(and How You Can Get Started)
For great educators, teaching is a calling more than an occupation. That’s why educators spend so much of their time not only teaching in and beyond the classroom, but also constantly learning themselves, exploring every avenue that can make them more effective (like using Twitter for professional development).
So why would they take the time to blog at all, much less regularly? And is it something every educator should consider? To find out, we asked six Milken Educators with regular blogs on different topics to share their insights. What we learned was that there is no one reason to blog, but myriad reasons and benefits for doing so.
Why do you blog?
Brian: I use my blog to share vetted educational resources with colleagues.
Jane: It's a great way for me to express my points of view and challenges, as well has share my successes and joys of being a teacher. It helps connect what is happening in a real classroom to the public. And it's a creative outlet for me to express my ideas, thoughts and questions.
Mark J.: To stay relevant by discussing issues important to the educational community, which we hope will resonate with educators worldwide and start a conversation about building up strong school communities.
Mark M.: I blog because I like to reflect about what I do, and sitting down to write about it helps me do that. I also want to shed light on some of the good things happening in city schools and around Baltimore City.
Marsha: I love helping people and I have found that blogging is a tool/resource that permits me to meet others and provides them tips and strategies to develop as leaders. The world is there. It is listening. You just need to find your voice and decide it is time to talk. People will listen.
Shasta: My teacher blog provides me an opportunity to reflect on my practice—what worked, but more importantly, what didn't work. It also gives me the opportunity to connect with other educators and share my knowledge over the last 14 years of teaching.
MEA Tip: Blogging is a lot like teaching. You are sharing your insights with the world.
How often do you post?
Brian: Whenever I can... on average, once a month.
Jane: I usually post a few times a year. I would LOVE to be a regular blogger like other friends of mine, but I just don't have the time or energy to do so, being a full time teacher and single parent. But if there is an issue that strikes me deeply, I usually find time!
Mark J.: Weekly.
Mark M.: I started up my current inception of the blog about a year ago and have 120 entries, so I guess my average is once every three days.
Shasta: Since school has started back up I haven't been able to post as often as I'd like, but I try to post at least once a week.
MEA Tip: There is no right frequency, but if you want to develop a following for your blog, try to stick to a regular schedule so that—like a TV show—people will know when to "tune in."
What topic(s) do you blog about?
Brian: Financial and economic education.
Jane: I have blogged on topics near and dear to my heart: early childhood education, English Learners, teacher quality, best practices, importance of the arts in education, teacher stories, etc. I have also been invited to blog on topics where I have expertise/experience: Teacher Leadership, Parent Involvement, Classroom Management, New Teacher Support, Networking, etc.
Mark J.: [My Mission Mondays partner Sam and I] write about things that are happening in the world around us, and also about things happening in our very own schools. Some of our recent topics have included safety in schools, digital citizenship, building positive relationships with students, recognizing traits of teachers that just have "it," and student discipline/behavior management strategies.
Mark M.: My entries are primarily about English instruction, specifically lesson plans, discussion examples, literature, activities and projects. However, I also write about pop culture, sports, restaurants and other random topics.
Marsha: Self-mentoring. I am the creator of—and later trademarked—the concept. I am passionate about reaching others and teaching them how to self-mentor.
Shasta: Primarily, I blog about educational technology and how to implement it successfully into a classroom or a professional development setting. Periodically, I also blog about other classroom topics such as ELA, math, professional development opportunities, etc.
What are the benefits of blogging to you as an educator?
Jane: If there is a topic that I feel strongly about and want to share my thoughts so that it can influence others, I will. The Internet's scope and reach is so vast that I know what I write will be seen by others.
Mark J.: We felt blogging was a natural next step to help promote not only what we do, but to also just lift up educators in general.
Mark M.: On occasion, I can use my blog to help create change or to raise awareness…but most of the benefits are intrinsic. I think teaching is such a reflective job, and it's so important to stop and reflect about why you're doing what you're doing, and to share ideas about best practices.
Marsha: I think the greatest benefit is networking. The ability to connect with people around the world whom you may have never had an opportunity to communicate with through your blog is very rewarding.
Shasta: In the last few years in education, the talk has been about tearing down the walls of the classroom and expanding to settings in other states or other countries, opening the world for our students. This has been the case for me in regard to my blog and Twitter.
MEA Tip: Blogging can be rewarding in many ways including networking, personal and professional development, and ways that you may not realize when you start.
Can you tell us about a specific instance when being an active blogger has helped you or your students?
Jane: During parent conference time, I published a blog on how to implement student-led conferences because parents and students have both benefitted greatly through the process.
Mark J.: This school year we read a blog about effort vs. intelligence on the NPR website. We both loved the concept and did a podcast about it. We then shared the article from NPR with our own buildings, and talked about how we could implement a mind-set of recognizing "effort" over "smarts." The teachers at the school where I serve took it to heart and within a month started sharing success stories.
Mark M.: I blogged about the lack of heat in my classroom for a few weeks in the winter, and, when my blog started getting attention, some workers from central office came to fix the heat.
Marsha: I have been fortunate to meet professors and educators from other countries thanks to blogging. I recently was asked to come to the UK to talk about self-mentoring as a result of my blogs. The opportunity to reach others is incredible.
Shasta: A few years ago I posted about watching the film "Paper Clips," while my class was studying the Holocaust. We were beginning a project so I posted about what we were trying to accomplish. I received a comment from the producer of the film encouraging us to continue what we were doing to remember the horrific event. My students cherished that comment.
