My blog turns three years old today! In the last few days, I’ve been re-reading some of my older blog posts (check out some of my personal favorites), which was an interesting exercise for me, now that I have an established body of writing in this space and a little bit of emotional and chronological distance from much of it. It was also interesting to look back at some of those posts from the summer of 2007 and note what has changed between then and now in terms of my style, tone, and topic choices, as well as what has stayed the same. If nothing else, it’s been a self-indulgent little trip down Memory Lane for me (I prefer to think of it as my portfolio of personal learning and reflection, but to-may-to, to-mah-to…).
At any rate, I was recently asked for some “getting started” advice by a teacher who wants to begin blogging. I considered my own blogging behavior over the last three years, and while I never codified a particular set of rules to follow, these are some basic guidelines I have followed (in no particular order):
- The anonymity question: A question to consider is whether to remain anonymous or not. Some people prefer to start anonymously and then reveal their identity as they get more comfortable with the idea of being online outside the familiar confines of Facebook. I’ve said before that I feel transparency is the best way to go, but everyone’s got a different take on the matter. Keeping in mind what Ben Franklin and Will Shakespeare (among others) said about keeping secrets, if you do decide to blog anonymously, you probably shouldn’t mention the blog on your Facebook page or associate it with any of your online presences. You really can’t half-step here; you’re either 100% anonymous or you’re not.
- Don’t name names: For better or for worse, I have shied away from referring to individuals referenced in my posts by name, even those that are entirely complimentary in nature. The only exceptions I’ve made to this are when linking to blog posts or making reference to other folks who are active and already visible online. It may not be an entirely rational distinction to make, but it seemed logical to me – unless someone has already put him/herself out there, don’t put him/her in the public eye without their permission (and this should go without saying, but it goes triple for students). In a similar vein…
- Write about observations, lessons, projects, but omit personally identifying details: I’ve written about all of these, explained what I did, what my kids did, my reflections on how things turned out, but I’ve never said anything like, “One student/group really disappointed me” – it wouldn’t be hard to deduce who you’re talking about (or who someone thinks you’re talking about) if a parent or colleague came across this. Whether you’re writing about student issues, workplace issues, or whatever else, it is possible to be critical while being tactful.
- If you say it, stand behind it: This may vary based on how open you plan to be about your identity, but a good rule of thumb is not to put anything online you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying at school, in a faculty meeting, or any other public forum (which is exactly what a blog is, albeit not a physical one). I feel that everything on my blog is 100% appropriate for public consumption; I don’t feel I have violated any colleague or student’s privacy, nor have I said anything to call my professionalism into question. This isn’t to say that everything you write has to be academic in tone, or even even-tempered. Just remember that there is no universal “Delete” key, and once you put it out there, it’s out there, for better or worse.
- Write on other blogs besides your own: If you’re looking to encourage folks to comment on your blog, my best recommendation is to start commenting on the blogs of others, and leave a link to your blog in the “website” field. I’ve found that to be the best measure for driving traffic to your blog, and I’ve noticed that all the lulls and upswings in commenter activity on my blog have correlated pretty strongly with the lulls and upswings in my commenting habits (and yes, I know my own commenting is currently in “lull” mode).
- Take ownership/write a disclaimer: Some people may see this as a “CYA” move, which I suppose it is, but I also see it as taking ownership of your writing. You’re saying, “These are my thoughts and opinions, and I represent nobody but myself”. I have mine on my “About” page; it’s just a few sentences that state my background and purpose in blogging, links to the Creative Commons license under which I publish my work, and that the views expressed on this blog do not reflect those of my employer or colleagues.
- Pace yourself: When I started I was banging out 5-6 blog posts a week, which was great, but after a while I started to burn out, run out of ideas, and then I’d have multiple weeks-long dry spells. Then I’d feel guilty about not posting, which would make it harder for me to come up with something to write about. At the end of 2008 (after about a year and a half of blogging), I set a goal for the coming year to write 3-4 blog posts per month, and by the end of 2009, I averaged 3/month, writing at least once per month. Now I’ve scaled that goal back to 2-3/month, and at this point in 2010 (including this first post of August) I’m averaging 2.1 a month and writing every month. That’s just me, though; you may decide you just want to write when inspiration hits and don’t mind long gaps between posts, in which case disregard everything I just wrote.
Surely these are not hard & fast rules to blog by; some of the education bloggers I read & respect do the exact opposite of these guidelines, and it works well for them. I guess that – much like with teaching – you have to experiment a bit until you find what feels right for you, and then stick with that.
So this is what has worked for me. Please share what’s worked for you in the comments.
It’s funny; I just started publicly blogging about a month ago and pretty much set out with very similar policies for myself, all of which have been working well for me so far.
It probably helps that I have seven years’ experience semi-privately blogging (which actually started out as public blogging before I started teaching).
I am not sure I agree that anonymity isn’t the best course of action for all of us. There are grey-area topics that *should* be perfectly okay to post about, but about which the wrong parent or BOE member might have a fit. And we all know that all it takes is one angry tax payer to ruin someone’s reputation and, potentially, his or her teaching career. So that said, I’d say “paranoid” is an understatement regarding how tight my own security rules are for myself online.
I think pacing yourself is also a really great and necessary piece of advice. Blogging (semi-)privately, I can churn out a three-page post in about a half-hour. But the ones I write for public consumption take me ten to twelve hours on average. It’s insane and I hadn’t realized it would be so time-consuming. So I think it’s great you’ve included that here.
Oh! Almost forgot:
Google Analytics is AMAZING if you want to see who is reading your posts, how popular your blog is, and what kinds of referrals work best.
Yeah, the whole anonymity thing is definitely a grey area. Like I said, it’s not my style, but it works for some folks, either out of preference or necessity. I’m not sure about one post being a career-ender (it’d have to be one hell of a post!), especially for a tenured teacher, but I can definitely see where and why people would choose to remain anonymous, though. It’s a personal preference.
I love traffic-tracking software, too; thanks for the recommendation!
I started up a blog for my new counselor position this past June. After a few startup posts, I let it sit over the summer, and now I’m getting ready to post more often as school gets started.
Take advantage of the post-dating feature in WordPress. If you have a few posts to write, then write them and set them to publish throughout the week instead of all at once. That should take care of the peaks and valleys between the manic writing times and the times when you don’t have much to say. Or am I the only one who does that? 🙂
Rick´s last blog post ..Bullies2Buddies
Good call on the auto-publishing your entries, Rick. I’ve never gotten that far ahead of myself in terms of writing them before, but I used that feature for the first time this summer, when I wanted posts published on certain days, but wasn’t going to be near a computer to do it. WordPress handles that stuff beautifully!
Congratulations on the three year mark!