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.

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Helping Other Teachers By Sharing the Process and Not Just the Product

For the past two years, I have had the incredible pleasure of being a part of my district’s model classroom program.  The program allows us to get into each other’s classrooms in order to look more closely at specific aspects of our literacy instruction.  The program is possible because of the incredible and intelligent Ellin Keene who has been a consultant for our district for several years now and whose guidance has been invaluable in helping me to be the kind of teacher and human being that I am today.

Each year, those of us who open up our classrooms offer different types of labs on different aspects of literacy instruction. In the past, I have offered immersion labs which run throughout the course of the entire year. Participants in the lab come and observe all of reading and writing workshop in the classroom for two mornings at the start of the school year, two in the middle of the school year and two at the end of the school year. The afternoons of those days are spent debriefing, reflecting and learning about what was observed and what the participants want to take back to their classrooms.  I have also offered topic labs which are just two days of observations and are focused on one particular aspect of the reading or writing workshop.  I have had topic labs about using small groups as a part of our literacy instruction, using informational texts as mentor texts in the writing workshop and engaging students in literature discussion groups that are completely student led. These topic labs also leave time for the incredibly important debriefing session.

I have learned so much from being a part of these labs.  Not only are the participants learning new things through these observations and debriefing sessions, but those of us opening up our classrooms learn an incredible amount as well. This process forces you to be deliberate in your teaching and reflective as you attempt to explain to others why you have made the choices that you have made. All of these labs are voluntary which means that the people who sign up to participate really want to be there and really want to learn. This allows for some incredibly powerful discussions. Having an entire afternoon devoted to talking about our literacy instruction is such a luxury and often this is where the most powerful learning comes from.

It is one thing to go into someone else’s classroom and admire a lesson or copy down an anchor chart that you see on the wall.  It is another thing entirely to stop and talk about why the teacher chose to teach the lesson in the way that she did and what led up to the creation of that specific anchor chart.  Just observing someone else’s classroom often leads to teachers returning to their own rooms and simply copying what they saw and then being at a loss of where to go next. However, being engaged in a discussion that allows people to see the journey that you, as a teacher, went on in order to arrive at the particular lesson that they saw is a much more powerful experience.  When teachers can see the thinking that led you to where you are, then they are much more likely to engage in that kind of thinking themselves and arrive in a place that is right for them and right for their students.

It is in sharing our process that the real learning takes place. Sharing our final products might make us feel good and it might allow us a chance to celebrate our hard work, but it does little in helping other teachers to accomplish their own hard work and their own successes with their own students.

Today we had a meeting with all of those who are involved in running the model classroom program. All of us who open up our rooms for observations were there. This year, we are rolling out some new aspects of our reading curriculum. There will be some pieces that are entirely new for all of us. Some new thinking about the best ways to run reading and writing workshops and new types of work that we are doing with our students.  There is going to be a lot of new.

Some of the new is so new that we don’t really fully understand it all yet.

However, as model classroom teachers, we are being asked to help teachers in the district to think about these new changes and new ways of instructing our students.  And that is really scary.  The reading units we are supposed to teach, aren’t finished being written yet.  The new ways that we are supposed to be instructing, aren’t finished being taught to us or understood by us yet. And we are supposed to invite people into our classrooms to watch all that.

There is a lot of push back against that idea. Why would I want someone coming in to my classroom to watch me flail around while I try to figure out what on earth I am supposed to be doing? Why would I want someone to watch me fail as I try to figure out how to make these new things work for me and, more importantly, for my students? Why do I want to invite people to watch me struggle?

It is insane.

And it is also brilliant.

Because too often, we only invite people to see the things that we are most proud of. Too often, we only ask that people learn from what we know how to do really well.  I have spent the past three years really focusing on making my reading conferences as effective as they can possibly be. So it is easy for me to have people come into my room and watch me conduct reading conferences with my students. It is easy for me to talk about how I got to where I am because I am really proud of the work that I have done and I know that what I am currently doing is helping my students to be better readers.

But when I do that. When I invite people in only to see the things that I have spent years figuring out, then I am really only sharing my final product. Yes, that product will continue to evolve, but what people are seeing is a somewhat polished version of all the really messy stuff that I can now cover up.

This year, what we have the chance to do is to let people in to see the mess.  We can ask teachers to join us as we struggle through something new. We can ask teachers to come along with us as we figure out how to make our new curriculum work for our students. We can show teachers that the only way that any of us gets to a place of doing really great work is by starting somewhere not so great and continually reflecting and changing and adapting based on what our students are telling us and showing us.

And that is what we really want other teachers to witness. We want them to see the power of reflection. We want them to see that we often try things that go really really badly. But that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t worth doing. It means that, instead, we look at what we did, we look at how it worked for the students, we think about what we want our students to be able to do and we think about how we are going to help them get there. Then we try again. Then we listen to our students, we watch them carefully, we take their suggestions, we invite them into the process. And then we try again. We bring our students a new experience and we see if it is getting any closer to where we want them to be and then we go back and we discuss it with our coworkers, we write about our work, we spend car rides and time we should be sleeping thinking about how we could do better. And then we try again. Then we look at student work and we see what they have learned and we look at what they still are not able to do and we don’t blame the students, we think about what we have yet to teach them and then we find a way to teach it to them. And then we try again. And again. And again.

Too often we only want to share what comes as the end of all this trial and error. It is so much easier to invite people in at the end of this process. But this year, I hope that I will be brave enough to invite people in at the beginning. So that we can struggle through all of this newness together. So that we can lean on each other through our journey of reflection. So that we can learn from each other and push each other and challenge each other and all end up in a better place because of the path that we have walked along together.