My book It’s Our School, It’s Our Time was published by Routledge towards the end of November and I held the book launch on 7th December. Because of the pandemic, the launch had to be a virtual one, run on Zoom. I used Eventbrite to publicise the event, and was pleasantly surprised to find that 101 people had bought tickets for the event (free of charge) by the close of business that day.
The launch got off to a good start with people starting to queue up in the waiting room at 6.45pm and co-host Seb letting them in 5 or 10 at a time ready for kick-off at 7pm. Although we had had a practice run-through, checking sound and lighting and trying out some sample questions, butterflies were flying round my tummy for most of the day. I had to remind myself that this was to be a celebration; a book launch, not a Viva! I had after all invited people who I knew were sympathetic to my ideas on education, and only those who were interested would attend.
As soon as I saw the friendly faces of my launch guests who, one-by-one appeared in the Zoom matrix on my screen, any anxiety was allayed. These were people I had worked alongside, some as many as ten years ago, and people who had heard about my work through friends or members of my family. Their opening comments, posted in the Chat, were so warm and encouraging that I soon started to enjoy myself.
It was great to have Seb Budd as co-host for the evening. Seb is a Content Marketing Executive, and although he plans, creates and drives social media content for a living, book launch hosting is a relatively new venture for him, and he did a fantastic job of helping me to prepare the event, putting me at ease, managing the questions and comments and making the whole event so interactive. Thanks Seb!
Guests’ initial comments
Congratulations Geraldine! Such an achievement! Sending you warm wishes from Brighton! Glad to be here to hear all about it and very happy to have my own copy of this book! So pleased you’re continuing to spread the gospel of collaborative learning, Geraldine… I remember you talking frankly with schools about detentions – ‘is it working? No? why do you do it then?’ Congratulations Geraldine – your message is so inspiring! Big congrats, Geraldine, hope you sell a million !!!
Wonderful to be able to join this book launch and to hear about your inspiring work. Many congratulations on publication Geraldine from all of us at Routledge A fantastic achievement! Sending you our best wishes Proud of you! Looking forward to reading it. Congratulations Geraldine – your message is so inspiring! A very powerful approach. I love the way it outlines approaches to meet pupils’ and teachers’ basic needs. Congratulations Geraldine! It’s a fantastic book.
Thank you so much for re-inspiring me about all I believe in! Fantastic stuff!! Thank you Geraldine. Fascinating! Congratulations on the book. It sounds like a very interesting read. I will signpost this as a new release/ CPD resource within our teaching school alliance. Thank you so much for re-inspiring me! I really enjoyed listening to the discussion. Congratulations Geraldine. I am hopeful for some change in our schools…
At the start of the evening, someone asked, ‘How long did it take you to write this book? There are two answers to this question: on the one hand, I sat down to write a detailed proposal for Routledge around February 2019, working pretty solidly from then until the end of March 2020 when I submitted my final manuscript. On the other hand, as this book is a distillation of my experience in education, and contains ideas and views that have taken a whole career to develop, it could also be said that this book has taken me around 40 years to write! This book is highly influenced by personal experience working as a teacher and Educational Psychologist in over 100 schools, and from observations and discussions with those pupils, teachers, parents and school leaders I have encountered. The 7 years I put into my doctorate contributed greatly to the refining of my knowledge about collaborative decision-making in schools and classrooms and put my own experience into a global and historical context, so maybe the stopwatch restarted in 2012, I don’t know. What I can say is that I relished the opportunity to view what had been a strong interest or even passion – pupil voice and agency – through an academic lens, and to carry out my own doctoral research under the expert supervision of the highly respected cognitive psychologist, Professor Andy Tolmie, at UCL Institute of Education.
I was able to respond to many of the other questions by describing the areas of my book which relate to the topics raised, and was pleased that the things people wanted to learn about were things that I had chosen to include in the book. For example,
- ‘How likely do you think collaborative decision making will be used in our education system?’
- ‘Could you explain why you think “the time is right” for Collaborative decision-making to have a higher profile in our schools?’
- ‘Collaboration must mean some level of consensus in decision-making. Do you have practical ideas on how to work towards consensus?’
- ‘Do you have any practical examples of classroom collaboration?’
My response? Yes, the book is full of real-life examples and answers all these questions!
I was expecting to answer questions, but I had not expected the rich discussion that would develop between guests themselves, and this made it a much more interactive and lively event. I almost felt like we were in a room together, conversing after a few drinks and canapes. Guests were relaxed, shared opinions, agreed and disagreed and co-host Seb managed to keep this under just enough subtle management to allow me to relax and enjoy it all. See below for some snippets of the conversation:
- ‘Against the international political backdrop of recent years, isn’t it refreshing to have us all here gathered here around the concept of collaboration and not a border in sight … or mind!’
- ‘Schools need to give their school council a sizeable portion of school equipment budget, and stick, as a school, to their decisions.’
- ‘Politicians have to removed from education. It has nothing to do with any political ideology.’
