It was probably from Alom Shaha that I first ‘heard’ the term virtual staffroom to encompass the ways in which Twitter and blogging can help teachers improve their professional practice. I’m not the only person who likes the concept, and there’s some excellent discussion elsewhere about the benefits it can offer. I’ve mentioned some of these ideas in passing before, and I’m not going to try to tell you that you must blog about teaching, or why Twitter will change your (professional) life. But I’ve gained enough from both that I thought it was worth highlighting a few things.
I started with a blog because I figured it was a shame that other people couldn’t learn from my mistakes – after all I’d made so many of them! Partly it was disappointment with the poor quality of the resources available through Memory4Teachers, which seemed a good idea blighted by poor execution. I’ve seen several benefits:
- For me blogging provides a sounding board – sometimes it doesn’t even matter if anyone else is reading it. Reflective practice is really important and after training it’s easy to lose the habit of writing out what worked and what didn’t, and why, and how you plan to improve. Have a look at the NQT Bloggers to see what I mean. And as you gain an audience, comments can really help you with new ideas or different viewpoints. (To any readers who habitually lurk rather than commenting, you have no idea how much it would be appreciated…)
- Having that audience really encourages me to raise my game with resources, just like students improving their presentation because their friends will see it. Because I don’t produce anything I don’t plan to use at work, I can spend extra time without resenting it so much. I’m not encouraging style over substance, but those few moments probably do help.
- Actually writing blog posts often gives me new ideas; because of explaining something, or trying to find a good example, I understand it better myself. Making the posts readable encourages me to break the ideas down so they really make sense. This is why writing a paragraph summary of any INSET session is worthwhile, by the way – it makes you focus on what matters and why.
- As people start to read your blog, it’s hugely encouraging. Just the traffic is nice; WordPress gives you stats, and I’ve carefully never tried to figure out how much is bots. Comments are fantastic feedback, whether positive or with suggestions. Even better are those who tell you that what you’ve written has made them think, given them ideas or solved a problem. If you tweet (see below) then you’ll see people mentioning your blog or thanking you online, which is a huge confidence boost. Getting a mention from some people can have a huge effect; it’s a little pathetic how much I treasure the literally hundreds of hits I got after links from Ben Goldacre and Ed Yong.
If you are going to blog, there’s loads of advice around. There are several teacher-specific aspects you may wish to consider.
- Stay professional. Everyone grumbles, but don’t say anything in a blog post you would be ashamed to hear a colleague say in public or to read in a newspaper. Never name a student or be specific about a class or colleague. Take care with the language you use to describe bad days or challenging students. If you use photos of resources and/or demonstrations, ensure pupils are not visible. You may wish to check these guidelines on blogging about work or check with a union rep, or ask a member of your SMT. Most policies cover social networking in general rather than blogging in particular. Alternatively…
- I blog and tweet under a pseudonym. I think of this as working discreetly, rather than secretly – it would not be hard for a determined reader to figure out who I am. It allows me the freedom to blog without it affecting my school, colleagues or myself. (Partly this is because with an unusual surname my students would find the blog on a casual Google search.) This may be particularly important if while blogging you end up discussing how outside issues – perhaps family events or illness – affect your professional practice. Of course I will have to ‘out’ myself if I want to use the blog itself, rather than describing benefits I’ve gained from it, at interview in the future!
- Think about resource sharing. What you produce could also be shared through the TES or Guardian resource sites, stored locally, linked through Google Docs or sites such as Dropbox, or Slideshare (which allows live presentations to be hosted on your blog). There are lots of possibilities, some of which may mean setting up a blog-specific or pseudonymous account. Plan ahead and be systematic.
As a final thought, I’d strongly recommend the Creative Education blog for lots of ideas, on blogging and other stuff. In particular, the article on Writing Blog Posts has lots of good, sensible advice. I don’t always follow it, but if not I usually regret it.
Part 2: Twitter now online.