Give it away. Give it away. Give it away now.

Posted on June 3, 2013


This is the most uncomfortable I have been starting a post: much more uncomfortable than I was writing the one about the ten best education policies by Michael Gove. I have spent 36 hours actively mulling over whether to write it now and at least six months pondering the general theme, a theme I touched upon in one of my miniposts back in November. I’ve decided that now is the time to write it and I hope I don’t offend anyone in the process, not least of all because the people who I might be most likely to offend are among the people I most respect and admire here on twitter.

But enough of the hairshirt. Let’s get on with it. Bluntly put I’m writing this post because I have a real concern about the amount of people writing books for publication about some or other aspect of education. There are a few reasons for my antipathy towards this and, rather bang on about them at length, I thought I’d simply give a list with brief comments. So here goes, in no particular order:

Cost and the profit motive
I’m a bit of an unreconstructed leftie and it makes me feel very uncomfortable about who is making the money from these books, retailing on Amazon for typically £10-£25. I don’t think it’s the authors (I may be wrong) but somebody somewhere is and that feels wrong to me.

New and shiny
We’ve developed a cult around the new and shiny (how many times have you heard people talk about magpieing ideas recently?) and I feel that this feeds it, leaving even the best educational books with a very short shelf-life.

Dust-gathering guilt magnets
How many of you have bought one of these books, either personally or for your school, and never read most or any of it? How many of you have done this many times? I suspect that the figures are high on both counts because often these books are simultaneously generating and servicing an inner guilt about what kind of teacher or leader we ‘should’ be.

Whose idea is it anyway?
I steal so much of what I have done in the classroom down the years, especially the stuff that has been successful. I do the same with my leadership. If I wrote a book not much of it would really be originally mine so I’d rather just pass it on as I found it.

Decontextualising innovation
Great ideas about leadership and pedagogy (my two reasons for getting up in the morning) are almost always context-specific. Putting them into a book to sell to other leaders and teachers immediately decontextualises them and for me context should be king for teachers and leaders.

Learned helplessness
In an era when I fear that too much teacher agency has been stripped away I worry that there are too many of these books telling us how to teach or how to lead. Like students over-reliant on study guides I think we can sometimes be suppressing our own instincts in favour of the published instincts of others.

I do, of course, recognise the arguments that could be put against each of these points. Costs may well be cut to the quick and just about cover materials (I bought The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson for virtual peanuts). New ideas can reinvigorate teachers and even schools. The books are never intended to create guilt but to assist willing readers. Old ideas can be combined in altogether new ways. The best ideas bestride contexts and that’s how they should be put to use. No book ever strips agency and most are written explicitly to enhance it. These are merely my own feelings on the matter, feelings that even I don’t always agree with and feelings that have never been tested in the flames of an actual offer to write a book for publication.

But there is one argument against writing educational texts that I can’t get past: one argument for which I can’t find a counter-argument.

Why not just give it away?
The blogosphere is literally teeming with great stuff from inspiring leaders and classroom teachers. Many of my favourite bloggers have gone on to write books or are about to do so and I’m just not sure why (or even how, for that matter) they make the choice to sell it rather than give it away. Why don’t they just keep on blogging all their creative output and let the world be enriched by it?

This isn’t a personal challenge to any of the teacher-writers. I mean no insult and don’t seek any explanation, but this last point has stuck with me because the unreconstructed leftie I mentioned earlier can’t bring himself to contemplate not giving it away.

And yet… And yet… And yet…

And yet I would really love to write a book and see my work published. That much I can understand about the motivation of those who have done so. I get a thrill every time I upload a blogpost, a sense of fulfilment every time someone retweets it, a glow every time someone makes a positive comment about it, and a very broad smile when someone decides to post it on another blogsite or publish it in a magazine.

As I sat contemplating this post in the late afternoon sunshine yesterday I kept coming back to the thought that if blogging gives me that much of excitement then to write a book would be a dream come true. Then I kept coming back to the personal objections listed above. And then the dream. And then the objections. An ever-decreasing circle until the moment inspiration struck: I’m going to write a book and I’m going to publish it for free via a blogsite.

But this idea wasn’t enough. Suddenly a whole host of other ideas began tumbling over themselves in my head. They went a bit like this.

I don’t want to write a book alone. I want to co-author one with anyone else who wants to contribute.

I want to set up a collaborative writing and editorial team based on entirely democratic principles.

I want us to co-author this book on a blogsite over the summer and publish it at the very start of the next academic year.

I want to have Trojan Mice (see this blogpost from Pedagoo London to see what I mean as my theme, but if the editorial team want to adapt or completely change it then that’s cool too.

I want co-authors to make suggestions for chapters they want to write about Trojan Mouse leadership or teaching and submit them for approval to the editorial team.

I want all contributors to have editing rights on the blogsite so that all chapters are reviewed by the whole team ahead of publication.

I want all chapters to be published simultaneously on a pre-agreed launch date via the blogsite.

I want to have the whole book published in hard copy using the cheapest publisher available and sold at not a penny more than cost price to whoever wants it.

I want absolutely no sponsorship, advertisements or use of any materials subject to copyright. I want this to be a 100% open source project.

And that’s about it for now. All of the ideas listed above are a starting point for the project and all (apart from the open source nature of the project) are subject to the wishes of the editorial team. I would like this to be rigorously researched and robustly written body of work that all the contributors can be proud of and which would sit unashamedly alongside the best of the published work from people like Zoe Elder, David Didau and other fantastic writers too numerous to be listed here.

All of which brings me to my plea. If you are animated by the nature of this project and feel that you would like to contribute in some way (writing, editing, proofreading, original images, blogsite management, publishing nous, general logistics) then please please please DM me your email address. If you want to write about educational leadership or classroom practice then read my Trojan Mouse blogpost and see if it is something you can sign up to. If it isn’t then sign up anyway and change the focus from within the editorial team. I need your help, but more importantly I want your help.

I’m really hopeful from early soundings that this is something that could make its contributors very proud, both in terms of what we create and in the fact that once created we make the choice to give it away.