Category Archives: Providing Instructional Leadership

Blog Launch Party (Reflections)

I was recently invited to speak to Mrs. Holden’s Class where they had their “Blog Launch Party“.  I spoke to them for a few minutes about my journey into blogging and the impact it has had on my learning and the opportunities that it has created.  It has been amazing what I have learned in the last four years through the process and I was honoured to share it with the class.

What happened after I talked to them was that all of the students commented on to each other’s blogs and they all learned from each other in the process.  It was a great way to get them excited and then rolling into the project.  Such a great idea (again) from Mrs. Holden’s class.

We even talked about my visit to the St. Louis Zoo since their class connected with them this year, so we sent them this selfie:

Hey @stlzoo…I was just with some of your fans here in #psd70. They wanted to say hi!

A photo posted by George Couros (@gcouros) on

Within minutes, the St. Louis Zoo, responded back and sent them a message from one of their friends:

It was a great activity and a great opportunity to learn from and with a class.  Thanks Mrs. Holden’s class for a great afternoon!

(If you have the opportunity to comment on some of the student blogs, they are listed on the right of the classroom blog.)

3 Questions To Shift the Focus to the Learner

The teacher evaluation process sometimes seems a little ridiculous.  For many boards, a principal will formally “visit” a teacher 2-3 times, and from those observations (and obviously some other observations throughout the school year), they will write an evaluation on that teacher.  As a new teacher, it is tough to feel comfortable with an administrator in the room so they often get “the show” which is not really reflective of what teaching and learning looks like in the classroom.  I did the same thing as a teacher. Those few observations didn’t really resemble what I did throughout the year, and it was often a reflection of what I thought my administrator wanted to see (kids quiet, sitting in rows, respectful of my dynamic up in the front teaching with my amazing lesson), not how I taught the majority of the year.  I don’t think my teaching was ever a “lie” during that time but often an exaggeration.  It is easy to get nervous during this process.

Although many boards still have to do the three observations, I think that the process needs to focus more on the learner.  For example, instead of telling someone how they taught based on those observations, I challenge administrators to ask the following questions:

What are you strong at?

Where do you need to improve?

What are some things that you are going to do to become a better educator?

The important part of this process is to really let the learner talk.  If the focus is on their teaching, then the learner should be the one sharing what they know.  If administrators started to do this, what would the “trickle-down effect” be in the classroom?  What if you asked the same questions of your students (modified for age level obviously)?  Would this not be the type of assessment that not only summarizes learning but actually an assessment to improve learning?

I would love to hear the practices for teacher evaluation that are happening in schools that go against the traditional model.  What do you got?

5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be A Blog

Earlier this year, I wrote five reasons why your portfolio should be online.  As I do more work and sharing with portfolios, I think it is important to actually going one step further and talk about the benefits of why a “blog” specifically is beneficial as a portfolio.  If you are interested in doing this, I created a video years ago that simply breaks down the process.  If you know how to blog, it is just a matter of reimagining the space, not tearing down something you might have already done.

Blogging for me has been hugely beneficial for my learning, because of the power to not only think of an audience (making me think deeper about what I write), but also about connecting with the audience.  For the past few years, we have been working on this project in Parkland School Division (Our Digital Portfolio Project), and it takes time because it is meant to showcase learning over a long period of time.  If learning is non-linear and takes time to develop, so should the work that aligns with it.  Patience is necessary.

As more areas look to do portfolios at either the school, district, or state/provincial level, it would be easy to look to services that make the portfolio for you, where you just drag and drop your information.  This creates a presence, but not necessarily engagement from either the learner or an audience.  If I am spending time creating a portfolio, it is nice to think that people would actually look at it, and that is not simply becoming a “digital dump” where I put a collection of my work.

With that being said, here are five reasons either your portfolio or a student portfolio should be a blog:

1. A focus on both a “growth portfolio” and a “showcase portfolio.”

When we first started looking at the use of portfolios in our work, the question would be to either do portfolios that focused on “growth”, or ones that showcased our “best work” (more like a resume).  Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both.  The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages” (check out my page on “Fostering Effective Relationships” which shares a criteria and how I met it).  Most of the portfolios that I have seen schools use focus more on the “showcase” option which is great in some respects, but doesn’t use this powerful tool as a vehicle for continuous learning.  Blog are a versatile enough that you have so many options in the ways that you can share your ideas.

