Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why Blogging Isn't What You Think It Is

It's been a couple of years now since I started blogging here. Starting a blog is not really the hard part. Continuing to blog is what's tough. To be successful, you must constantly remind yourself why you started in the first place. And I think for many people, they don't really have a clear vision of why they are blogging.

It seems to be the thing to do. It starts with Twitter. You feel the excitement and support of being connected to other educators. You really start to think about things in new ways. Ideas are flowing. Others in your network are sharing posts from their blogs. You get some encouragement, and you're on your way.

But the newness wears off soon. It doesn't seem like anyone notices what you write. You get discouraged or distracted and pretty soon your blog is a distant memory.

Years ago, I had more than one failed experience with blogging. They were failures in the sense that I didn't continue to add new content, and I don't think anyone ever read the content that was created. I had some vague notions of why I wanted to blog, but I didn't have the commitment to continue.

Writing is hard work. And to create writing that is valuable to others is extra hard. I think many people view blogging like it's a public journal. It's a way to work through their thoughts. They write for personal reflection and self-expression, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

However, your audience will demand more. If people are going to read what you write, it needs to be valuable to them. As educators, we face many of the same challenges. So you have valuable things to share from your knowledge and experience. When you are able to share something that is helpful to another teacher or principal, that is powerful. Together, we can solve more problems, offer much needed encouragement, and challenge one another's thinking.

It's also helpful when you make learning in your classroom or school more visible to your community. There are amazing things happening that deserve to be noticed. It's not self-promotion, either. I know you don't want to come across as bragging. But bragging on your students and promoting learning is part of what we do as educators. We need to sell learning.

So even though personal reflection and self-expression are valid reasons to blog, it's important for the ideas we share to be received. Someone needs to see them. If you don't see growth in your audience or at least consistent response from your audience, it's tough to stay motivated.

Blogging is ultimately about the audience. It's not about how big the audience is, but it is about how you bring value to the audience, whatever the size, through what you share. The sense of audience is one of the reasons blogging is so helpful for personal and professional growth. It forces you to really clarify your ideas and how they might be beneficial. You want your writing to be relevant and helpful to your readers. 

I realize this is vulnerable turf I'm treading. It's really scary to publish something you really believe in and to have the response be underwhelming. It happens to me all the time. I can never predict how an idea will be received. It requires the willingness to take the risk and put yourself out there. I often read over a post later and find mistakes and wonder why I thought that was a good idea in the first place. Not everything you share will turn out the way you'd hoped.

The important thing is that you are sharing. You should be proud of that. It's really a shame when outstanding educators don't share what they do with others. I've known some amazing teachers who really didn't share their work with anyone, even in their own school. They were completely focused on their students and their classroom and didn't seek to have an impact beyond that circle.

But other teachers do amazing work in the classroom, and then have tremendous influence as leaders in the whole school, and even make an impact beyond their school. Blogging is one way to do that. You can share your journey with others in ways that make an impact on your profession. You can contribute to making education better for all of us.

You may feel like you have nothing to contribute. You are selling yourself way too short. Everyone...and I mean everyone...has knowledge and wisdom that is valuable to share. I am reminded of the Bill Nye quote, "Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't." Your thoughts matter and can help your audience succeed! You have incredible experiences, talents, and perspectives to contribute!

Blogging is about better thinking. When I am working on a blog post, it really pushes my thinking. I have to consider if my ideas make sense, will they be helpful, are they worth sharing? I spend time thinking about the ideas I want to share in my blog. When I have an idea that I want to write about, I make some notes about it. I get inspiration for posts from reading books and blogs, from interacting on Twitter, and when I'm just going about my day. I never know when something will trigger a thought or idea.

There is a creative process in all of this that is valuable to me. It requires my sustained thought. I am always harping on my own kids about creating vs. consuming. I don't want them to constantly be consuming YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, etc. and never creating anything. I have to walk the walk if I'm going to expect this from them. 

I guess in a way I've always viewed myself as a writer, but for years I was writing very little. As educators, we all know how important literacy is. If our subject matter is important enough to learn, it is worth writing about too. If our classrooms and schools really matter, aren't they important enough to write about? We need to model this for our students. Find your identity as a writer. How many teachers and administrators are not writing anything, ever? I wrote a post earlier about how important it is for educators to be readers, but they should be writers too. In fact, I think we should be writing alongside our students as they write too. 

I cannot imagine giving up on blogging again. I've found it to be incredibly valuable. And I really look forward to the day when I can look back over a period of 5 or 10 years or longer and see how my thinking has changed over time. Because I should be able to trace my own growth in a way that I couldn't before.

I recently heard Pernille Ripp speak at the Model Schools Conference in Orlando. It was a thrill for me to introduce myself after her presentation. Pernille is one of my favorite bloggers. She is truly authentic and transparent in sharing her work as a 7th grade English teacher. She doesn't come across as a person who has it all figured out (even though she is brilliant), but she generously shares the work she is doing in her classroom. She has created tremendous value for her audience. I observed other educators greeting her with stories of her impact. It's amazing what can happen when you decide to share.

If you are considering blogging, summer is a great time to start. You can write some posts and also plan for some later posts you might want to explore when you have a classroom full of kids again. Pernille is constantly sharing what her students have to say about learning. She uses her blog to give them voice. If you are thinking about blogging, I would urge you to visit her blog. I'm sure you'll find it inspiring.

I would also like to hear from you. How can I help you on your blogging journey? What's standing in your way? What passions can you share through your blog? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

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