Blogging with buddies! #ETCoaches

Earlier this year I participated in a few #EdublogsClub blogging challenges to help make writing in this space more of a consistent habit.  I’ve also recently signed on to be part of #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies. What I love about this initiative is that willing edubloggers have been placed in groups with other bloggers looking to form collegial relationships around their blogging efforts.

What I remember most about blogging “back in the day” is that there were many readers: educators of all kind, including classroom teachers, technology specialists, and principals, who flocked to Twitter each week to share and comment on one another’s thoughts. Most of this was shared via the #cpchat and #edchat hashtags. Comment threads were a mile long. We faithfully organized and checked our Google Reader feeds and reading and commenting was part of our daily routines.

Why blog? Cory Doctorow, 2002:

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I’m in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing’s message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I’ve posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

Over time those to read lists of RSS feeds became long and tangled and messy and we didn’t pay enough attention to what was being shared, how it was applicable to our roles and schools, and it became more and more difficult to keep up.

The digital spaces that educators flock to today are very different than those from the early days of “connected educators.” There are so many more voices, and diverse perspectives present that were not well-represented before. This is good. But what it requires is a consistent and pervasive effort to think critically, time manage, publish, and give back in order to read and use what’s being shared in digital spaces in constructive ways.

This is easier said than done. Depending on your role, your life, and responsibilities outside of education, you perhaps don’t have time to compose and post to a blog regularly, let alone dedicate time to reading and commenting. My blogging life is very different now than it was before I had kids. Priorities shift and time spent online diminishes (for good reason!) and I consider myself lucky when I stumble upon a gem of a blog post that is worth sharing via Twitter or when I read one that truly moves me enough to sit down and concentrate and compose and share a comment.

The Blogging Buddies guidelines are simple:

  • Blog at least once per month.
  • Offer feedback in the form of blog comments to all others in your group on at least one of their posts per month.
  • Practice best digital citizenship. Discourse is encouraged, rudeness is not allowed. It is okay to disagree with one another (how else will we grow?), but this should ultimately be an encouraging experience. If you find yourself getting heated on any particular topic, remember the LARA method- Listen (or read, in our case), Affirm, Respond, Add.

Check out the links below to visit the blogs of the buddies in my group! I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow the blogging buddies list on Twitter to read the latest and greatest from a dedicated group of blogging professionals.

Robin – Pence Passion

Susan – Susan Zanti’s Blog

Rachel – Tech from the Trenches

Erin – Reflections in Tech

What have you been reading? What have you been writing? It’s not too late to join #ETCoaches Blogging Buddies!

My Blog Story

Edublogs is hosting monthly writing challenges in the form of shared prompts this year, and I’m thankful for the inspiration to help me revive, refresh, and share my thoughts in this creative space.

#EdublogsClub1 prompt: Write a post that shares your blog story. 

I became an elementary principal at the start of the 2008-2009 school year. I created my first blog via Edublogs, The Principal’s Posts, and wanted to blog every day that first year of the principalship, to create a finished story that would enlighten prospective principals about the highs and lows of such a position.

I think I lasted two days. 🙂

I quickly adjusted my expectations and used the blog as a space to share my thoughts about teaching, learning, and leading. I didn’t identify my school district name or even my own full name in those initial posts. I, like many other administrators, was nervous about the prospect of learning transparently.

That quickly changed, however, thanks to Will Richardson.

In 2010 at a technology conference for administrators, Will addressed the audience during his keynote and asked if anyone was currently blogging. I awkwardly raised my hand, and it appeared I was the only one to do so. He asked if I would mind if he projected my blog on the (double) screens for the audience to view.

“Why yes, I would mind very much,” is what my brain said, but my mouth replied, “Sure…”

He proceeded to point out some quality features in my blog, like my use of hyperlinked writing and tags. But he quickly pointed out that he couldn’t really identify much about the author or contact information if he wanted to communicate further about any of my ideas. From that day forward I added my name and contact information to the blog and realized that since I was blogging professionally, sharing my ideas in constructive ways, there was nothing that I should be ashamed of sharing by clicking Publish. Read more about that experience here.

There’s power in personal and professional publishing, public relations pro tip #1 for principals.

#alliteration #tellyourstory

Since then I’ve moved my blog to its own domain, I’ve shared posts via Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, I’ve been published in collective spaces like Connected Principals and Voices of the Learning Revolution through Powerful Learning Practice and Learning Forward, and I’ve been recognized for my blogging efforts and my connected education work. Blogging has brought me so many opportunities to continue to learn, grow, and share, and that would not have been possible without those connections. I also love sharing about the power of blogging in schools through my consulting and professional development work. I’ve seen firsthand how blogging can inspire even the most reluctant writers to share their ideas in meaningful ways. I think there’s nothing more powerful than a blog used by a teacher or principal to forge home-school connections.