2. An opportunity to focus on “traditional” literacy.

Many people prefer portfolios to have links to examples of work which is great for the “showcase” aspect.  What I like about a blog is the opportunity to write, which is obviously a huge part in the work that we do in schools.  There is a difference between having great ideas and the ability to communicate great ideas.  In our world, we need the ability to do both.  The other aspect of this is that when many outsiders see that students are doing more work in a “digital format”, they may have questions around the idea that we do not do “the basics”.  With a blog, we are not only focusing on the “basics”, but we are actually doing them better.  The more we write, the better we become at writing.  That being said, I love a quote I heard from Dr. Yong Zhao saying that “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling.”  It is crucial, but there is so much more we can do with a blogging format.

3. The ability to use a wide array of “literacies”.

Although reading and writing is important, it is essential that we give students and ourselves different opportunities to share our voice.  The reason why blogs will always be beneficial is that no matter what “medium” comes around or that we want to use, we will have the opportunity to embed that into our blog.  If I want to write, that is fine, but if I want to make a video, create a prezi, share photos, add a slideshare, do a podcast, etc., I will be able to share it through my blog.  We often evaluate students not on their understanding of a subject, but on their ability to write on a subject.  Although this is important in many cases, we should allow our students and ourselves to tap into our strengths in how we feel best communicating.  Blogs allow so many different options.

4. The ability to develop an audience.

Developing an audience is where blogging becomes very important.  When we create the “digital dumps” we put a bunch of links onto a site, we often use the technology in a 1.0 way, and don’t create a need to look at the site more than once. Every time we share a post in our blog though, it attracts people to come and look at it.  It might not be tens of thousands of people, but if it is ten, that is still meaningful.  Every time we share new content, blogging allows people to receive it through emails subscriptions or RSS feeds. If you are going to take the time to create a portfolio, I think it is important to create content to get people to come look at it.  That audience is not only important for the potential connections it can make (the photographer for our wedding uses a blog which made it easy for her to share all of her work and constantly create an audience; this goes way beyond “education), but is also beneficial (again) for the learning aspect through collaboration.  Through the comments and the ability for others to share ideas, this “audience” is important for true communication and the opportunity to tap into others that are interested in similar topics.

5. Developing a voice.

Having a voice in our world isn’t something that all people want to share through a digital space, but we do all have the opportunity to create our own space.  Whether you are interested in photography, mechanics, cooking, dancing, minecraft, fitness, skydiving, or a million different aspects of education, people are more likely to share their voice on something that they actually care about.  I have written more as an adult in the last five years than I ever did in school (K through post-secondary) because I actually have the freedom to write about what I want.  This voice helped me to not only share my thoughts, but pushed to dive deeper into the thing that I wanted to learn about.  If you are going to start using blogs as portfolios with students, it is important to give them opportunities to share things that they care about.  You will learn so much more about them while helping them developing their voice.  Yes, you can do the “school stuff” in your blog, but it is important to also give kids the freedom to share what they are interested in. If the freedom and opportunity to explore our passions  works for us, why wouldn’t it work for them?

The more schools are looking at portfolios, it is important we consider several options and make it more than just a space to share “stuff” but to develop voice.  Currently we are using Edublogs, and one of the best opportunities for using this space is that after students leave our school, they can simply “export” their blog and “import” it into their own space.  We are hoping that we are helping our students create something meaningful enough that they want to use after their time in our school.  If we don’t create portfolios that kids would care about after their time in school, why would they want to do them in school?

Patience for Learning

Many new to social media, marvel how easy it is for people to share with an audience, get answers back, and make connections.  The problem is they see the power in that, and want to be able to create that right away.  I often get questions like, “how do you know all of those hashtags?”, or “how do you know that person is interested in problem based learning?”  Honestly, the more you are willing to learn, the more you often know.

