I recently re-read one of my very first blog posts from 2012 when I was starting to get excited about the potential of twitter and blogging: The quiet CPD revolution…getting louder! Even then I thought that it might all be a flash-in-the-pan thing that could soon fall away – but it hasn’t at all. In fact, twitter and blogging have grown to become my dominant mode of engagement with the world of education. It seems another world when, several years ago, I tried and failed to get articles published in the TES and the ASCL journal. ASCL turned me down because they didn’t think their readers would like what I wrote – it was too controversial! (A piece about how there are things to learn from what goes on in grammar schools). The TES (wisely) suggested that I tried writing a blog – but back then I interpreted that as them being dismissive; I had no idea how that even worked. Who would ever read it or know it was there? Schools, teachers and leaders were reliant on official communications from official organisations and occasional conferences.
Now, we don’t have to worry about any of that. We are all publishers and no-one can stop us, filter us or limit us. For me, three years and 300 blog posts later, headguruteacher.com has become a ‘thing’; I write what I feel like writing, tweet out the links and people read and engage with it to varying degrees. It’s the engagement that sustains the whole thing. I quickly got over the weirdness of promoting my own stuff the whole time; the fact is that, unless you promote it, no-one knows it is there: wanting to have a voice suggests wanting to be heard and twitter moves fast so you need to give people lots of chances to catch your latest thoughts (always assuming that’s why you wrote them down). I’m always grateful when someone posts a link to something that I want to read and I never think – oh there they go self-promoting again. They’ve done me a favour because, beyond twitter, I’m too busy to go looking.
When I joined twitter, I felt I was late to the party, but it’s grown massively since then. As a measure, in 2012, Ross McGill (@teachertoolkit) had just over 5,000 followers; now he has over 100, 000. Every day, the community of teachers engaged with twitter gets bigger and bigger. The main reason for writing this post, is to consider how people might want to find their own voice in this growing online world. I know from talking to people that it can feel like walking into a giant room where everyone else seems to know each other and/or everyone is shouting really loudly. It’s intimidating and over-whelming. It’s common to hear of imposter syndrome; people feel their writing or ideas might not be worthy. Sometimes people say they feel crowded out or drowned out; at worst, people feel shouted-down – when they get the first taste of negative feedback.
The main barriers are psychological but some people still find the tech side of it overwhelming. Some blogs look amazing – especially when they’re full of material. A new blog always looks a bit bare to start with and that can be disheartening. However, the superb staffrm.io site has taken care of that for anyone uncomfortable with setting up their own site. Sign up and go! It’s dead easy. Encouragingly, more and more people are finding their voice as this amazing list from the equally amazing The Echo Chamber site, run by Andrew Old, testifies. I hope people can find inspiration from other bloggers who run blogs without massive fanfare but who make an important contribution to the discourse in the edusphere. If there is a gap in the market, so to speak, I’d say it is for people writing about the details of teaching in specific areas – the nuts and bolts of teaching maths, history, French and science or of managing behaviour, asking questions and marking books. I know some people question why anyone would be interested – but actually, very often, these blogs are the most useful. Certainly, my most-read blogs are about behaviour, marking, differentiation, assemblies and specific ideas about teaching actual lessons (and, sadly, OfSTED! ).
Here are some blogs that, to me, exemplify people finding their voice in different ways:
Jo Morgan @mathsjem resourceaholic.com – ideas for secondary maths teachers. I found this site via the #mathschat hashtag which now occupies a stream on my Hootsuite deck.
Ruth Powley @powley_r Love Learning Ideas – superb blogs that bring ideas on a theme together. I love this blog – it’s a more than a simple curation process to pull ideas together as coherently as this. I found Ruth because she found me; linking via twitter and blogging. Reciprosity in action.
Summer Turner @ragazza_inglese ragazzainglese.wordpress.com – great writing on a range of topics: politics, feminism, reading, leadership. I met Summer on a visit to see Chris Waugh @edutronic.net and then at a Teachmeet. It’s rare to meet someone before you become a fan of their blog but that’s what happened here. However, my contact with Chris came via my blog… so it’s all connected.
Andy Tharby @atharby reflectingenglish.wordpress.com – mainly about English teaching but, as a non-English teacher, I love Andy’s reflections and insights on a range of educational issues. I found Andy through twitter; he posts links and engages with some of my posts from time to time.
Bodil Isaksen @bodiluk Bodil’s Blog – thoughts about education, mainly maths. Bodil entered my edusphere through her strong presence in some twitter debates – I’ve since found her view on maths teaching incredibly interesting and useful.
Harry Fletcher-Wood @HFletcherWood Improving Teaching – eclectic range of topics, always thought-provoking, strongly rooted in real school experience. Harry come to my attention via twitter debates a couple of years ago. I put him in one of my lists on Hootsuite so I could see his tweets more often than others.
Daisy Christodoulou @daisychristo – The Wing to Heaven . She’s famous already – why include her here, you might think. It’s because of Daisy’s recent series on Assessment; she is a leading voice in this important area; not enough people are writing/thinking out loud about assessment and this aspect of Daisy’s work is critical. I only know about these posts because Daisy posts links on twitter and I follow her. These posts are a service to the nation!
Hannah Wilson @miss_wilsey staffrm.io/@misswilsey . This is a recent discovery. I found Hannah’s blog via the recent #WomenEd discourse on twitter. Her blog is a brilliant example of how staffrm works. It covers a range of topics for school leaders and teachers with a clear voice.
I could, of course, list countless others including the big hitters we probably all know. I’ve chosen the bloggers above because they’ve made a mark on me without much fuss or fanfare. What they have in common is a degree of consistency – they blog regularly enough to make an impression; to penetrate the twitter noise – and a good balance of humble, honest personal reflection with insight and analysis.
To wrap this up, here are some tips I wrote for a Guardian Teacher Network post a couple of years ago. They wanted Don’ts instead of Dos: