Social Media and The School Image

The other night, I suspect like many of you, I watched the debates. I was also logged into Twitter and was watching the reactions of people around the world. Since then, I’ve watched a lot of drama unfold and take shape on social media over the next few days. I am super busy this time of year and I’ll be honest, I get most of my news and catch up on the events going on around the world through social media. I very rarely watch the news or read a paper.

Meanwhile I have been reading the book below:
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My district provided this book and the title definitely stood out to me! What a very important role we as educators play in helping shape the image of our school, district, and education itself. I have always loved the following quote:

“If you work for a man, in Heaven’s name work for him. If he pays wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him, speak well of him, think well of him, and stand by him, and stand by the institution he represents. I think if I worked for a man, I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of his time, but all of his time. I would give an undivided service or none. If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, why, resign your position, and when you are outside, damn to your heart’s content. But, I pray you, so long as you are a part of an institution, do not condemn it. Not that you will injure the institution – not that – but when you disparage the concern of which you are a part, you disparage yourself.” – Elbert Hubbard, American writer (19th Century)

If public school has an image problem, then we need to help with the makeover. We have great stories to tell!  We have fantastic things going on at school and social media is a pretty efficient way to share them with the community. Our families, our community members, are on social media. That’s where today’s stories take shape.

Like anything else, our teachers are all at different places as far as interest and skill level with utilizing Twitter as a tool for sharing and collaborating. At my campus, we created Twitter challenges which you can find here to help get that started.  We also try to model that by making sure we are tweeting out the great things we see, joining in Twitter chats with other educators, and sharing resources we come across with our teachers (always giving credit to our Twitter PLN!). Finally, we have our own school hashtag (#osestars) up and scrolling all day on our office flatscreen monitor.

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Parents, students and other visitors to our campus really enjoy seeing the tweets pop up in real time and we have found this to be a big motivation as well. We use TweetBeam for this service. We encourage all our visitors to visit our hashtag and leave us some feedback, and we make sure #osestars is printed on our campus flyer.

Yes, public school has an image problem. But what an opportunity we have to influence public perception! Imagine what type of influence we can have on the image of our district and our school if we consistently share our learning experiences with the larger community.

And it is SO much more informative than those debates…. 🙂

 

 

 

Why Me, Here, Now?

berryLast week was our district’s leadership conference and the learning centered around the word “thrive“.  For our keynote, we were honored to hear Dr. Bertice Berry  speak about servant leadership. During this address, she said something that really resonated with me and, judging from our district conference hashtag, many others as well:

Walk with purpose and you will collide with destiny.

I thought about that remark. I thought about the word “thrive” and what it means for our school community. For my relationships. For me. To help us focus in, we were asked to take a few minutes and ask ourselves:

Why me, here, now?

Think about that question for a moment. It’s not as easy one to answer, is it? In fact, it requires a great deal of self-awareness to begin thinking in terms of one’s purpose. For instance, I might start by asking what service I am able to provide– here, and now– that will help both my campus and district thrive. What can I do to help my relationships thrive?

This will be my second year as an Assistant Principal. Last year, my goal was to survive. It was really that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I still have so much to learn. But this year, I want to really focus in on the service I am providing.

And I don’t want to just “do my job”. I want the job I do, to help our campus, and our district, thrive.

I am going to start by asking myself this simple question every day: Why me, here, now?

Look at this tweet that went out one day during the conference:

Relationships. Communication. Empowerment. Trust. Indeed these are the types of things one might find in a thriving organization. In thriving relationships. In a thriving life. So why me, here, and now? How can I contribute to a thriving culture at my school? I believe that to lead, one must serve. So what service do can I provide this year, at my campus, in my district? How can that service help the students and staff thrive? How can it help me thrive?

Here are some more thoughts that I discovered in the hashtag stream that I want to share with you:

These thoughts…how do they shape the ideas I have about purpose? About thriving? About helping others thrive? I am only just now beginning to discover.

I also enjoyed this visual of what “thriving” organizations look like:

And finally, I want to remember this simple piece of advice, given by our Superintendent:

Leave the place better than you found it.

