Why Blogging is Important for Educators – A Personal Perspective

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I have the privilege of serving as a Specialist in Technology, Education, and Society Altering Environments, an undergraduate education course at Bryn Mawr College (my alma mater!) this semester. I will be providing support to the class around blogging and the WordPress platform so I thought what better way to dive in than to post something on my own WordPress blog?

Preparing to work with the class led me to reflect on some of my own motivations to blog and why I think blogging is important not only for educators but for students too. I published my first post almost four years ago, just as I was starting out as an Education and Technology Consultant. As an educator, I was excited to launch a digital space that would be open 24/7 where I could capture ideas and share reflections. I also knew that I needed a more visible and formal online presence to share with potential consulting clients so they could get to know me and what I could offer. Since then, I have started a second website (also built on WordPress but run by Edublogs) where I publish multiple blogs (Tech Tips, Tech Projects, Maker Club Updates) to share with different audiences. So over time, my reasons to blog have grown and changed a bit but here are the main ones that motivate me. 

My Reasons to Blog

Increase Visibility

  • This was one of the first, driving factors that pushed me to take the plunge and post something publicly. I wanted to have a public website that I could use to market my skills, background, and experience and part of how I wanted to do that was through blogging. I knew that if I had a digital space that I made public, I could link it to all of my social media accounts and send out updates as I blogged about issues and ideas that were important or intriguing to me. Then, as I published posts, I could hopefully gain some subscribers and increase my own SEO.  

It’s my medium

  • Another reason I chose blogging is because it is a good medium for me personally. I’m a writer and I have found that sharing my thoughts, reflections, and resources through text is usually the best way for me to reach other people compared to other mediums (e.g., artwork or public speaking). Therefore, blogging and blog platforms became my tool of choice. If I did happen to be an artist, I probably would have chosen Instagram or if I were a speaker, maybe Soundcloud so I could podcast. Finding what works best for you and then which mediums best represent that type of content is very important. One reason I chose Tumblr to share about my work with Google Glass was because I found it to be more visual and I knew I’d primarily be sharing photos and videos, but I also wanted to be able to write and add links, which is much harder with a platform like Instagram.

Space for Reflection

  • My absolute favorite reason to blog is because it provides a medium and a shared space where I can reflect on my professional work and the things I am learning. Through writing and reflecting, I am better able to synthesize ideas and have those “ah-ha” moments that lead to an exciting new project in my classroom, a model for professional development at my school, or a way to use a new tool I have just discovered. Blogging is also powerful because it allows my reflections to be created on a public, digital canvas where I can embed multimedia to connect people, places, ideas, and tools through integrating drawings, photos, videos, tweets, and other links.

Building Connections Through Sharing

  • This is probably my second favorite reason to blog and I think one of the coolest things about the tools and tech we have access to today. Blogging allows me to share what I have learned at a conference or from trying a new ed tech tool and through that sharing I can build connections with other educators, innovators, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Blogging facilitates relationship-building, many times with people who I might never meet and that live across the globe. Through these connections, I am able to broaden my own PLN and open doors for new collaborations, classroom projects, and friendships.  

Creating Digital Documentation

  • One of the great things about blogging as a professional is that you are automatically creating digital documentation of your work and learning. Capturing this over time can be instrumental in helping show current and future employers the projects that you have worked on, things you have learned attending conferences and PD workshops, and your own personal voice in the field. I have really enjoyed documenting my professional growth here on this blog and I find it valuable to go back and look through past posts a few times a year to reflect on my journey. Documenting my work has been especially valuable on my school blog because it allows me to share snapshots of students’ learning with families and other educators and see where to go next with a unit or idea while also examining what we have done before.

Modeling

  • The final reason that I blog is to model what blogging can look like and demonstrate my investment (time, energy, digital space, and even money) in the practice for colleagues and others who I might encourage to blog. I believe that “if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk” and so if I want to support blogging as an important professional practice, I have to be a blogger myself. I believe blogging is also a great practice for students because it can be instrumental in helping them to develop a positive digital identity (and practice good digital citizenship). I blog in part so that I can talk to my students about blogging and understand the experience in hopes of better connecting with them as young bloggers.

There is a seemingly endless array of articles, and yes, blog posts, talking about the value of blogging and why educators should blog (see the short list below for inspiration). Although each article takes a different perspective on the topic, there are definitely some themes that come up again and again and you’ll notice many of them overlap with my own.

Collective Educators’ Reasons to Blog

Educators Blog to …

  1. Reflect
  2. Share resources and classroom successes/student work
  3. Express a personal and/or professional point of view
  4. Connect with and help others locally and globally
  5. Engage their creativity
  6. Stay relevant and keep growing
  7. Network professionally

So what’s the value in blogging? Aside from all of the benefits and experiences listed above, blogging helps create a vital community. It’s a community that gives everyone involved a chance to grow together, with and from one another, and to become better educators – both teachers and learners. Blogging creates the foundation for global relationships and breaking down barriers to knowledge and understanding across geographic, political, philosophical and many other lines.

Now imagine if you never knew anything about blogging … if you could never reflect in a shared space, express your voice, build meaningful global relationships, or market yourself as a professional. What if none of that (e.g., knowledge, internet, freedom) was accessible to you?

Share your reactions in the comments and let me know, do you think blogging is valuable for educators?


Resources

Posts about Blogging

Getting Started with a Blog

A Few of my Favorite Education Blog Hubs

Takeaways from Attending #SXSWedu

Scaling Innovation SXSWedu Session – Sketched by Dan Ryder

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend SXSWedu in Austin. As I sifted through my tweets and notes from the conference, I tried to look for themes and key takeaways that came up throughout my various sessions.

