Exactly one year ago today, my first ever blog article was published by the wonderful researchers/educators, The Learning Scientists. Since that day, I’ve had the bug…the reading research-writing-learning-growing bug. It’s been an amazing journey so far. A world of education, that I never knew existed, has been exposed to me and it’s changed everything about how I approach my profession. I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, starting with my very first blog…and I’m certainly still learning. The overwhelming support of the edutwitter and blogging community is amazing. The feedback I’ve received and the meaningful conversations I’ve had with other bloggers, educators, students, parents, thinkers, and researchers have truly expanded my breadth of knowledge immensely. Outside of time spent obtaining my Master’s of Education degree, becoming a blogger has been the most impactful professional development I’ve ever experienced.
I would like to take a little time to explain why I blog, some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and dole out a few ‘thank yous’ to those who have most supported my blogging. If you are a seasoned blogger, perhaps you can relate to some of this. If you are new to blogging or hoping to begin blogging, maybe there will be a twinge of inspiration…or at least you can learn from some of my mistakes.
When I began, I had no real vision for my blog. I just wanted to write my thoughts/beliefs/ideas about education and hope that someone would read. One year later, I could’ve never imagined where my blogs have been featured and for whom I’ve written articles. I believe at some point I thought if I could somehow get 10,000 hits to my blog in one year, that would be amazing. Knowing that I recently went over 30,000 hits is unbelievable. It is truly humbling. Through the process of reading journal articles and books, conversing with edutwitter, and applying the strategies learned to my classroom, I have become a better teacher. I question why a particular thought/idea/concept may or may not be suitable for my classroom and my students. I am skeptical of education’s many fads and look for evidence in my learning. Having a medium, a blog, to write down my experiences allows me to really sort through my beliefs and gives others the opportunity to comment, converse, and (hopefully) grow along with me.
Blogging and twitter have allowed me to not only gain access to countless journal articles and books, but to also actually converse with some of the authors. It has been a bridge between research and the classroom…something I am quite passionate about. I’ve written to many researchers, asking them for papers or clarifications on a certain study, and every time they’ve been more than gracious with access and/or advice. Frequent connections with these experts allows me to not only feel confident in my writings, but also keeps me honest. I certainly don’t want to misrepresent an author’s study or disrespect their research in any way. As a bonus, through reading scientific journal articles, I’ve become better at reading technical writings. The benefits of reading and writing are numerous, as you can see.
When I began incorporating the information from these readings into my writing and then into my classroom, a more efficient and effective environment for my students was arose. These researched learning strategies better prepare my students for studying/practicing and arm them with legitimate study skills for college. To put it into numbers, I have seen, on average, a 6 point (out of 100) increase in my unit assessments. While there are certainly a lot of variables in a classroom with new students, new year, etc., I attribute most of this grade increase to the implementation of what I’ve read and blogged about since October of 2016. Also, when compared to my past AP scores, my score last year was up 7%. Real, tangible increase in student retention of material. Isn’t that one of the main goals of school and education? In my opinion, yes…yes it is.
A last reason to read and blog is the effect it has on your students. They see me printing off articles, reading them, highlighting important passages, writing, editing, rewriting, and posting. Strange to say, but I believe my students respect the fact that I’m still learning and pushing myself as a teacher. I’ve heard statements like “Coach Harvard really cares about what he teaches” and “he really wants us to do better”. The verbal accolades from my students mean a lot to me; perhaps more than any other. Knowing that, my students really buy into the material (plus psychology is thoroughly enthralling). Perhaps my blogging is a small reason why my AP Psych numbers have increased by 60 from last year.
To say I’ve learned some lessons along the way is an understatement. They came pouring in with my very first blog post that appeared on The Learning Scientist’s website. I spent a lot of time reading and researching about font disfluency and its effects on retention of material. I wrote what I believed would be a very eye opening post, but as it turns out the research was bad. Very small sample size for the study and the results could not be replicated. Someone immediately pointed this out and an addendum to the article was needed. From the start, I was humbled by the truth. I learned very quickly that I had to be more careful with my writing. But, looking back on it, I’m not embarrassed by the article. It is a constant reminder of where I was a year ago today and shows the growth I’ve experienced.