Service. Purpose. Thrive.  The words float around in my mind as I begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Delivering textbooks to classrooms. Checking in with teachers who are starting to put their rooms together. Helping my principal prepare for our upcoming staff development.

Why me, here, now?

These are some things I am thinking about as I get ready for the new year. Perhaps you are thinking about them, as well.

We Have A Plan, They Said…

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On a busy day back in December, I was in my office trying to get a student iPad to work. Another student who happened to be with me at the time noticed my frustration and offered to take a look at it.  Within about 30 seconds, he had the problem solved. Fifth graders never cease to amaze me.  I casually mentioned to him that we ought to put him to work around here! This seemed to peak his interest and he began to talk about how he often helps teachers and students with these types of situations. He is a techie. I told him how some secondary schools have a student run “geek squad” that does this very thing and I could see he was very intrigued by this.

I talked to my principal about it, and she suggested that we put the ball in his court so to speak. True ownership develops that way (I learn so much from her!) and she told him to  grab a crew, draft up a proposal, and return with a rough outline of how such a thing might run on our campus. And that was that. Soon winter break came, then January, and to be honest I completely forgot about the brief and casual conversation. And then one day…

I was at my desk working on some papers when the secretary walked in and said that a “group of fifth graders” was here to see me. Oh No. Now what?? Sentences like that, well, they tend to put a sort of damper on things. I walked out to see this same student, along with four others, and he said, “Hey Ms. Logue, remember back in December when you said I should put together a proposal for that tech thing? Well, I found a crew, and we have a plan…

For the next half an hour or so, the group met with my principal and me. They outlined their proposal and it went something like this:

  • We would have office hours during recess and also before school.
  • We thought about how students and teachers might go about requesting our help. First we thought of building a website, then a Google Doc, but finally settled on just a paper form with information to fill out and leave for us, in an envelope in the hallway. Why involve tech with those who are having tech troubles!!
  • We would troublshoot minor problems for staff and students, such as wifi, loading apps, cropping pics and such.
  • We would be willing to lead training for the staff (such as at a staff meeting after school) on various ideas for incorporating technology in their lessons and learning new apps and platforms. An “open” session which both teachers and students could attend.
  • We could go into classrooms to lead “large group” sessions, such as helping a class of students set up their digital portfolios on Google sites (a campus initiative) with their teacher, or to learn a new website, or movie making app.
  • We would make sure to maintain our grades and stay on top of our classwork, so that at the end of the day we could take five or ten minutes to go through the forms and divide up the jobs for the coming day(s).

We were so impressed! We asked them some clarifying questions, my principal showed the group the Best Buy Geek Squad image, and talked a little bit with them about branding. The group played around with some ideas for their own name and emblem, and settled on “Tech Stars” because our mascot is the Stars. They used a star for the A; here is their logo design:

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After school, we located an empty classroom we felt would be a perfect “office spot” for them, with a couple of desks, tables, and a whiteboard on which to brainstorm learning sessions they can hold with our staff.

Here is a video the students made so that we could introduce the new team to our school on the morning announcements:

Here is the flyer with their information. Staff and students will use this when they request their services:

Tech-Stars Flyer

We also set up a meeting between the Tech Stars and our campus technology liasian. He went over some basic “do’s” and “don’t” with them. Boy did they feel important! My principal had official (well, kind of) badges made up for them with their identifying information, complete with plastic badgeholders and lanyards. Here are some pictures of them in their meeting and receiving their badges. I love the looks of excitement and pride on their faces!

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And then we officially introduced the team at our staff meeting!

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I just can’t wait to see them in action, helping students, leading staff development sessions after school…and to think, I never thought I would hear from him again! I am blown away by the initiative and leadership shown by that student. We have no idea how this student-led initiative will pan out. It is new to us all. But I kinda think it’s in pretty good hands!

Two thoughts stand out to me as I reflect on this:

1. Kids do some pretty amazing things when we put the ball in their court.

2. School cultures that honor creativity and risk-taking make dreams come true every day.

 I am the luckiest AP around!

