Why All Teachers Should Start Their Own (1)

Why I Hope All Teachers Start Their Own Blogs

Since I wrote about the reasons that I blog, I have been thinking a lot about how much blogging has added to my life. How it has made me a better teacher. What it has done for me. So much so that I have started to try to convince every teacher that I talk to that he or she should also start his or her own blog.  And it is not an easy thing to do because 1) Who wants to do one more thing? 2) Most teachers believe that they don’t actually know how to write (which simply isn’t true) and 3) Everyone is worried that no one will want to read what they have to say.  So I’ve decided to compile a list of reasons of what blogging has done for me so that I can just start sending people to this post instead of forcing them to listen to me beg them to start a blog.

So here it goes.

What blogging has done for me:

  1. Blogging allows me to remember all of the ideas that go rushing through my mind — If you are anything like me, as you go through the summer, hundreds and thousands of ideas pass through your mind. You go to a workshop and you think of something you want to try in your classroom.  You are in the shower and you have a brilliant idea on how to motivate your students to write more. You read a new book and you know that it will certainly help some of your students deal with things in their own lives. And then August comes. And the school year starts. And one million things need to get done. And all of those great ideas somehow get lost in the shuffle. What I love about blogging is that my blog gives me a space to keep those ideas so that I can go back to them when the time is right.  And as I get ready to begin this year of teaching, I have loved being able to go back to my own blog posts from last year to remember the things that I did in my classroom that I want to do again. My blog holds my ideas for me until I am ready to use them.
  2. Blogging forces me to live in a constant state of searching for inspiration — This summer, I got back to my original reason for blogging. To help me to be a better teacher. In order to keep myself motivated to write, I have start a list on my phone (which is always close by) of things that I want to write about. When ideas come to me throughout the day, I make sure to add them to my list. This means that as I go about my day, I am constantly looking for things to write about, things that inspire me, things that make me angry, things that I want to change, things that I want to reflect on further. That forces me to be in a constant state of reflection. When I live my life in this constant state of reflection, then I find myself thinking more about my teaching and about how I can do better for my students.
  3. Blogging gives me a chance to figure out why I am doing what I am doing — Unfortunately in this world of teaching, we are often forced to defend the choices that we make in our own classrooms. Especially when we choose not to follow scripted programs or not to follow strict structures and instead adapt everything that we do in order to best meet the needs of the kids sitting right next to us.  Writing allows me to practice explaining the reasons why I am doing what I am doing in my classroom so that I am prepared when someone questions the choices that I am making. Having a place to flush out my thinking and articulate my reasoning allows me to feel more confident when it comes time to defend why certain practices are the best practices for my specific students. This, in turn, makes me braver and allows me to take more risks in my own classroom in order to make my students’ learning as authentic and meaningful as it can be.
  4. Blogging gives me a chance to make myself vulnerable in the way I am asking my students to make themselves vulnerable: It is really scary to share your ideas with others. It is really scary to share your writing with others. And yet, we ask our students to do both of these things all the time. We ask them to talk in small groups, we ask them to share their writing with the class or with writing partners and sometimes we can forget just how scary that is. Blogging reminds me of how scary it is to make yourself vulnerable and it reminds me to be patient with my students as I ask them to do this difficult work.  If I am going to ask my students to share their writing and share their ideas with our class and with the world, then I certainly better be prepared to do that myself.  Blogging allows me to show my students that I am not asking them to do anything that I would not do myself.
  5. Blogging allows me to push my thinking through writing: I often tell my students that the reason that I encourage them to write about their reading is because I believe that writing, like talking, can help us to push our thinking so that we end up somewhere new. One of the most exciting parts of blogging, for me, occurs when I start off a blog post thinking one way and by the time I am finished with the post, I am in a completely new place in my thinking. Often as I am writing, I discover new ideas. Often as I am writing, I find my thinking deepening and solidifying. Often as I am writing, I find that what I had been thinking at the start is purely at the very surface of my thoughts and through the act of writing, I am able to dig much deeper and end up some place richer.
  6. Blogging allows me to keep a record of my thinking: As is true of so many educators, I am on a never ending journey to try to be a better teacher. Because we do what we do every day and we get busy within the moments of our days, we often don’t stop to think about how far we have come since we started teaching or how far we have come even in the course of one school year. As I write about the changes in my thinking, I am able to look back and see how far I have come. I am also able to look back when I find that I have gotten lost and strayed from the things that I know to be true. In those moments, I can look back on my own thinking and remind myself of what is really important.
  7. Blogging allows me to become a part of a community of passionate educators: Teaching can be a really lonely profession. Though we are constantly surrounded by our students, we can easily isolate ourselves from other adults. We can close our doors. We can work through lunch. We can come early and leave late and often go an entire day without talking to any other educators. Blogging has allowed me to enter into a world of other passionate educators. I am able to read the thoughts of others and I am able to share my own thinking with others. Even if there are only two other educators who read what I have to say, that is a community. Even if no one reads what I have to say, I still have a space to say it and I know that I am a part of a larger conversation. Reading the blogs of other educators has given me new perspectives, renewed excitement for what I have the privilege of doing each day and in general has made me so very proud to call myself a teacher.

