March 30th is the publication day for Teaching WalkThrus my new collaboration with the wonderful Oliver Caviglioli and John Catt Ltd, the publishing powerhouse run by Alex Sharratt. It’s been such a fabulous project to work on – a total joy from start to finish. I think this is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘flow’ feels like… we’ve been in our element, loving the challenge, the process and the joy of working with each other’s ideas.
Working with Oliver is incredible. He brings an infectious enthusiasm and energy to every discussion; constantly thinking of new ideas, spin-offs, details, layers of depth – weaving in a rich range of references from his extensive reading and knowledge of designers and researchers. I’ve learned so much. We’re somehow able to encourage each other and challenge each other all at the same time. We’ve had some fabulous meetings at my house and then, with Alex, at a bar in Chelmsford and the coffee shop at the RSA. Oliver is never anything but dapper and stylish… as you’d expect.
Early on we established a model for the concept – the five steps plus intro for each walkthru, and the Why, What and How sections. Then we made a list of all the things we might include and it flew from there. I’d write something and then, a couple of days, later Oliver pinged over his creations. We played around with colour combinations, navigation details, fonts… always thinking about the book being useful as well as evidence-informed and effective in terms of design. Oliver’s generic teacher figures, Chloe and Chuka, and the fabulous yellow, quickly brought things alive.
It was so motivating.. seeing the ideas come together, each of us bringing something to the process making it better than anything we could hope to do on our own. The core writing was finished months ahead of schedule, such was our enthusiasm for doing it. We’re already thrilled with the preview comments and now waiting to see how it goes down with readers>
This type of creative collaboration is my absolute favourite way to spend time – it’s rewarding on so many levels.
My @Olicav collaboration has reminded me of the years I spent making music with my good friend Tom Andrew-Power, an English teacher and former colleague.
After meeting at work in 2000, we formed a great partnership writing songs – each of us bringing something that the other couldn’t do alone. I wrote the music and played the instruments; he wrote the words and tunes and did the singing. Our band was ‘St Jude’ – patron saint of lost causes. And something to do with QPR. I still play our songs on my iphone all the time- they mean a lot to me. I captured a lot of our efforts in this post: Ghosts and Empty Air: Before blogging there was music:
The last time we wrote and recorded was 10 years ago… we didn’t know then that that day would be our last but that’s how life goes. Things change and stuff gets in the way! We did some more fancy productions in a studio but happily that last song ‘Still’ was recorded on garageband in my son’s bedroom. Tom’s singing is wonderful. I have him singing in my ears most weeks. Have a listen:
And here’s our latest work recorded during lockdown:
The other lovely creative collaboration I’ve enjoyed in recent times has been working with John Tomsett and Mary Myatt on our Curriculum Thinking masterclasses – leading to several sold-out events in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff. Again, the joy comes from working people for whom you have the utmost respect; it’s a mutual love-in where everyone involved feels the benefit of being with the others, sharing ideas and building something of quality.
It was amazing hearing John and Mary give their talks several times; each time was unique. We’d give each other encouraging feedback afterwards – reflecting on the audience responses and the way each person’s curriculum thinking narrative came across.
Thinking about these three different creative collaborations, I’d say that the common elements have been a) a passion for the endeavour itself – writing, composing, presenting, music, education; b) a deep, generous respect for your partners’ talents such that you just love being with them and working with them so you can witness their talents close at hand and finally, c) trust in the reciprocal nature of the relationship; that sense of being equals, each with their own contribution to make to the joint enterprise; everyone pulling their weight.
I don’t know if you can engineer these things… in some ways they seem to be happy alignments of multiple factors coming together – because not all collaborations work out as well as others. I’m just grateful to have enjoyed so many – including a few great working partnerships at schools, which had similar qualities, not least working with Roz Hudson when I was her Deputy at Alexandra Park School.
Aside from raising a family – without doubt the most profound collaboration of all – these partnerships are some of the greatest joys life has had to offer. I count myself lucky.