Saturday, June 27, 2015

Go Ahead and Blog

The term "blog" is a short for "weblog" and its use as a verb seems to date back to about 1999. This creative process can add value to your learning experiences and really help you develop professionally. Here are six reasons why an educator may want to go ahead and blog:

1. A blog makes you and your work more accessible to the public. Creating and sharing content through a blog is a way to introduce yourself to your community and allow others to know more about your interests and priorities around learning. You can share the purpose behind a classroom activity or a change in your practice. You can share your students' successes and describe how that happened. As a principal, I've had countless conversations with parents which were started by something I've shared online, and I think doing so was extremely beneficial to the development of our school. There are very few educators who can genuinely influence others through their writing alone, but a blog can certainly support the work you are doing in your own context.

2. A blog allows you to learn and model the effective use of digital media. The impact of the online world on our thinking just keeps growing and growing. Participating in even a minimal way will help immensely with your understanding of the Internet, social media, and Web 2.0 tools, all of which will help build your comfort level with technology use, as well as your credibility and potential influence with your colleagues and students. When we wanted to encourage inquiry in our classrooms, the first thing we did was an inquiry project with our principals, and it was very impactful. If you want your students or teachers to learn to use digital media well, start by learning about it yourself, and a blog is an easy way to get started.

3. A blog helps you manage your digital footprint. Many people have done a Google search on themselves and been uncomfortable with the results, or the lack of results for that matter. Old Facebook photos, newspaper articles, and even the delightful Rate My Teacher site are some of the ways your identity could surface. There is a lot of random information available online, and in the absence of something meaningful, this is what may end up representing you. Creating your own content through a blog gives you an opportunity to develop a more accurate and meaningful presence on the Internet and show others what you are actually about. You can't control people's perceptions, but you can, at the very least, actively contribute to the very content that influences them.

4. A blog makes your learning visible to others. The Internet was originally conceived as a giant sharing tool, and it is amazing how it has changed just about everything about everything. No doubt you have spent countless hours consuming content that was helpful to you and your own practice. A blog can be your chance to add to the body of knowledge in your area of interest. You might be amazed at the connections you make, the collaborations you grow, and who you end up supporting by sharing your learning. In same way an idea shared by someone else might be the missing piece for something you are working on, your idea might be that missing piece for someone else. Even when someone disagrees with something you published, you may actually be helping them clarify their own thoughts around a topic. What was the first thing you learned in kindergarten?  That's right. Share. So get started.

5. A blog is a great way to catalog your own learning and experiences. Over an educational career you will be a part of many interesting and rewarding endeavours and you will appreciate having a record of them. Making these entries public also encourages you to take the time to refine and clarify your thoughts before hitting the publish button because you will want to make your thoughts presentable to a potential audience, and that extra reflection will help you make meaning of the activity well beyond what you immediately understood. It is often said that without reflection, there is no learning. This is true for our students, and it is true for us.

6. A blog can be cathartic. I think we tend to assign meaning to many things after the fact. We are humans and we are therefore thoughtful by nature. We strive to make sense of the world. We reflect. We even rationalize. Creating and collecting and sorting our thoughts is a healthy process and it makes us feel better. I may have created this site for reasons 1 through 3, but I probably keep doing it for reasons 4 through 6. If reasons 5 and 6 are meaningful to you but 1 through 4 make you uncomfortable, you can stay offline or password protect your site and still benefit from much of the process. Either way, write it down. It feels good. A blog is the spiral notebook of the new millennium.

Sold?  Great. Here are three tips to help you get started:

First, I don't think the platform matters that much. I've used four different programs, each has its own strengths, all are free to use, and none required a computer science degree to figure out. Sure, some are fancier than others, but in the end it will really be about you and your content.

Second, think about your purpose and your audience. If you are starting a blog to be accessible or to model, then connecting to your school or district website might work for you. However, as you drop down this list, you may want to consider creating a bit of a partition from your work identity and only share your blog through Twitter or Pinterest. You are still you of course, but a direct link to an official website implies endorsement, which might mean your employer may have an opinion on your opinions, so to speak. It is also important to remember that if your blog is public, you cannot control who reads it, so try to keep that in mind.

Third, shorter is better. In fact, I'm pretty sure that for every hundred people that view this entry, only a handful of you will have actually made it this far. Whether the content is interesting to you or not, Internet reading habits are such that most of you would have hit the link, scanned the body for the main ideas, got the gist of it, and moved on to the next thing. Apparently the average human attention span is down to eight seconds, so the more concise you can be, the more your ideas will be read. Obviously, I'm still working on this one, and good for you if you actually made it this far!

There you go.  Hopefully this was helpful and encouraged you to get started or gave you reason to get back at it. Now you can go ahead and blog.

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