I have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately--in a good way--by all the language teaching blogs that are launching!
Why I love teacher blogs
Blogs that are written by teachers, for teachers are a great thing. Without Ben Slavic's blog, in particular, I never would survived my first few months of comprehension based teaching (at the time, 100% TPRS).
As I continued to connect with the comprehension based teaching community, I found so many different blogs that shared ideas, inspiration, and support, that I assumed that blogging was some sort of an unwritten requirement for teachers using TPRS®. I started my blog because the value was clear to me: when you do something, you share it. When you learn something, you share it. When you try something, you share it. When you have a question about something, you share it.
I later learned that no such requirement exists; there are just some really kind, really generous, really excited teachers using this way of teaching that want to help others experience the same joy and success that they have found.
This post is not a step-by-step tutorial; it's a starting place for you to 1) decide to start blogging and 2) consider how you can contribute to the profession by starting a blog.
If you are considering why and how to start a blog to join in this sharing, read on!
"Should I start a blog?"
Every once in awhile, I get an email from a teacher that wants to start a blog but is feeling a little unsure about where to begin or whether it's even a good idea. Apparently, I'm not alone--since I just read this post from Elizabeth Dentlinger!!! It got me excited about finishing this draft.
First of all, it's a great idea, and you should definitely do it.
"What platform should I use?"
You've decided to start a blog (great choice!). Now, you have to choose a platform. This is a big decision and not one to make without consideration.
I have used Blogger and I have maintained a page on Google Sites for teachers, but I like Wordpress best of all. I have found it to be most user-friendly platform both for me and for my readers, which is important.
Wordpress makes it easy to follow and search
There are few things more frustrating than finding an awesome new blog that doesn't have a "FOLLOW" button that is easy to find. A "search" bar is also an important feature to be able to offer, and in Wordpress you need to make sure that the theme that you choose includes that capability. Other platforms do not offer it at all. I also don't really like the way that Blogger's search feature works--I never seem to get well-filtered, easy to sift through results, and results that should show up don't. (Could be user error ;-))
Wordpress makes it easy to categorize posts
You also should also make sure that you can categorize your posts AND that readers can easily view your categories. Once again, Wordpress made this easiest for me as a blogger and a reader, and so with Wordpress I remain.
If you are going to take the time to write out your thoughts and ideas for other teachers, you may as well make sure that other teachers can actually access them.
Include an image with every post
Along the same lines, I recommend including an image with every post so that it is easily "pinnable" on Pinterest.
Pinterest is one of the Top 3 ways that I find ideas and new blogs to follow. If you want to put your ideas out there to help other teachers (which you do, because...hello! why else start a blog?), then please help other teachers find and store your ideas! Without an image, either your post won't be shareable on Pinterest OR it will share with a generic image that probably doesn't represent your post well. Including an image will help readers to save and organize ideas that you've shared.
How to create images for your post
Be sure to find images that are released into the Public Domain or licensed for commercial use so that you don't get into trouble with copyright infringement! Most images that appear in Google searches are NOT released for commercial use. There are many ways to search for images that you can use on Google, Wikimedia, Flickr, and more, but they usually require a credit line. Finding your images on sites like Pixabay or Pexels is a foolproof way to be sure that the images are in the Public Domain and can be shared without credit (although credit--and buying a coffee for the creator--is never a bad idea!).
You don't have to include text on your image, but having a visible title is helpful. I create ALL of my graphics in Keynote (the Mac version of PPT or Slides). Even if you are not familiar with how to manipulate slide size, you can layer images and texts easily and then export to a JPEG and crop as desired.
What should I start blogging about?
You don't need to have a well-developed purpose for blogging. You don't need to choose an angle or a style. You don't need to spend weeks or months thinking of the perfect title for your blog. Just slap any old title on your blog and start writing! Write about what you do in class and what you learn and the questions you have along the way.
As your posts begin to pile up, a personality for the blog will begin to develop. You can change your title to fit your blog's value proposition, and you can narrow the focus of your posts to work toward your greatest purpose. And if you never do...who cares!? Readers that connect with your content will read your blog regardless of the title or the theme or the maverick post that slips in here and there and is nothing like "what you usually post". So don't worry about all of that stuff. Just get your ideas out there!
True? Kind? Necessary?
My former Pastor would often mention this series of reflective questions when considering whether or not to say something, and I think it holds true for blogging:
Is it true? If not, don't write it.
If it is true, is it kind? Then blog away!
If it is not kind, is it necessary?Like, really necessary? If so, then blog with caution. If not, then leave it be.
This is really important. As a blogger, you are contributing to the public image of whatever it is you are blogging about. So if you are writing about how much success you have found with comprehension based teaching or sharing an embedded reading that you wrote for your students, but you take a minute to slam another blogger or another teacher in your department or people that use a different teaching method...well, all your readers that are not already using your way of teaching are going to associate those techniques with jerks. And do you think that they will have any interest in learning more? Unlikely: don't be a hater.
