BloggingAs Vicki Davis of Cool Cat Teacher Blog fame says, “Blogs aren't what you think.”

To Blog or Not to Blog points out the ways that blogging is different from creating web pages. You don't need to know HTML. Blogs can be conversations, unlike static web pages that are archival, and wikis that are archival but often collaborative. It's easier to tag, date stamp, and otherwise identify your blog posts. The newest posts always rise to the top of the page. Your readers can subscribe to your posts.

How can a blog be useful? You can use it to post writing prompts, review your lesson plans, critique websites, communicate with parents, display student work, or comment on current events. Three Purposes for Classroom Blogs describes the fundamental purposes as: distributing information, discussing (inviting student reflection) and demonstrating.

Forty-five-Plus Ideas for Class Blog Posts include sharing your classroom rules, photographs of classroom displays, videos of SMARTBoard demos, and images from your digital microscope. You can also share a word cloud, embed digital stories, or create a book list.  

Getting started

As educators, we ask our students to write. But how much do we write? In Just Write Poorly, author Karl Fisch cites Seth Godin's advice: “Writer's block isn't hard to cure. Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better. Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach.”

While doing all that public writing, it's also good to keep in mind suggestions from  Writing in Public (Bud the Teacher quoting from The Four Agreements):

  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t take anything personally.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Always do your best.

Some tips from How to Start a Blog or Website: 10 Tips for New Bloggers include:

ü  Choose to focus on your blog and one or two social media platforms and do them well. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter...oh my! You can easily become overwhelmed trying to use every available social media platform. Find what works for you and focus on creating your best social voice.

ü  Know your target audience. Are you writing for yourself? Your students? Parents, colleagues or the community? Knowing your audience will give you the most consistent voice.

ü  Make sure you are really clear about your goal(s). Are you blogging for instructional value? To grow your writing skills? To share your knowledge with colleagues? Identifying your goal(s) will help you find your best professional voice. And be flexible--your focus may change over time. Feel free to close one blog and start a new one as your needs change.

If you choose to comment on others' posts, Grammar Girl has some good suggestions on How to Write a Great Blog Comment. You don't want to be that person in Yo [sic] Comments are Wack! Grammar Girl’s rules are simple:

  1. Determine your motivation.
  2. Provide context.
  3. Be respectful.
  4. Make a point.
  5. Know what you're talking about.
  6. Make one point per comment.
  7. Keep it short.
  8. Link carefully.
  9. Proofread.

Characteristics of good blogs

If your title is the first thing a visitor to your blog will see, posts are what will keep them coming back. Ten Blog Title Ideas for Your Website suggests you put some thought into making your titles eye catching, inspirational or motivational. "Your title is essentially the promise you are making to the reader if he/she chooses to read your post." The suggestions aren't specific to education, but are generic enough for any profession.

What should a good blog include?

  • Hyperlinks
  • Graphics, videos, photos
  • Reflections
  • Opinions
  • Questions
  • Answers.

Writing Great Content: Three Tips from the How to Start a Blog or Website series by Amy Lynn Andrews, recommends that you write at least 10 posts before you set up your blog. It will give you an idea of the direction you're going, give you some content to start with, give you a feel for whether you think you want to continue to blog, lets you know if you have enough to say, and lets you work out any glitches.. The author suggests that you:

  1. Make your posts scanable and easy to read (use lists, headings, different formats, short paragraphs).
  2. Be helpful and/or entertaining (give advice, write a tutorial, create a video, or interview an expert).
  3. Be engaging and "sticky" (include links to past posts, post regularly, use cliffhangers, reply to comments/comment on other blogs).

Kipp Bodnar in How to Write the Best Blog Post EVER suggests you ignore some of the more popular suggestions for best practices and instead, concentrate on making your posts actionable, relevant, urgent, visual, solution-based, entertaining and definitive.

Andrews’ 15 Basic Blogging Dos and Don'ts offers additional formatting hints including: don't clutter your sidebars with gadgets and widgets, don't have auto-play music or videos on your blog, do include your contact information and more.

