Category Archives: blogging

Should I Post This?

I have been blogging merrily along in the new year, having fun exploring and writing about poetry and community on both this and my book blog. Part of the reason I was able to post so often was because I cut myself some slack in terms of content. Like Tim Owens, I wasn’t worried about profundity, just publishing.

Then, I started to draft of a potentially more controversial post, and I got stuck. To George Couros’s list of overthinking questions, I would add, “Should I post this at all?”

The story I want to tell may be offensive to some; even just the knowledge that what I am going to describe still exists in our country could be upsetting. But I think we need to know how others think, how their facts blur into perspectives and then become narratives so we can examine our own processes and perhaps find empathy even in what might otherwise be offensive.

So, I answered the question with a yes and you can find the post here.


About that Face to Face Book Group: On Reading and Writing

I live on the edge of a very small town in Sussex County, Virginia. It is the home of those staples: peanuts and bacon. I moved here about five years ago and have spent most of that time working rather than getting involved in community life. This year, I decided I needed more non-work interaction in my life, so I joined the book group at my local library branch. I read A LOT so getting the homework done wasn’t going to be a problem. And the group meets one hour, once a month, five minutes from my house. (It’s actually close enough that even I could ride my bike and may do so in the spring.)

We met Tuesday and talked about We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It is a story told from the perspective of mother and son, complicated by poverty and hope and love. We learn about what it is like to be undocumented but integrated in America. And, even more importantly, it reminds us of the terrible tragedy of the impact of zip code on education and thus opportunity. I can recommend it and you can read my full review at my book blog.

I’m really posting this blog to celebrate the book group and some ideas about writing: SO much fun to sit around a table with thoughtful people and just talk about a book for an hour. One woman provided several interpretations that had never occurred to me and expanded the possible understandings of the book. I haven’t dug this deep into a book for awhile.

As for writing…what struck me most out of the whole book was a comment from the author in the Q & A at the end. The interviewer asked her about writing her second novel, and she talked about the fear of disappointing her readers. This fear tainted her writing:

I was so worried about writing a “good” book that I ended up writing a carefully polished book with absolutely no heart.

She owes her freeing herself from that fear to a friend in her writers’ group who reminded her that she didn’t have anything to prove:

Somehow, those word set me free. I stopped trying to be good and just started to write–and the book improved dramatically from that moment on.

Two lessons leap out here for writing teachers, or indeed teachers anywhere: let them write (read/learn/share) without worrying about meeting a rubric or impressing someone else and give them community in which to do it. In my writing workshop, students produced fascinating pieces of writing when I gave them a chance to record their lives and stories. They wrote letters and stories and poems. And they wanted to read what their classmates wrote because they were so different.

I understand the concern with impressing people. The need to be profound. I wrote about it here and discovered Tim Owens shared a similar issue on his own blog.

I’m just decided that I am going to keep writing anyway.

What Does It Mean to Succeed at Blogging?

Back at the desk after a holiday break that included lots of crocheting, binge watching and then a lovely visit with old friends. The snow storm sent me home a day early and we have been settled in our den for the past three days, warmed by the wood burning stove and watching football and the birds.

I browsed my RSS feed this morning and got stuck on this post from Tim Stahmer about the importance of independent blogging.  In blogging years, I’m very late in replying to his post, but that’s one of the barriers I face in my blogging practice so I’m not going to let the fact that my reply is a month late stand in my way of publishing this post.

That sense of immediacy is just one of my personal barriers to blogging. The other is the pressure to say something profound, and that’s obviously a bigger hurdle to tackle. What can I add to the conversations around me? What insights do I bring from my own experiences? I think I set the profundity bar too high. Better to just write it and send it out there sometimes. A simple share with a brief comment highlighting an important point or idea can spark a conversation as well as a long read.

For instance, I can highly recommend listening to How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck from the Hidden Brain podcast. It focuses on applying design thinking to your own life, featuring the work of Burnett and Evans. I was fascinated with the idea of prototyping your life, particularly the idea that failure is to be expected, maybe even welcome. That isn’t the message we send our students, outside of a makerspace perhaps.

The title of this post also came out of the podcast. I have blogged on and off for a very long time in various spaces. Right now, I have two “active” blogs but do not have any schedule or plan for updating them so they are pretty sporadic. Am I failing at blogging? If not, I live at the very fringes of success. Completely failing would be to give it up and since I’m not ready to do that, I need to identify and pursue some definition of success that makes me feel less like a failure, I suppose.

