Sunday, May 30, 2010

Love, Your Fairy Blogmother

[update: Sam Shah disagrees with half of what I say here, but in very compelling ways. Highly recommended reading there, too.]  [Also, Elissa has awesome and high-larious wisdom on the matter.]


So you want to start a blog.


What you should not do: Email me. I mean, I don't mind, but I'm just going to be generically encouraging. I've been getting deluged lately, so this post is a public service. "Start a blog" must be a popular summer project for teachers this year. I'm sure commenters will add many helpful suggestions I didn't think of, so be sure to check them out, too. Also note: I violate these pointers all the time! They're just suggestions.


What you should do before you start:
  • Start reading. Set up Google Reader, subscribe to every blog you can find that's like the one you want to start. Check your reader at least once a week. You don't have to read every word. Read the posts that interest you.
  • Start commenting. Don't just use your first name if it's common. Especially if it's "Dan" "Dave" or "Matt." Use your last name or make up a hilarious or distinctive nom de plume. Also, don't just comment to comment. Say intelligent things. Add to the conversation. Point to good resources or tell a helpful anecdote. 
  • Pick a title that stands out, that people will see the title and think, "Oh yeah. That guy." Don't choose a title with "Math" in it. Don't choose a title that only differs by one word or letter than someone else's blog. It might take you a while to think of a good name. It's ok. Take your time. You're going to be stuck with it.
  • Write a tagline that concisely describes your purpose.
  • Optional: Get on Twitter. Contribute to the conversation there.
When you start writing:
  • Add your link to the comments you write, so people can follow it and get to your blog.
  • Some people publish several times a day, some a few times a week, some go months between posts. I don't think it really matters, as long as what you do publish is worth reading.
  • Give each post a title that makes the reader wonder what it's about and want to read on.
  • Don't be afraid to post about your failures as well as your successes.
  • Tell a story. Give it a beginning, middle, and end. Include an illustrative anecdote about how it went down in your class. Dialog helps, which you can totally make up if you need to.
  • Avoid posting fodder just for the sake of posting, such as : embedded videos without commentary that adds to its viewing, lists of links to other blogs, etc.
  • Stick to the topic. Don't badmouth anyone. Try not to complain too much.
  • Credit and link back to ideas you got from and references you make to other people's work.
Realizing I May Have Buried the Lede:
  • Be generous. This community is a gift culture - sharing is how reputations are built and respect is earned. If you have worked hard on a successful lesson, it's worth writing up. Share your presentation files, handouts, dynamic geometry sketches. There are many sites that allow you to share documents for free, and BetterLesson has a nice platform for this now. 
Some suggestions for getting more readers:
  • Don't be too focused on hit counts or number of subscribers. Are you learning from your written reflections? Are you having worthwhile conversations? Isn't that why you're doing this?
  • The best way to get people to read you is to write original content worth reading.
  • Volunteer to curate and host a carnival like Math Teachers at Play.
  • Keep commenting elsewhere, and including the link back to you.
How to manage comments:
  • Acknowledge insightful comments and keep the conversation going for as long as it makes sense.
  • Respond to direct questions to you.
  • Learn to tell the difference between commenters who want to discuss legitimate differences in opinion and issues raised by your post, and the ones who just want to drag you into a pointless holy war. Engage the former.
I hope that helps. Good luck!