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Worlds colliding

December 22, 2010

Back when I started this little old blog six months ago, I thought it would be a fun exercise to try to keep up with writing honestly about my teaching. If not another soul read my blog, I’d still have an awesome reference to turn to next year when I’m wondering what I did last time, and probably get a few laughs in the process.

Things didn’t quite turn out that way. Bit by bit, the audience of this blog has grown, and then this week, thanks to the power of a mention on facebook, I got, what to me, was Justin Bieber level traffic, doubling my subscriber base from a paltry 10, and sending 600 readers toward my posts on how to change the conversation about AP. Was I ready for this? I’m not quite sure. As I read back over my posts, I see subtle shifts in my own tone, and wonder as to the cause. Fatherhood? Sleep deprivation? Craving an edublog award?

Today I got an email that really set me back on my heels and got me to reconsider the whole intent of this blog. What is it about a blog that makes us speak with a level of conviction I could rarely manifest in real life? Am I trying start a conversation, and if so, am I also unintentionally dismissing much of my audience with a hubristic level of certainty? Is it my way or the highway? I don’t think so, since I can easily recall dozens of wonderful teachers in my own career as a student, and later, colleagues who had never heard of standards based grading, growth mindset, or whiteboarding, and yet still managed to connect with students by demonstrating a deep level of concern for every child, and worked every day to help me and other students grow. But is this the message the comes across to a stranger that reads my blog? Is it the message the comes across to a colleague that reads my blog, now that my school’s communications department has outed me to the full faculty (which is both a good and scary thing)?

How do I make sure that my blog, and twitter aren’t just some sort of echo chamber when all the teachers who think like me gather in the internet bask in self-satisfaction? I coach debate, so I should know how to see the other side of just about any argument—I mean I’ve voted for teams who’ve argued that Nuclear War is a good thing, so surely I can turn around and see the good in the AP, or gulp, SAT II, right?

How do I keep this blog a real, honest, and hopeful journal of my teaching, useful to me, yet interesting, and possibly useful to others, and above all else, welcoming to all? I want to fully admit that I don’t have all the answers, but really would appreciate help and conversation, and maybe we’ll get a bit closer to one of many answers.

These are just a few of the things that keep me up at night. The other thing is a now 9.5 lb newborn, still reeling from her experience with 3 shots at the doctors office a day ago.

For those you who are reading this, especially any veteran bloggers out there who have had questioned your own blogging, I’d love any advice or feedback you may have.

If you’d prefer your feedback to be anonymous, I’ve created this handy anonymous google form, where you can leave your advice. If you do leave advice or feedback, please let me know if you give me permission to anonymously post it back on this post for others to see who might be wrestling with these same questions.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2010 1:38 am

    I’m not sure I qualify as a veteran blogger, you’ve written more posts even though I’ve been going at it longer.

    re: echo chamber – This one bothered me as well at first. I think I’ve come to realize that you’re sort of doomed to somewhat of an echo chamber on your own blog as long as it stays reasonably small. I’ve seen pushback on the bigger blogs but most of us don’t get that. If you’re googling around for blogs, you’re not going to spend time on one you disagree with. You have to get to a fairly established level. Frankly, we’re not big enough for people to bother to disagree with us (most of the time).

    Don’t worry about it though. Because I’ve also come to realize that blogging itself is like a membership card into a community. A HUGE COMMUNITY. And perhaps all the people in my immediate blog roll vote in the same educational primaries as me, it turns out, that they have their own blog roll too. And those have smaller overlaps. And then smaller. And so on. And not only that, with those that I do agree with, we might have completely different methods for achieving our similar goals. So from my point of view, as long as I don’t just spend all my time reading the comments on my own blog, I think I’m ok with the whole echo chamber thing.

    On a personal note, I spend little time on blogs that I don’t agree with. I subscribe to a couple hundred teaching blogs but I come across and don’t subscribe to hundreds more than that. There are various reasons, but when it comes down to it, I’m here to be a better teacher and I need to prioritize. If that means most of my blogs are written by teachers that teach a certain way, fine with me.

    re: Keeping it honest. Just keep on what you’re doing. Eventually, blogging will run its course for me (or not) and I figure I’ll just fold it up and move on. I’m sure you’ll know if that time comes for you (and I hope you’ll let me know if I’ve hit that point and don’t know it yet).

    • December 23, 2010 2:53 pm

      I’m not a veteran blogger either (162 posts in 6 months), and I’ve also had a hard time getting people to leave comments on my blogs (about 35 page views per comment, but since about half the comments are my responses, that is more like one reader out of 70 contributing to the conversation).

      I’ve found it useful to leave comments on other people’s blogs (often gentle pushback on overstated positions), sometimes with pointers to my own posts on the subject. The echo chamber effect can be strong, and the best way to avoid it is to participate in blogs where you are not in the majority opinion. There is no point to trying to change the minds of extremists, but if you find someone whose opinion is a little different from yours, a healthy debate can bring both of you to better understanding of each other’s positions and to strong arguments for your own.