MEA Tip: Think of a blog as your own media channel. With the right message and the right audience, you can create change and inspire others.
Are there any downsides or potential pitfalls educators should beware of when blogging?
Jane: There are going to be topics you are passionate about that others may either oppose you on or make you question your belief. I actually appreciate challenges and different points of view. You can learn as much as you teach or share.
Mark J.: Educators are associated with a world quite bigger than themselves, and are also employed by school districts bigger than themselves. Everything you post online can be seen by anyone. With that being said, always remain professional and use integrity when blogging.
Mark M.: I used to blog anonymously, and used to share stories from my classroom about students. Of course I kept them anonymous, but I recognize now that this wasn't smart, so now I stay a bit more general and am not anonymous. I also do my best not to come across as whiny about my job, which I love. The blog is not a tool for venting, but a tool for reflection and raising awareness.
Marsha: The downside is that it does take time. I normally try to schedule my blogs as a break or time to relax and not as another task on my list. Emotions can be hidden within text so keep up that positive vibe when you write.
Shasta: When you publicly post something, you have exposed a little piece of yourself to the world. Sometimes that is difficult. Not everyone will agree with me, some will post nasty comments, and sometimes my words are taken out of context. I want to be real on my blog, but sometimes being real can hurt.
MEA Tip: With great reach comes great visibility. It's good to be personal but don't forget that it reflects upon you as a professional. And, as much as you can, be positive.
How do people find your blog?
Jane: The blogs I write are usually found on education websites. Teaching Channel, Education Week, Accomplished California Teachers, and you can do a web search because sometimes my blogs are picked up and posted on other sites. Twitter, Facebook, other social media can help publicize your blog. I know my own school's website now offers a blog section.
Mark J.: We are fortunate to have the EdReach Network promote our blogs as well as our podcasts. We also promote them through our personal website (www.missionmonday.com) as well as through Twitter (@mc_bossy, @samuelstecher, @mission_monday). The audio is on iTunes and Stitcher as well.
We have about 1,000 listeners per month on our podcast and one of Sam's most recent blogs had 1,400 readers.
Mark M.: I advertise it on Twitter and Facebook. I only have two subscribers but average 3,000-5,000 pageviews a month.
Marsha: The key is to be passionate about something that is driving your desire to communicate with others. That will come across in your writing and others will find you. My promotion is from presentations that I am asked to do on the topic of self-mentoring. Those that attend my presentations love being able to connect afterwards through a blog site so it becomes critical to have a process for reflections—group and self.
Shasta: After I write a post, I post to my Facebook page and it automatically links to my Twitter feed. My Twitter followers are at 330, so many people read it there. I love the ease of posting it once on my Facebook and it linking to Twitter at the same time.
MEA Tip: If you want to reach a wider audience, you need to find them where they are. Share your blog posts on your personal Facebook page, Twitter stream, LinkedIn, etc. Also consider sharing it with organizations and circles that may be interested in what you have to say, such as social media groups, state and school websites, online publications and other blogs.
How should a teacher get started with blogging?
Brian: Start by simply transposing your passion to paper.
Jane: You can go on Google and create one so I am sure there are many other sites that offer a venue (templates, etc.) to start. A good way is to look at other teacher blogs and see what they use!
Mark J.: Our suggestion would be to just get started. Don't think too much about it and just do it. Share it with your students and let them in on your experience. Let them blog their ideas as well.
Also, we have found a great resource through Twitter. There are many blogs shared, and with that comes much encouragement from educators all around the world. People are craving collaboration. We are part of a great movement.
Mark M.: I think good teachers reflect, so the start to a blog can be your reflections about how lessons, projects, or units went.
Taking pictures helped me get started again after a several-year layoff. Having a photo to start an entry made me feel like I didn't have to include much else. I started again while on a trip, studying John Steinbeck at the Steinbeck Institute in Monterey last year. I just didn't want to forget anything that I did, so I documented it. Perhaps your start to blogging can be documenting something you don't want to forget.
Marsha: I actually am just opening a new webpage that will be connected to a blog site and have just started a series of new blogs. I am fairly new to blogging so I am still learning but I think it is important that you learn from experienced bloggers as well as fledging writers. There are tips from everyone and this creates a more insightful approach for your own venue.
Shasta: Don't overwhelm yourself with committing to blog every day. Set a schedule that works for you. I try to blog weekly, but sometimes school gets the best of me and I'm unable to do so. It's okay. If you find you have a lot of ideas in your head and the time to hammer them out, write all of your posts and schedule them. Pictures speak volumes! Teachers want to see how something worked, not just read about it. "Show, Don't Tell!"
MEA Tip: The key is just to start and let it evolve. You'll find your voice and you'll find your audience as you go. Technical know-how shouldn't be a deterrent. You can set up a blog in minutes using Blogger.com or Wordpress.com, as well as tumblr.com and many others.
10 Takeaways for Teachers
- Focus on your passion, however you define it.
- Be personal and true to yourself.
- Don't write anything you don't want your students, administrators or family to read.
- Use photos to get you started. Sometimes just a photo and a caption can say a lot.
- Write regularly or write when you're inspired, but write.
- Find your audience. If a blog gets published on the World Wide Web but no one's there to read it ... it doesn't make a sound.
- Read blogs of thought leaders you admire.
- Reach out to and network with other bloggers.
- Invite comments and dialogue.
- Get started.
About the Milken Educators
First Grade Teacher
Asst. Professor at UNCW
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