Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’ve spent the last two years writing a professional development book for teachers titled Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning. I coauthored this book with my three EDU partners and Wonder Makers from all over the US.
Update: WOW! I truly did not know what to expect when I was writing this post before our launch, but it surpassed my wildest dreams. Not only were we the number one release in Education and Teaching, number one release in Pedagogy, and number one release in Language Arts Teaching Materials, but at one point we ranked #63 out of ALL books sold on Amazon!
This post is the story of how our book came to be, what the writing process was like, and most importantly, what you can expect out of this professional development book for educators. My regular blog readers know that I’m not a narrative type of blogger. I like to keep my intros short and jump straight to the strategies and ideas that will help ELA teachers the most (the book is full of these to-the-point teaching strategies by the way!). However, for this specific post, the story matters and I want to document it properly. Feel free to skip to the Book Q&A section if you are in a hurry!
My classroom sabbatical and travel professional development
The story of this PD book for teachers begins when my husband (also a teacher) and I decided to seize an opportunity of a lifetime and take a year away from classroom teaching to teach online from Europe. This was in August of 2017, so yes, we were teaching remotely before teaching remotely was “cool.” HA
We traveled to and taught from so many incredible places that school year, and it is a decision and experience that we will never forget or regret. It changed our lives in multiple ways, but regarding how it led to a professional development book for teachers, stay with me.
But before I continue, I just want to pause here for a disclaimer. I’m always reluctant to share about our trip because I know how privileged we are to be able to do it. I fully acknowledge that privilege, but also want to clarify that we aren’t out here stacking Benjamins on teacher salaries. We sold half our stuff, downsized to a tiny house, rented said tiny house out on Airbnb while we traveled, worked additional jobs outside of the classroom, taught online while in Europe, and traveled as cheaply as possible. Ok, now that is out of the way, moving on…
Because we wanted our time abroad to be both educational and re-energizing, we based our trip around visiting the places and connections to our curriculum. Since I specialize in high school ELA, I researched literary stops along our journey.
I experienced places like The Globe Theatre in London, Yeats in Ireland, the real Harry Potter train in Scotland, Juliet’s balcony in Italy, and so much more. My point of reference for our trip was to look for unique, inspiring, and educational literary locations to visit and learn from along the way.
When inspiration struck for professional development
When we got home in April of 2018, my brain must have still been on the wavelength of seeking magical literary places because when I was leisurely scrolling through my favorite home design blog, this post caught my attention: KIDS ROOM IDEAS FROM THE CUTEST KIDS BOOKSTORE EVER (REALLY, IT’S AMAZING)
I can’t explain it, but I became obsessed with The Story Shop and the magic they created in their small town. Right then and there an idea for a workshop popped into my head and just wouldn’t let go. Because I had a lot more time on my hands that I normally would have during the hectic end of school year season, I reached out to Dr. Jenna Copper who at that point I had only “known” via Instagram. Here is our first conversation:
Once I made the decision to act on my teacher workshop idea, I reached out to three other high school ELA teachers who I knew had the same teaching philosophy as I, and within a month’s time, we organized and hosted our first, and what I thought would be our one and only workshop for secondary ELA teachers. You can read about that first experience here: Our first workshop at The Story Shop
Update: You can support our favorite independent bookstore by purchasing your copy here rather than from Amazon.
I never intended on creating a professional development workshop. I never predicted the concept would strike such a strong chord. I never dreamed our virtual workshop would be so successful. I never imagined a book deal would come of it.
All I knew at the time was that I wanted to host a workshop in a charming venue worthy of the teachers who make the magic happen in their classrooms on the daily. The energy of that day was electric, and once we were alone, still buzzing from the excitement of being surrounded by so many incredible educators, Dr. Copper told us that we had a book inside of us. She started working on the proposal the very next day and did not give up until we got out acceptance letter.
This was June 19, 2018– the day the idea for the book was born. Four workshops, three trips around the sun, two years of active writing and revising, and countless hours of collaboration, our book is finally ready to make its debut. If you are reading this before July 31, you can use our website to grab your early-bird bonus!
It’s easy to focus on the stars without remembering all the nights it took to reach them. Writing this book is the most challenging thing I’ve ever accomplished, so I hope that you are as excited as we are! I am so very proud of what we have created!
Q & A about our professional development book for teachers
This book is for any educator who is looking to add more wonder, engagement, and joy into their classroom. It is written by the core four of us who are all secondary ELA teachers, but it is supported by research and Wonder Makers across the US in all subject areas and grade levels.
How should educators engage with the book? For example, is it meant to be read as motivational or professional development? :
We like to think of this book as a mix between the feel-good teacher books with no research and the serious pedagogical books full of dry research (although I have the upmost respect for these researchers because their work is invaluable). Our goal for the book is to inspire wonder in the classroom, and the brain-based research we use to support our ideas prove that joy and creativity don’t have to end where standards begin. We recommend reading the book start to finish the first time, but then see our book as an idea generating guide for years to come. I’ve already accessed our rough draft several times when I was short on inspiration for a lesson! Ha!
I find most PD books boring. What makes this one different?
There’s a lot to unpack here because I personally view PD books as informative rather than entertaining. I read PD books to perfect my craft, follow best practices, keep up with research, learn how to better be anti-biased and anti- racist, and get my mind right for the school year ahead.
That said, I do believe our book is different from most professional development books for teachers in that it combines narratives with research and practical ideas. It’s great for sparking ideas rooted in research while also being uplifting and hopeful.
If you want an unbiased answer to this question, here’s a post from an educator who has already ordered and read our book:
“After spending the last 24 hours reading “Keeping the Wonder,” I can say with confidence that this is my favorite PD book! … I love the stories that are weaved throughout the book. The stories are where I learned the most and gained ideas for my own classroom.” –Smithteachesela
How can a new teacher benefit from this book?
I love this question because I love new teachers! Your energy, vision, and open-mindedness are the future of our nation. Thank you for choosing this profession. We need you!
If you are an experimental new teacher like I was who’s itching to try creative teaching approaches, this book will provide you research to back up your wild ideas.
If you are an overwhelmed new teacher like Abby was, this book will provide simple strategies to engage students that don’t take a ton of time to prep nor any of your precious mental energy to brainstorm.
If you are an unconfident new teacher like Staci was, this book will give you tried and true strategies from experience educators to help you gain confidence in the classroom while also providing relatable stories that talk about the times we messed up, reflected, and became better for it.
If you are an energetic new teacher like Jenna was, this book will help you focus your energy on the things that matter most so that you can keep the momentum going throughout your career.
If you are an un-mentored new teacher that occurs all too often, this book will provide a collective mentorship of sorts. Between the core four of us and our ten Wonder Makers, we have 100+ years of experience and stories that will help guide you.
The philosopher Socrates said that wisdom begins in wonder. This professional development book for teachers is a practical guide for achieving both.