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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Benefits of Blogging

By Peter DeWitt — July 28, 2013 5 min read
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Blogging is as much about sharing with one another as it is about getting your own voice out.

This week marks my second year anniversary blogging for Education Week. There probably won’t be a cake decorated with frosting and candles to celebrate the anniversary, and my Education Week editors may not even know it’s been two years (yes, I’m dropping a hint). I’m sure I won’t get gifts sent to me or any medals of honor, but what I have gotten over the past two years is much more valuable. The most important part of blogging are the relationships I have created with people I had never met before.

Blogging can be an awesome experience if it is done correctly. Don’t try to write numerous posts in one day and then run out of steam and don’t write again for another week or so. It also means that you find valuable topics to write about, which is one of the most difficult parts of blogging. I have written three blogs (or more) a week for two years. I understand that not everything I write about is important, but someone might think so!

If you add in social networking such as Twitter into the mix, blogs have the capability of being read by people all over the world. More importantly than how many people read the blog, which is clearly important, are the connections bloggers make with readers and other bloggers.

Through this experience, I have met (virtually or in person) many educators. I have been exposed to blogs that provided me with great resources to share with my staff, and I have had the opportunity to find resources that have made me a better principal. Blogging is as much about sharing with one another as it is about getting your own voice out.

The Publishing Game
Recently at the annual conference of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in Baltimore I met many principals who I have connected with on Twitter (read that here) but I also had the opportunity to meet someone who has been reading, commenting and guest posting for this blog, and her name is Madlon Laster.

Madlon taught all over the world, including places like Beirut. She also did work with Carol Ann Tomlinson, who is one of my favorite education writers. Madlon and I have made a real connection over the past two years and it was great to meet her. Blogging has a way to connect people like never before.

If you have been around for awhile, you probably remember the days before blogging, when publishing was for the few or the chosen (or celebrities!). Publishing in a print copy of a journal takes months and is a big commitment. Writers look at the theme of a journal, write a manuscript and have to hand it in by the deadline set by the organization that publishes the journal. And then they wait...

Waiting can take months, and due to publisher guidelines, the manuscript cannot be sent to any other organization for consideration, unless it gets declined by the first organization. Some educators wait until 6 to 8 months before they find out if their manuscript was published, and if it was accepted, it was definitely worth the wait.

However, those publishers have guidelines and important voices may get denied, which is why blogging is so important. Anyone can blog, and yes, that’s important to remember as well.

Risk-taking Rather Than Rule-Following
Blogging breaks many rules. It doesn’t have to follow the standard grammatical rules that we all heard about in English class. I know that many educators cringe at the thought of not following grammatical rules, but that’s the fun part about blogging. Bloggers can play with words and sentence structure. It’s more about engaging a reader than about the rules of writing. And at this point, aren’t we all just a little tired of rules?

The other benefit of blogging is the fact that it promotes important voices that may not be heard any other way. As much as state education departments try to censor what bloggers say from time to time, it can’t be done. Bloggers have an opportunity, and a responsibility to get their perspective out into the world. Too often, media corporations and leaders try to control a message, which I know makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, and blogging has a way to make sure that censorship doesn’t happen.

And, like all teachable moments, the lessons learned by blogging are important for our students too. When students have the opportunity to blog, they can share their perspective but it gives them the opportunity to play with language and sentence structure. Blogging is a 21st century way to engage them in the learning process.

Clearly, they have to learn that what they write could be seen by many and their teachers will want to make sure they don’t write anything that will harm them in the future, but it can be a very important medium for them. Just please don’t grade it! Provide feedback to how they can improve their voice but don’t grade it.

In the End
Five years ago I didn’t see the importance of blogging. I felt like no one would read it and I didn’t feel I had much to say. Over the years that has changed. Yes, I get to blog for a large organization like Education Week but I also invite guest bloggers, which helps get many voices out into the world.

Too often educators are worried about sharing their opinions in print or on-line. Unfortunately, we all miss out when that happens. Blogging is important for educators, parents and students because in these days when everything is streamlined for us, blogging can provide a much more well-rounded view of the world.

Things to remember:
Pace yourself - Don’t try to post several blogs in one day. My friend and mentor Diane Ravitch is clearly the exception to the rule on this one but there is really just one Diane.
Join Twitter - Bloggers should promote their blog through Twitter. It provides the opportunity to connect with people all over the world, and can help expose the blog to a much wider audience.
Find your voice - Too often people try to emulate someone else’s writing voice. Perhaps it’s someone they have long admired. Take the time to find your voice, but also understand your writing voice will change over time.
Don’t get caught up in the numbers - Yes, bloggers want many readers but numbers don’t tell us everything. I have had blogs that were Tweeted out hundreds of times but were actually read less than blogs that were Tweeted out a couple dozen.
Facebook - I know Facebook seems to be old hat these days but many blogs are shared on Facebook...especially the controversial ones. People don’t always feel secure sending those out through Twitter but they do often feel secure sharing them on Facebook because there is more privacy.
Size Matters - The great Seth Godin only uses a couple of hundred words (max) in his blog, while others use over 1,000. Try to keep it under 1,000 or you may lose your audience before you get one.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.