If you’re reading this post, then you are looking to get back in to blogging, or you are seriously flirting with the idea of jumping in for the very first time. And if you’re like me–an educator with a compulsion to think about teaching to a point that skirts the limits of what’s considered “healthy” AND someone who, at the same time, finds starting new projects scary–you want to get your ducks in a row before putting yourself (back) out there.
Since I have some experience starting and restarting blogs, and we are facing a new year, I would like to offer the small amount of wisdom I have. And, just as you are reading this post, I also want to state up front that I am positioning myself as a reader of this post too (because I can really benefit from my own advice).
When I first started a blog–long before Make Them Master It–I had no idea what I was doing. I just created a free WordPress account, started typing, and hit post. Reflecting on the topics I wrote about, and the delusions I had about how many people would read my writing, I have cringed many times.
I did learn a lot, but I would like to save you from some of the pain I experienced before your next–or very first–post. I’m NOT going to give you tips for success here. Also, I’m NOT going to go over common blogging mistakes (I already did that here). What I have to offer is perspective that will help you manage your expectations and to find the immediate value in publishing a teacher blog, whether you have 20, 200, or 2,000 readers.
5 Hidden Treasures in Publishing a Teacher Blog
If you think you’re going to get advice about how to make it big in teacher blogging, stop reading this post. I’m not going to fill anyone’s head with those kinds of ideas. I DON’T want you to be an instant success. Sorry. You will miss the real value in publishing a teacher blog if that happens to you. Because, if by some miracle, you were to go viral on your first post, it would bring a tone of pressure, and you probably already have enough of that just being a teacher.
Let’s take a different approach. Let’s say you start blogging, you do it for years, and you NEVER have more than a few dozen readers. Would it still be worth it? I say, “Absolutely!” There is tremendous value in blogging without a big audience, and those are the hidden treasures I want to share with you here.
1. IT SHOWS YOU CARE. When we set aside time to write, proofread, rewrite, publish, and share our thoughts, it shows that we care about our work. We are signaling to anyone paying attention just how much passion we have about the work we do. It shows your colleagues, co-workers, administrators, and many others near and far that there is a lot more to you than the duties outlined in your teaching contract.
At some point, your students may even take notice of your work. In all likelihood, they probably won’t read your posts. But if they know that you blog and interact with other high-impact teachers who also blog, it will increase your credibility with those you teach everyday. They will know they have a teacher who cares. Blake Harvard (@effortfuleduktr) over at theeffortfuleducator.com said it best when he posted about completing his first year of writing for his blog, “[a] reason to read and blog is the effect it has on your students. They see me printing off articles, reading them, highlighting important passages, writing, editing, rewriting, and posting. Strange to say, but I believe my students respect the fact that I’m still learning and pushing myself as a teacher.”
2. IT SHOWS YOU’RE A WORK IN PROGRESS. When I first started teaching, I worked very hard to look like I had my act all together. This won’t be a shocking revelation to anyone, but I DID NOT have my act together. At. All. I made sure to hide my insecurity and that I didn’t know much about the job I was hired to do. Now, with over a decade into my career, I must drop the act because no one’s buying it (did they ever?). I do a few things well, but often I’m unsure and full of self-doubt. I question a lot of my decisions. I recently found myself in a bit of a professional panic, where I fell into negative self-talk, and I had to ask a few colleagues, “Am I good teacher?”
Writing a blog has kept me in the mindset that I am still a learner. And it has given me the opportunity to work out my incomplete thoughts. I have been able to assemble and structure my ideas online, to risk, to revise, and later (when needed) to retrieve my thinking. A teacher who has been at this longer than I have, Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr), calls this “Rough Draft Thinking” and uses this term to describe his blog. Along the way, Dave’s blogging has resulted in two traditionally published books (see here and here). As a reader, I observed Dave form his thinking and revise it over years. I have grown to trust him as I have watched his thinking unfold over time.
You and I may not end up with book deals, but blogging can help us work out our tangled thoughts and convictions, help us grow, and increase our credibility through the process, if we stick with it.
3. IT HELPS YOU CONNECT WITH LIKE-MINDED EDUCATORS. This has been the most valuable part of my blogging journey. Because I have hit post many times, and interacted with others who are blogging, I have found my people, my Personal Learning Network (PLN). Because I have been serious enough to write down my thoughts and to share them, others who do the same have noticed, and it has opened doors of opportunity (i.e. encouragement, collaboration, friendship, etc.).
Let me give you an example. When I first started interacting with Marisa Thompson (@MarisaEThompson) on Twitter–after listening to wonderful interview she did on the ReThink ELA podcast–she started clicking on some of the links on my tweets. Seeing that I was serious, she started asking questions about writing a book and a blog. Over the months, that initial contact has turned into an ongoing conversation that we have about the work of teaching and reaching other educators. As we have connected, our respective networks have increased and influenced one another, especially as we spread the good word about each other’s work (you really should see what she’s doing at unlimtedteacher.com).
4. IT EXPOSES YOU TO NEW IDEAS. In my experience, when I have the seed of an idea that I want to develop into a post, I am going to have to do a little digging. To bring myself to the point where I feel that I have enough of an idea to write down, I want to get my head wrapped sufficiently around the concept. I search and explore. Sometimes it has led me to downloading an audio book on Audible, ordering books on Amazon, or listening to podcasts on my drive to and from work.