      I’m actually amazed that you can do blogging with a newborn in the house. For the first six months of my son’s life, my wife and I had to alternate who got to sleep each night.

      • December 23, 2010 3:21 pm

        I’ve truly valued the pushback you’ve sent my way, and hope you’ll continue to comment on my future posts.

        I agree that commenting on blogs really is key, and this is something I strive to do. But you are right about the echo chamber, and it is sometimes hard to find those blogs that will really push you. I feel like many of the blogs that once pushed me (dy/dan and Think Thank Thunk are good examples), are now much more engrained in my own teaching philosophy, which probably means I need to go exploring more often.

        Is the edublog-o-sphere more polarized that the political blog-o-sphere? Or just lest well known? I’m not sure…

    • December 23, 2010 2:55 pm

      Thanks Jason, for this advice. For the record, you inspired me to start blogging, and seriously think about what grading means, and so thank you also for helping me to get started on this path.

  2. December 23, 2010 7:42 am

    Writing is thinking. Writing is thinking. Writing is thinking.

    Many thanks to you for blogging…for writing…for thinking. With this latest post, you have affirmed that you want to entertain multiple points of view. For those of us who sit with you at lunch occasionally, we knew this about you already. From your posts, and from your style of posting in multiple parts, your readers should realize that you are thinking – not making up your mind in hard, callous ways.

    Thank goodness you are getting push back on the AP posts! This will help us all wrap our heads around this important debate to a much more thoughtful, practitioner-mode level. With the increased readership, we are more likely to see the fullness of thought, rather than more of an echo-chamber. However, your writing – your thinking out loud – permitted us all to think more intentionally about this topic. Still doing so! Keep blogging, keep writing, keep thinking. And in the end, when lack of sleep causes you doubt, and when all else fails, remember this: illigitimi non carborundum.

    • December 23, 2010 3:00 pm

      Bo, this is great advice. I often find myself talking to a teacher, and just when our conversation really gets going, the bell rings and we have to rush off to class. It makes me wish that every teacher would blog, it might make for much richer conversations in PLCs and PLTs, and go a long way toward creating a community of lifelong learners. Of course, if this were to happen, we’d need an extra few hours in the day just to keep up with everything being said.

  3. Anna Moore permalink
    December 23, 2010 10:14 am

    I enjoyed reading the previous two replies – my thoughts ran along similar lines. I think it takes enormous courage to blog about meaningful issues and personal convictions. Emails, replies, and responses that knock us off our rails usually are not pleasant. The psychologist in me has to state the obvious because it’s hard to remember the most obvious things immediately after having been slimed: maybe the emailer was well-intentioned and had valid points (as Bo says, it’s great to be challenged and encouraged to refine oneself), but the long lines at Toys-R-Us, the bad parking at the mall, and holiday bills had set him/her off into a bad mood so that the email because more caustic than useful. I think you do write in a strong manner but you have deep passion and love of your subject matter. Would you make the time to keep a blog about things you felt wishy-washy on? Would you elicit meaningful dialogue if you did not write honestly? As an independent thinker, I am able to integrate your thoughts with mine and incorporate, discard, question, etc, as I see fit. I grow and am challenged. To me, that’s the point. I think you render yourself extremely vulnerable through this blog (e.g., you posted tests you wrote… I’m a novice high school teacher, so maybe my reaction to that reflects my newness to this discipline, but that would make me feel so exposed!). But, I think some of the best teachers I have ever known are the ones who with the courage to allow themselves to be vulnerable. Regarding “your way or the highway”…. as someone fortuante to have had diaglogue with you about teaching, I know you and I do things differently in our classes (you even saw me with a stack of scantrons in my hand after final exams). I have never felt judged by you. Quite the opposite: I have felt welcomed into an amazing profession and supported over the course of some bumbling efforts to figure all this out. Keep the posts (and the challenges) coming.

    • December 23, 2010 3:13 pm

      Anna, Thanks. This is the thing I am starting to worry about in moments, when I hastily blog about my technological nemesis, the scantron machine. I know it serves its purpose, and there are many valuable ways to use it to give kids and teachers very valuable feedback, quickly and without exhaustive effort on my part (I still have a big stack of ungraded exams). In fact, I really love the idea of exam view, which is a sort of clicker device that students enter answers into as they take a test, and then, as they walk out of the classroom, the teacher can give them a printout with detailed feedback on which questions they missed and how to solve the problem correctly. In many ways this says more about my own internal prejudices than it does about the pedagogy of multiple choice tests. I would never want another colleague or teacher reading this to think that I am judging them for things they do or do not do in the classroom—I spend far too much time going over everything I’m obsessing over to notice, and I firmly believe that if we allow that there are many ways for students to learn, there have to be equally as many ways for teachers to teach. I need to make sure that this is a message of this blog.

  4. December 23, 2010 7:30 pm

    John – you should speak your mind (WHATEVER that is!). I can only speak for myself, but if I don’t write, blog or say what I REALLY feel, then I know that I cannot sleep at night and my kids are 9 and 11 (who, coincidentally is at a Justin Bieber concert as I type!).

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