The “behind the scenes” of those connections and understanding took a lot of time and nurturing.  In the world of education, where we want our students to do deep learning we often want quick fixes ourselves.  If we go to a conference and get something for “Monday”, are we going to just use this for now, or long term.  Doing something well takes time.

Just like reading and writing, which too many educators comes natural, at some point in our lives, we were not able to do these things.  But someone showed us why these things are essential, and we wanted to know more.  Teaching grade 1, teachers are not expecting kids to read “The Great Gatsby” by the end of the year; they know it takes incremental steps to not only become more literate, but also more fluent.  In our world today, many adults are going back to the point where they are struggling with literacy again, which I think is a good thing.  It puts us back into the mindset of what a learner goes through, which we should understand deeply if we are to be successful teachers.  Otherwise the smartest people would always be the best teachers.  Simply holding knowledge does not make you a great teacher, and I have always looked at struggling while learning to be a benefit to teachers, not a disadvantage.

So for the educator new to Twitter or any other social media, don’t worry that you don’t “get everything” right now.  No one knows everything, and we are all on different paths in our learning.  Don’t compare yourself to someone else, just make sure you are moving forward.

But to the educators that are pretty savvy with this stuff and think everyone should be “connected”, just remember that at some point, you (including myself) were not able to do many of those things that you are currently advocating for so strongly.  We can get on people and dismiss them for sharing those blog posts about how “Twitter changed everything” for them in the last month and say how tired we are of the same conversation, or we can celebrate that others are trying to get better.  I choose the latter.

Patience is a virtue in any type of learning, and if you are someone moving forward along that continuum, you are doing something good.  If you are struggling, that is good.  Your kids go through it every day.  We just need to remember to both be patient with ourselves and have patience for others while people are learning, because in all cases, we are trying to do something better.  We do it for kids so we need to do it for each other.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Blog Posts on Leadership Development

I have really focused on “innovative leadership development” in my work, and have written about it extensively in my work.  Because of this, I wanted to collect all of my posts that have really focused on leadership in a time where leadership really needs to change.  Please feel free to use the posts in any way to help you with your own development, or challenge any of the ideas that I have shared.

The posts are organized into two areas: Developing LeadershipandEmbodying Visionary Leadership“.  It is meant to help develop a vision and understanding, and then to talk about what it actually looks like. (For a static page of these posts, you can check out the “Leadership Deveolpment” page on my blog.)

Developing Leadership

Educational Leadership Philosophy – This is the post that leads to all of other things.  I think it is a great practice to be able to write your own leadership philosophy so people understand why you do what you do.  It is also something that I will revisit and tailor since a leadership philosophy should not stay the same for the rest of our lives.  It should change on based on who we serve, and what we learn.  It should constantly be pushing you to move forward. 

8 Characteristics of the Innovative Leader – As we continue to look at teachers, students, and learning becoming more “innovative”, it is important that leadership changes.  As administrators often set the tone for their district or their building, if they are saying the same, it is not likely that things are going to change in the classroom.  Leadership needs to not only “think” different, but they need to “act” different.  This post talks about some of those characteristics.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal – To develop a powerful vision, it rarely starts with answers, but more often with questions. This post focuses on questions in five crucial areas: Fostering Effective Relationships, Instructional Leadership, Embodying Visionary Leadership, Developing Leadership Capacity, and Creating Sustainable Change.  How do you lead in these areas?

3 Questions To Guide Your Vision – One of the things that I feel is important in a leadership position is that you build capacity and create an environment that eventually will not need you. To create a vision, you have to think about your long term impact, and how you will develop people to create a culture that is not dependent upon a person, but on the community.

Want someone to see your viewpoint? Ask them their thoughts first. – When I believe in something,  I used to spend all of my time trying to “sell” that idea to others and trying to get them to embrace what I saw.  If people didn’t agree with me, or my viewpoint, I would often got extremely frustrated and get nowhere closer than where I was before.  I hear this same approach from so many other people who tell me about the countless hours they try to get people to “embrace change”, and what I have learned is to spend less time defending your position, and spend more time asking questions.