Teachers and Students Leading Professional Learning

One of the unique ways we have found to support teacher collaboration and growth on our campus this year is through a weekly Staff S’more.  This started out as a one-way communication from admin to teachers, but we quickly discovered that this is the perfect vehicle for teachers to share their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks. It’s also a lot more interesting and has led to many more “conversation starters” than if it’s just admin to teacher. More information on how that came to be can be found in this blog post I wrote a while back.

Teacher Led Professional Learning

So we started off by approaching teachers and inviting them to write the weekly S’More. We were hoping teachers would be willing to share a little bit about what types of things they are doing in the classroom, or want to try, or just what’s on their mind. Soon, teachers began to ask if they could write an upcoming S’More, on a topic that they feel pretty passionate about. For example, next week a teacher will be writing on the topic of teacher burnout.  We are thrilled with the teacher ownership we are seeing in this! Our weekly Staff S’More has enjoyed tremendous success, with lots of views each week and conversations in the hallways that sound something like, “Hey I read your Smore article, can you tell me more about how you...”  It’s one of those rare things that just takes off right from the moment you introduce it and just seems to power itself.

Student Led Professional Learning

This week, one of our fifth grade teachers was working on her S’More feature, which is about Book Clubs.  She had some artifacts, handouts, and descriptions that she wanted to share with teachers along with her article. After a few minutes of discussing the content, she suggested the idea of having her students produce a video, in which they “taught the teachers” about how she implements book clubs. What a fantastically unique idea! Soon, I received the email below, a student-made video explaining to the staff how Book Clubs look in their classroom:

Here is a link to the final S’More for this week, our Book Clubs S’More, which includes the article written by our teacher, the student made video, corresponding instructional ideas from our principal, and additional articles, videos, and other resources that I curated which support the topic.

Throughout this year we have learned alongside each other through this S’More, on topics ranging from formative assessment, differentiation, performance assessments, technology, learning spaces, growth mindset, Genius Hour, math stations, guided reading, and so much more! And now, our plans are to continue to invite students to add to our learning through our weekly Staff S’More.  We are going to ask students to begin sharing their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks…right alongside their teachers. We truly believe that as a learning organization, we can exponentialy grow in our practice by listening to the voices of one another, and that includes our students.  We are very excited for this next phase!

Up Next

In a future S’More edition, our P.E. teacher Mr. Rob will share with the staff about the 21 Days Of Healthy Snacks Challenge, which he launched in his classes this week. He will ask some students to create a corresponding video share to with our staff about how they are engaging with the program. Is the message of healthy eating important to them? Why or why not? How are they implementing this at home, if they are? What challenges have they faced? What solutions can they offer?

I will keep you updated on our teacher and student-led professional learning journey as it continues to unfold this year! What unique ways have you found to infuse teacher and student voice within your learning community? We would love to learn from you!

Response To Intervention – A Collection of Ideas and Resources

One of my roles as Assistant Principal is to coordinate our campus Response To Intervention (RTI) program. This process can be confusing and sometimes seem a little daunting! Here is some basic information to hopefully help with understanding and navigating through RTI. I put this together for my staff in a flyer, but tried to take out the school-specific information for this blog post.

I will start with one of my overarching beliefs:

The Most Effective RTI Strategy is Strong Tier 1 Instruction.

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how well thought out and structured your RTI program is-without good quality Tier 1 instruction, achievement suffers. So let’s back up. What exactly is RTI? Simply put, RTI seeks to map out a theory of action regarding how we respond to students who stuggle, and how we measure our students’ response to intervention.  You can think of it as a learning pyramid, labeled like this:

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All students are Tier 1 students. Tier 1 supports, then, are those things you would do in class, with any student, as part of meeting everyone’s needs. It’s differentiation. It’s creative ideas. It’s learning styles, reteaching, and presenting it “yet another way”. It’s how you develop, refine, and continually improve your craft so that all students are reached. This might be through weekly running records, small group lessons such as guided reading or guided math groups which target a specific skill, allowing students the use of graph paper to line up numbers, giving a student flashcards to practice with, having a student listen to a story on tape and scaffolding in comprehension questions…These are just a few differentiation ideas in place in your classrooms which support all learners. This is Tier 1. It is the most powerful and important piece of the RTI traingle and the heart of our work. It includes a heavy emphasis on feedback cycles, ongoing assesment, and rich learning experiences. It is where most student’s needs are found and addressed.

