I’ve been blogging and tweeting in the Music Education world for a month now, and doing so has dramatically changed my whole perspective about many aspects of my work. I now consider blogging and tweeting to be essential professional tools. Here are ten reasons why:
This is the most obvious reason, and for me, it’s a big one. I’m the only general classroom music teacher at my school, which is in a rural area, and it’s all too easy to be isolated from others in the same field. If you’re a cave-dwelling hermit crab like me, it’s even easier. Twitter has enabled me to stay in touch with other music teachers from all over the world on a daily basis. Following their blogs has introduced me to a lot of new ideas in a very little time.
2. The Global Staffroom
This extends from the first reason. In a really weird way, I no longer feel like my staffroom is limited to the four walls around me at school. My horizons have widened, and now I feel like the music teacher in Iceland I spoke with yesterday is just over there by the window.
The global staffroom shifts your perspective. Suddenly, the small daily-grind-type problems and challenges you face every day are not the only ones that exist, nor are they even the biggest ones. Suddenly there are more people around who can help you if you get stuck, like the colleague just across the room in Iceland, or the one two desks away in Arizona.
This may also be especially helpful if you happen to be in what I call a “toxic staffroom”. It’s a sad fact that workplace bullying does exist in the teaching profession, and if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in that situation, seeking support through online networking (even if you do so anonymously) can be a great first step to dealing with the problem.
P.S.: There are a couple of links to sites which deal with workplace bullying on my “Cyberbullying” page.
3. A Different Drum
If the other teachers at your own school are the only ones you ever see or speak to for an extended period of time, it can be impossible to avoid getting “bogged down” in the culture of that particular location. There’s a collective dynamic which means that people think a certain way, act a certain way, work a certain way, and it can be difficult to walk to the beat of your own drum.
This has been the case in both the best schools and the worst schools I’ve ever worked in, the supportive ones and the not-so-supportive ones. It’s neither good or bad; it’s just a thing that happens when people work together in the same place for a long time.
Blogging and tweeting have had a profound effect on the way that I think with regards to this. It has enabled me to stand outside the status quo and look in, more objectively. The daily contact with other colleagues worldwide, keeps me constantly exposed to different points of view and ways of working.
As far as I’m concerned, this can only benefit both me and and the school I work in, because it allows me to be a real contributor in ways I couldn’t before. I can bring new ideas to the table and add positive energy to the process of growth and change, because that energy is coming in from outside, from the global staffroom.
4. Professional Development
That kind of ongoing exposure to new ideas has meant that I’ve been able to undertake at least an hour or two of professional development almost every single day since I started networking online.
Five minutes on Twitter is all it takes to find dozens of blog posts, articles and news on whatever field happens to interest you. You can also participate in ongoing discussions with colleagues from all over the world in professional network forums like MusicPLN.
Writing your reflections in a diary enables you to see and record new insights about your professional practice. Writing them in a blog enables you to share them with other like-minded professionals at the same time. This opens the door for them to give you feedback, and also for both you and they to learn from your experiences.
The blog is a public platform, and you are essentially writing for an audience. To blog well, you need to get your ideas across as clearly and succinctly as possible, to engage your readers and keep them interested. The process of writing your thoughts and ideas every day, in such a way that it gets across easily, increases your ability to communicate with others both online and off.
Your blog may also become a vehicle for presenting your thoughts and ideas not only to your online contacts, but also to colleagues closer to home, as well as to students, parents, and members of the public.
I went to the MTEC conference in January of 2009, and it was brilliant. I arrived at school that year, brimming over with new ideas about how I was going to incorporate music technology into my classroom, enthusiastic about getting into teaching, and excited about sharing what I’d learned with my students and colleagues.
But then the budget was too short, the marking piled up, the paperwork and administrivia took on their usual overarching importance, and my ideas and my motivation went by the wayside. Very little changed for my students that year.
I went to MTEC 2011 jut over a month ago, and was inspired by James Humberstone to start a music teaching blog. I also joined Twitter. Since then, O-Generator has been installed on the school computers, my students have had their first computer-lab lessons ever for composition, I’ve seen to the installation of Pro Tools and Acid Music Studio on the classroom computer and now it’s being used nearly every lesson, instead of just sitting there.
Tomorrow I’m going to be running a demonstration to our beginning teachers on how to use the IWB and Interwrite Workspace software, I’ve just written my first year 8 music assignment which requires using music software to compose, and I’m planning lessons on music apps for ipad and iphone/ipod touch. My students have also been looking at Aviary Roc and SoundJunction, and their homework has been to check out YouTube videos on O-Generator and other music stuff.
I’ve begun to occasionally use the school email as another professional networking tool, emailing links to interesting sites and articles I’ve found to the rest of the staff, like the one on Spaced Learning.
I have been motivated every day since the conference to make these changes, and my momentum hasn’t slowed. The reason is because of this blog and my Twitter networking. It’s almost like MTEC 2011 hasn’t actually finished yet. Being around motivated people all the time is infectious, and when you come into contact with them every day through online activity, it has a way of keeping you going, and of giving you the determination to find solutions to problems which have gotten in the way before.
I have not always found my job fulfilling or rewarding. There have been a couple of difficult phases where my heart has been all but kicked out of teaching. Now, I find my passion as a teacher being brought back to life. I’m coming into my own in self-confidence, and rediscovering why I joined this profession in the first place.
The reason is again because of the ongoing contact I have with colleagues online. I love the exchange of ideas, the dialogue between like minds and not-so-like minds, the constant awareness of different insights. That kind of interaction with ideas always recharges my batteries and fires me up like nothing else can. With online networking, I can have that interaction as often as I like.
9. Sharing Your Expertise
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pre-service teacher or someone who’s been teaching for decades. You can always learn something new from someone, and someone else can always learn from you. You have something to contribute to the professional community. Go for it!
If you network wisely, you can have dozens, if not hundreds, of like-minded, sympathetic colleagues in your list of contacts. When you’re in a bind, someone, somewhere, can help you out. If someone else is having difficulty, maybe you’re the person with just the knowledge they need, just the right link or website, or maybe just the right words of wisdom after a rough day in the classroom.
Sometimes teaching can be a really lonely job. It can be a relief to read a blog post about someone else’s struggles with a difficult class or an unfamiliar subject area, and know that you’re not the only one going through it. It can be liberating to find that there’s a totally different way of seeing a situation that’s been bugging you for months. It’s exciting to find new ways of thinking and new ways of working, new solutions to old problems.
I also find it really affirming as a professional, when I can help others out, when I can contribute to the discussion, and when it turns out that yes, I really do know what I’m doing. That kind of feedback only comes from having a good professional network.
The job of teaching doesn’t just start at nine and finish at three. If we could all clock in our “overtime” and get paid for it, we’d be earning two or three times as much as we do now. It’s not like teaching leaves us with a whole lot of time on our hands. I have particular admiration for those who manage to also be parents at the same time. I just shake my head and wonder how you guys do it.
Under those circumstances, the idea of starting a blog and finding the time to maintain it can be daunting, and maybe it’s just not for you. But it is very well worth taking a few minutes out of the day or the week to have a look at some of the blogs that are out there. I’ve got a library of links to get you started. I also cannot recommend highly enough, creating a professional account for Twitter and getting in touch with colleagues worldwide.
Participating in the online conversation about music teaching has been more fruitful for me in the last month than years of trying to reinvent the wheel on my own. In the long run, online networking can actually save a whole lot more time than it takes.
10 Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog and Tweet by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting me.