10 Tips for Education Bloggers


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@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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Are you a teacher? Perhaps a teacher who blogs? What advice would you share with others?

I have many blog posts in draft form and many others that I would like to write, but this post marks my 500th blogpost on this website. I have deliberated this morning about what topic I should write about, and although I’m recognised with content for teaching and learning, the second biggest passion of mine is blogging itself. In this blog post I would like to share 10 tips for teachers who either blog, or are interested in what makes a blogsite successful.

So, 500 blogposts! On average, this equates to two blogs per week over the past 5 years since I first started @TeacherToolkit in August 2010. However, I actually started blogging here in August 2012, which means that I’ve blogged 4 times per week over the past 3 years! Quite a feat, and at times it has been exhausting keeping this up alongside a full-time teaching job, but blogging is my hobby and one I thoroughly enjoy. So, for my 500th hundredth blog post I like to share my best advice with you.

Here are blogging tips for teachers who blog; for those interested in starting out, or what makes a blog-site so successful.

shutterstock_230679934 Smiling boy with the old typewriter raising the index finger up. Retro style portrait

Image: Shutterstock

10 Tips for Education Bloggers:

1. Consistency: whatever you blog, make sure you are consistent with content, quality and frequency. Nobody values a website with no content, sporadic posts and a wide range of themes. Make your blog the go-to source for education, maths, lesson-planning, policy, or whatever topic suits you. Most of all, content is key. Too long and readers switch off and go elsewhere.

2. Stay away from pointless arguments on pedagogy and political ideology. The occasional rant is good. I’ve written a few; my last blog about Verbal Feedback Stamps and marking reached 20,000 readers in less than one week! Blogposts should never be written to attack fellow bloggers; it’s a no-brainer for me. It’s a waste of your time, your readers and only supports a divide within the profession. We cannot all agree with each other; we cannot all want the same ideals, methods and systems. We need to accept this. 1/2 million teachers in England; 25,000+ schools and over 8.2 million students in our schools (source), it will be very difficult to have us all agree on single policies and methods. The same applies to the blogosphere. Accept others will write different points of view and that’s yours is just another.

3. Blog and share resources: many of my readers and Twitter followers say that I share countless resources. For me this is the easiest part of being online; I simply share what I am doing in my day-to-day work. I ensure that when I am sharing professional work/resources that I credit the school in which I work and self-regulate content and permissions; I keep photos of students to zero and photos of school and colleagues to an absolute minimum. When I’m sharing my own personal views and resources that I’ve created at home, this gives me licence to be more expressive and attribute work to my online teacher-ID, @TeacherToolkit. 

4. Share what works: many people will be quick to criticise fads and gimmicks; I know I’ve received many. But, you must remain true to yourself and share content ‘you know works’ in your classroom. This expression is shared widely on social networks; “what works for my students in my school, may not work for your students in your school; and what works for your students may not work for mine.” This isn’t to say that you should never try ideas that are shared online. Teachers are ‘magpies’, bouncing ideas off one another; adapting resources, sharing freely or starting up a monetised forum for paid-for content. Whatever method you use, teachers are quick to seize upon new content, looking for ways to bridge the gap between student and teacher in the classroom to help students learn; or worse, quick to sweep like a vulture on ideas that peddle snake-oil. 

If you feel something is successful in your own classroom domain, have no fear. Share it widely!

5. Write about what you are passionate about: for me I write many blogs on teacher workload, lesson planning, marking and teaching and learning. In my role as a school senior leader, I am more and more writing about school policy and the impact of government reform and the implications this has on schools, school leaders, teachers and ultimately students. I write the occasional blogpost about OfSTED and have been known to share ideas about Twitter and blogging to encourage other teachers to do the same. When I write about unfamiliar topics to me, for example psychology and others subjects that are unknown to me; such as teaching English and maths, readership on my blog is low. My advice, stay away from content you are unfamiliar with. These types blogs will often take longer to write, demand less readership and potentially draw in more criticism.

6. Avoid blogs about products: they do not bring in any readers. As my blog has increased in popularity, I receive an extortionate amount of requests from ghost writers, marketing companies or very well-known educational establishments to share press releases, product reviews and any other educational news. The reality is, you will spend many hours negotiating content and editing content-detail online; to then be told to fix a broken link, change this word, and adapt this screenshot and so forth. This may be good when your own blog content is running out of steam, but the hours invested versus your personal values, content and audience will then be questioned by others. In a nutshell, these blogs are a waste of time and you should question this too. 

7. Blog for one purpose: to reflect on your own professional development. When I first started blogging, it was merely to start the beginnings of an online diary. I had no idea my website would be where it is today, dictating a huge voice in online edu-sphere. However, this was not the reason I set about blogging in the first place. I will reiterate, blogging was a place for me to express work that I was doing; the feelings and emotions of teaching and I suppose, a place to put my thoughts online so that someone one day would read it and connect with me to offer some advice. If I could express in one single sentence what blogging has done for me it would be this: I’ve become a better teacher, a better school leader. I’ve made new friends; new colleagues. 