About 85% of students should be successful and on a forward learning trajectory with regular Tier 1 supports that all students receive from classroom teachers. Here is a neat video which captures a few teachers sharing common RTI Tier 1 instructional strategies, or “Core Instruction” if you are thinking of our tiangle above:

What if Tier 1 interventions are not enough?

This is our “Supplemental” group if thinking about our triangle above. When it becomes a concern; when data from the classroom and/or universal screeners indicates that more support is needed, you want to go ahead and fill out Tier 1 intervention logs and initiation forms and request a meeting with the RTI team. The team will meet and examine classroom data, assessment results, and student work samples. We would then brainstorm and develop additional strategies which might help close the gaps for the student, based on presenting data and best practices research. These Tier 2 inteventions might include things such as before or after school tutoring, chunking, more visual supports, graphic organizers to structure writing, word lists, word banks, sentence stems, digital learning avenues….It just depends on the student, needs, and resources we have available at the time. They are in addition to Tier 1 instructional components.

The student would now be considered as being on “Tier 2” in our RTI system. The teacher would go forward with the interventions decided upon by the Tier 2 team, monitoring the student’s progress for 4-6 weeks with those new Tier 2 interventions in place. Every other week, you will upload documentation on the Tier 2 progress monitoring log. For approximately 90-95% of students, we can expect those interventions to be successful.

What if Tier 2 interventions are still not enough?

Going back to our triangle above, we are now talking about our “intensive” group. If after a period of time (usually 4-6 weeks) the student is still not successfully progressing, you will request another RTI meeting. The team will again examine data, Tier 2 intervention logs, and student work samples. The team will now consider even more targeted interventions for this student. That might be things like a pull-out literacy group, or 1 on 1 targeted interventions both within and outside of the classroom, etc. We would also look at curriculum resources and additional intensive and appropriate pedagogical strategies and / or programs. Again, these depend on the student, needs, and available resources and are employed in addition to Tier 1 and 2 approaches. Because this is a more intenstive list of interventions, these are classified as Tier 3 interventions and the student is now considered to be on Tier 3 in our RTI system. As noted above, very few students will need this level of support when Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports are being implented with fidelity.

Going forward, the teacher would keep and upload Tier 3 progress monitoring logs into Aware. This should now be done weekly due to the more targeted and intensive nature of the interventions. Again, these supports are put into place for 4-6 weeks depending on student needs. Research indicates that Tier 3 interventions should be put into place for a longer duration and monitored more frequently, due to the nature of the individual, intensive focus. For most Tier 3 students, these more targeted interventions are enough to move them forward.

What if Tier 3 interventions still aren’t enough?
This might be the case for less than 5% of student population. Another RTI meeting would be requested. The diagnostician would be present, along with other specialized teachers. In this situation, we have exhausted all other avenues and there is a strong consensus that further evaluative measures need to be taken.

Here are some common FAQ’s which I thought might be helpful to touch upon:

Is the purpose of RTI to place a student on a path to ultimately get tested?
No. The purpose of RTI is to identify interventions that successfully close gaps and move students forward when what is being done in the classroom is not enough.

What types of things might I list on progress monitoring logs?

  • Running records, results of “quick checks” or exit tickets
  • Student journal samples which show patterns of thinking/understanding
  • Teacher observations/notes
  • Classroom assessment scores/ district assessment scores
  • Rubrics
  • Fluency checks/wpm
  • Graphic organizers used for writing
  • White boards/markers for “quick checks”
  • Graph paper for lining up problems when multiplying

Did they work? Did they not work? Share the intervention methods as well as the student’s performance/resulting score/data using progress monitoring logs.

