A year improving teaching: the obligatory metablog

A year improving teaching: the obligatory metablog

It is an apparently inescapable truth that educational bloggers one day feel compelled to reflect on their writing.  The best response to this phenomenon has been suggested by Tessa Matthews:

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On this blog’s first anniversary, it’s my turn to record some thoughts about blogging as a teacher.

I never meant to start blogging

Blogging was an unintended consequence of a fascinating Dylan Wiliam Inset in 2012.  A teacher I met encouraged me to join Twitter, which I did, and I learned about hinge questions, which intrigued me.  Twitter proved both fascinating and confusing (it took me a couple of months to discover the ‘Connect’ tab, for example); hinge questions seemed exciting, but information about how they could be used in history proved elusive.  After a little experimentation with the latter, I wondered whether what I’d learned might interest others and this became the first post I drafted, swiftly followed by another post on increasing wait time in questioning.  None of this was read by more than a handful of people, but I realised how much I enjoyed writing and how useful it was in provoking reflection on my teaching.  Over the next few months, I began writing about school visits, blogposts I disagreed with and books I’d read.  Before I knew it, I was hooked and, on the advice of Alex Quigley, was writing weekly.

I never expected anyone to read the blog

As far as I can tell, on publication, my first post was read by one person (that may have been me checking it worked); with no particular expectations in mind, this didn’t worry me.  That the blog has grown in popularity since then remains a source of surprise (and pleasure) and has helped me make this more of a ‘project’ than I first intended.  I’m not above keeping an eye on the hit-counter, but I’m more interested by the comments and tweets suggesting teachers are actually finding this interesting.  I do wonder how useful any of it all is: a hit counter gives no indication whether a reader has devoured the whole post or moved on at the first opportunity.  The blog has certainly been a dead end for some readers, and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to those individuals whose searches for ‘the events of the Spanish Armada in chronological order,’ ‘how we learn the periodic table in 20 minutes’ and ‘mannequins on the floor’ brought them to the site.

I had no idea how much I’d learn

Without wishing to pre-empt Tessa’s meta-analysis, one feature of metablogs seems universal: teachers credit their blogging with dramatically increasing their learning about their own teaching.  I’ve written recently about how the process of writing prompts deeper thinking and understanding for my students.  Much of the insight I gain about my teaching comes, not from their implementation, but from the reflection engendered by writing about them.  I am forced to rethink how well strategies are working with the critical eyes of blog readers in mind.  Does appreciation of superficial benefits reflect real impact?  As I write, I wonder whether a tweak would make a lesson more effective – so I go back and find out.  Posts take a long time to finish, as I enter a loop of modifying practice and redrafting to reflect this: the positive effects of this on my teaching can’t be overstated.

The care needed to write well supports this.  Knowing that the blog is read by friends and family, colleagues and bosses and the parents of my students is an excellent incentive to phrase with meticulous care – and ensure I really mean and can defend any contentious points I may make.

If you are remotely considering blogging as a teacher, I can only encourage you to do so – it has helped me hugely, and I would love to read more reflective blogs by classroom teachers.

I have no idea where this is going

I began blogging without a plan or an agenda; I don’t have one now.  I enjoy writing and I learn from it.  I have promised myself that if either of these statements cease to hold, I’ll stop.  Another reason to move on would be running out of things about which I wish to write, but over Christmas I made a list for this term, stopping when I’d reached twelve topics.

The (fairly limited) justification of writing about teaching has also led to invitations to do all sorts of things, like present at TLT13 and contribute to an ebook.  I rarely feel better qualified for the things I’m asked to do than any other teacher –  the only thing distinguishing me from most of the 450,000 or so teachers in Britain is that I have managed to set aside time to write about the experience.

I wouldn’t necessarily aim for such an unguided approach in most aspects of my life, but the experience of blogging and the unanticipated consequences have continued to surprise me – almost invariably pleasantly!

I am who I am because of everybody

People express nervous about starting blogging, but I’ve found everyone friendlier than I could possibly have imagined since I first joined the online teaching community:

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Nobody blogs in a vacuum: the list of people to whom I’m indebted could fill another post entirely.  Little of what I write could be described as original: it reflects the ideas, wisdom, advice, encouragement and support of a huge number of people, inside my current and former school and across the country.  Of the teaching community online, I’m particularly grateful to Kev Bartle, John Blake, Kris Boulton, Chris Curtis, Andy Day, David Didau, David Fawcett, Joe Kirby, Sarah Findlater, Sam Freedman, Stephen Lockyer, Tessa Matthews, Laura McInerney, Kerry Pulleyn, Redorgreenpen, John Tomsett, Alex Quigley and Dylan Wiliam… but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Past performance is no indication of future results, but I hope I’ll still be blogging next February.

Bicycle reflections

If you’re metaphorically-inclined, this represents me reflecting on my steps this year. Back when my bike still had a saddle.
If not, I’ll confess I needed a picture for the archive page and really liked this one when I looked on wikimedia for ‘reflection.’
By Tomascastelazo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons