Author Q&A with Denis Sheeran

sheeranDenis Sheeran is currently the Supervisor of Mathematics, grades K – 12 in Chatham, NJ and adjunct mathematics professor at the County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ.  Denis has a B.A. in Mathematics Education, a Master’s in Educational Leadership, and is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator.

Prior to moving back to NJ, he taught high school mathematics for 13 years in Lake Forest, IL. Denis has provided professional development to schools and conferences across the country.

Thanks, Denis, for sharing your thoughts with us!

Q. What events, places or other writers have influenced your work?

A. This may sound funny, but events, places, and experiences ARE my work. I’m influenced by them all, and constantly amazed by where I’m taken just by opening myself to what experiences can bring. But specifically, I’d say that Dave Barry has had the largest impact on my writing style. Some of my readers have even mentioned that to me without me prompting them (it’s like Dave Barry, right?!?!).

When it comes to actually getting me to start writing, I was influenced by Alice Keeler, who said to me after a conversation we had at a Google Apps Summit, “you’ve got to get in touch with Dave and Shelley Burgess. They would love to hear what you’re telling me.” I also credit a good friend of mine, Eric Robertson. He’s a physical therapist, educator, author, and Director at Kaiser Permanente Graduate PT Education in San Francisco. His multifaceted success in many areas inspired me to actually get to the work of writing and finishing this book!

Q. Why did you write your latest book?

A. I mentioned how Alice Keeler initiated the conversation with Dave and Shelley, which is what actually got the process going. What really inspired me to write the book was that in 2012 I left teaching and became a supervisor of mathematics. I saw many different styles of teaching, some similar to mine, and some completely opposite. What I learned was that students react best to their teacher and learn best from their teacher when what they’re learning matters to them, and when the questions they’re answering are their own.

I saw this time and time again. In some classrooms there were engaged, interested students and in others, a room full of listeners with a teacher attempting to deposit information into their quickly closing minds.

I felt that writing this book and sharing what I saw with as many teacher as I could reach could bring teachers all across the nation much closer to the tipping point (great book by the way) where all students could begin to experience a classroom that they wanted to be in, because it was relevant.

Q. Describe your writing process. (Where do you write? Do you have a routine?)

A. I have four kids. There’s no such thing as a “writing schedule” in my house. When an idea or connection came to me, I’d write it down right away. Sometimes I’d ask my wife to give me half an hour to get this idea down on paper because it was one I could use in the book or in my work with teachers.

My wife, often referenced in the book as my first wife (it’s true), is a very understanding and caring person who constantly pursues her passion for choral singing, so she knew how to support me with time when I asked for time to set to task on something that mattered to me. We even realized together during the process that the title of the book, Instant Relevance, made it necessary to react to moments and experiences when they occurred and not wait until the idea or momentum was lost.

Q. In thinking about your writing, what do you know now that you wish you had known in your early writing days?

A. I wish I’d truly known that I actually like writing. As a kid I never wrote. It took too much time. I would rather have done something energetic and active than sit and write. It wasn’t until high school when I took a writing class with Mary Hassenplug (@doyourhw21) that I began to develop an interest in creative writing. We still talk often now, which I love. To have a writing mentor and friend for over 20 years is something I cherish. Not many writers get the chance to have that.

Q. What, if anything, about the writing or publishing process surprised you?

A. Before writing this book, I had no experience in the publishing process other than a short stint as a fact checker for a publishing company 15 years ago. What has surprised me is how technology has made the process very easy for an author who’s interested in being part of the process. What also surprised me is how helpful people and companies are when authors seek permissions. Everyone I dealt with was kind and supportive of the project.

Q. What books are you currently reading?

A. I’m currently reading The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey and just finished Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. I cannot say enough about how these two books, read in tandem, can change an educator’s outlook on students and learning in an impactful way.

Q. What is your best advice for first-time authors?

A.Ok, here you go.
Dear First Time Author,
Write everything you think will ever possibly be a part of a final work you may have. Talk about your ideas with lots of people. Suddenly you’ll realize that there’s major support for one or more of your ideas, and you’ll have a lot of material to pull together right away to get started on a strong foot. And also, read Dave Barry, he’s hilarious.

Learn more about Denis Sheeran and his work at
Twitter: @MathDenisNJ

Check out Denis’ book Instant Relevance, Using Today’s Experiences in Tomorrow’s Lessons on Amazon.

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