So that’s it. I am sure there are more reasons, more benefits to blogging. But those are the ones that I find myself thinking about over and over again. Those are the ones that speak loudest to me when I think about why I keep coming back here.

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Why I Blog

It seems that over the past few weeks I have found myself thinking again and again about why I write, why I blog. For a long time, I wrote posts that no one read. I don’t mean that just a few people read them, but really no one read them. And in a way, those were my favorite posts.  They were honestly and purely for me. I didn’t worry about getting people to think about important things. I didn’t think about if my posts would be taken the wrong way or not. I didn’t think about what anyone would think of my posts. I didn’t second guess myself. I didn’t wonder who would read them.

I wrote because I wanted to document my thinking. I wrote because I wanted to push myself toward new thinking through writing. I wrote because I wanted to be able to look back on where I started as I worked to become a different kind of teacher and I wrote because I wanted to plan a way to become that different kind of teacher.

And then slowly, a few people found their way to my little space and I loved the way that we were able to share ideas. I loved the comments because they pushed my thinking even further. I loved the interaction between bloggers because it felt like I was lucky enough to become a part of this amazing community of educators.

Then one day, I wrote a blog post. And it got more attention than I ever could have imagined. It wasn’t because I said something incredibly profound. It wasn’t because there was anything special about the words that I wrote. It was just because it was about PARCC testing at a time when we were ALL caught up in the frenzy of the first round of PARCC testing and PARCC loathing. And so it got big. Bigger than I certainly ever could have imagined.

And I absolutely hated it.

It literally cost me hours of sleep and many moments of anxiety. It felt like what I wrote was taken and pulled so far away from me and from who I was. And it’s not only that it invited in negative comments. But it revealed a side of myself that I did not like. All of a sudden I cared about how many people were reading my words when that was NEVER something that I cared about before. All of a sudden it felt like the number of readers became more important than the message that I was trying to share. And it was a distraction. It distracted me from my students, from my family, from everything that is truly important in my life.

It wasn’t why I started blogging.

There are wonderful people in this world who blog because they want to change the world. I am not one of those people. I want to change my tiny little corner of the world. And more importantly, I want to change myself. I want to make myself a better teacher. I want to push myself to think in new ways. I want to reflect on the choices that I am making and why I am making them. I want to ask hard questions so that I can force myself to think about difficult answers. I want to invite comments from others so that I can use the brilliance of the people around me in order to do better for my own students. I want to share my journey so that I can look back and see the road that I have traveled. I want to write in order to keep myself honest and accountable to the goals that I set for myself. I want to write about what I have tried so that I can gain new ideas through the act of writing and sharing with others. I want to share my stories so that I can teach my students to share their own stories.

I write for myself.

I write for my students.

So after taking a really long break from blogging. After months of not writing. After giving myself time to miss blogging. After remembering why I started to blog in the first place. I came back. I started writing again. Hesitantly at first. Much more tentatively than I had been blogging before. But I came back. And slowly I found my voice again. Slowly I remembered what I loved so much about blogging.

And yes, I still shared what I wrote with others. Yes, I still hoped others would read what I had to say. But not because I worried about the numbers, but because having an audience of incredible educators makes the writing real and invites conversation. I shared because I wanted to be a part of a community of teachers who write, not because I wanted to be read by thousands. And I started to remember that sharing doesn’t have to mean that you are giving up anything from your life. Sharing should allow you to enhance your life and the lives of your students.

Post by post I started to remember that when I got back to blogging for myself and for my students, it truly did make me a better teacher. It made me more reflective and therefore more willing and able to make my teaching better for the students sitting in front of me. It made me excited about the work that we were doing each day in my classroom. It made me a better teacher. It made me a better person.

