Monday, January 28, 2013

Want to be a better teacher? Blog.

This was written by Dean Shareski who is a Digital Learning Consultant for Prairie South School Division in Saskatchewan, Canada. He also teaches pre-service teachers at the University of Regina. Dean works with teachers and students in understanding the power of the Read/Write Web. Dean tweets here and blogs here. This post first appeared here.

by Dean Shareski

Want to create better teachers? I know how. One word. Blogging.

Now before you roll your eyes or accuse me of oversimplifying the very complex issue of teacher evaluation and monitoring, hear me out.

I began teaching in 1988. It was a tough job and thinking about getting better was superseded by survival instincts. Early on in my career, there were several documents that the province produced in support of improved professional development. I didn't pay much attention to these but one phrase I saw in those documents some 20 years ago stuck with me. Reflective Practitioner. I sort of understood the concept but other than simply thinking about what you did in the classroom, I wasn't at all sure what to do with this term.

When I discovered blogs almost five years ago, I soon figured out what that term meant. Since that occasion I have sat down to write close to 1,000 pieces of reflection. While not all would be considered deep, most take me anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to craft. It may not always look like it, these are generally borne out of the times I spent observing, thinking and working in classrooms. The reflective writing has been valuable but definitely the nearly 4,000 comments have been even more of a learning experience. This is the single best professional development experience I've had.

Dan Meyer, a Mathematics teacher in California writes:
... blogging was the cheapest, most risk-free investment I could have made of my personal time into my job. You start by writing down things that are interesting to you, practices you don't want to forget. And then you start trying new things just so you can blog about them later, picking them apart, and dialoging over them with strangers. Periods of stagnancy in your blogging start to correspond to periods of stagnancy in your teaching. You start to muse on your job when you're stuck in traffic, in line for groceries, that sort of thing. That transformation has been nothing but good for me and it all began on a free Blogspot blog.
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 of Professional 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.

There's a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.

Teachers have for years had to fill in a plethora of reports and forms which in essence are accountability papers. For the most part they are of no use to teachers and in most cases aren't very valuable for administration either. Busy work.

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.


  1. Excellent post. Now, school district administrators just need to follow your lead. I teach graduate education courses to teachers in Connecticut, a state that is considered progressive. Most of the teachers in my courses have never created a blog, though some have a website for communication with parents or students. In the course, they must create a blog, use Google Reader to follow others' blogs, and respond on others' blogs. For many, this course project is an eye-opener. But until school administrators encourage blogging as part of the teacher's job responsibility, consider it as part of the teacher's professional development, and include in the teacher's workday or professional development days opportunities to learn about blogging and its power, I wonder how many teachers will start blogging and networking on their own. In addition, teachers need to be connected to model teachers who have blogs and start to follow their blogs. They can start with teachers within their school system, but the greater power will also come when they begin to read and respond to teachers beyond the district and make some global connections. These connections can be expanded further by engaging their students in global connections formed in a variety of ways. Even better, once teachers understand the rewards of blogging, they can better implement blogging with their own students.

  2. I completely agree-blogging I a great way to record reflections and share ideas...I'm new to the blogging world and find much inspiration and motivation from experienced bloggers who share their thoughts and ideas. I believe that commenting on other people's blogs, like this, has been an impetous for me to 'be brave' and try and do something on my own. Thanks for sharing.


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