Blogging Tips for Teachers by Angela Watson advises choosing your platform carefully. The most popular sites for educators are Wordpress, Blogger and Edublog. You can find video tutorials for each: Wordpress for Beginners-Part 1, Setting up a Google Blogger Blog Part 1 of 2, and Starting your Edublog. There is a great tutorial for using Edublog at Activity 3: Writing your first posts - What you need to know, and a tutorial for Blogger.

What should I write about?

My Blog Challenge for You from Math Teachers Can Write Too suggests that writing about things that don't always turn out well can be a learning experience (and help others in similar situations):

  • If you are a teacher, write about a lesson that was terrible. Write about how you tried flipping your class and students didn’t watch your video.
  • If you are a leader of a school, write about professional development that was terrible--and it was your idea.

Other tips from Watson’s Blogging Tips for Teachers are:

  • Choose a focus for your blog. Describe something you're passionate about. It should be broad, but if you are really into classroom aquariums, for instance, go ahead and write about it!
  • Content is king. If you provide useful content you have a much better chance of being found and read. No one cares what you had for breakfast.
  • Stay true to your voice. Your tone of voice in your blog will most likely be different from any of your other writing voices. And it can be whatever you want it to be. Many bloggers feel that conversational tone works best, but if your topic is a serious one, there's no harm in using a more academic voice.
  • When you write about your job, adhere to the motto “Complain globally, praise locally." Be especially careful in using illustrations from the classroom. Your experiences might be interesting to others, but be careful not to identify specifics. Always write as though your boss (or your mother, child, colleague, or best friend) reads your posts.

Teaching English from the BBC points out other tips in How to write a good blog:

  • Always try to avoid being negative. If there is something you don’t like, then it’s better just to not write about it.
  • It’s important to raise issues, but don’t try to impose your beliefs on others.
  • Don’t include links to commercial sites or resources.
  • Don’t include links to inappropriate materials.
  • Never give specific names, places, addresses or contact details.

Sue Waters provides some excellent advice in her post Here's My Top Five Mistakes Made By New Bloggers - What Are Yours? She warns about:

  1. Copying and pasting from Word.
  2. Using copyrighted images.
  3. Forgetting to resize your images.
  4. Forgetting to link.
  5. Copying/pasting other's entire posts.

Seven Mistakes Even Nice-Looking Blogs Make from momcomm.com cautions against having the following in your blog: an overall wide design, light colored links, no easy way to explore older posts, no “share” buttons, graphic elements that look clickable but aren’t, hidden contact information, or a sidebar that’s too busy. Author Melissa Culbertson has many more helpful suggestions on her blogging know-how site.

Starting a Blog? 12 Ideas for Blog Posts suggests you interview someone, blog an event, add something visual, review something, make a list, write a how-to, or invite a guest poster.

Examples of teacher-created blogs

Scholastic has identified its Top 20 Teacher Blogs, selected because they "have taught us a few things, made us laugh, made us cry, and reminded us that we are not alone in this sometimes stress-inducing, always awe-inspiring profession."

Diary of a Public School Teacher! is written by a Discovery Education Network STAR educator and contributor to the USA Today Teacher's Lounge who writes about her "thoughts about any aspect of the teaching profession."

100 Seriously Cool Classroom Blogs for Teaching Ideas and Inspiration  presents blogs that provide "insights into what classes of kids are doing around the world as well as providing some great advice on everything from dealing with parents to figuring out grades."

50 Must-See Teacher Blogs Chosen By You were each nominated for an Edublogs award for being the best individual teacher blog of the year

Top 50 Elementary Teacher Blogs lists "elementary teacher blogs[that] contain rants and reflections on the state of education, classroom blogs that extend lessons beyond the school walls, creative classroom content, practical resources and personal stories. Fusing new tech tools with traditional teaching methods puts these teacher bloggers on the cutting edge of 21st century education."

If you have a teacher or classroom blog, drop me a line. We may just feature your blog or post in an upcoming column!

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.