSIS. I considered what skins to shed, and what to consolidate and move forward. I thought about what I could stop doing in order to do even better things. I thought about the things that were making me feel anxious or like I couldn’t keep up. I turned all notifications off the apps on my phone, including my work email and all social media. I quit book club and withdrew from direct message groups on Twitter, Voxer and Facebook. I gave up my blogging schedule and blogged much less regularly.

In the space I made in my life, I added flotation tank therapy about every 6-8 weeks. I started going to the movies semi-regularly with a girlfriend, something which, since having my children–like long visits to the hairdresser or exercise sessions longer than 45 minutes–has felt like a time-heavy luxury I haven’t been able to give myself permission to fit in. I read more fiction for pleasure. I finished co-editing Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education, and eventually received a print copy of the book in my hands. I signed two book contracts and wrote the draft manuscript of my first solo-authored book, a monograph on professional learning that makes a difference in schools, written from my pracademic perspective. I look forward to submitting the finished manuscript in 2019 and seeing it published!

For a year when I was trying to do less, or do differently, I still managed to publish writing, although the work for many of these publications happened before 2018. As well as Flip the System Australia, my formal publications for the year were:

To 2019 and LIGHT

In 2019 my #oneword will be LIGHT. I want to experience 2019 the way I experience floating in flotation tanks: in control, mindful, and intentional, but also weightless, open, and in trusting surrender to the experience.

The above photo by John Shedrick–of people releasing hot air lanterns at the YeePeng Festival in Sansai Thailand–is an embodiment of my 2019 oneword: illuminating LIGHT that brightens darkness and reveals possibilities, physical and emotional LIGHTness, and a gentle dynamism as the lit lanterns are taken up and away into the sky. I love that the floating lights are a result of the collective efforts of many people working together to release them.

As someone who likes to have a plan, and my feet firmly on the ground, focusing on LIGHT will be an interesting challenge. LIGHT means finding LIGHTness in experiences, feelings, and my body. It might mean working on my box jumps at the gym to become springier. It might mean finding time and space to think, to be, to yield. It might mean taking life less seriously and being open to unexpected opportunities. It might mean being the helium balloon dancing on the breeze instead of the solid, static weight that holds it to the ground. Being the ephemeral paper boat on the river, instead of the solid rocks on the river bank. Being open to release and being lifted and carried away.