What should I bring to an RTI meeting?

  • Student work samples
  • Current scores on classroom assessments and recent district assessments
  • Information regarding the student’s strengths
  • Specific challenges (“Fluency”, “Context Clues”, or “Subtracting w/regrouping” – as opposed to “Reading” or “Math”).

If I use these interventions, doesn’t this skew grades and not give a true reflection of where a student is?

We want to keep the focus on learning and closing achievement gaps. If a student requires certain interventions to reach mastery, we want to implement them. That being said, you can document on student work “with manipulatives” , “with teacher assistance”, or some other notation to indicate to parents that there are interventions which are being used to reach mastery. You will also have your RTI documentation logs for reference. Communication with parents is key here. If they do not hear from you and they see only grades, then yes, there will be a skewed view. If information is not entered and updated in Aware, there will be a skewed view for future teachers as well. Parents should be continually informed and involved in the process through ongoing conversations and conferences with you – both prior to and throughout the RTI process.

Some of you might also be asking…

Why do we have to wait so long during each Tier?

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Research has shown that in order to determine if an intervention is successful, a period of about 4–6 weeks is needed to capture data and track progress effectively. Heavier interventions require a little longer to develop and allow us to gather evidence of effectiveness. For some, though, we can and do accelerate the process.  All of our students are unique, and so our approach to identifying and meeting individual needs within this structure can look different at different times. And that is okay.

Back to our beginning quote.

Keep in mind, the goal of RTI is to close the gaps through effective, research based interventions and ultimately be able to discontinue them. Therefore, as noted at the beginning:

The most effective RTI Intervention is strong Tier 1 instruction.

If you want to explore RTI a little further, two great places to visit are here and here.

If you are looking to do some reading on the topic of intervention, I can recommend the following 3 books as good reading for teachers and administrators alike. Click images to be taken the the Amazon ordering page:

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Keep Driving

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This is for all those who are facing uphill battles.

For all those who are facing challenges beyond what many of us face.

For all those who love someone who wakes up every day and overcomes.

This is for all those who teach someone who doesn’t learn the same as the others.

For all those who wonder if what they do will ever be enough.

For all those who spend time designing a different kind of way, for a different kind of kid.

This is for all those who say it can’t be done.

For those who give up on the ones who take too much time.

For those who believe that everyone has to take the same route to reach a certain destination.

Five years ago, my daughter and I listened as her therapist explained the challenges she would have in learning to drive. How those who are on the autism spectrum can have great difficulty with spatial awareness, timing, and reaction speed. How if she really wanted to learn, it would likely take more time, effort, and creative instruction than one might normally require. That it wasn’t impossible, but it would require patience, small chunks of learning, and much simulated practice.

Living in our town means no public transportation. Driving means independence. We didn’t see a choice. If there were any possibility of it being done, we had to try. We put on our toughest tough, or grittiest grit, our most determined determine. We began….

I first signed my daughter up for lessons at a local place where most students completed their driver education. She went to every lesson. She split time as a passenger, then driver, during the one hour lessons. At the end of the two months, she wasn’t ready and needed more instruction. The instructor agreed to take her on individually for extended time, and said he would meet us on the weekends for an hour lesson (at hourly rate of $80). We agreed. Some weekends, he would be there waiting in the parking lot of the High School, and she would have her lesson. Other weekends, he didn’t show up, and we would drive back home — she a little dejected. The last time we did that, she said, “He doesn’t come because he doesn’t think I can”. That was the last time we went.

I called many companies who offer drivers education to youth. I called companies who offer it to adults. Finally, one of them seemed interested in this challenge. The person on the other end of the line said, “We have an instructor who’s day job is working in an independent living center for adults with autism. He might be perfect for you”. And so, our drivers ed journey, finally, began.

He said she might be able to learn, and she might not. That some have that capacity. That others, simply, don’t. That he would need to spend time with her to make that determination, and that if it was not something he felt she could do, that I needed to be okay with hearing that.