But in a broader sense, I’ve travelled to other parts of the world to speak on education; I’ve been invited to speak and lead several conferences. From blogging, an editor from a well-known publishing company read my blog, once asked me to write a book. Today, I now have written my second book, published last week. My blogs have informed government policy and also influenced it; supported many other schools, leaders and teachers across the UK (and further). I’ve written countless articles and have featured in The Guardian, TES and now write a regular feature for Schools Week. I’ve attended meetings at the DfE, OfSTED and think-tanks. The list goes on … 

This is just a small snapshot of the opportunities that have come my way over the past three years.

8. Write the occasional blog: about ‘you’ to allow your regular readers to know more about the person behind the machine. Readers will need to know that you are more than just a teacher. There is no need to share your entire wardrobe, or what you’ve eaten for lunch, but there is no harm in the occasional heart-felt blogpost that allows readers to get to know the people behind the website. Good examples would be seasonal blogposts written for Fathers Day, Christmas or during the summer holidays.

9. HTML: there is so much on offer from various website platforms, but not too much for any new blogger to learn. Pre-determined HTML coding takes the headache away from wannabe-bloggers and allows them to focus on content rather than design. 

As you develop your blogging repertoire, you may wish to have more control over what your blog or website can do or look like. It was only in August 2015, that I took the move way from Wordpress.com and started to host my own website here. It looks so much better. It feels easier to use and my readers say they are happier. 

10. Listen: to your readers. Occasionally they will criticise, suggest and hopefully most often, appreciate what you write and share online. My best advice would be to adapt your content to suit your readers. So much so, that I will soon be offering a forum for my readers to suggest topics I can write about. In turn, I hope that this will help those that religiously tune into my website for updates. By listening better, this will encourage others to be confident with their own blogging; and most of all, be a more advanced connection between this website – me the author – and you reading this here. More to follow …

10 Tips for Educational Bloggers

TT.

@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man

 


6 thoughts on “10 Tips for Education Bloggers

  1. Great tips. I particularly agreed with the advice to ‘be true to yourself’. Being authentic is vital. My additional tips would be:

    Observe etiquette in matters of copyright. Acknowledge the intellectual property of others.
    Online safety presents interesting challenges. Starting out on our class blog, I decided to err on the side of caution and so no photos or video footage where a child can be identified are included. Instead we try to get the originality,
    character and personality of the students across in other innovative ways. For example we have used photo editing tools, podcasts and avatars. We have also worn hats and other disguises. What started out as a blog policy decision has become great fun; part of what we are; a game and an interesting challenge. Group photos of students where no child is identifiable by name may be the way to go, but we enjoy the creative challenge we have set ourselves and it has become second nature.

    3.Asking someone to do a simple ‘audit’ your blog is a simple but effective way of discovering ways to improve your blog. Ask your ‘auditor’, their first impressions, what they found interesting and what they found distracting? You might observe them as they navigate your blog and see the level of ease with which they do this. Ask them how you might improve. In this way you may get more insights as to how improvements might be made.

  2. Nice post, I agree with most of it.
    Regarding ‘consistency’, I beg to differ. My blog has a wide range of themes, but this allows me to cover more angles and reach a broader audience. Also, it allows me to write about both what is popular, and also different aspects of ELT that interest me personally.
    Regarding reflection on professional development, I think blogs can do far more than that. You mentioned that you sometimes write the odd rant – thats a different purpose for blogging altogether.
    Regarding products, I find this is an enjoyable aspect of my blog. It only started in March, but now I get sent books to review, brillliant! Freebies! Still, I understand your warning on the products front.

  3. Thanks for this, Ross – I enjoyed reading it.

    I was determined to resist starting a blog until after I’d finished my doctoral thesis (ha!) but ended up blogging on @staffrm (an easy introduction for those who don’t necessarily want to set up their own blogging platform or website) – really because I found I had things I wanted to say and Twitter just didn’t give me enough space. You are a prolific blogger, but most people I know blog much less, and intermittently, depending on what they want to write about – and I think for them it may be about just having the opportunity to express themselves, rather than focussing on the reader, as you do here.

    I find blogging helps me think things through, sometimes. Blogging on @staffrm is a good discipline because you’re limited. to 500 words, which makes you discriminating/selective. I have to say I read a fair number of blogs which I think are just too long. And because of the way @staffrm works, often a really interesting debate develops in the comments. So many of the other blogs I read seem to generate very few comments, which I find disappointing. You’ve heard me say this before, I’m sure, but sometimes it seems that there are many many monologues and not enough dialogue – which is why I take the time to comment on a fair number of blogs. (But I admit I have MORE time than many of those I connect with).

    So thanks again – well done on the 500. And hope you and the family are having a very good half term break.

    1. Hi Jill. Thanks for the comment and yes, recovering this half-term from a busy month. Over the years, I’ve discovered most valuable blogs are pragmatic rather than a rant and yes, less than 800 words to allow busy people enough opportunity to access/take away info. I look forward to the day you finish your PhD and start blogging in your own outright 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing this tips. Its nice as you laid the emphasis, that one can only be successful on blogging with consistencies. Let your readers always meet you there. Think ahead for them. its simple.

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