I read many other blogs when time permits. While I used to use Twitter as my go-to source for finding blogs of interest, I’ve found Twitter has become a very congested space that makes identifying truly innovative voices a very difficult task. A fan of the old Google Reader, I had a bundle of blogs titled “Read These Blogs” that I made sure to catch up on each week. My reading time has diminished some since welcoming Thing 1 and Thing 2 into the family, but I use the Feedly mobile app to read as much as I can during my spare time. I continue to have a Read These Blogs collection in Feedly, and they include many educational leadership and technology blogs such as those of Audrey Watters, Bill Ferriter, Scott McLeod, Rafranz Davis, Silvia Tolisano, Dean Shareski, Pam Moran, and Pernille Ripp. Here’s a look at some of my Feedly collections:

My advice for new bloggers is to write for YOU. Don’t write for page views. Don’t write for RTs. Write to share your ideas, to reflect, to ponder. Write to unleash your creative spirit. Write to make a difference. Schedule time in your day to write. Write every day, something, somewhere. You don’t always have to click publish. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a lull or encounter writer’s block. I used to blog several times a month, and now I’m lucky if I blog several times a year. Life happens, responsibilities shift…. your blog is a space you can always call home and it will welcome you back with open arms when needed.

While I appreciate this challenge to help motivate me to write, I also appreciate that I will be introduced to a number of new educational bloggers and will strive to comment on three others’ posts per week. I was stoked (a Bill word) to read this post from Mr. Ferriter this morning about his commitment to comment more in 2017.  It’s what I miss most about blogging “in the old days”… the camaraderie, the conversations, the constant connections that emerged in the blogging platforms themselves.

Happy blogging!

Reconsidering what’s “required”

Busy student bloggers. Blogging isn’t “required”… should we make time for it?

Recently I read a post by my friend Bill Ferriter titled Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Bill shares this article that states that instruction centered on facts has largely failed our students. Teachers are handed required curricula, complete with scope and sequence, and in some schools teachers are expected to teach lesson A on day 1 and lesson B on day 2 and continue onward and upward and they’d better make sure they cover everything that’s expected to be covered. This approach leaves some kids in the dust and fails to challenge others. And it completely overwhelms teachers. I tackled that in a post years ago.

The top form of resistance I encounter as an instructional technology coach when trying to urge teachers to consider the use of more inquiry or project-based, technology-infused activities in their classrooms is their fear of losing time and therefore not being able to cover the required curriculum.

Bill, a teacher in practice, tells it like it is:

If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

As a former principal, I’d prefer to stumble upon those moments of “genuine discovery” in my classrooms rather than check a teacher’s lesson plans to ensure they’re on track to cover required curriculum. Not all leaders share that mentality, however. Because standards and testing and accountability. What if a teacher gives her students the freedom to spend time blogging in class, but her students’ mid-term reading proficiency scores aren’t any better than any other students’ scores? Should they carry on? Do we stop to consider the “untestable” impact of their blogging practices? Their connections to other classes and cultures worldwide? Their constantly improving writing practices and the digital citizenship skills learned? Perhaps the principal is concerned because due to blogging, these students are losing time completing the lessons of the prescribed language arts curriculum. But if we’re not inspiring and challenging our kids and allowing them to make important discoveries leading to enduring understandings, then “covering” curriculum doesn’t much matter, does it?

The comments on Bill’s post also made me ponder our ready access to information and how we find it and use it. We’ve all heard the “If you can Google the answer, it’s not a good question” argument and “If kids can look up the answers online to cheat, then it’s not a good assessment” line. Perhaps, although every question and every assessment has its own context worth considering. David Jakes goes on to reply that he uses Google to answer questions every single day, which allows him to better understand the work he’s doing. And, as David says, they shouldn’t be the only questions we’re asking, but they help us make connections that lead to bigger understandings.  I have to agree.

Sometimes I think teachers quickly email a colleague or submit a help desk ticket to tech support or their instructional coach without pausing to think, The resources I need to answer this question are readily available to me. I can find the answer to this. 

I want to tell them: Google it. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I received a query for help, I typed the exact question into Google, and seconds later the answer was listed for me in step-by-step format. Next I’d relay this information to the inquirer either by linking to the answer online or by summarizing it. In the time it took the staff member to compose an email with their question, they could have conducted online research to find the answer themselves.

Would the learning be more powerful if the teacher or administrator conducted the search on his own? Struggled through the process a little? Discovered new venues through which to answer questions?

