He’s a teacher on the Apple Isle but he’s taking the national Write a Book in a Day competition by storm. Since Doug Grubert first got involved with the annual writing event in 2012, he has made it his mission to get as many groups participating as possible in northern Tasmania. We spoke to him to find out what drives him to be a better educator and learned how he almost gave it all away.
What attracted you to Write a Book in a Day six years ago?
A couple of teachers at Scottsdale High School (Tasmania) ran the competition and I went to have a sticky beak. I’ve had a long association with various extension and enrichment programs and when I saw what was going on with Write a Book in a Day, and learned more about what was involved, I immediately decided it was an opportunity that more children should have.
Then in 2012, I was employed as the Gifted Education Coordinator at Launceston Church Grammar School. They already had a very comprehensive program but I insisted Write a Book in a Day was worth pursuing, as it was unlike anything else we offered our students.
In the first year, we registered one primary team and four secondary teams. From that point the program gained a cult following.
I remember one year being in our Learning Hub (a multi-use learning centre) with a student to staff ratio of 90:1 - just me and 90 students. Other teachers would drop in to observe the students at work without disturbing what was happening. Write a Book in a Day is one of those great programs where the teacher's role is really only that of the facilitator - providing the students are taught the expectations and requirements beforehand. Leaving the students to the manage themselves; entrusting them ownership of the whole process ensures a truly authentic experience.
What prompted you to get more involved in 2017, registering 11 schools and 16 teams into the competition?
I'm one of those people who struggles to do things in half measures! When I experience positive emotions, I can do anything. But, quite honestly, when I have a bad run it’s like my world has collapsed in on itself.
Late 2016, I was fed up with teaching and decided to resign. I knew I loved teaching but for a whole variety of reasons I figured I had to move on to something different.
To my surprise the Headmaster, Stephen Norris, did not accept my resignation and suggested instead that I take the year off. So I did what most people in my situation would do and spent the next few months sailing a yacht to Antarctica!
It was exactly what I needed. I came back freshly inspired with gazillions of ideas for things I wanted to do at work.
Let me guess, one of those ideas was to use Write a Book in a Day as an outreach program?
Yes! I wanted to ensure students from different schools could access an opportunity they might not have otherwise had.
I’m lucky that as well as having a Headmaster who was unwilling to let me resign, I have a Head of Campus in Jane King, who understands my worldview of education extends well beyond the walls of our own school.
There are a number of programs I run in northern Tasmania which have an outreach element. I love working at a private school however, philosophically I believe strongly in the importance of public education - I am a product of it and my children are enrolled in public education. So when I suggested that I would like to run a community-based event and invite different schools to participate I was given a long leash.
Where do you start with pulling off such an ambitious idea?
I knew I had a network of teachers from a range of different schools who would support the idea but I needed a venue.
As luck would have it, I was given the contact details of Garry Conroy-Cooper, Manager of Launceston LINC (the state library in Launceston). As soon as I met him, I knew we could create a successful community-writing event. It was immediately evident that we shared a vision of what could be achieved if we collaborated.
The team at Launceston LINC were amazing - generous, patient, open-minded, helpful. They completely opened my eyes to what a dynamic and vibrant learning environment a library can be.
I was given free access to Launceston LINC for two Fridays in August and ran a primary and secondary event. We had twelve different primary teams competing on the same day and for much of that time the LINC was still open to the public! It was an amazing example of the importance a library can play as a centre for learning in a city.
So at this stage, you’re just focussing on northern Tassie?
Yes, all northern Tasmania. I am hoping to involve some remote schools via video conferencing this year. Last year I had tried to involve both King Island and Flinders Island District Schools however, they feared that the internet connection was not good enough to ensure the program was a success so the plan fell though (I hope the responsible Minister is reading this!).
Why did you decide to beat your own record and register over 36 teams for the 2018 comp?
It is really nothing to do with a record. It is all about opportunity. Last year confirmed for me just how rewarding Write a Book in a Day
I've had parents, students, teachers, principals, random community members all tell me how amazing the experience was. Why wouldn't I want more students to have that experience?
Does Write a Book in a Day eat into personal time?
Yes it does. But it is a classic cost versus benefit trade-off.
Sadly, if you ask most adults, much of our formal primary or secondary education is a blur. Not even the vaguest memory of countless hours of our lives is retained. So, although it does take some of my personal time, I am confident that we build ever-lasting memories. I know Write a Book in a Day is one of those few, precious highlights that will be retained.
Would you say it just as easy to organise one team as it is many?
For me, there isn’t a significant difference between running two teams or ten. However, for teachers contemplating Write a Book in a Day for the first time I would recommend trying to get two teams going if possible. You learn twice as much that way and it means the next year you'll be more familiar with some of the pitfalls.
It is important when you run Write a Book in a Day that you understand the process thoroughly, that you are prepared, that you have students who understand the expectations, that you have your resources, that you have contingency plans in place. You don't perform a play without rehearsing; you don't play a sport without training; you don't sit an exam without studying.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of Write a Book in a Day?
It is so very rewarding in so many ways. Sometimes it’s seeing the pride (mixed with relief) on the faces of participants when they finally submit the book. At other times, it is watching a child you gambled on stepping up and taking responsibility to get the job done.
Then there are the words of thanks from students, parents, principals and teachers. Seeing children come back year after year to have another go.
If I could pin it down to a single thing it would be seeing children who are fully invested in an authentic act of collaboration. So much of what we teach children bears little resemblance to what they will confront in the real world. Write a Book in a Day is a truly authentic experience.
Anything else you want to share? An insight? Words of advice? Words of encouragement?
Teachers ask students to take risks on a daily basis. We ask students to go out on a limb with their thinking, we ask them to be vulnerable by sharing their thoughts, ideas, dreams. And yet, teachers are often quite risk averse people by nature. I encourage teachers to take a risk, make yourself vulnerable and try implementing Write a Book in a Day in your school. The rewards for you and your students will be worth it.
You can write a book in a day! Register a team now.