Reflecting on Reflecting

I started this blog experiment 15 years ago. I was looking for a way for my teachers to quickly and easily share information with students. They wanted web sites. We didn’t have a good way of doing web sites. WordPress seemed to fit the bill. It was easy to set up quickly without a big learning curve. The blogs looked nice, and worked on any kind of device. Teachers could embed file attachments, pictures, and links to other resources in their posts. It was possible to set up email notifications, so subscribers (students) were notified when new content was posted.

Looking back, it was a learning management system unbounded by the walled garden. Even then, I think I was looking for something that wasn’t so strict about controlling access. I wanted a tool that just let teachers share stuff online. At that point, we had been running a Moodle server for 2-3 years, but it wasn’t catching on. We needed simple. Teachers want to teach. They don’t want to be web designers.

My personal motivations were similarly utilitarian. I used to write a monthly technology newsletter that I would send out to my staff. It was a simple two-page PDF that highlighted a few technology tools and tips for teachers. A typical issue would have 5-6 short items with links to more information. The problem was that it took forever to create. I spent about four hours each month researching and writing it, and then another four hours making it look nice. I was using Microsoft Office, and was picky about spacing, fonts, graphics and layout. I wanted it to look really nice, and it did. But it took too much time.

I thought that if I used a blog, I could write short items for teachers and not worry about the formatting. The software takes care of that. Teachers could sign up for email alerts and the posts would show up in their inboxes as I wrote them. There were no more monthly updates. Everything was also collected together in once place online, so they could go back to it easily, or share it with others. In theory, this was a good idea. And some people did sign up. But that’s not why I’m still here.

In the first year or so, I was a reporter, sharing information. The posts were short, 400-word descriptions of some tech thing. They were a lot like the newsletter they replaced. I would share something I had learned or seen or read that I thought might have a classroom application. I would write a quick overview or description, provide a link, and maybe extend that by suggesting a classroom application. Occasionally, I would describe a problem that I saw, and propose tools to address it. I tried to be objective, unbiased, and (mostly) nice. But as we got into the second year, I started to have more opinions. The posts that would have been entirely informational a year earlier now ended with a sentence or two of commentary. Amazingly, they’re mostly comments that I would still make. How does this tool give agency to our students? What does this technology add to learning that we can’t do without it? Is this just a new shiny thing to distract us from the fact that we’re not really evolving public education? Where are we going, and how did I end up in this handbasket?

As time went on, the blog connected me with a network of people who share similar goals. The story of how that happened is fascinating, and you should ask me about it sometime. As it turned out, I didn’t drive off the road, and in the end I made deep connections with folks that I still regard among my best friends.

This network of people consists of professionals around the world who are desperate to make learning relevant. These teachers, professors, administrators, students, and parents are connected to each other and actively participate in an ongoing conversation about teaching and learning. That’s a conversation that mostly happens on Twitter now. But for a long time, it was on the blogs and in podcasts, Skype calls, discussion forums, and other old-school platforms. I wade in and out of that pool a lot these days. Sometimes I chime in. Mostly, I just listen to see where the conversation is heading. But the touch point is always the blog. Everything else is connected there. If you find my digital footprints somewhere on the Internet and follow them, eventually, they lead here. This is home.

In the early days, I thought a lot about my audience. Initially, I wrote for my teachers. But I realized pretty soon that most of my teachers didn’t read my blog. And over time, the audience evolved. Occasionally, I would write with particular people in mind. Sometimes, a friend or colleague or family member would mention something I had written, and I would know that they were reading. So I would write for them. Eventually, though, I realized that I’m my own audience. I’m not writing this for you. You’re just along for the ride. I’m writing it for me, and sharing it in public to keep myself honest. My readership numbers are very low, but I measure success on the process of writing and clicking “publish.” After that, my work is done. If someone finds value in my words, that’s up to them.

One advantage for me, of course, is that I now have a deep archive. I can go back five years or twelve years and read the things I wrote then. I can see how my thinking has changed. I can see where we have made progress, and where we have been banging our heads against the same wall for decades. I do enjoy a nostalgic walk through the archive from time to time.

This is post 466, and once this is posted, I’ll be over 300,000 words. That’s almost 20,000 words per year, though the verbosity of the first four years pushed that average up quite a bit. The period from 2017-2019 was particularly sparse, with only 7,000 words in ten posts over that three-year span. I once told a colleague that if she noticed I wasn’t blogging anymore, that it meant I wasn’t learning anything new. Looking back on the last several years, I did seem to be spinning my wheels professionally. One of the few positive things to come out of 2020 is that I seem to be emerging from that slump. I’m reading more and thinking more and reflecting more and writing more now. I hope that continues. I’ve missed this.

I carry a notebook around with me. It’s a habit I picked up from Zac. I use it to keep ideas. They’re half-baked thoughts and observations, mostly. Sometimes, I use it to string together different concepts. Occasionally, some of the ideas I play with there end up being shared here. Whenever I want to think about the big picture, or reflect on something I’m discussing or reading or watching, I turn to the notebook and grab a pen. I like having all of those ideas in once place, and I will occasionally just leaf through the book to see what I’ve been thinking about over the last several months. There’s something very real about putting words onto physical paper that this ephemeral digital world doesn’t have. Those words are permanent in a way that these ones can never be.

Each notebook generally lasts a year or two before it’s filled up. When that happens, I read through the whole thing and carry the best pieces over to the first few pages of the next book. Right now, I’m on volume six, which I started on June 1. I’m due to run out of pages sometime in the next month or two. That’s a lot of new ideas. I’m reading a lot. I’m thinking a lot. I’m having new conversations with new people. I’m making connections and drawing conclusions and building perspectives. In short, I’m learning again. And hopefully, I’ll keep sharing that learning here.

Image Credit: Duc Ly on Flickr.

One thought on “Reflecting on Reflecting

  1. Spot on! You’ve inspired me to embrace longer form writing. Most of my posts at https://eduk8.me are what you described in your second paragraph. I realized I’ve been collecting tons of ideas, I just need to make time to write.

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