Embodying Innovative Leadership

4 Attributes of a Great Assistant Principal – Being an Assistant (or Vice) Principal, was one of my favourite jobs.  As a principal, my AP’s were amazing and they helped to make me a better leader. They were always open to learn and develop; not only from what I would share to them, but from the experiences that they had with staff, students, and parents.  I expect great Assistant Principals to focus on building relationships with the entire school community, are approachable, are change agents, and ALWAYS have the idea of “what is best for kids” driving their decision-making.

The Need for Courageous Leadership – This is a great example of a leader that models risks for their faculty, and leads through actions, not simply words.  Does your school have the courage to let a student tweet on the behalf of your school account? If not, why?

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be – Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.  These are some qualities that you or I could be doing, without even thinking about.  It is so important to take a strong look in the mirror and think about the things that we would hate as an educator in our building.

21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning? – The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too much without the crucial conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom.  This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing that has been dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better.  There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out some of the amazing things it can do, but should we really be doing that by buying devices en masse? Shouldn’t we try to figure out what the learning look like and then discuss the device? 

3 Things We Should Stop Doing in Professional Development – There are a lot of things that we have just accepted as “norm” in our professional development, but we should always deeply look at how we spend our time with staff.  Time is the most valuable currency we have in schools so it is important that we get the most out of every interaction we have together.  In this post, I look at three things that we should not accept as simply the norm.

5 Characteristics of a Change Agent – As a leader, it is not just teaching “stuff”, but it is helping people to see the importance of embracing change in our work in schools today.  We often lament at how people are terrible at accepting change, but in reality, many leaders are just poor at delivering why change is important or crucial. All people want to do something better, but what are the characteristics of leaders that successfully move people along?

Hopefully there are some things that you can take away from these posts, or share with others.

4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind

A lot of work that I do is not only showing people how to do “stuff”, but more importantly, trying to help them embrace change. One of the most powerful ways to not only change the teaching profession as a whole, but also as individuals, is through the act of blogging.  One of my favourite articles on the topic of blogging is from Dean Shareski, which he shares how he believes blogging makes better teachers.

Thousands of other blogging educators could echo similar words. In fact, I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise ofProfessional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more. While the data may not be school specific, great bloggers know how to share data and experience that is both relevant and universal so any reader can contribute and create discussion.

Yet fear of the unknown is a powerful thing.  I have learned how hard it is to move people from a “known average” to an “unknown amazing” because of fear.  So for some of the arguments I have heard against the idea of blogging, I wanted to provide some of my counter-arguments on the topic.

 

1. Blogging is useless. – The thing with this argument is that I have rarely (if ever) heard this from someone who has consistently blogged on their teaching and learning for any amount of time.  As I was talking with a student the other day in a school who was about to start his own blog in class, he argued with me on the merits of the activity.  I asked him, “have you ever blogged?”, to which he replied “no”.  I challenged him to give it one month, and a legitimate try and then offer me his thoughts, to which he said, “I will.”  Even in Dean’s article, he uses the same argument:

So here’s my plan. Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least five other teachers in the district as well as five other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and five other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.

Try that. If it doesn’t work after a year, you get my golf clubs.

PS. The only people allowed to criticize or challenge this idea are people who have blogged for at least one year and written at least 50 posts. The rest of you can ask questions but you can’t dismiss it.

It is easy to criticize something you have never done (all of us our guilty of this, including myself), but to me, a viewpoint is not truly valid unless you have experience.

2. I have no time. – We all have the same amount of time and it is not like those who blog have 26 hour days, compared to the rest of the population.  It is not about time, but more about priority.  If people see it as important, they will make time.

So one of the things that I try to focus on is the importance of blogging for not only reflection, but open reflection.  The art and practice of reflection can help make ourselves better educators and learners.  For us to truly help students, we need to be masters of learning before we can become master teachers.  Reflection helps in that process. But “open reflection” helps others and not only pushes our profession forward in a communications aspect, but also in making each other better.  Clive Thompson wrote a quote on how blogging makes us all smarter:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

This “audience” helps us to really think about what we write and go deeper in our learning.