The next weekend, we met this instructor in the McDonalds parking lot. I rode in the back seat and for two hours, she drove in and out of cones in a parking lot, pulled into slots, backed out, turned, and signaled. They talked, he asked questions, she made jokes. Getting to know each other. She was still terrified of driving, but wanting to learn at the same time. Our two hour parking lot lesson ended in an hour and a half with these words:

She Can Learn.

He said she would need two hour chunks of time, behind the wheel, weekly. He said he would start out in parking lots, then move to side streets, then busy neighborhoods, then freeways. He said she had good skills, good instincts, and good judgement. He said she lacked confidence. He said she would need to be put into situations that would require her to make decisions quickly, to reroute, to anticipate others, and to stay calm. He said she needed confidence. He also said it would cost $100 per lesson. We said, “Where do we sign up”.

Every Sunday for the next two years, we met him in that McDonalds parking lot. He never missed a session. Then one day, he said the words we had often thought really might never be said:

She’s ready to take her test.

The following week, she passed her driving test. The same week, she moved into a dorm to begin classes at a junior college. She mapped out routes to her most necessary places: Wal Mart for groceries, the gas station, the pharmacy, and her favorite clothing store. She has spent the last year doing that local driving and I have never been so proud. Until two days ago:

Over the past year, I have made the two hour round trip to her dorm to pick her up for the weekends. Because it is so far. Because it’s almost all highway. Busy highway. And then on Sundays, deliver her back to the dorm. Until two days ago.

I came home from work on a normal Thursday. As I pulled onto my street, I noticed a car that looked a lot like hers. I assumed my son’s new girlfriend must drive the same car. I pulled in, got out, and came inside. And then I saw my daughter, sitting in the living room watching TV and eating a pizza she had ordered.

“How did you get here”?

“I drove mom. Like everyone else does“.

I can’t begin to describe the feeling inside me as I listened to her explain the past two hours of her life:

I don’t like having to wait for you to transport me every weekend. I have thought about this for a while. This morning, I got up and decided it was time for me to drive home. I drove to McDonalds to get a drink, and then I pulled into a parking space.  I sat there for a long time, maybe thirty minutes, trying to decide if I could do it. Trying to tell myself I could. Thinking of all the things that might go wrong. I was just about to turn around and go home, and then I decided, no. I’m going to do it. I’m going to drive home. So I did.

I want you to know, I could literally picture her sitting in that parking lot, wrestling with the fears, the thoughts, the second-guessing that has pretty much defined her entire life. The same things she felt in that other McDonalds back when she first began this journey several years ago. I imagined her sitting there, talking to herself, and coming to a fork in the road. This decision was one that I think she somehow knew would define things for her, going forward.  It was her that wanted to do it. And it would be up to her whether to bravely take that step, or drive back to the dorm.  She decided that she just didn’t want to be “unable” anymore. Just like she did three years ago. And so, with shaky hands but conviction, she pulled onto the road, turned left instead of right, and drove home.

Had I known she was doing this, I’d of had a heart attack! Sometimes maybe it’s better to not know.

The confidence in her since this simple act of driving home happened is incredible. Friday, I got home from work and she was not here. She arrived about an  hour later, saying she called a friend back at the dorm and invited her to go hang out. She drove back to the dorm, picked up her friend, and the two went and got nails done, haircuts, and a lip piercing (that one I’m not so fond of). After dropping off her friend at the end of this full day, she drove back home, again. No worries. No fears. Well, maybe a little.

I think we have just turned a corner. Again. She keeps doing that, this girl of mine. Turning corners. Taking back roads to get to her destination. Taking her time. Going over overpasses, and under freeways, on her way to her destination. Success. Sometimes it’s a straight shot. Other times, the road is blocked, and she has to find another route. But she always does.

So to all of you, Keep Driving.