And that is why i blog.

This Space

This. Space. This small corner of the internet that has been the home of my blog for less than a year. This space has become something somewhat sacred.  This space has given me a place to lay down my thoughts when they get to heavy to hold inside my own head. This space has helped me to solidify my own thinking and has allowed me to have my thinking challenged by others. This space has helped me to find community. This space has given my students a voice and has allowed me to share the work we are doing together.  This space has allowed me to grow as a teacher and as an advocate and as a person. It has helped me to become more reflective, more thoughtful, more aware of my own thinking and more willing to try new things. This space has been vital to the teacher that I have become this year. This space was a safe space to work through my own thinking.

Until it wasn’t anymore. Until it started to become something else, something that I did not intend for it to be.  Until it started to become more about how many people were reading it and how far it was reaching. Until it started to not feel safe. Until it started to not feel like the cozy little corner of the internet that I wanted it to be.

So I had to step back. I had to remember what my purpose was in carving out this space in the first place.

And now, it is starting to feel right again. Now it is starting, once again, to feel like my space. And I have that itch to write yet again and I am eager to get back to this space.

Something Strange is Happening and It’s All Twitter’s Fault

Something very strange is happening. It is August. I have seen the back to school commercials begin. I have sent my daughter’s day care an email telling them she will be coming back next week. I have started to schedule days to go back into my classroom.

And I. Am. Excited.

That’s the strange part. For the past few years, around this time, my stomach has started to fill with dread as thoughts of the start of the school year encroach on my summer.   I lament the ending of summer and I worry about what I will face as I head back in to school.  As I think back over the past few years, I can recognize that it is never the students themselves that bring this dread upon me.  It’s everything else.  It is sitting through the meetings that sometimes infuriate me.  It is listening to the complaining of my coworkers. It is the committee work that I don’t find value in.  It is the professional development that never quite satisfies me in the way that I hope it will.  It is all the “other” stuff that comes along with what we do.  That is what fills me with dread.

So what is different this year? Why I am I not feeling those familiar pangs of dread? What has changed?

It is Twitter.  It is being connected.  It is being inspired by what I have found here.

This realization was a powerful one for me. I knew that I was enjoying my time on Twitter. I knew that I was gaining new insights from the people I connected with. I knew that I was learning from incredible teachers.  But was it really changing me? Was it really changing the way I felt about what I do? Was it really creating positive changes in my attitudes toward teaching?

Yes.

I have only been on Twitter for two months.  I have only had this blog for two months. I have only been on this journey towards being a connected educator for two months. And already I have gained so much.  So I stopped to think about the things that Twitter has given me and here is what I have come up with:

1) Inspiration — In the job we do, it is so easy to become bogged down with the details. The things that can drive us crazy. The paperwork and the bureaucracy and the negative attitudes and the negative public impression and the never enough time and the ever increasing curriculum and the new standards and the assessments and the newer standards. All of that starts to weigh so heavy on our hearts and if we aren’t careful, it can wipe away any inspiration that we used to have.  But, then you spend an hour on Twitter. And the inspiration is there in 140 character tidbits.  All of a sudden you are surrounded by positive energy and new ideas and smart questions asked by even smarter people.  All of this serves as inspiration.  All of this makes me want to run right back into my classroom and do better for my students. This is the kind of inspiration that doesn’t just make you feel good, but it makes you want to take action. It makes you want to try new things, even if you aren’t sure that they will work.  It opens up possibilities and the mere thought of there being the possibility of something better is enough to keep me coming back to Twitter.

2) Community — As I have mentioned several times in previous posts, it is so easy to become isolated in the job that we do.  We spend our days inside of our classrooms and if we are teachers who are trying to do things a bit differently than the people around us, it can be so tempting to hide ourselves away to protect ourselves, our students and our work from scrutiny and criticism.  It starts to feel as if you are alone in your thoughts and alone in your actions.  And then you spend one hour on Twitter. And you instantly see that there are literally thousands of other people who are just like you.  And they are there to support you and guide you and question you respectfully and encourage you and comfort you when you face challenges or failed attempts at greatness.  This community matters because it is much easier to try something new when you know that you have others who will have your back.  It is much easier to try something that you aren’t sure will work when you know there will be many people there to offer suggestions if it fails or celebrate if it is successful.  This community matters because it is easier to be unafraid when you know you aren’t doing things by yourself.