But that being said, it is hard to find time in your day to start the practice.  What I focus on is helping educators not focus on doing everything that they are already doing plus blogging, but looking at doing something different.  For examples, many teachers use what is called DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read), where students take a certain amount of time to read. Many teachers model the importance of reading during this time and take part in the practice.  Could you not change the “R” to represent the word “Reflect”?  If we had “Drop Everything And Reflect” time embedded in our week, could you not find the time to model the importance of reflection for your students by sharing what you have learned?

There are things that you are already doing (writing emails to others, putting things in word documents) that can be easily thrown onto a blog instead. Again, it is not about more as much as it is about different. Find what you are already doing in your practice, and think about how you can add that into a blog.

3. I’m a private person. – Blogging does not mean giving up privacy.  There are things in my life that I keep totally private in my life and don’t share on my blog and I choose what I am comfortable with.  You do not have to share your most personal secrets just because you have started a blog. Your level of comfort with sharing will change over time, whether you share less or more.  Every person is unique in what they are comfortable with sharing.

But it always freaks me out when teachers close their doors and don’t want anyone to see what is happening in their classrooms.  This does not mean that bad things are happening in the classroom, but sometimes the perception because of this practice paints a different picture then what is actually happening.  When we are taking care of other people’s kid throughout the day, I think that we have to try and find some comfort level in what we share.  I understand that this is a tough one for so many people (and understandably so) because it is easy to be criticized and have our words morphed online, but that being said, working with a generation of students where public is the “default” mode of practice, should we not put some of ourselves online to understand the importance of developing our own digital footprint?  Many teachers think that not sharing anything online will ensure they never have a footprint, but the only thing that is a certain as that they will never have a footprint that they create.  These are some of the realities of our world that we do have to help kids navigate as educators, and we should try to find a way to put some of ourselves online.

4. No one cares what I have to say. - Out of all of the arguments listed, this one bothers me the most.  First of all, if I was to ask the same teacher who uses this argument to not blog an interview question along the lines of, “what learning can you share with the rest of our staff that will help us become better as a school?”, I highly doubt their response would be “nothing”, and if it was that, I would struggle to hire them.  Yet too many educators, sharing feels like bragging, and modesty often trumps their comfort level in posting their teaching and learning online.

I get it.

But if we are really here to help kids, does it matter if they are in our grade, our school, our class, our world, or anywhere?  Whatever we share can help someone else, maybe not everyone else, but someone.  They may not take what we share exactly the way it is written, but if they turn it into something to help their kids, is that not worth it.  Just remember, if you impact only one teacher, you often impact at least 20 kids, if not a whole lot more.

One of my favourite videos on this topic is, “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others”, which has a great message on the impact we can have on one another:

Our impact on one another as teachers should never be underestimated.

 

I am not in the camp that says, “Everyone should __________”, with any tool or platform. People have different lives and situations, and I have learned to honour that.  Blogging may not be for you.  But for some, they are right on the cusp, and giving them an alternate viewpoint to the one thing holding them back might just change their mind.  I have learned a ton not only from my own blog, but from benefitting from others that have been willing to share their teaching and learning with me, and because of that, as Dean Shareski stated, I am better off for the willingness of others to share.

Character, Credibility, and Social Media

Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “character and credibility” being essential to successful leadership.  Character is how people perceive you as a person, and credibility is how they perceive your ability as a leader.  Years ago, while many principals were against the use of social media due to hearing things about online safety, cyberbullying, and a myriad of other issues, you saw many administrators against the idea of using social media.  Yet, there were a many administrators that saw these new “tools” had the potential to not only build their own credibility as leaders, but also create a deeper connection into their own character.

The expectation for school leaders is that they are instructional leaders. Although long before social media existed, many administrators were actively learning and enhancing their craft, it was hard to exhibit the characteristics of “lifelong learners” that we promote so actively to our students.  Instead of simply going with sharing their learning at the sporadic staff meeting, administrators are now actively sharing their learning through Twitter, blogging, Google Plus, and a plethora of other tools.  They are showing not only their expertise, but their growth as learners in a much more open example of transparent leadership.

