From a doctoral student in an email:
I’m exploring mathematics teacher blogs as a source of unmediated professional growth. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to respond via email to a set of questions about your blogging journey.
Outline your journey into blogging. E.g. What did you think of blogs and blogging before you became involved in it? Did you ‘lurk’ through other blogs before you made a post or did you start posting right away? Did you have any reservations about it? What specifically made you begin blogging? Why did you choose to continue blogging?
I started blogging in college with friends, three years before I started teaching, so journaling online wasn’t anything new to me. That was mostly private blogging, though. Eventually I started writing more about teaching and wanted to make that writing available to people who might care. (My friends didn’t care.)
Even before anybody read my writing, blogging made me a more reflective educator so I continued.
What advice do you have for mathematics teachers who are new to blogging?
Don’t blog to get readers but blog as though you have readers. Blog because you’ll enjoy reading what you once thought someday when you no longer think those things. Blog because that kind of debriefing is good for the soul and good for the practice. Blog because you like to write. If you don’t like to write, don’t blog.
What process do you go through when getting ready to make a new post? How do you decide what you post? How is this different from when you first started?
I add ideas to a draft, sometimes over months. That draft hits a critical mass and I start to push those ideas around in an outline. I draft a bunch of times. Whenever I reach a point where I’ve modified only a few words from one draft to the next, I post it. Then I spot a million typos which were waiting for just that moment to strike.
At first I posted whenever I wanted to record something that interested me. Then more people started reading and I’d post whenever I wanted feedback on an idea or lesson or argument. With more readers I think I tend to write only when I feel like I want to make an argument about teaching or learning math.
Outline any challenges you have encountered in the process of blogging.
The biggest challenge for me was coming to regard the people I blogged with and about as actual people and not just electronic abstractions. It was several years before I met a single person I knew from the “blogosphere.” Before then I found it way too easy to be too hard on people.
Critiquing another teacher’s ideas is a tricky thing, also, because they’re teachers and we have very particular and kind of unspoken norms about critiquing each other’s work. It isn’t okay.
How often do you comment on someone else’s post? How do you decide whether or not you will comment and what considerations do you make before commenting?
It depends on how well I know the blogger and how long they’ve been blogging. If I know them well, I’m more likely to comment when I disagree with them and I’ll phrase that disagreement explicitly. If I don’t know them well but they’ve been blogging for awhile, I’ll tend to phrase my disagreement as a question. If I don’t know them well and they’re new to blogging (say, less than two years) I basically only comment positively, to say, “This was great. I’d like to see more of this.”
Do you interact with other bloggers outside of commenting on posts? How so?
Many of us also maintain Twitter accounts. Some of my online colleagues have speculated that the conversations that used to take place in the comments section of our blogs now take place on Twitter.
I also just met 150 other math teacher blogger-types at a conference in Jenks, Oklahoma. We have “tweet-ups” at other conferences also.
How do your blog posts and comments on other’s posts now compare to when you first started? What do you think has changed?
A reader pushed through my archives recently and observed this:
I’d say that you used more statements and fewer questions than you do now. You still express yourself with more directness and indignance than is common in this profession (at least where I teach), but you’re now more likely to approach disagreement from a place of inquiry. That’s my take, after having picked over the archives for the past few months.
Also, as you’ve acknowledged, your earlier mentions of classroom management had more to do with authority, your later ones had more to do with compelling content, and classroom management isn’t something you directly address all that much in recent posts.
I think that’s accurate. I’m less ornery now. I punch down less often. I’d attribute that both to no longer being as young as I was but also to feeling more scrutiny on my writing than I used to.
How is this change reflected in, or a reflection of, your role in the education field (particularly in your teaching if applicable)?
It feeds on itself. I blog more seriously about more serious things because people take me more seriously now. I’m also no longer a classroom teacher and my blogging reflects that difference both in the topics I choose to blog about (policy, pedagogy, research, etc.) and the tone in which I blog it (maybe a little less mercenary).
Why do you think other math teachers blog? Are there certain trends that you’ve noticed?
Funny you should ask! I asked the same question of the participants at this week’s Oklahoma event. Here are their responses.
Bonus question for you: You have become very well respected and frequently cited by the online math teacher community. What do you think contributed to this?
I tend to assume I caught quite a lot of lucky breaks along the way. A lot of the teaching ideas I was most excited about in 2010 tended to align nicely with the genesis of the Common Core State Standards. At that same time I gave a TEDx talk outlining those ideas which then got viewed a couple million times, in large part I think because people really needed an illustration of these weird, new standards — any illustration, even one that didn’t even mention the standards.
Since then, I’ve been involved in a series of interesting and fun experiences and I try to turn each of those experiences into blog posts to interest readers which then tend to generate more interesting and fun experiences.
I wouldn’t be half the whatever-I-am-now without the help and critique of the people who comment on my blog, so I do my best to give them reasons to comment and make it clear that I appreciate and use those comments.