I think so. And we’d be modeling something powerful for our students. I hear teachers complain constantly that our kids stink at Google searches… are we any better?

Would it take more time? Perhaps. What I think many don’t realize is that “tech savvy” folks aren’t tech savvy because they are born that way. They devote themselves as learners first. The learning is hands-on and minds-on. They’ve Googled. They’ve trial and error-ed their way through developing blogs and learning the ins and outs of Google Drive and have connected with other educators to make sure they surround themselves with people who are smart and willing to share. And much of these learned content and skills are not “required.”

The freedom to veer from the required curriculum requires administrators who believe in their teachers’ abilities to learn alongside their students and to roll with it… to identify students’ needs and passions and provide them with the FREEDOM to learn. A curriculum is great, it’s neat, it can serve, when well-written, as a guide for teachers to help students know and understand important content. But we can’t expect our teachers to innovate given the constraints we’ve placed them under. It’s very possible to provide this type of freedom while still maintaining high expectations for learning. I’d wager you may even have some happier, less-stressed teachers and students on your hands. #eduwin

I will continue to ponder how we can best free teachers and students from the constraints of what’s “required” to provide conditions better suited for innovation… would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve made this happen in your schools!


P.S. I’m on leave from my tech coaching position this semester, blessed with the opportunity to keep a new, tiny human nourished and entertained while simultaneously giving her older brother the exact same amount of love he had in his pre-baby-sister-days and maintaining some semblance of an organized household. #supermomma

Given those responsibilities I still can’t stop reading and connecting and learning, it’s a curse. I’ll also continue consulting and presenting and webinaring so be sure to contact me if you and your organization are looking for an energetic, passionate learner and leader!

Blogging for learning.

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This year, we are using Edublogs K-12 in our district. We’ve had only a few short weeks to introduce teachers to the platform officially (and some teachers may not lay eyes on it until after school officially opens), but many are up and running with their own sites. These teacher sites will be used to communicate with families and the rest of the school community, as well as facilitate blogging practices within the classroom. Our next step is to add student blogs to the My Class feature and get busy blogging!

When I think about blogging in schools, I envision communities where kids fluently use their spaces to reflect on learning, share with one another, post project work, ask questions, think critically, engage in conversation around one another’s ideas, and connect globally with peers. This isn’t always the reality, though. We might embark on the blogging adventure, gung-ho and full of enthusiasm about the possibilities, only to become easily drained by the day in and day out must-dos that zap our creative energies and cause us to fall back on what’s comfortable, what’s mundane. How can we keep the passion for documenting our learning alive and make the most of this powerful platform we’re given?

Last fall, I shared this bit about blogging while I was thinking through our blogging goals for the year. Some of our classes enjoyed many successes with blogging last year. Others dabbled, and still others didn’t include any type of blogging activities in the classroom. As the tech integrator, what are my next steps to help teachers feel comfortable with, and see the value in, this practice? Here’s what I’m thinking:

1. Show teachers what blogs can do to support learning. Provide a variety of examples of classroom and student blogs and blogfolios in action. Help teachers appreciate that the blog is a highly versatile platform through which students can document FOR learning, as described and illustrated by Silvia Tolisano here:

documenting-for-learning
Image from Silvia Tolisano @langwitches

2. Get the leaders on board. And hands-on. As far as I am aware, none of our district administrators actively blog, either as a form of home-school communication or as professional practice. The impact of a digital age leader on his teachers, students, and school community cannot be underestimated. When leaders model, practice, and share these methods, it sets the example for the rest of the school community that this type of sharing, learning, and communication is valued.

3. Make sure teachers are comfortable with the technical ins and outs of the platform early on, so their energies and efforts can be focused on planning for learning.  Edublogs and WordPress dashboards can be pretty mind-numbing to someone who is new to the platform. Once familiarized with the themes, menus, and settings, however, it’s a breeze to publish new posts and keep pages updated. I’ll front-load support in this area to help teachers conquer any techno-fears they have that might prevent them from digging deeper and planning to include blogging activities on a regular basis.

4. Help students own it. We must relinquish control to the learner whenever possible. Over blog themes, page heading, posting topics,widgets and styles, integrated blogging activities, with whom and how they connect to comment and engage in conversation, and how they document and share what they’ve learned. Give kids choice, promote their voices, and empower them as autonomous, responsible readers and writers. If I had someone constantly looking over my shoulder telling me I could or couldn’t post something on my blog, or that an idea wasn’t good enough to share publicly, or I needed to address every misspelling or grammatical error in my post to the point where it interfered with my creative flow, I’d probably grow weary of blogging, too.