To be a leader in schools, you need to be a learner first.  Where are your examples?

But how do we show character?

Social media is not only about sharing our learning, but it gives a view into our outside interests as well.  Principals are not just principals.  They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, music lovers, pet advocates, and a whole host of other things, that they can now show their community.  In Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk, she states, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  This goes for adults as well.  The best teachers in the world connect with their students on some personal level; this is point that should not be lost on the connection leaders have with their schools.

Digital Parent Volunteers

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit schools in Sydney, Australia and on one of these days, I was asked a few questions about where schools are going, and specifically, about getting parents more involved in school. I shared a wonderful idea that I first heard from the brilliant Tracey Kracht, on the idea of “Digital Parent Volunteers”. It is simple, but could be extremely powerful and hopefully I caught the essence of it in this short video.

PowerPoint Doesn’t Suck; 10 Ideas To Make it Great

I have often heard of people saying, “we shouldn’t just keep teaching our kids PowerPoint anymore”‘ as if it is some terrible technology.  Presentation software (PowerPoint, HaikuDeck, Keynote, Prezi, etc.) is actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it, but as with many things surrounding the technology, we need to go way past how to create something, and focus on how we use it.

For example, if you create a PowerPoint with tons of text that is hard to read, and you simply copy and paste mass amounts of information into slide after slide, with no compelling visuals, the use of the technology is weal, not the technology itself.  It has done its job.  Now if we teach our students to use limited amount of characters, with great accompanying images, videos, and then work with them to have the ability to tell a story from those visuals, you would probably have much deeper learning from not only the student that created it, but also the students that have been able to hear the presentation as well.

If I wanted to read an essay, I wouldn’t necessarily want to read it from a PowerPoint.

Here are some of the quick tips that I would suggest in teaching these presentation skills:

  1. I like to use a simple font throughout that is easy to read and consistent throughout.  That is a personal preference.
  2. Try to stay away from text on a page longer than a tweet. There will be times where you will have to go beyond, but quick quotes can add a lot to a presentation.
  3. I try to make “one point” per slide.  This is following the “less is more” idea where it is better to go deeper than to share a ton of ideas that no one will remember.  We want ideas to resonate.
  4. Visuals with text are helpful if they help tell the story. I use Creative Commons to find images, rather than going to Google Images since it is important that we teach our students to use “copyleft” materials and provide attribution.
  5. A visual on it’s own should be a mental cue for a point being made.  It should be something that resonates with yourself making it more likely it will resonate with the audience.
  6. When using visuals, try to use an image that will take up the entire page.  A picture in the middle of a black or white background is not as powerful as a whole image.
  7. If you are using videos, they should illustrate your point.  Try to keep them under one minute if possible, but two minutes as a max.  If I want to watch a five minute video, I can do that on my own time.
  8. The only time I like to go over 140 characters is a “quick summary” slide that reminds people of the discussion points.  I like a way of bringing everything together.
  9. Most importantly, find your own style.  Your personality should shine through in your presentation, not someone else’s.
  10. Finish strong.  I like to use a video or image that is powerful to end a presentation, but I never let a video have the “last word”. Try to think of something that will resonate with your audience. “Last impressions” are sometimes as important as your first impression.
  11. BONUS: Think of your audience…if they can see themselves in the presentation and it is relatable to them, it is much more powerful.

If we can teach our students and ourselves how to make high impact presentations, you will find that PowerPoint isn’t so bad (although Keynote is way better!).  It is our teaching and learning that makes the impact here, not the tool.

(Please feel free to add any suggestions you have for making presentations in the comments.  I would love your feedback!)

5 Ideas to Help You Blog

I sent out the following tweet regarding some “simplified” steps for blog that are crucial to the process:

Although blogging comes easy, putting your thoughts out there and writing isn’t so easy for others. I often get writer’s block and have trouble sharing my thoughts but I push through as a personal challenge to myself.  I try to average one post every three to four days.  For others, it is tough to start:

The nice thing about someone asking about tips on how to get started blogging is that it gave me a topic to blog about.  In reality, Twitter has been great for pushing me to blog more because sometimes (most times) 140 characters is not enough to go deep into anything, but it can definitely be a spark for going deeper into our learning.