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Say What You Wanna Say: Blogging

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you, the way the words do, when they sit underneath your skin. Kept on the inside, with no sunlight, sometimes a shadow wins. I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly…I wanna see you be brave”! – Sara Bareiller

The above song really resonates with me, as someone who is not by nature a brave person when it comes to putting myself out there to be judged. I think it is also the perfect song for those who might be considering starting a blog, but are a little intimidated or shy.

Reflection is a powerful thing. One of the best ways I have found for reflecting on my own thoughts, ideas and practices is through blogging. When I decided last year that I wanted to give blogging a shot, I have to admit it was very scary! I thought many times, “What do I have to say that would be so important or interesting to others”? “I am not smart enough, I don’t write well enough, I don’t have anything to talk about that others would care to read…..” Those were (and still are, somewhat) the thoughts that ran through my mind.

I went through a lot of trial and error before finding a way that works for me and settling into a routine. I also learned some basic things that helped make my posts more interesting and helped me to clarify my own thinking.  Below are a few blogging ideas that help me:

1. Selecting a platform. There are many tools out there for setting up and maintaining a blog. I tried different sites and finally I settled on Word Press. It is easy for me to navigate and has a big variety of templates to choose from. It is a free site, but I have since decided to pay for the pro version to give myself a few more choices and perks. But I did stick to the free version for about a year. I also like it because it allows me to include different things such as videos, pictures, and embedded tweets that support my topic — in very simple ways. I am not a computer programmer nor a code writer! So I needed easy.

2. Frequency. How often are you going to write? This varies for everyone depending on your goals. I was very scattered in the beginning and not consistent, but eventually I settled into a routine of weekly. I usually write on the weekend. Sometimes this varies but I do try to be consistent. I have found that people will most likely follow a blog if it is updated regularly. On one hand, I’m not so much concerned with how many people read what I write. But one the other hand, this is not a journal in my nightstand. It is on the web, and I chose to do this because I think sharing with others and receiving feedback from them is very powerful for me as a learner. We tell our students all the time to “keep the reader in mind” when writing; this is no different for me as a blogger. Consistency is an important component for you as a blogger.

3. Choosing A Topic. This is perhaps the biggest area of struggle for me. I love to write, but sometimes I just have no ideas for my blog that week. What I have found is that I need to take time to reflect on my week. What went good? What can I improve on? What did I learn this week? I mean, that is the purpose of writing for me anyway, to reflect. So I can’t just sit down at my laptop and think up a topic without first going through my own reflection process. Throughout the week, I ask myself those questions and jot down my thoughts on paper. From there, a topic emerges that I want to explore more in depth, and that is how my blog ideas come to be.

4. Post Length. When I first began blogging, it was all words. I did break it up into paragraphs, but when you visited my site, you would see nothing but a long essay looking post. Not very inviting. I learned quickly that I needed to be more succinct. I don’t need to take five sentences to express a simple idea. I still struggle with this! One thing that helps me is to write my post, but then save it as a draft. Later, I go back to it, and reread it. I always find places to cut something out or re-word something in a less wordy way. I do not publish until I am satisfied that I have expressed myself in a clear but concise way.

5. Structuring The Post. Words are great, but your readers will want to see other interesting things along the way. Including such elements as video, pictures, or even embedded tweets within your post is a great way to improve the visual appeal and add depth to your writing. For example, when I wrote about choosing my platform, I included a link to the WordPress site, and I included it right on the words WordPress in my sentence. I did this because it adds layers to what I am saying. I am thinking about my reader, and they may want to further investigate it. They can Google it themselves, but it is much more convenient for them if I include the link right there where I am writing about it. One important point: Choose your links carefully. I went through several articles on the web about WordPress, but settled on just linking to the site itself. I think that is the most practical resource to share there.

6. Blog Roll. I follow and read a lot of other blogs. I think it is important to share those resources with my own blog visitors because it points them to other writers and other ideas. Sharing who I read and what blogs I follow tells my readers something about my own style, interests, and thought provokers…which adds substance and transparency. I think if you are going to write a blog and share it, you have to be the real you.

