Mizz De Zoysa-Lewis is the Managing Director of Insight Publications – an independent educational publisher that specialises in resources for teaching English. Although traditionally focused on the Victorian market, the company recently launched its first dedicated resource for the Western Australian market. We spoke to De Zoysa-Lewis about the impetus for this interstate expansion and the values and goals that drive this small dynamic company.
“Insight Publications was founded by my mother-in-law and her partner many years ago. They were passionate about education and empowering young people across Australia and the globe. Initially a cottage industry operation, the business has grown significantly, especially over the last several years.”
De Zoysa-Lewis has been with Insight Publications for 16 years, having started working there when she was going through law school. “I loved what they did from the beginning. Seeing editors working on manuscripts and the marketing team reaching teachers in schools ignited a new passion for me.”
On completing her studies, De Zoysa-Lewis left Insight to work at a top-tier law firm for six months. But she found the experience unsatisfying: “My heart was back with Insight,” she says, and she soon returned to a full-time position with the company.
The change of career wasn’t without its challenges. “Even back then, publishing was not an easy industry to be in. It’s super competitive for Australian independent publishers and that hasn’t changed; however, I like that we all have a vision to empower educators.”
Relationship-building is a key aspect of the company’s day-to-day and one of the drivers behind its interstate expansion. “We have consolidated on so many years of experience. Our schools trust us to create the best possible English resources for their students. We have focused on building that trust in Victorian schools and recently we saw an opportunity to go across the Nullabor.”
The move was also inspired by the fact that De Zoysa-Lewis became aware of a spike in sales of Insight titles in WA. Although the books didn’t address all the curriculum requirements of WA English, it was clear that teachers found considerable value in them. “We saw there was a need for more tailored resources of this kind, so we wanted to act on that,” she says.
The team took time to thoroughly research and understand the WA curriculum. Year 12 English: Western Australia took two years to produce, from the initial idea to the release of the book. “We ran some focus groups and talked to educators as they’re the ones who stand in front of classrooms every day to teach the course,” says De Zoysa-Lewis. “Our titles are about serving the needs of students and educators and we wanted to tick the boxes for both of those audiences. That’s when things become highly accessible and engaging.”
The news that the company was creating a new, dedicated WA resource generated considerable excitement and anticipation among teachers. “They wanted us to get the book out as soon as possible! And that’s a nice kind of pressure to have.”
De Zoysa-Lewis says that the way in which the company created this resource demonstrates one of the best things about independent publishing in the educational space. “I say to my team that we are a bit like a speedboat. We can be really agile and change direction very quickly. So we were able to go ahead and develop this English title for the Year 12 Western Australian ATAR English course. We have now launched the book – we had a great launch event attended by many supportive WA teachers – and the reception has been overwhelming.”
Independent educational publishers in Australia are in a unique position, De Zoysa-Lewis says, because of the way in which their smaller size and greater flexibility allows them to service more schools, as well as provide resources to under resourced areas. “We’re a small team and yet our books are used in so many Victorian secondary schools. I’m proud to say we’re doing a great job. We’re successful enough to be able to grow and expand and that’s a great position to be in.”
Student-centered learning and empowering students to drive their own learning are concepts with popular currency. But De Zoysa-Lewis notes that the company has focused on such approaches from the time of its founding by her mother-in-law, and continues to do so. “I’m the daughter of a refugee, and when I came here at the age of seven, I had the privilege of knowing a lot of English. But so many students come to Australia and they’re struggling. Empowering students is something I think about all the time. Educational publishers share a role in helping students to develop those all-important language skills. Without that ability to communicate clearly, to write clearly and to express your thoughts, everything is so much harder.”
Over the years De Zoysa-Lewis has observed the increasing professionalisation of the educational publishing industry. She attributes this development in part to the pressure teachers are under to ensure their students are performing. “There’s improved transparency around what is taught and around student and school results, and that contributes to the pressure on teachers.”
One of the consequences of this is a growing emphasis on relationship-building between teachers and publishers. De Zoysa-Lewis says, “Obviously we can only help students by constantly engaging with the educators who are in front of students every day. It’s the only way we can know exactly what we can do to help teachers and students to achieve the best possible outcomes.”
Following their entry into the Western Australian market, Insight is excited about continuing to draw on its strengths as an independent Australian educational publisher to develop resources by cultivating meaningful relationships with educators and students across the country.
**Images courtesy of Insight Publications. Photos taken at the launch of Year 12 English: Western Australia.
1. Mizz De Zoysa-Lewis – Managing Director, Insight Publications.
2. Adam Kealley, Trish Dowsett, Martin Guest and Maria White – Authors of Year 12 English: Western Australia text book.
3. Melanie Napthine and Robert Beardwood – Publishers at Insight Publications.