In the past year, I was probing the issue of writing assessment, and I don’t remember how I stumbled across Starr Sackstein’s (@mssackstein) book Hacking Assessment, but I bought and consumed it as quickly as I could. This introduced me to the #ttog hashtag. From there I found teachersgoinggradeless.com and the TG2 community on Facebook. To make a long story very short, it has dramatically shifted how I assess my students’ learning. This has been the biggest and most important find of my career, fundamentally changing how I see my students (read more here)! If I wasn’t blogging, I don’t think I would have pushed myself to “dig just a little bit deeper,” and I may have missed out on the best thing to happen in my classroom since I started teaching.
5. IT INCREASES YOUR IMPACT ON STUDENTS. Since I started blogging, I have experienced an explosion of growth as a teacher, so much more than when I was reading books on my own, attending workshops, or the mandatory professional development on my campus. Here’s what I mean. As I was digging into the topic of writing assessment for a post, while experiencing a lot of frustration about my own assessment practices, I chanced across a post by Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy) about the Single Point Rubric (she was doing a guest post for Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge). This led me to Jennifer’s home at www.cultofpedagogy.com where I found this post on the Single Point Rubric. This one find has ultimately led to a tectonic shift in how I assess student writing.
Through meeting, interacting with, and learning from all the other great teacher thought-leaders out there, I have made some significant changes in my instruction, and my students are benefitting. I feel more empowered, confident, and affirmed than I ever did before blogging. And I know that feeling effervesces into my daily instruction and my students catch it, thinking they have a teacher who cares. As I have communicated with parents, they see it too, and they thank me for it.
Are you getting the picture? What teacher doesn’t want to be seen as highly credible and worth of respect? I firmly believe that blogging can speed up the process of becoming the competent and confident teacher you aspire to be.
But wait! There’s more . . .
4 Tips For (Re)Starting Your Teacher Blog
As I am typing this, I am probably breaking some blogging rule somewhere because all the content below could be another post. The last thing I want to do is sandbag readers to bolster my page view count, so I’ll include some tips for getting (re)started. And if you have been convinced you need to (re)start a blog from the hidden treasures detailed above, I want to help you manage your expectations for what you are about to do. If you go into blogging–well, anything really–with the wrong set of assumptions, you can get discouraged pretty quickly.
So, here are 4 tips that will help you keep the 5 hidden treasures of teacher-blogging in focus and save you from the discouragement of writing for what will be a small audience (at least at the start).
1. BUILD VALUABLE, FOCUSED CONTENT. When I started blogging, I didn’t write about teaching. I wrote about my life. And I just tried to write out funny little anecdotes or episodes that occurred in my life. Beyond a chuckle, there wasn’t a lot of value there for a reader. And very few readers stopped by (thanks, mom).
When I started Make Them Master It, I articulated a vision and centered my content there. It has evolved a bit, but the essence really hasn’t changed. I wanted to help unburden teachers and show how it is possible to get students to take more ownership of their learning, all without adding stress to the teacher or the student. I have written all my posts with this focus in mind.
How will you focus your content?
2. CREATE A DOABLE POSTING SCHEDULE. There are two pitfalls to avoid. When you start, or restart, a journey like blogging, the beginning is usually powered by passion. And that’s great! But you need to think of a blog like a marathon and not a long jump. Don’t get a running start, leap, and see how far that initial momentum takes you. Instead, pace yourself.
I have seen many teachers start a blog, churn out great content, and then go silent. They flare up, then flame out, stopping just as fast as they started. I have done this myself. If writing a blog hasn’t been a part of your weekly calendar, then cranking out three posts in a week will be traumatic to your schedule. So, start slow. Aim for twice a month. If that is too often, then go for once a month.
What can you live with when the flame of passion dies down? When you have that number, do that, and then schedule it on your calendar. Set appointments with yourself, and stick to those appointments.
3. BUILD SLOWLY. Remember tip # 1? The content needs to add value for your reader, and it should be focused on a theme. This means that you need to avoid getting sidetracked on fiddling with all the fun widgets, plugins, and codes that make your site flashy. Those elements are great to build, but the little doodads that impress you on other people’s sites aren’t the reason readers spend time on anyone’s website.
I’m not saying that all you should do is type and publish. But maybe for your first post, that’s exactly what you do. Nothing flashy. Just good content. Over time, learn about features you can add to your blog to make it look more professional. Maybe start by learning one new feature a month. After six months, if you get the hang of your posting schedule, and you have wrapped your head around what it takes to produce quality content on a regular basis, then you can pick up the pace when it comes to adding features.
4. READ AND COMMENT ON OTHER TEACHERS’ BLOGS. There are no shortcuts to growing a thriving blog, but there are a couple of ways to accelerate your progress. One of those accelerants is reading and interacting on other people’s blogs. When I write a post (and I am not fishing for anything here, really), I love seeing comments, especially those that show me the reader is genuinely interacting with the content. Sure, you can comment on Twitter or Facebook, but the blogger really would like to see that comment right there on the post (because it won’t fade into the social media ether, it will be forever attached to the post).
As you interact, you build good will, and you increase the chances that these teacher bloggers will read your work, take an interest in it, and share it with their audience. The tiny amount of success I have experienced here at Make Them Master It has in part come from observing the great things other teacher bloggers have done on their platforms then interacting with those writers in a way that shows how much I appreciate their content. At key points in time, I have put my posts in front of them, and they have shared it out with their audience, bringing new readers to me. But I built good will with them first.
Key take-aways from this post:
- Even with a tiny audience, there is great value in blogging.
- You will speed up your growth as a teacher by building a blog.
- The QUALITY of your message, your content, is most important.
- Make blogging a deliberate and purposeful practice.
- Success takes time. A lot. Of. Time.
QUESTION: When it comes to jumpstarting a teacher blog, what is your #1 single biggest barrier that keeps you from posting?