7. Give Credit. If I write a post about an activity I did or a book I read, I include the name of the person that inspired that. I include the author, or the colleague, or the PLN member that first pointed me in that direction. I do this out of courtesy and also because it points my reader to another source of learning and someone to follow up with besides just me. A recent post I wrote was about making #GoodCallsHome, and I included links to the Twitter hashtag as well as to the two people who were the inspiration for me to join the movement.

8. Publicizing Your Blog. The first time I tweeted out a blog post I had written, it was scary! I was opening the door for readers all over the world…would they like it? Would they just ignore it? What if nobody read it or what if I received a negative comment? I had to just be brave and do it. After all, I wanted feedback, and sometimes it can’t all be positive! But that is okay because that’s how we all grow. I learned a couple of important things here. One, I needed to include a few relevant hashtags to make sure my blog post was seen by the right audience. For example, if I am writing about a new technology I tried, I will likely use the #edtech hashtag in my tweet. If I am writing about a pirate lesson (Teach Like A Pirate), I will include the #tlap hashtag. I try not to include more than 3 hashtags in my tweet, because it can look like spam.

I also learned that there are just so many people tweeting out there, and posting a link to my blog one time is not enough. I need to post it a few times, over a few days. I also need to tweet it out at the right times. Some days and times are better than others (I don’t know why but that is what I have discovered). Friday afternoons are a good day/time. Monday nights during prime time are also good. Saturday mornings before noon are exceptional times for me. Tweeting my blog after about 9pm or before 10am (CT) are not.

Final word about tweeting out your post: I tag a few people in my tweet and here is how I decide whom to include: If I mentioned someone, or if what I have written about is a topic that I think a certain member(s) of my PLN would enjoy reading, or is similar to what a certain person often writes/thinks about, I will tag them. I do not tag people just for the hope that they will retweet it. I think that is dis-ingenuous. That being said, it makes me happy when my post announcement is retweeted because it will be seen by people who might not otherwise see my own tweet, so it is a good thing and I do appreciate it. But I try not to abuse that or take advantage of my PLN in that way.

9. Give Your Readers Tools. When I set my blog up, I learned that I needed to include a way for my readers to share with others and to give me feedback in simple and quick ways. Make sure you turn on comments! When I receive a comment on a piece, I try to reply to it in a timely manner, thanking them for their input and thoughts on what I have written. I think two-way communication is so important here because I am hoping to open a door for conversation. Of course, there have been a lot of my posts that have received zero comments, and that is okay. I made peace with that. I just decided that the post must have just been so great that nobody has anything to add! HA! Also, it is helpful to include a few tools for the reader to make reading and sharing easy. I have a button where readers can follow my blog, getting updates automatically when I post. There are tools where readers can share it on Twitter or other social media very easily.

9. Patience. When I first starting blogging, hardly anyone read it. I did not receive many comments either. After a while though, my readership grew. Now, I have people who follow my blog from all over the world, and they receive an email when I update it. If they enjoyed the post, they share it with others, tweet it, comment on it….but this took a lot of time. Be prepared to feel like you are just writing for yourself and nobody is reading it, and that is okay. It will come with time.

10. About Those Comments. Be careful what you wish for! Just kidding (kind of). Most of my posts have been well received, but there have been a few that received some negative feedback. At first I was mortified! But then I realized that this type of thing is just another way to push my thinking, to open my mind up to alternative views and shed a light on different perspectives, and so I now embrace all my feedback, both positive and otherwise. You just cannot write a blog where everyone in the world is going to agree with all you say; we are all different. If you really want the feedback and you want your blog to be a true way for you to reflect, share, learn and grow, then you have to be prepared for some humbling moments! My PLN is incredible and they inspire me daily, but they also challenge my thinking and they point out things I could improve upon or ideas I had not considered. They champion me when I am doing something great, but they also will very quickly throw up a stop sign or call me on the carpet.  I value this. And my willingness to put myself out there for it is just…well, necessary.

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So that’s it, my top ten tips for getting started with blogging. There is a lot more and you will discover that as you go along.  I think the biggest piece of advice is to just be brave and go for it. “Let your words be anything but empty”… How big is your brave?