3) A voice — I have spoken before of how important Twitter has been in allowing me to rediscover my voice.  For several years, I have been asked to please quiet down as I spoke out against things that were being done in my district that I did not believe were best for kids. I have been spoken to by several administrators who have told me that I intimidate others when I offer my opinions and that I need to take a step back.  And for the most part, I listened and I started to believe that there was something wrong with me.  And instead of looking for better ways to share my concerns, I just stopped talking.  I sat quietly in more meetings.  I made jokes instead of making suggestions. I kept what I was doing quiet and figured that the right thing to do was to be quiet and smile more.  And then I spent one hour on Twitter. And I realized that other people were saying the same things that I have been saying.  And what I realized was that there wasn’t anything wrong with my message, it was the way that I had been choosing to deliver it that was causing the problem.  One of my biggest character flaws is that when I am frustrated or when I feel I am not being heard, I tend to just yell louder instead of speaking smarter.  What Twitter has given me is a place to flesh out my ideas, to have conversations with others about these ideas, to get feedback on these ideas so that when I share my ideas at meetings, they can be heard. I can come to the table to offer alternatives instead of just complaining about what won’t work.  This has been an incredible learning experience for me and I truly believe it will be one that will directly benefit my students as I have learned how to fight for them in a better and more effective way.  I don’t have to fight to be heard any longer, because I have been heard through the connections I have made on Twitter.  And more importantly, I have remembered that I do have something to say and that what I have to say has value and worth and I don’t have to stop talking and be quiet. I can still tell jokes AND I can also continue to speak up for what I believe is right and important.

4) Ideas — I used to think that I couldn’t use any idea that I didn’t come up with myself. I am not sure what started this ridiculous belief, but I am pretty sure that it has something to do with my own arrogance.  In general, I am not an arrogant person, but when it comes to teaching I often used to think that nobody knew my students better than I did, so no one could possibly come up with ideas that would work as well as my own ideas worked.  And then I spent on hour on Twitter.  And all of a sudden I was exposed to all of these incredible ideas that I knew would work wonders in my own classroom.  All of a sudden, I realized that people had such powerful ideas and if I continued to shut myself off from them, I would be doing my students a disservice.  So I started writing down other people’s ideas and I started thinking of ways to bring them into my own classroom.  And this list makes me so excited. This list is what is pushing me back towards my classroom and back towards this school year and back towards teaching with enthusiasm and joy.  This list is what wakes me in the middle of the night or keeps me from going to sleep in the first place. This list, that has come from Twitter, is what has already made me a better teacher.  And in creating this list, I have learned that I need to be more open to other people’s ideas because we will always be better together than we will be alone.

5) An understanding of the power of connection and collaboration — In past years, I have been pretty uninterested in using much technology in my classroom.  Unfortunately, most of the PD that we have received in regards to technology has provided us with different tools to create final products.  We have learned how to make iMovies and Keynote presentations and VoiceThreads and other pretty things.  This has never really interested me that much. Sure it was fun for the students, but really it was something the kids already knew how to do and I was happy to let them do it. But I didn’t think I needed to spend much time on it in my classroom.  What was never explained to me, until one powerful keynote presentation by @KristinZiemke, was that the real power of technology lies in its ability to connect us to others outside of the classroom and open up worlds of collaboration. After hearing Kristin speak, I thought that maybe I should check out what this Twitter stuff was all about.  And so I spent on hour on Twitter and my world changed. I immediately felt the power of connection and the power of collaboration. And I knew it was something that I had to bring to my students. And over the course of this summer, as I have learned more about what it means to be connected, I have thought of more ways to give that to my students.  If I had not experienced Twitter for myself and all the power that it holds, I would not have been authentically able to bring that to my students.

So yes, sometimes Twitter sucks away way too many hours of my day. And yes, sometimes it can feel that it is just used for self promotion. And yes, sometimes it can feel as if all we are doing is patting ourselves on the back and preaching to the choir. But I have found so much more here. This world. Twitter. It has changed me.  And now I want it, and other forms of connection and collaboration, to change my students.  So thank you Twitter world. And thank you to all of you who have worked to make this world what it is. Thank you to those who came before me and to those of you who are still here. And to those of you who are thinking that Twitter has nothing left to offer you, please realize how much your presence here still has to offer all of us.