- ‘Does the current lack of democratic decision making in the classroom explain, in part, why our young people aged 16 upwards are not expressing their disquiet with the ‘system’…’
- ‘GCSE could be scrapped tomorrow and the money saved be used to resource students having 20% of curriculum time to develop their own interests, concerns, passions…Could Governors include democratic decision making as an additional criteria? Young people all over the world ARE expressing their frustration with their school systems – perhaps with the exception of the Nordic countries. Teach the Future asking for a better climate change curriculum in the UK nations are being taken seriously in Scotland though rubbished by the Chief Inspector in England.’ Derry Hannam (retired democratic teacher and Ofsted Inspector, now education campaigner) extended an invitation to anyone interested in developing the 20% idea to contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
- ‘It must be very difficult having had the door of ‘power’ and ‘autonomy’ opened (being listened to) then it must be dispiriting for a student to find the door is closed at a later stage in their education…’
- ‘I think that can be the scary thing sometimes – it’s not about necessarily about handing over the reigns, it’s about working together for the greater good.’
A couple of guests commented how independent schools such as Summerfield and the Steiner schools may already be using collaborative decision-making. My comment was that this is so, and indeed many ‘top’ public schools have developed practices that engender a sense of agency and entitlement in their pupils. However, the aim of It’s Our School, It’s Our Time is to help regular state schools to offer the most excellent curriculum and pedagogy available and for economically disadvantaged children to have as good an education as those from the wealthiest families.
One guest, who has developed educational resources and publications for an international audience highlighted how the ideas in It’s Our School, It’s Our Time share many elements with the principles of Nordic social democracy, commenting that ‘The new Norwegian national curriculum entirely matches Geraldine’s ideas (and mine!!)’ I’m tempted to spend some time right now researching Norwegian education policy and practice, but maybe that’s another blog.
Freedom to decide for ourselves
What came across throughout the discussion was a perception that state schools have their hands tied by the government and have no say in how schools are run. For example, one guest commented: ‘Stuff the imposed curriculum. Time for teachers to take a lead in mentoring the whole student-centred process of education.’ A very eminent guest, who certainly knows what she is talking about, reminded us that schools do actually have a lot of freedom but that school leaders are often scared to try out ideas like these. Comments like these spur me on to bring groups of state school teachers and school leaders together to form a community of progressive school practice. If anyone reading this is already part of such a group or is interested in being part of one, please comment below or contact me.
In addition to the professionals who work in schools, others commented on the value of my book for a wider audience:
‘As a singing teacher and choir mistress I recognise that pupils and adults enjoy involvement in choice of repertoire and I shall bring these ideas to bear a bit more. Well done!’
I really liked this and the next comment: ‘I am not in education and I am not academic, but I sat down to read this book and couldn’t put it down! It is a “lifestyle read”’. I had not thought of my book in this way before but agree that It’s Our School, It’s Our Time is definitely about teacher and school leader lifestyles.
My parting message to guests was:
Read the book, try things out in your schools and get back to me!
A discussion about what might be possible for your school or group of schools costs nothing and might be a game changer for you, your staff and pupils!
I concluded the launch by giving some examples of support I can offer schools to help them in their collaborative journey:
- Zoom or real-life meetings to help schools plan their next stage of their development;
- Help to set up and run an Appreciative Inquiry to create energy for greater collaboration; and
- Support for groups of senior leaders who want to work together to develop new approaches for their own schools.
- If you want to stay abreast of these and other offers and resources available in the coming year, then register below for updates.
National and international relevance
Although I was disappointed not to have been able to host a launch in person, I could not have predicted the wide interest stimulated by the launch. Indeed, of the 70-80 participants who attended, some were participating from abroad – Berlin, Dublin and Cork. Others joined from all around the UK, including Manchester, Suffolk, Preston, Bristol, Brighton, Seaford, Northampton, Southampton, Marlow, High Wycombe, York, Birmingham, Banbury, East Sussex. They included teachers and head teachers, parents and carers, university professors (at least 3), writers, educational psychologists (including 4 Principal EPs), musicians, engineers, physicists, researchers, Local Authority officers….
As I started with opening comments from guests at my book launch, I will sign off with a selection from their closing comments. Thank you all for coming and I look forward to engaging further with readers of It’s Our School, It’s Our Time to help to apply the ideas around collaborative decision-making in your own schools and workplaces.
Really interesting discussion. Thanks for a very stimulating book launch, and congratulations again, Geraldine! Very interesting subject. Well done Geraldine. Thank you so much for the invite Geraldine. I have really enjoyed this book launch. Congratulations Geraldine and thank you Seb for hosting 🙂 Thanks – a really interesting event. Thank you Geraldine, really enjoyed this evening. Congratulations Geraldine, can’t wait to read your book and
hopefully try some ideas out in year 1! Thank you for a very interesting chat – and congratulations again! Really interesting discussion – too many questions to write here. Thanks Geraldine and Seb. Great opportunity for celebration and exchange of ideas. Thank you all speakers and questioners. Very interesting and encouraging for doing more WITH and less TO children and other adults! Lots to take back to school. We would love to work with you going forward,
we will be in touch! Thank you so much! Congratulations once again. Really interesting discussion. So proud of you and hope that it leads to more pupil participation in our schools. 😃 Thank you so much Geraldine, this was fantastic – has created some important discussion between myself and my head who joined earlier. Can we open our mics and give a round of applause?
And they did – Thanks!
Here is the link for ordering the book (remember the promo code BSE20 for a 20% discount (unless discount available on the website). Also, for those of you who had to leave part way through, here is a link to the recording of the event.
Photo by Jimmy Musto on Unsplash