5. Get classrooms connected. Try as I might, I don’t have enough time in the day to comment on every elementary classroom’s blogs. I wish I did! Helping teachers connect their students with others through Quadblogging, The Global Read Aloud, and #comments4kids will help amplify our students’ voices and forge lasting relationships with other students, teachers, and learning communities.

6. Support and inspire. After the initial honeymoon is over, teachers will likely be looking for ways for students to use their blogs more creatively, to make thinking visible. I’d love to see our kids develop their spaces into digital portfolios which can then be shared at student-led conferences. I will be sharing many resources from Silvia Tolisano, whose work on blogging I consider to be among the best, and from Sue Waters and the Edublogger community.

I’d love for you to share in the comments your advice for how I can best support teachers with blogging this year, as well as any go-to resources you have to inspire students and staff! 

Photo Credit: Search Engine People Blog via Compfight cc

A bit about blogging.

Photo by Kathy Cassidy

Photo by Kathy Cassidy

 

I’ve been a blogger since 2009, but I’ve been a writer for always.

When I was principal, I wanted our students to have safe spaces where they could share their writing with the world and learn to proficiently use digital tools to make their voices heard. I wanted for them to be able to share their ideas with families and friends. I wanted others to be able to comment on the creativity and ideas expressed. I wanted our kids to connect globally with other classrooms and students. I wanted them to refine and enhance the ways in which they communicate with others.

I wanted.

Why?

Because I think it matters. Communication matters.

In my years as principal we introduced blogging to classrooms of students, beginning first with teachers who were eager to embrace blogging as a venue through which students could communicate their ideas and share their learning. Many teachers found natural uses of blogging in a variety of subject areas, from free writes to summarizing key learning to creative storytelling.

We used Kidblog in the beginning, and we still do. One of my first tasks in my new role as elementary tech integrator was to create Kidblog spaces for all students and teachers grades 2-6, district-wide. One of the things I disliked about how we used Kidblog in past years is that we had to “start fresh” with a new class each year, and our teachers were managing all of their own accounts. Now I have the ability to manage all of the accounts and simply move students into their new class next school year, which will maintain the work and writing they’ve done this year in the same space.

I have some continued wishes for blogging in our schools:

We need to “move beyond pockets of excellence in blogging“. I’d like to see more kids start blogging, and I’d like to support their teachers through this process. The spaces are set up, but there’s no mandate in place that says students must blog. How will that happen? With support, guidance, modeling, showcasing the great work that’s already being done, and time. And a little nagging 🙂 As Silvia Tolisano states in her post about pockets of blogging excellence, we can see the positive effects of blogging in a classroom where students are blogging, but

What we CAN’T do with pockets of excellence is to track and identify LONG TERM gains in blogging as a LEARNING PLATFORM.

Check out Tolisano’s blogging framework to support the practice in the elementary grades.

I’d like to see our use of Kidblog morph into digital student portfolios, spaces for students to showcase and share their work (and not just the “finished product,” but allow glimpses into the learning process as it unfolds).

I’d love for more of our teachers and administrators to embrace blogging, not just as a form of home-school communication (although that’s a great start), but to creatively express themselves and share their ideas with families and other educators. These are the blogging resources I share with staff via our elem. tech blog.

We need to better involve parents and families. When we first started blogging, my genius grade 2 team developed and hosted a Family Blog Night, where they invited parents and students to learn more about blogging, Kidblog, and commenting. After the teachers shared their info, parents and students logged into the student accounts for the first time to compose the first blog post together! Read more about this event here.

I’m eager to work with more classrooms to help students learn about quality commenting and engaging in respectful discourse. I rarely, if ever, read the comments sections of online news sites, which more often than not are riddled with vulgarity, ignorance, a wealth of conventional errors, and disrespect. I seriously want our students to understand that they are capable of communicating their unique ideas in ways that do not disrespect others or cause harm.

I want students to understand that blogging is about writing and reading. I want to connect them with great blogs to read, help them learn how to organize feeds, support their efforts to make sense of the information they find online, and help them discover how to apply it to their own learning. I’ll continue using the #comments4kids community to help student voices shine.

Do I think all students will love blogging? No. Do I think they need to be skilled communicators? Yes. So I’m not in favor of mandating x number of posts are required x number of days per week, or dictating every type of post we ask kids to write. Student ownership and product/process choice is still key. But while a post like this from one of our fifth graders breaks my heart just a little, I’m glad that this quiet young man once again has a medium through which he can share with the world:

blogging

This image from Stephen Davis came through my Instagram feed and its caption really struck a chord with me:

We write to show the world we think.

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Image by Stephen Davis

 

When our kids write, they think. If they blog and publish and share, they think aloud and think visibly.

How are you supporting your students in the quest to help them become authentic writers and visible thinkers?