“Reclaiming Lesson Observation” was launched on November 16th 2016 at Birmingham City University and as someone who had contributed a chapter, I was asked to say a little about the process of writing for publication for the first time. The writing process proved to be an experience that was challenging and fascinating in equal measure and nothing like I had expected. I am used to writing training materials, blogs, proposals and strategy papers so formulating ideas on paper for an audience isn’t something new. Yet committing opinions and experiences into the form of a book chapter felt entirely different. Suddenly I became aware of the weight of this – the book would be an artefact, solid and unchanging, with no room for immediate revision once it went to press. It all felt rather serious and final, as if I somehow needed to make my ultimate statement on the topic in hand, and stand accountable for it. This idea created a sense of pressure and mild anxiety as I grappled with how to approach the drafting process.
I work in the Further Education sector and when I mentioned this project to colleagues there were some interesting reactions. Several people voiced surprise to see me, as an FE practitioner, venturing into the world of “the academic.” There was a feeling that this was a realm that we were not necessarily part of, or maybe suited to enter. People seemed to think this was an exciting, brave and challenging thing to embark upon. More discomfort! I began to feel out of my comfort zone and wondered if I had made a mistake in accepting the invitation. I feel that we as FE practitioners have a lot to say about our own context even if we are not familiar with the “academic” writing process.
A friend was excited and encouraging about the venture and this created a little excitement in between the nerves. On a spa day, I sat on a lounger and sketched out a plan of sections and key messages to cover. It felt like the beginning of a big adventure and the chance to be part of a book on a really important topic – reclaiming lesson observation for reflection and development for teachers. The plan looked enormous and I began to struggle with what I wanted to include. There was just so much to say.
With a draft due in a month’s time I entered a phase of writing paralysis and engaged in a range of displacement activities. My flat will never be so clean again. Then finally I sat down one morning with an ultimatum to myself to write something and just send it to Matt (the editor) for comment. JUST WRITE SOMETHING. It was interesting to see how there was initially little flow to the writing and how I felt inhibited by trying to write for a reader I hadn’t conceptualised in sufficient detail to pitch the text. I was definitely trying to cram everything in for everyone who might be interested, in this case teachers, managers, coaches and leaders in schools and colleges. There was a feeling of losing your own voice in the overwhelming task of making the ultimate stand on the topic in hand!
Matt the editor duly returned draft one with comments, guidance and tips. The professional respect and constructive feedback here was fundamental in helping me move forward and gain confidence in finding my own voice as a writer. He had spotted sections of coherent argument and boosted me by highlighting those; he identified what needed unpicking to add clarity and where assumptions were made that needed further support and justification. He showed me how “academic” it needed to be in terms of references and research, without my experience and my voice disappearing. I realised the inestimable value of a sensitive and perceptive editor, especially for a beginner writer.
So then I moved from not being able to write, to being unable to stop. I realised that another challenge is what to include and what to cut out; where to focus and what you have to exclude to make the piece coherent and deep enough to be of interest. In my topic there were so many avenues I couldn’t explore due to my word limit. There were three or four other chapters I could have written. I had to make a ruthless selection of areas to cover, thinking of real people I knew and how they might access the text. Grounding the writing in a reality I knew made it suddenly easier to draft. I felt as if I was talking through text with people that I could imagine. It no longer felt like an abstract artefact – it had become a form of communication and connection to others in my sector.
By the time I reached draft four, Matt suggested that it was ready for print. At that stage I felt immense relief but also a niggling sense that my thinking had developed further since draft one. When to stop revising? I realised that I needed to accept the chapter as a summary of my thinking at that point in time and let it go.
Now that the book is out and I have met with the other authors, I am delighted with the end result. The book has so many passionate, perceptive and practical comments about moving forward with lesson observations in our settings. I feel proud to be part of the team involved and happy to share the book with others, along with my journey as a beginner writer. I have new respect for authors of a full text and immense gratitude to Dr Matt O’Leary for his support and guidance on the way.
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