I noticed a huge spike in traffic on my blog on Monday so I figure either PGCE students around the country are reading in preparation for their fast approaching study or they are reading as part of first day induction. I thought it might be a good time to do a blogging tips post.
I’ve started this post with some general prosaic advice and what I guess is a rationale for blogging from my perspective and I go on to give a quick reference list of tips. You may want to skip to that but you might not fully understand the importance of some of those things if you’ve not read the prose so it’s up to you.
I’ve been blogging for years, about 9 or so I think. I have a couple of different blogs as I like to keep them focused on a specific topic. One I make a fair income from, one is more like a journal and then there is this one. This was started as part of a PGCE course sometime during the last academic year. It was, as I understood it, meant to be a place to reflect on the experience, share resources, discuss issues and generally begin a record of the whole teaching experience. I continued post study because I wanted to ‘keep my hand in’ and it really helps with that over that long summer break between study ending and starting work as a teacher (Monday for me eeeeks).
Blogging is HUGE in the teaching profession, there are tons of blogs from around the world which you will find interesting and which you can link to and create your own huge network. In the UK we’re a bit slow to catch on to blogging but we’re getting there and in this country there are hundreds of blogging teachers and ex teachers and teachers to be. Reading about the future of education suggests blogs are on the rise. They are increasingly being used as a teaching and learning tool so as a future teacher who will have to use blogs in teaching or who will have to encourage students to set them up and use them, now is a good time to start getting used to them.
Blogs are a fab social media for networking, sharing information and resources, story telling and reflecting. I’ve been asked if I blog at two interviews for teaching jobs and am sure that being able to show a well developed blog had an influence on the offer being made. It’s taken as a sign of commitment to what I feel are three of the key principles of professionalism in teaching – being able to share, being part of a network and continuous reflective self development. So having a blog might give you something over other applicants and a USP at interview and shows commitment to your chosen career. Employers know that student teachers are being encouraged to write a blog so be prepared to be asked to log into yours or to provide the link.
Through blogging I’ve been made aware of relevant jobs, given resources, free tickets to conferences and speaking events, linked to discounts on materials and books, invited to talks, given advice and papers relevant to my teaching role and study. I network with teachers across the world and participate in blogging events as well as other social media related events and I’ve read so much of interest and use to me. BUT it is not a one way street, you have to give back, read other people’s blogs, comment, share resources (there is a list of what you could share below). It doesn’t have to take too much time if you prepare well and even if you aim to blog once a week. I touch type 100 words a minute and thoughts tumble out of my head so I find it easier but more academic posts can still take a while to construct.
When thinking about content, at the top of my home page there is a quote (reproduced here) which suggests that if students are asked to maintain a reflective blog, they are being asked to be honest and open and that to do so they may have to take risks in what they write. This makes sense because if they/we can’t be honest and open how worthwhile a task is it in terms of being a reflective journal or blog?
I’d argue that you can not be completely honest in your PGCE reflective blog and you can’t take any risks. You are very restricted in what you can write in this blog and have to keep it very much focused on the positive. Even when you are writing about yourself or giving a general opinion there may be people who read it and rather than enter into a discussion, become upset about it, imagine you were talking about them or imagine you were talking about something that didn’t happen. This did happen to me as an experienced blogger, so be aware of that. I was having a general sound off, sleight on my own naivety which was misconstrued and imagined to be about my placement experience when it was not at all. I can only imagine as it was never discussed with me and I only heard through third parties. But anyway…you may be an experienced blogger or writer but not everyone is an experienced blogger or reader. There is potential, as you know as a student, for many interpretations of the same thing so if you feel there is a slight chance of ambiguity don’t post it, or take some time to fully explain the tone of your piece and set the background. Hopefully your readers will comment and question your post if they have any thoughts on it but that isn’t always the way things are handled.
Many many people, including hundreds of teachers use blogs to sound off, like a therapy space where they can off load frustrations and if you do a little bit of reading of other blogs you will soon find these. They can be very graphic and they can be upsetting but what they also are is completely anonymous, it’s OK for them to do that and it works for them. It provides a warts and all impression of their experience which is very valuable to student teachers, you are free to comment on their thoughts and ask them questions. Do not use your PGCE blog for this purpose. You do not have anonymity, experienced bloggers will realise that from the start and be mindful that everything they write is accessible to their fellow students, lecturers and mentors, less experienced bloggers may not realise this so exercise some caution.
