Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Life Lessons Learned from Co-Writing

Writers develop their own style and voice over time. We also tend to find a niche for our work in certain topic genres. There is no way I would ever claim to be at the peak of any profession, especially writing. There is always room for improvement and I have a long way to go. Editors have provided feedback that has helped me think about my content, voice, structure, and style. I couldn’t be more grateful for their help. I’ve recently discovered there is another way for writers to develop. In the past two months I have had the privilege of co-writing for publication. In both instances, my co-authors had much to teach me.
The first was an article about the benefits of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in schools with award-winning former principal Daisy Dyer Duerr. Daisy taught me that we should not shy away from sharing success in the name of humility. You see, culture among educators is mixed when it comes to celebrating great achievements. Teachers start their careers with a love for children and determination to create experiences that will open doors for their students. This means that the greatness of our students is always our focus. Some educators shy away from congratulating each other or sharing their own achievements because of this admirable core value.
Daisy is relentless, and it is her strength. When she began her work as principal in rural Arkansas, she wasn’t willing to allow any barriers to stop her teachers and students from having access to everything they deserved. This means they needed to have access to the best in education technology (edtech). In a place where wifi in homes is rare, but smartphones are not, she saw an opening. Daisy use social media to tell everyone on the Internet about the children in her community. She wrote as many grants as she could. The winners at the end of Daisy’s effort were her students. Her school went from failing to being recognized as one of the top achievers in the state. Daisy is unabashed about sharing her school’s success. Does this mean she is a self-promoter? Maybe. But her story is inspiring others and making the news. Other low-income communities nationwide will be inspired by her perseverance to initiate their own relentless efforts. The beneficiaries will be their students.
My time co-writing with Daisy taught me that when you have a story worth sharing, don’t think of it as self-promotion. Think of it as a servant leadership. Knowing the difference between the two is an important part of any writer’s voice.
The second co-author experience was with Larry Magid, CBS technology journalist and CEO of ConnectSafely. Larry and I had the privilege of writing while sitting on his patio in Palo Alto. Our work will be published in An Educators’ Guide to Social Media. We weren’t just collaborating on an online document. We were talking out our ideas, word choice, and sharing our experiences as professionals and people. Larry taught me something most of us already know at some level: Everyone we encounter professionally has a personal story that runs much deeper than we could find by Googling them. I’m not going to tell Larry’s life story in this post, and I’m sure he only gave me a glimpse. The point is that a weekend of intensive writing helped me gain even more perspective into my profession. I learned that I have a lot to learn and a lot to contribute all at the same time.


While writing has helped me start to develop my voice and my niche in the edtech community -- heavy emphasis on “start” -- co-writing has helped me develop a sense of purpose and identity at a level previously unimagined.

If you aren’t yet a blogger, start writing. Write about your successes, struggles, and about how you are improving yourself as a professional and a person. You might think that no one could possibly be interested in your story. That’s what I thought. In fact, people are hungry to learn with and about one another. Be a part of the conversation. Write and post. Going a step further and co-writing can make that conversation go deeper.

If you are already a blogger, rather than merely consulting and quoting your colleagues, I encourage you to make a go at truly co-writing something for publication. You will learn something about your field, yourself, and the world.