With respect to a blog and twitter, set realistic expectations and define your reason for writing. I didn’t do this early enough and this caused a lot of stress. With no real vision or audience, it became difficult to direct my reading and writing. Once I figured out that I enjoyed writing for other teachers, it refined the process of blogging for me and relieved much of the stress surrounding it. Also, beyond knowing your audience, define your goals and expectations. Are you writing to inform? Gain followers? Start a conversation? Admittedly, when I started, I wanted as many people to read my articles as possible. It was all about the website hits to me. I soon learned that I would never be happy…there would never be enough hits to satisfy. I had to change my focus. Now, I write to relay how I apply what I’ve read/researched in my classroom and to start meaningful conversations. This change has allowed for more freedom in my writing and has made the whole process more enjoyable. Also, I believed from the start that I had to have a certain number of articles written per week. This created an immense amount of stress and, quite frankly, took away some of the joy of reading and writing. I’ve since relaxed my own writing requirements and only write when I’ve got something to say.
A last lesson is to develop thick skin. People are not going to like what you write. People are going to disagree with your opinions. Unfortunately, in some cases, they are not going to be nice in their disagreement. Some will be quite civilized and comment or tweet to you to start a conversation. In my opinion, that is perfectly fine. From my perspective, that is another educator/researcher interested in education and wants to start a dialogue to learn for him or herself. I’ve learned to properly engage with those people and understand that, most of the time, we’re going to just agree to disagree. The rude people? Ignore them. There motives are not genuine. Only in rare cases have I had to stop reading or unfollow someone because of this, but it was well worth it. Your time is more valuable. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t follow or read someone’s blog because their opinions differ. I believe there are many positives in knowing the thoughts of those who may disagree with you. It can sharpen your beliefs and provide a different perspective.
I both love and loath writing this section. I definitely want people who have shaped my blogging and teaching to know how appreciative I am, but I also know that I will leave some very important people off the list. If you’re left off, please know there is no ill-intent. If I still follow you or like/comment on your blog posting, know you have been and continue to be a big part of this wonderful process. Thank you.
Learning Scientists (@acethatest) – As I’ve lovingly said before, “This is all your fault.” 🙂 They got me going with this whole blogging thing. Beyond that, I have the utmost respect for Dr. Yana Weinstein, Dr. Megan Sumeracki, Dr. Cindy Nebel, and Dr. Carolina Keeper-Tetzel. These researchers/educators work to improve the science of learning and apply the research to the classroom. I can think of no more noble mission in education. Thank you for letting me be a small part of that mission, from time to time, with guest blogs. You are a treasure. Thank you.
Eric Kalenze – Another who is in this education thing for all the right reasons. His book, Education is Upside Down, is a wonderful take on the education system. Please check it out. Beyond that, Eric is just a wonderful person. Always cordial. Always conscientious. He invited me into the researchED community and has been a gracious host…along with all the other researchED family. I guess Tom Bennett is ok, too. 🙂 Thank you for your unending support. In a world that is increasingly nasty, I truly place you in the friend column. Thank you.
Dr. Efrat Furst – I’m not sure there’s another educator/researcher whose beliefs parallel with my philosophy of education better. Her blogs, tweets, and website are just perfect. I have a lot of respect for the work she does to connect neuroscience and the classroom. The information is so prevalent to today’s classroom. She does an amazing job of taking something quite complex and making it very easy to understand. In my opinion, she is the best kept secret on edutwitter. Thank you.
I shutter to stop at three thank yous, but I feel if keep going, I’ll never make my way out of the rabbit hole. In truth, all of twitter and the blogging community make the experience of blogging so enjoyable. Thank you. If you’ve ever thought of blogging, but don’t know where to get started, feel free to ask me about it. I’m an open (digital) book.
Here’s to another year of blogging and learning. 🙂