Make sure that you do not reveal any identifying information about your students. You will have to refer to teaching situations in order to use this blog as a reflective and developmental tool but remove identifying features such as names (give a pseudonym if you have to or use a letter or number), this also includes names of establishment and names of teachers. You may wish to refrain from including any information which identifies your geographical location and to not use your name all of which could be used to narrow down where you live, study and teach. You will talk about your specialist subject so that will narrow down what you teach and it may be possible for students and teachers to identify themselves so be mindful of what you discuss on your blog. Again this can be very restrictive in terms of that quote, it can make a blog very one sided and wishy washy. Save details for your observation feedback and the hoped for (but not always achieved) confidentiality of the lecture or seminar room.
So to the quick tips:
1. Blog as little or as much as you want to. If anyone moans they can stop following you and nobody has to have email alerts set up on your blog. The more you blog the more you become experienced at it and the more you have to show an employer. It’s your space use it as much as you want to. Ironically (and you’ll find this written in many blogs) you find the ones who moan the most are the ones who rock up with the resources you’ve shared in their essays. lessons and presentations
2. Make posts relevant to teaching
3. Make sure that your grammar and spelling are good. Everyone is capable of a typo (there might be some here) and proof reading your own work is tough but you are a teacher, you are representing the profession, it isn’t a very good show if people reading your blog lose faith in a teacher’s ability to read and write well, all teachers are expected to embed literacy and numeracy in their teaching so show you are capable yourself. You wouldn’t want your own children taught by someone who hadn’t mastered grammatical basics yet so don’t expect other people to be happy with that for their children. So give it some attention, nobody is expecting perfection but a demonstration that you can get it right is useful.
4. You can not delete a follower, the only way you can rid yourself of a follower is by asking them to stop following you, or in extreme cases contact WordPress. You do have potential to pick up a troll. Always have comment settings to ‘must be approved before posting’ and any untoward comments mark as spam and they will automatically go to your spam box from then on. If you do attract a troll the best advice is to not feed it, don’t respond, ignore, move to spam, do not publish their comments.
5. Play about with the design of your blog until it looks right, keep it professional.
6. Link your blog to dedicated accounts such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Linkedin. This is your teaching website, share it to build your network. You can set your blog to link with Facebook and Twitter to automatically tweet or post a status update when you publish a new post. This might drive your non-teaching friends insane so set up a dedicated teaching account
7. Read and comment on other people’s blogs, this will help build your network. Some people might be suspicious of this, I’d say just let it wash over you, some people just do not get cooperative working or networking, they are suspicious of kindness and team spiritedness and all I can do is feel sorry for the life they must have led. You will have enough on your plate setting an example to the young people you teach it is not your job to re-educate people you do not know.
8. Vary your posts, you can blog about your placement, your study, share resources, links, notes, books, your own work, thoughts and ideas, television programmes, conferences, topical news items, teaching AND specialist subject specific, activities, tasks, resources – presentations, Prezi’s, quizzes.. all manner of things including technology and any practical tools you find for organising yourself, writing lesson plans fast… anything.
10. Do not plagiarise on your blog, never copy and paste from another blog. It is good blogging etiquette, almost law, to ping back or re-blog content you want to share further on your network and this is done simply by choosing the re-blog option and adding your own words or by correctly embedding a link to the post into your own post. I usually comment in the comments section of a blog I wish to share or share something from to tell the author that I’m going to do it. Reference any academic work you include with the basic in-text reference as a minimum.
11. Make your posts interesting add pictures and video which are relevant.
12. Remember anonymity or lack of it (see above) and be mindful of it.
13. Blogging is not a competition just like your qualification isn’t, some people will do it well and frequently some may do it well and infrequently, some may do it rarely, some might need to improve their technique. Again it is your space do what you feel you can or want to.
14. One of the reasons the blogging community feels that UK bloggers are slow on the uptake when it comes to blogging is that we are a naturally critical and negative bunch and people worry about what others will think of what they write. Don’t let that stop you, write what you want to and stick to basic rules to protect yourself and those you teach and work with. Your readers have an option to follow or not and they have an option to comment on your content on your blog and if they are not empowered enough to do that don’t worry about what they say or think. This is your professional self that you are developing, you are learning how to improve through reflective self development, you are developing those essential networking skills, you are evidencing that you are serious about your chosen profession. It’s all about you. In addition to that you are learning to use a tool which you will have to encourage the use of at some point in your career, what better time than now to get to grips with it?
15. Make use of tags and categories so that people can find your blog through Google searches and such. Do not include more than 15 tags and categories as this will prevent your post from showing in the WordPress Reader this is where newly posted blogs appear like a news feed and where you pick up interested followers
Finally: HAVE FUN! Blogging is fun, it helps with your development and it opens doors for you. If you are stuck just have a play around before you go live, check out the features, watch You Tube instructional videos, use WordPress help or ask other bloggers who will be only too pleased to help or point you in the right direction.