Erin Quinn and Tara Vandertoorn, Humanities 8 Teachers, Griffith Woods School, Calgary AB.

Those of us who are privileged enough to publish books and engage a platform that grows a little (or by leaps and bounds) each year must take care to protect the commons. Those commons are filled with talented people who share not for profit, but because they know that when we share, we all grow better–together.

Each time I publish I book, I make it a priority to elevate the voices of those teachers whose work is worthy of publication but perhaps missing from our shelves not because the field has no value for it but because those teachers are so busy serving their students that they don’t have the time or the bandwidth to take on such overwhelming projects.

I’ve never been one to play the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” game when it comes to creating my professional learning network. I don’t tag superstars into my posts on Twitter, I don’t ingratiate myself to those who have a huge following with the intention to be promoted in return, and I don’t think of anyone as competition. I don’t have the time or energy for that kind of thing really, because here’s the truth: Being an independent consultant is hard and often, lonely work, and for that reason, the relationships that I build inside of my network have always been what matters most to me. I build relationships with those I can trust who support my learning and remember that I’m a real person, too. They’re the people who give me room to think and share my works in progress. They’re the ones who don’t expect perfection. They know I make mistakes. They give me time to learn more, and they are an integral part of that learning. They give me what Erin Quinn and Tara Vandertoorn describe as room to breathe.

And to be clear, I trust and admire and learn much from a number of people who have *earned* a huge following. They are expert practitioners who have changed the profession for the better. I’m privileged to be in their orbit.

Personally, I kinda worry about the influence of mere social influence on the field though, and so, I’ve never worked very hard to build my own professional learning network this way.

I joined Twitter in 2007, and this blog is also fifteen years old. I started my first online journal on Geocities around 1997. I know how to do the influencer thing, and I would have been doing that long ago if the influencer thing was my jam. I know what it requires. I also know what it might cost. I’m not sure I ever want a huge platform. What I have always wanted and worked hard to build are friendships with creative and brilliant and generous educators who share, support, and elevate one another. I look for those people. I work hard earn and keep their trust. They reciprocate. This matters.

Erin is one of those people. If you search this blog, you’ll find that this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned her here, and that’s because she continually inspires me. Erin knows how to ask incredibly powerful questions. She knows how to listen to the answers that are offered, too–especially when her students are speaking. I’ve bounced bunches of ideas off of Erin over the years, and her feedback is always keenly attuned and much appreciated. When I sit around daydreaming about creating my own school and filling it with just the right teachers that I’d also want as colleagues, Erin tops that list.

So, it was an honor and a privilege to interview her and her co-teacher, Tara Vandertoorn, as I was in the research phase for my book, Creating Inclusive Writing Environments in the K-12 Classroom: Reluctance, Resistance, and Strategies that Make a Difference in 2018.  Their interview was one of forty I conducted with practicing teachers whose work deserves to be elevated and must be shared because other teachers and students will be better for it.

This is a project that readers and writers can take from the classroom, tuck into their backpacks and tote home for the summer, and then, bring back again in the fall. Erin and Tara have been generous enough to share all of the tools that you will need in order to facilitate this work on your own, too. They’re right here. Go see.


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