First let me begin by saying that I am certainly near the end of a long line of educational bloggers out there. The web is full of how-to videos, posts, and websites. I simply plan to guide you as you decide how [or if] you wish to use a blog in your communication repertoire. There are many questions that require attention when approaching blogging for personal use, professional growth, or parent and student communication. Each of these purposes have their own challenges, but the basics for beginning are the same.
What is a Blog?
For those of you that are new to blogging, please check out this video by Atomic Learning giving a concise answer to the foremost question.
Why Would I Want to Blog?
This is certainly a question I have asked myself in the past. In the summer of 2010, I joined the 21st Century and began perusing the available early childhood blogs out there. I was amazed at the quality and variety of blogs dealing with exactly what I was interested in. I found beautiful sites on art and young children, teaching pre-kindergarteners, and parenting small, playful family members. I did toy with the idea that it would be neat to start my own blog, but I quickly changed my mind. After following my favorite bloggers for a while, I was sure that I certainly had nothing as worthwhile to share publicly on a regular basis. I can’t even convince myself to keep a journal. So I just read, marveled at the beauty of some of the bloggers photographs, and learned how other teachers/parents sometimes think.
All of this changed in August during our Welcome Back faculty meetings. Sitting in a workshop one day, I swear I heard someone say that our school was going to go paperless this year. [Granted, to this day, I’ve never found anyone else who heard this statement….I must have dreamed it???] So that was the end of the ubiquitous weekly, paper newsletter for me. I had been converting my one page letter to parents into PDF format for a couple of years and emailing it to the two or three parents who wanted an electronic copy. Yet, after my exposure to “blog-land” in the summer, I saw an opportunity for something more.
My weekly newsletter, though well-liked by parents, was inherently truncated and dull. I always made all of the information fit on one page and that included a section for upcoming dates. I must admit I printed at least one in my time in size 8 font. [Those poor parent eyeballs!]
With a blog, I could throw out the weekly news model. I could quickly put up a post during a short break about what happened earlier in the morning. When the children created a particularly interesting block building, I could take notes, take a photo, and post it after they had gone home for the day. Some weeks I posted once, some weeks I posted many times. It was no longer about how I could fill or fit my communication in an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper. It was about what I really wanted parents to experience and see as it went on in our room.
The level of communication blogging afforded me with my class parents was incredible. Many days, the parents knew what their child had been up to before they even made it home for the day. Comments from the parents made our online communication a two-way street. It became much more a conversation than paper ever was.
How Can My Blog Help Me Grow as a Teacher?
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have spent many years observing and studying young children. I have many strongly held beliefs about how young children learn best and am excited to share my observations with others. If you’ve been lucky [?] enough to be on the receiving end of this spiel, you’ll know that though I hold lots of information, I’m an abstract random person and occasionally I get so far ahead of myself I sound like I’m gibbering. Or at least that is how I have viewed my ability to advocate for young children in the past. For some reason, typing works for me. I find it much easier to organize my thoughts when I write.
For this reason, one of the biggest unforeseen bonuses of this first year of blogging was that I found I had the courage to write [say] what I really wanted to share with parents about how their children were learning. In posts and with pictures, I could more accurately describe the learning I see in children’s play, in their mistakes, and in their experiments, social and otherwise. Through writing, I found my voice. Blogging forced this turtle out of her shell. I more critically looked at my previous beliefs and searched for support for these ideas. I certainly wasn’t going to write about learning with the simple suggestion of “because I say so”.
What Blogging Platform Should I Use?
When trying to decide which platform I should use, I had two main concerns:
- Could it be password protected
- It had to be free
It is probably quite obvious why I was looking for the latter, but the former concern may not be so obvious. Before I began my blog, I had no idea which students would be allowed to have their pictures posted online. I struggled with the idea that maybe I could talk some parents into allowing me to post all of the photos if I could promise that my blog was password protected. Later, I decided that this particular concern was a moot point since their image would still be online, even if it was password protected. Eventually I made the decision that I would simply be thoughtful about which images I chose.
Though there are many, many platform choices out there, the top three that I looked into were:
After a couple of hours trying them all out, I decided that with my ancient web design experience and my amateur love of photography, WordPress would work best for me. However, each of the three include easy to follow directions when you initially sign up. I have found some additional help pages that I believe are useful.
How Often Should I Update My Blog?
This is entirely up to the author and is related to the purpose of the blog. I will admit that I began a personal family blog at the same time as my professional blog and have only posted a handful of updates [much to my family’s dismay]. My school blog replaced weekly communication that I was already in the habit of supplying. It did, in fact give me a vehicle to share much more detailed information with my audience. Our community was made stronger by the interaction we had through the blog. After you have decided why you wish to write a blog, take a look at other, similar blogs out there. Consider your information. Would your audience most benefit from frequent updates? Would the type of information you wish to share lend itself more naturally to a monthly roll-out? I only warn you that once you feel the bug of being able to instantly share with your audience, you’ll find a desire to share more.
What Are the Safety Issues I Need to Think About?
I would be remiss if I did not leave you with a couple of caveats, however. There are a few issues of safety and respect that you must consider if you decide to embark upon a blogging journey.
- Be sure that you know exactly who in your photos are allowed to have their picture posted publicly online. I personally do not use the students’ names in my posts as well, to help ensure their privacy. If you’ve got a picture with three students and one is not allowed to be posted online, pick a different photo or crop it accordingly if possible. Parents usually put a lot of thought into how they fill out the media permission forms. We must do our best to respect their wishes.
- Set up your comments access wisely. You have the power as the administrator of your blog to make all comments wait in a holding pattern until you have approved them. Make sure this setting is on. I would hope that you never have an issue with spamming or flaming, but if you do, this admin privilege will save your reputation.
- If you decide that you would really like to create a blog solely for the purpose of professional reflection and peer support, I strongly suggest that you set it up anonymously and remain professional at all times. Venting about situations and struggles you are having can be a very slippery slope. If handled carefully, you can learn strategies from your peers and use your writing to reflect on your own feelings and reactions. You certainly do not want to get yourself in a position where you are spouting anger about a particular person. Blogs are public places. Treat it as such, even if you think you’ve hidden yourself within anonymity. Just because you can’t see your audience, it doesn’t mean you are talking only to yourself.
With all of this in mind, I send you on your way. Take what lessons you can from my verbose post and by all means, blog on!