Use great discretion when criticizing others, even if you do it anonymously (most teachers aren't idiots...we can usually figure out who you are talking about). If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to make a critical post, then do it assertively, not passive aggressively. It is important that critical posts be written...just do it with caution.
Be critical in private before you're critical in public
If you are going to say something critical about someone in particular--or a particular someone's ideas--consider contacting that person first to discuss the content in private. It could be that whatever you are going to criticize was a misunderstanding! And it might be that they had never thought about it from your perspective, and could change their mind altogether. Give that person the chance to be wrong in private before you lambaste them in public. I know that I am much more likely to recognize and admit when I've been wrong if it's in a 1:1 conversation than when I am called out in front of a group of people. I don't want to be embarrassed, and so I dig in my heels! I try to not do that...but it's hard. Darn pride! Who knows, you might end up with a friend!
Give credit where credit is due
If you are sharing something that you learned about from someone else...or something that was inspired by someone else...or something that you adapted from someone else...CREDIT THAT PERSON. Failure to do so could get you in legal trouble, although it is unlikely.
Proper credit allows us to trace the evolution of an idea
Giving credit is important as a professional courtesy but also so that ideas can be traced to their original source.
Take Movie Talk, for example. There are tons of different twists and extensions and modifications of MovieTalk that have come about as it has entered the world language teaching world. But if you write about it without crediting the person that you learned it from...or they didn't credit the person that they learned it from...then your reader might never know that it was developed for ESL students by Dr. Ashley Hastings. This matters because ideas change as they move further and further away from the source. In this example, the kind of MovieTalk that most world language teachers use in the classroom is quite different than Dr. Hastings' original. Your readers will benefit from the ability to reflect critically on the evolution of an idea as it has passed from person to person.
There is nothing new under the sun
Also, remember that the fact that another person shares an idea that you you have shared does not mean that that person stole the idea from you. Many times, I have stumbled across a blog post that shared "my idea" without crediting me...only to find out that the post was dated BEFORE mine!
In life and on the Internet, "There is nothing new under the sun". Be careful to credit your sources and inspiration, and believe the best of others.
When dealing with copyrights, ask first!
This isn't etiquette so much as it is the law. If you are going to share something that you did in class and you would like to include an activity that contains any significant portion of a copyrighted text, contact the copyright holder first to ask for permission.
This includes things like activities that you have created to use with novels, but it also extends to songs, comics, and more. A copyright holder holds the right to all "derivative works" from the original, copyrighted piece, so you want to make sure that you aren't [illegally] stepping on their toes by what you have created and shared.
What if I'm sharing content for FREE?
In my experience, few people have an issue with you sharing for free any activities that you've made to go along with their content. This doesn't mean that you can or should do it without asking for permission. If you're trying to sell it and make money off of it...well, that's a different story. If you're sharing content and not profiting from it, then you can get away with most derivative works because they're for "educational use" only...but it never hurts to check with the copyright holder, first. For novels, in particular, it's nice for authors and publishers to know when you write something about one of their texts so that they can share it with other readers!
Come from a place of contribution
My husband is a Realtor with Keller-Williams, and I think I know the BOLD laws as well as he does thanks to the many times he has taken the class! "Come [from a place of] contribution" is my favorite. There are lots of reasons to start a blog, and I don't think that there a wrong reason. But regardless of your reason for starting your blog, I would encourage you to "Come from contribution": with each post, ask yourself how this reflection/idea/activity/etc could contribute to the profession. Then, write from that angle.
"How can I contribute?"
Gaining an audience can be a dangerous thing, because our selfish desires to show how funny/smart/creative/scholarly... we are will try to rear their ugly heads. After all, we all love and crave affirmation! I think that much blogger drama (yes, that's a thing!) comes when we get selfish. Maybe you hear an idea from someone else, but you really want people to think that it was your idea because hey! who doesn't like to get credit for having good ideas? and who would ever know anyway? so you don't credit that person....or maybe you attended a workshop that was really, really bad and you feel a professional obligation to warn everyone that you can to STAY AWAY from that workshop that teaches poor practice methods. It's okay to write controversial posts; even important at times. Come from contribution.
Asking myself "how can I spin this so that it CONTRIBUTES to the profession" has helped me to keep myself in check.
As you gain an audience and people start coming to you with questions, come from contribution. Because other teachers responded to my newbie emails without charging me a consulting fee, I respond to emails (...eventually...usually...my inbox is a
little lot overwhelming...) without charging a consulting fee. Give to the same extent that you have received, and maybe even then some! Be generous. Be a contributor.
We are in a profession of contributors, and from your blogging platform, you have the chance to be a contributor, too!
Just do it!
So how to sum it all up? Put yourself out there, and be courteous! I cannot express to you what a blessing this blog has been to me, personally. I have found encouragement, friendship, and inspiration in the people with whom it has connected me. And now that I am home full-time with my kids and will be for the foreseeable future...gosh it is nice to have a portal into the outside world. But that, of course, presents challenges of its own.
Welcome to the blogosphere, I'm so glad you are joining!