In general, I attended workshops, panels, and sessions focusing on innovation and specific approaches to teaching and learning (e.g., Design Thinking, PBL, maker). Here are the recurring ideas that could have a truly meaningful impact on our schools if we put them into practice:

School must BE the “real-world”

So often, we talk of preparing students for the “real-world” that they will enter after graduating high school or at least higher education. At SXSWedu, many of the discussions instead centered on the idea of students engaging in real-world problem solving and projects while they are in school.

Students are not just imagining becoming engineers and entrepreneurs nor simply learning skills that will help them to do that work one day/someday, they have become them in many schools. This shift from “playing” a maker to being one in “real-life” is a dramatic change for many educators, administrators, and school systems yet the power of being able to take an idea or a product from something that is conceived in your head to one that is available to the public is immense.

By inviting students and teachers to engage in innovative ways of teaching and learning (e.g., design thinking, making, and global collaboration), schools can become another piece of every child’s real-world experience. For example, as Amanda Kruysman said, “DT is a way to solve problems for real users & you can look to your home community for those problems.” In fact, the Design Thinking in the Humanities panel eloquently demonstrated with concrete examples from their classrooms how valuable (and feasible) it is to bring the real-world into the classroom and invite students to engage in human-centered problem-solving that not always, but many times, has far-reaching and tangible real-world results.

Stop Accepting Space Constraints

There was one important ingredient to facilitating these real-world school experiences that was raised repeatedly at SXSWedu – agile spaces. As Steelcase demonstrated with their crowdsourced poll, everyone learns and thinks differently:

So having rigid, single-use spaces that cannot shift to accommodate different learners or learning activities will inherently leave some students behind. I ran into this first-hand when trying to setup the room for our core conversation on Scaling Innovation, which was arranged in concentric circles and was not conducive to small group work.

One of the Buck Institute for Education PBL sessions I attended also addressed this issue. We spent a lot of time discussing transformational learning experiences which almost always involved addressing real-world problems. To facilitate those types of learning experiences attendees came to the conclusion that schools need spaces that support active, hands-on work, hacking, play, collaboration, and a wide variety of learner interactions. Another session focusing on holistic design also discussed making schools more flexible and agile to respond to students’ needs. In small groups, we problematized the idea of traditional roles and spaces, imagining all teachers as learning coaches and every space as a place for discovery and collaboration (e.g. Learning Stairs). Schools were re-imagined to have “neighborhoods” with centralized resources and spaces that could be responsive to change over time. Ultimately, though…

Innovation Leaders can Help 

To help the people involved in schooling change their behaviors, schools need support and guidance. One way to achieve this is to ask for help by appointing one or more educators in your school who can serve as Innovation Leaders. Lindsey Own and I led a core conversation on this topic at SXSWedu.

Our hope was to give people a process (resources here) that they could bring back to their schools and organizations to explore the question of how to scale innovation and also help everyone walk out with some concrete takeaways (i.e., challenges to scaling innovation and a job description for an Innovation Leader).

Innovation Challenges

We began by asking everyone to map what innovation currently looks like at their schools, thinking about whether it is centered around specific people/hubs and how it flows (or doesn’t) within the school. From these maps, we invited groups to pull out challenges they saw (e.g., silos, a lack of resources) and after organizing by these themes, groups worked together to dive deeper into why these challenges might exist. Using the 5 Why’s exercise and small group discussions, attendees were able to get to the root of the issues and discover what would be needed to help overcome these challenges.

The groups were then able to chart what mindsets, professional/personal qualities, experience, and team needs an Innovation Leader would require to overcome that specific challenge. Combining all of their responses together, we could see clear themes that align with with many of the ideas of other SXSWedu sessions. For example, having varied experience (e.g., working at a startup or in a specific industry) and empathy are key outcomes of the real-world experiences students should be able to have in schools and being flexible and a risk-taker are helpful when trying to re-envision learning spaces and think differently about traditional school setups. .

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons educators attend conferences like SXSWedu is to come together and hear inspiring stories and learn from amazing speakers. These stories give us hope that every student and each classroom can become a place for students to have those “wow” factor experiences that can be life changing for both students and teachers.

Just look at the stories shared by Emily Pilloton about her work in If You Build It or with nine year old girls who have learned welding and an assortment of other equally impressive, tangible skills! You’ll notice how the homework she assigned everyone is also connected to my SXSWedu takeaways and does not involve a single worksheet.

And I think Mimi Ito, in her closing, might have shared the key that we are all looking for when we come to these conferences – connected learning. She encouraged everyone to help students find a #learninghero:

Isn’t that exactly what we, as attendees, are searching for?

While I learned a lot in the different sessions I attended, the most meaningful part of SXSWedu was connecting with my tribe, the #dtk12chat colleagues and friends (Thank You!!) I knew from Twitter (but mostly never face-to-face) and the new people I connected with who are passionate about innovating and using technologies to create and connect students globally. These connections and the natural exchange of ideas, resources, and support that come with them, are the key to my own growth and learning. I think it is the hidden, unnamed link we all share as innovation leaders.

The attendees in our session did not seem to notice that their very presence in the session speaks to a powerful component of an Innovation Leader. She or he is always looking for connections and new learning heroes who can “infect them with passion and expertise” and inspire them to connect school experiences to students’ own passions and interests. In order to help students capitalize on connected learning, bringing in local and global real-world problems and reimagine what classrooms can and should look like, we need Innovation Leaders who are connected, leaders who are always looking to add one more learning hero to their network.

One of the biggest challenges raised in our Scaling Innovation session was silos, within schools and between them, but maybe we are not so siloed, we just have to help each other and our colleagues find their tribe and understand how to nurture and build upon the creative synergy that results from being part of a virtual neighborhood of learning heroes.