One of the biggest joys of working with tens of thousands of teachers is hearing all the incredible stories from you and your students. From inspiring non-writers to write, to whole school transformations, to NAPLAN results skyrocketing.
A Victorian teacher recently reached out to us to share his inspiring story. We just had to pass it on to you. Learn how he helped transform a classroom of boys who refused to write, and how in the process he’s changed his life as well.
Thanks Neill for sharing this with us – it’s inspired us and we’re sure it will inspire many other teachers in Australia.
January 2019 in a small gymnasium, a former footballer and PE Teacher sits in a chair in front of over 100 people, smiling from ear to ear. Unsure if he’ll ever experience anything like this again, he’s enjoying every single moment. He could not be prouder and more surprised. A book launch. His book launch!?
It all started 10 years earlier in 2009. Neill Jones was teaching an all-boys grade, tasked with the impossible mission of getting a ‘tough’ group of boys from the western suburbs of Melbourne to write. But first he had to prove to them that it was okay to write.
He tried numerous ideas, but nothing seemed to work. After multiple failed attempts at engaging his class and hours of research, Neill came across the Seven Steps. He’d always been passionate about making learning fun and changing the negative perception young boys had toward reading and writing. He thought he’d give it a try.
Knowing his boys, he had to get them onside quickly. So he went straight into Step 2: Sizzling Starts. For those who know the Seven Steps, it’s a fun and engaging step – a perfect place to start.
He taught them the concepts, then had the boys practise writing Sizzling Starts. He was excited to see that it seemed to work – they were actually writing! But when he asked if any of them wanted to share their story, he was met with a room full of statues.
…Neill had always believed in being a positive role model and felt it important to model writing to young boys.
Undeterred he continued to run Sizzling Starts activities for another few weeks. The boys were starting to write more and he would get the occasional student reading out their writing. Some even let him display their work on his Sizzling Starts board outside their classroom.
When Neill first introduced the Seven Steps activities, he used their writing time to talk to a student or to try to clean his forever untidy teacher’s desk. But he had always believed in being a positive role model and felt it important to model writing to young boys, so Neill started writing his own stories. When they wrote, he wrote. They started to see that their teacher genuinely thought writing was important, enjoyable and a fun activity that men could do too.
After a couple of months, the boys’ attitude began to change! They were enjoying writing. One writing session when he told the boys to finish up, a boy said to him “I want to write some more.” No longer content to just write the first few paragraphs, they demanded more!
To help his class add to their Sizzling Starts, Neill introduced more Seven Steps writing techniques. First, Step 3: Tightening Tensions and then Step 1: Planning for Success, so they could plan out their whole story.
The class was hooked! He now had a class full of writers.
Neill eventually retired and became a Replacement Teacher.
But he never stopped writing. When he finished a story, he would read it to his students as they were eating lunch to see if the children enjoyed them.
They did. They loved them.
They would even come back in from lunch and ask for the story to be finished!
With such amazing validation, Neill kept writing and sharing his stories. He developed a set of characters that kids love – The Fearsome Four – and wrote story after story about them.
Until one day in January 2018, Neill felt a pain in his side. His doctors told him it was kidney stones. He wasn’t convinced – he had had kidney stones before and it wasn’t as painful. Five months later and the pain was still there.
He was sent to have a CAT scan and was told he had stage 4 cancer.
It could be two to five months, maybe more, maybe less.
He was living on borrowed time.
Being the Inspiration
Through an amazing happenstance, White Light Publishing learned of Neill’s situation and his dream of holding one of his books in his hand. After meeting with him, they told him they weren’t going to publish one of his stories, they were going to publish all 21 of them!
Not long later in a small gymnasium, the teacher of 35 years sat in a chair in front of over 100 people smiling from ear to ear, taking it all in and enjoying every single moment. Unsure if he would ever experience anything like it again.
Accompanied by his loving wife and sister (both former teachers who helped edit his book) his daughter Aimee and his son Thomas, along with former students, colleagues and friends, Neill celebrated the release of his debut novel, The Mysterious Bottle. Every copy sold that day.
He always tried to lead his students by example. What better example to encourage boys that it’s okay to write than to write and publish your own series?
The Mysterious Bottle
His first book, The Mysterious Bottle, is available for purchase on White Light Publishing’s website and is about The Fearless Four – Thomas and his best friends, Zac, Cameron and Josh. When they get together, adventure just happens!
In their first story, the boys find an unusual bottle, which they hope will bring them fame and fortune, but we know things don’t always turn out the way we want. Instead, they find themselves trying to get the genie back in the bottle!
Each book has been written with a sense of fun and enjoyment, but with a message for the reader. Book two, A Horse Called Lucky will be released soon.
We want to wish Neill a huge congratulations from the team here at Seven Steps. You’ve certainly inspired us and maybe made us shed a tear or two. Thank you for sharing your story. You and your family are in our thoughts.
“I doubt that these books would have come about without me pulling my hair out looking for a program to encourage the boys I was teaching, that it was okay to write. So thank you to Jen and the Seven Steps team.”
– Neill Jones
To all our readers, look out for some prize packs that we’ll be offering up in the coming months, which will contain a set of The Fearless Four books from Neill. A perfect set for your classroom!
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