I’m not ready to give it up because I agree with Tim that blogging continues to be a powerful way to share our stories and ideas. Getting beyond our personal barriers is an important first step in beginning a blogging practice. And, like any routine, it needs to become part of our schedule. Some people benefit from a good challenge: Jon Becker, for instance, is moving right along with his own Tweet of the Day blog entries.  This all help generate content.

From there, as Tim points out, the community becomes essential:

We also need to help each other build an audience and build communities around those educators who are willing to share in the open. And, on the other end, to teach our colleagues, parents, and even students why reading blogs is important, where to find the good ones, and how to easily build them into their routines (RSS still lives!).

And that is the biggest barrier of all. I wonder if a blogging challenge tied to a tweet chat would be a good start. It gets some content generated around a similar topic and as part of an already existing community.  There is always plenty more to say after a tweet chat.


Summer Reading List

I really did not plan to blog every day in July, but I got a good start and then discovered the Big Time Blogging Challenge 2016 at the Big Time Literacy blog written by literacy coach Michelle Brezek. I may not always follow her theme for the day but since I just wrote up my reading list, I can follow right along today!

My list is varied: fiction, non-fiction and professional:

I’ll start with what I’ve already read since the beginning of July: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. A classic adventure story with a conflict between good and evil at the heart of the story. The heroine is a 12-year-old girl who discovers her own magic and, with the support of friends and family, saves the day.

I’m a LibraryThing member and am doing a couple challenges. John Steinbeck is the focus of the American Author challenge for July, and I’ll be reading East of Eden and Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, a series of short daily letters the Steinbeck wrote to his editor each day as he wrote the novel. Current events are the focus of the July non-fiction challenge, and I’m doing two books that are part of the One Richmond, One Book initiative at the University of Richmond where I serve as an adjunct professor. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson was last year’s book. This year, it’s Evicted:   Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

As I prepare for a keynote and workshop about blended learning in early August, I’ll be finishing Go Blended!: A Handbook for Blended Technology in School by Liz Arney and Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools by Michael Horn. The school district I’m working with loaned me a few books they’ve read in past years including The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar.

I’ve been moving VERY slowly through a biography of Marjorie Harris Carr, wife of Archie Carr, the man who started the sea turtle conservation program. Marjorie was an environmentalist in her own right but struggled with the bias against women in science.

Also on the list:

And, I have two boxes of books coming to me that I shipped home from Denver. I can’t list all those titles but I suspect I’ll work a few in.

And…I forgot…I did a digital checkout of The Cracked Spine: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery that is waiting on my Kindle.

Thinking Out Loud

I was glad to talk with Tom Woodward recently. We talked about blogging, and he is right on about the reasons people say they want to blog and yet don’t:

You’ll have the usual pattern that varies somewhere between not knowing what to say, not having anything worth saying etc. The end result is that people don’t write. If you talk to them they’ll have a million things that would be interesting to read and that would be “worth” sharing…It feels mainly like it’s a holdover from time in formal education. Writing ends up becoming something done for an omniscient expert who will pass judgement on thee. It happens to me at times- both time limits and wondering if there’s any audience or purpose to what I’m writing.

I’ve been blogging in some form or another since 2003. My “personal” blog dates back to 2004 and my “professional” blog  to May 2006 when I set it up for an independent study project at William and Mary. At one point these two blogs were just one but as Tom suggests, I didn’t want to bother professional colleagues with my personal reading habits and hobbies so I split them.

But there are long stretches when I don’t blog. I think I’m in the not sure I have anything worth saying camp but there’s also a sense of worry about pleasing the powers that be. I’m not sure how my voice will resonate in what can sometimes be an ed tech echo chamber.

This year, I’ve been trying to blog three times a week: one at In One Place and two at In Another Place. I’ve been doing okay. There were three weeks of silence as I prepared for a vacation, took vacation and then recovered from vacation. Routines were out of whack and blogging fell off the weekly to do list. Now that I’m back, I think I’m going to put less pressure on myself. I want this blog to be about, as the title says, thinking out loud about the wicked problems that we face as we think about the present and future of education.

What does that mean? Shorter posts with brief commentary, not feeling like I have to do a full literature review before pressing publish, and honoring my nearly 30 year perspective of how digital technologies have impacted both living and teaching.