Jessica Keigan offers advice on joining the world of online writing and expanding your influence as an educator.
This article originally appeared in Education Week Teacher as part of a publishing partnership with the Center for Teaching Quality. Reprinted with permission from the author.
So you want to be an edu-blogger? With summer quickly approaching, there’s no better time to begin your budding career as a writer. As you look ahead to a few weeks where students and school responsibilities aren’t clamoring for your attention (at least not as insistently as they do during the school year), try these six simple steps for joining the world of online writing.
1. Read, read, read (and read some more!)
There are two different ways to start writing. The first is simply to begin writing—but I have found that my ideas and writing style are much stronger if I begin the process by reading.
As an English teacher, I know that student writing is often better if I provide a model text for them to work with. Whenever we have a writing task, I try to find a similar kind of writing for them to analyze. I ask them to consider the stylistic choices the author makes as well as the rhetorical strategies used to persuade the audience.
If you’ve never blogged before, it’s essential for you to read blogs so you can become familiar with the style and structure of this type of online writing. I encourage you to be metacognitive about your reading process. In other words, as you read, think about what your mind is doing. You will notice distinct differences between your reading habits with a screen versus a book!
For example, online readers are much more likely to skim and scan for key words and information. This means that bloggers need to be mindful of their formatting and style (even to the point of being cheeky about it). The more you can familiarize yourself with the needs of your audience, the better your chances of reaching them with your message. Being an avid online reader is the first step.
2. Find your writing muses
As you develop your online writing style, you will inevitably find your go-to blogs. These bloggers will inspire not only your style but hopefully provide you with ideas to write about. Therefore, step two is to create a list of your writing muses.
If I have a looming deadline but don’t have a topic, reading blogs or other articles often gives me inspiration. It helps me to understand what is happening around the country and gives me context for my own thinking.
I treat my online reading as mini-research. I am always on the lookout for writers who can help me generate ideas for my classroom or who can educate me on current policy issues. If I find a particularly inspiring post, I will often cite it (via hyperlink) in my own writing.
I tend to alternate between reading broadly about once a week and reading my favorite blogs every day (or whenever they post). Part of becoming an online writer is building a crib sheet of writing muses.
Two of my must-read blogs are Love, Teach and—shameless plug alert—all my blogging friends at the Center for Teaching Quality. Love, Teach makes me laugh, and the CTQ bloggers make me think. Both are essential to my own writing process.
3. Practice virtual backscratching through micro-blogging (Tweets and comments)
Most blog posts are between 500 and 750 words long. This can feel daunting to a first-time writer, so for step three, I suggest engaging in some virtual backscratching.
Blogging is all about moving ideas forward. If you aren’t feeling up to composing a full piece of your own, start by writing a 140-character Tweet or a 100-word comment in response to another blogger’s ideas. This will not only scratch the blogger’s back, it will give you the chance to hone your style and put your name into the public sphere so others know who you are long before they read the longer version of what you have to say.
As you read blogs, take the time to leave comments. Even if it’s just to say, “I really like this piece,” writers love to receive feedback about what they’ve written. In the edu-blogging world, this is also a great way to bounce around ideas about pedagogy or policy.
If you are social-media savvy, you can also scratch others’ backs by sharing links to what you’re reading. A quick Tweet or Facebook status is a great way to move an idea forward and will also help you to connect with others writers who can inspire or support your blogging process. Someday, you can even engage in the full-blown virtual backscratching that CTQ blogger Bill Ferriter practices by highlighting writers he admires in monthly blog posts.
4. Make a list of everything you want to say
Taking note of the world around you—both virtual and real—is step four. As you read, write ideas down. But don’t limit yourself to the ideas that are already out there.
Each of us has a unique perspective or set of skills to describe or write about. As you spend some time reflecting on this past school year, make a list of the things that make you the teacher you are. These can be the beginning of your first blog.
Feeling a little burned out this spring? Then go for a hike or watch your favorite Netflix series (I recommend Daredevil—so good!). You’ll be surprised how many ideas can come from television binge-watching sessions, billboards, song titles, conversations overheard on an airplane, and so on.
For me, summer is the best time to gather writing inspiration. Having extra time and space, I work to keep my ears and eyes open to the messages the world is trying to convey.
When I see an idea that I think I can run with, I write a note or take a picture on my phone so that I can come back to it later. I keep a running list of blog ideas in my phone’s notepad, but you could also send yourself an email. Just make sure that you are keeping track of all the words, thoughts, images, etc. that make you wish you had the time and materials in front of you right now to write.
5. Say it!
Step five is at once simple and completely daunting, as it requires you to actually commit words to paper.
The best suggestion I can make about this part of the process is that you are going to need to allow yourself time to write … and then rewrite everything that you write. Find a friend who is willing and able to be honest with you about your writing style. Your first draft will probably not be good enough, and you will need to have another set of eyes to help you know what needs to be improved.
Also, be ever mindful of your audience and the message you are trying to convey. Match these two elements thoughtfully. A teacher writing for other teachers has a very different style and message than a teacher writing for parents. Think about whom you are trying to reach and work hard to make your message something they will want to listen to.
As you write and revise, keep your sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Review your knowledge about the style and format of online writing and edit your work appropriately.
Then, once you’ve published your work, publicize it. This can be hard for many teachers, who are not accustomed to speaking publicly about their own work. But it’s important to use your work to advance the profession—and get excited about what you’ve accomplished. Reach out to your personal and professional networks via social media and email and let them scratch your back a bit.
The most important part, though, is to give yourself grace through the process. Writing can be hard work. Allow yourself to engage with the complex thinking and effort necessary to do it well.
6. Go back to the beginning and start again!
Writing is a cyclical process, and you will get better each time you engage. Step six is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and then jump back into the cycle to create again.
Once you’ve written your first piece, start reading again. Inspiration is there for those who are willing to look for it. If you’re like me, you’ll become a blogging junkie. Each new piece you write will add another layer to your writing style and broaden your reach with regard to message and audience.
Good luck and happy writing!
Jessica Keigan teaches English language arts and is an instructional coach at Horizon High School in Thornton, Colo. As a regular blogger for the Center for Teaching Quality and a member of the CTQ Collaboratory, she is passionate about exploring and creating opportunities to empower teachers to share their voices so they can positively impact the educational system. She is also a member of the Adams 12 Five Star School’s District 12 Educator’s Association, which allowed her to serve as a master teacher with theNEA/Better Lesson Master Teacher project.