In 2015, Neil MacQueen became the Lead Writer for the Writing Team. After completing the "renovation and rewriting" of existing sets in 2018, the Board of Directors asked Neil to begin a program of recruiting and training new groups of volunteer writers to produce new sets of lessons. This interview shares some of the insights Neil and others learned through this process of collaborative online curriculum development.
Project Background from Amy Crane, member of the Board of Directors
From 2001 to 2013, a group of volunteers called "The Writing Team” posted over 220 lesson plans covering 34 different Bible stories.
In 2014, the Board of Directors began searching for a writer to improve or replace those 220 lessons in order to meet the Board's evolving standard for creative lesson writing in the Rotation style. The following year, after serving as an interim pastor in a church, our own Neil MacQueen was hired as the Writing Team Renovation's new “Lead Writer.”
I conducted this interview with Neil as he was completing that "renovation." He has since gone on to organize another dozen new Teams to write new sets for us. Here are some of the insights and untold stories behind the 2015-19 Renovation Project.
My interview with the Lead Writer on the Writing Team's
Renovation Project, Neil MacQueen, in 2018.
AMY: Neil, How did you become the Lead Writer on the Renovation?
NEIL: After performing a “quality review” of the WT's original sets with members of the Board, they started looking for a writer to revamp the original WT's material. I was unavailable to help due to a church interim staff commitment. When that ended, and they hadn't found anyone else, I said, “Here I am, send me!”
AMY: What was the problem with the original WT lessons?
NEIL: We found many good lessons, but some were incomplete, some strayed from the lesson objectives, and many simply weren't creative enough by today's standards. The Board wanted them to be better, especially because they are a major benefit to our Supporting Members, but also because we ourselves use these lessons.
AMY: Were you afraid you’d offend the volunteer writers?
NEIL: Aren’t we always in the church? Yes, we were, but most of our Board members had been on the Team, as had I, and we simply felt that after all these years it was time to do better. I even deleted or rewrote most of my own old WT lessons!
AMY: How are the renovated WT lessons better than those of the “old” WT?
- We took the best ideas from the old sets and made them better.
- We rewrote a lot of lessons using more interesting activities and teaching ideas.
- We made sure each lesson stuck to the set’s learning objectives, and that the different workshops in each set were complementary.
- We rewrote all the Bible Backgrounds to be more devotional and inspirational for teachers –to give them shareable insights and wording that could go right into any lesson.
- We included a lot more age and time adjustments.
- And we spent more time in the lesson explaining HOW and WHY to use the proposed technique (i.e. the lessons teach the teachers).
Originally we thought we’d just fix a bunch of lessons, but pretty soon we realized we were in a nearly “full re-write mode.”
I worked as the lead writer on almost every lesson, while Luanne Payne worked as editor and resource person, and people like you, Amy, helped come up with ideas and edit the lessons.
AMY: You mention Luanne Payne, our Board President. What would you like to say about her role in all this?
Neil: I call her "The Rotation Wonder Woman." Luanne deserves a HUGE thank you for taking on the unpaid role of WT Renovation Editor. She reviewed drafts, proofread finals, and has been our go-to resource person. All this in addition to being Board prez.
AMY: Who else helped with the renovation?
NEIL: In a sense, all the past writers helped because we borrowed their best ideas. Every new lesson plan bears the marks of previous writers and reviewers, as well as my lesson writing sensibilities. Our Board was especially active, providing direction, ideas, and corrections. Along with Luanne, we especially need to thank you, Amy, and "Creative Carol" for your suggestions and edits.
AMY: And let's not forget every single supporting member. They "crowd-funded" the WT's improvement.
NEIL: Definitely. We were writing for them, as well as for ourselves.
AMY: How did you find the TIME to rewrite 34 lesson sets?
NEIL: Y'all paid me! --it's as simple as that. It was the only way I could give 20 hours a week for 3 years and keep a roof over my head. It also helped that my church interim job had just ended and I was available.
The deeper truth is that we all find the time for the things we love to do and are good at, I'm one of those crazy people who actually loves to write lesson plans. That wasn't me 10 years ago! But now I love stepping up to the challenge of coming up with truly creative approaches to teaching Bible stories. It's a privilege.
AMY: I remember debating whether or not to ask volunteers to do the rewrite.
NEIL: We could have, but then we realized that it took 12 years for the original volunteer team to write 34 sets! We didn't want to wait that long! ...and there are new sets and stories we want to get to.
AMY: True! Do you still see volunteers as part of the WT's future?
NEIL: Once the 34 original sets are renovated (4/2018), a “New Writing Team” will form to add new sets, probably at a rate of 2 or 3 a year. But we've learned from the past, and will use smaller groups of volunteers working much more closely with a lead writer who will help the writers achieve something special. In the "New" WT, I will also be responsible for the final draft, not just the final edit.
AMY: Are you looking forward to the end of the Renovation in Spring 2018?
NEIL: Yes and no. It's been really fun to focus on being creative and take a deep-dive into a new Bible story every month. And I've loved the weekly collaboration. But yeah, we’re chomping at the bit to write new sets on new stories!
AMY: If you had to summarize what makes the new WT Sets "special" what would you say?
NEIL: We set out to create the best Rotation Model lesson plans we could imagine, and I think we succeeded. They are really creative and wonderfully detailed.
But long after everything has been posted, what I will remember most is the camaraderie of the creative process. It has been a blessing to my life and faith, and I think it's what Rotation.org is all about.
AMY: Thanks Neil!
NEIL: Thanks Amy!
Amy Crane is a long-time member of Rotation.org and one of the original WT volunteer writers. She serves on the Rotation.org Board of Directors, helping us with our Facebook and Social Media presence. A talented Rotation teacher who loves drama and puppets, Amy lives in Mandeville, Louisiana.
Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister specializing in Christian education. Neil had a hand in founding the Rotation Model and Rotation.org. Neil currently serves as Rotation.org's webmaster and "content fluffer." He now resides in Columbus Ohio.
After the Renovation Project, the Board asked Neil to write several articles about how he approaches writing creative Sunday School lessons. Many of those are available only to members of the Writing Team. Several are available to Supporting Members in our "Pulling Back the Curtain" ~ Insights into the Creative Lesson Writing Process Forum.