So based on Andrew’s tweet (thanks!), here are some suggestions that have worked for me to help me to blog.

1. Read other blogs.  Seems like a common sense idea but it took me to really start reading other blogs before I felt comfortable to share my own voice.   It helped me to some examples of what was being shared and either build upon or challenge ideas.  A lot of people use things like Feedly to help aggregate blogs, but my two favourite “apps” for reading the work of others is Zite on my iPhone or iPad, any InoReader on my computer.  I have also really enjoyed reading books on my Kindle app, not only because of the ability to carry a ton of books on one device, but more importantly, the opportunity to highlight and write notes and have them shared in one place.  Those passages that I have highlighted often give me ideas to write about and build upon.  When organizing reading became easier for me, so did the writing.

2.  Always have some place to write down your thoughts.  A lot of great writers suggest that you always have a notepad and so I tried to learn from them to do the same.  The problem is that I never have a pen or notebook, but my phone has notes on it from years ago.  Observation is also important and although I will write ideas down from professional development to write about, I often get my inspiration from situations that are outside of the realm of education. I also love running with my iPhone because my best ideas often come from a clear head, yet by the time I got home, I would lose those ideas.  Those little ideas that you write down, can often turn into something bigger, but you have to write those initial thoughts down somewhere.

3.  Write for you and for what you need.  When I first started blogging, I tried to write the university essay style.  Then I was reminded that I hated writing that in university, so why would I do it on my free time?  Sometimes I write numbered lists, sometimes I write down reflections, and sometimes I share videos and have two sentence reflections.  My biggest thing is that if you met me and I talked to you, I would sound a lot like my blog.  I write how I talk (I end a lot of sentences in prepositional phrases in real life as well).  People often suggest that you should “think about your audience”, but I really think that if we are trying to do this to learn, we have to think about what we need to write at that time.  The idea that anyone can read this post makes me think a lot more about what I share, but it also doesn’t determine my writing styles at any time.  This blog is mostly to clarify my own thinking which makes me want to write, as opposed to some external motivation.  When writing becomes an internal need, you are more likely to do it more often.

4. Start with questions instead of answers.  When I start to blog, many times I do not have an endpoint.  It is sometimes to work my way through ideas.  I love this quote:

I write to understand as much as to be understood.” – Elie Wiesel 

Going back to how Twitter facilitates blogging, I often will tweet a statement or question that I am thinking about, and read the responses.  That does a great deal for my thinking, but I don’t really learn until I make the connections for myself.  It is great to have ideas and answers for others, but it is also great to work your way through something you don’t know.  It shows a definite vulnerable side, but it is also a humbling experience.  Both good things.  If we are going to ask our students to “start with questions”, blogging is a great way to model and go through that same process.

5.  Decide how many times you are going to write in a period of time, and stick with it.  Forcing yourself to write is tough but it also helps facilitate the process.  I try for twice a week as a minimum, although I used to try once a day, which was pretty impossible.  I do know that the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to come back.  It could be once a week, once a month, or something else.  Whatever it is, try to stick with it (if you miss here and there though, I promise you will be fine).  I have found that having this “schedule” in my head, helps me to look around the world more, and I try to find inspiration for blogging.  Like anything you want to get better at, practice is important.  You want to become a better writer? Write more :)

As teachers, we often have DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), but do we promote the same amount of time for kids to just write about what they want?   That is what I love about blogging.  I can write about sports, family, my dogs, or anything that I find relevant.  I love trying to make the connection between the “real world” and education when I write, and I think that is a great practice to promote with our students as well.  Perfection is not the goal; learning is.  Paraphrasing Dean Shareski, “if we want to become better teachers, we need to blog”.  I took that advice to heart, and ultimately, if it makes us better learners, we will definitely become better teachers.