Would Socrates be proud of us as we blog about education and Web 2.0 technology, carrying conversations across the blogosphere . . . asking, thinking, contemplating, sharing, rethinking, asking more questions, and finally posting? I like to think he's smiling down on my little blog right now. I also like to think the day will come when the powers that be (aka principals, directors, school board officials) will smile upon blogging as a professional development activity worth it's weight in gold.
From my limited teaching experience, I have learned that there is a prejudice against blogging (or perhaps a fear of it) that does not embrace it as a professional development tool. We see it used at the university level, and witness many professors turning to blogs to reach their audience, but a trickle-down effect is less evident at the school level. Have you ever heard of a "blog prep?" Has a substitute teacher ever covered your class while you blogged? Certainly I've never experienced that type of support, and I have a few ideas about why that is, and what we should do about it. I think a shift is definitely happening, but I believe schools have a long way to go before promoting blogs and blogging as a viable means of professional development.
Why Participating in the Blogosphere Promotes Professional Development
Whether we are simply reading blogs written by enthusiastic educators, commenting on said blogs, or blogging ourselves, we are entering into the discourse of reflection and practice. We build a community with other educators that is priceless in the grand scheme of things. Collegial conversations begin to bloom and a marvelous garden prospers. The process is organic, and the compost is rich!
In my own experience as a blogger this term, I have come to truly appreciate the process as professional development. The experience was two-fold. First, I had to use the Web 2.0 tools (I blogged, podcasted, used Voicethreads, RSS Feeds, and created Nings and Social Bookmarks, etc), then I had to reflect on the process and how these tools could be used in schools. If I used the tools in isolation, without the reflection and feedback from readers that the blog allowed, then my progress would have been limited. Through blogging I feel better prepared to integrate the tools into my teaching.
From an economic standpoint, blog-reading and blog-creating should be promoted by school officials - we can converse (usually for free) with world-class educators around the globe. We have an opportunity to access relevant, meaningful, usable information any time of the day. This is so unlike previous professional development experiences which often have high costs for travel, accomodation, meals, etc.
Why the Reticence?
I believe there is a scholarly bias at play here - blogs are simply not considered professional enough in some peoples minds - after all, any amateur can blog! Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur "claims that the professional knowledge of experts is being eroded by self-publishing amateurs and citizen journalists. And he scoffs at bloggers!" (as read on Guy Merchant's blog at: http://myvedana.blogspot.com/). Jinkies! What's a blogger to do?
The other problem is that some people may confuse blogging with social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Certainly some blogs are for fun and folly, but the growing list of educational blogs should be enough to convince sceptics that Blogs are useful! (Incidentally, the school district I worked in last year had such strong restrictions that we could not access blogs at all).
While blogs and blogging are economical - it is difficult to track their use and value. How does administration account for professional development? That said, I've sat through many a conference where teachers did anything but listen to the guest speaker. At one conference, people walked out and went shopping!
What we Should do About it!
We need to convince leaders in our educational community about the value of blogs and blogging for professional development purposes. So, how do we alter old-school perceptions about professional development and blogging? We need to invite them to participate in the conversation, that way they can see for themselves the value blogs have for PD in our schools.
We need to continue blogging intelligently on a professional level, and continue to support educational bloggers by engaging in their discussions on their blogs. We need to share the joy and send the links! Recommend blogs of note on our school web-sites, school newsletters, or e-mail teachers/administration directly with links to blogs we believe will be of interest to them (there is power in personalizing the process). With certain teachers who are resistant to change, I would share blogs on a need-to-know basis; non-bloggers/blog readers can get overwhelmed by too much information (especially if they think they don't have time to blog).
If we continue to blog for the purposes of our own professional development the shift will continue to happen. If we blog, they will come. We can also highlight the blogs we intend to follow, and the blogs we intend to publish in our Professional Developmeant Year Plan. It may not get credit, but if we treat blogs and blogging seriously, others may follow. We can lead by example and invitation, and by doing so, one day you might just get a "blog prep". Wouldn't that be nice?
Educational Blogs I would Recommend
- Weblogg-ed (http://weblogg-ed.com/) - Will Richardson's blog celebrates "learning with the read/write web."
- My Vedana (http://myvedana.blogspot.com/) - Guy Merchant explores "literacy...new media...education...life."
- School Libraries (http://davidloertscher.wordpress.com/) - David Loertscher engages us with "book reviews, research and issues."
- Everyday Literacies (http://www.everydayliteracies.blogspot.com/) Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel's blog "[e]xplores and comments on everyday practices of producing and consuming texts of whatever kind in meatspace and cyberspace."
- A Year of Reading ( http://readingyear.blogspot.com/ - written by "two teachers who read. A lot." These teachers are acclaimed authors on matters of reading (their byline is very modest)
- Likely Stories (http://blog.booklistonline.com/) - this is a Booklist Blog by Keir Graff, he writes candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry"
- Librarian Moms Blog (http://parentsblog.scholastic.com/librarian_mom/) - Els Kushner "share[s] her tales from the school library and the world of kid lit."
- Read Roger (http://www.hbook.com/blog/) is "the Horn Book Editor's Rants and Raves."