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February 21, 2007

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Neil Winton

Having read Steve's post (as you recommend) I thought I'd share something I heard from Ewan McIntosh (http://edu.blogs.com/) at last year's Scottish Learning Festival. We were chatting about what blogging meant to us, and he told me about how The Guardian are changing the way they recruit journalists. Apparently, The Guardian are no longer too bothered about formal qualifications per se. They are more interested in your blog as it will tell them everything they need to know about you, your opinions, and your ability to communicate...

As Steve points out in his penultimate paragraph, within a year any employer is going to be doing a Google search for you before offering a job, and we as educators better realise this pretty quickly, because if we don't, we are not preparing our pupils with the skills they are going to need...

Sam Jackson

This is a good point, and one that I realized recently when I was trying to make a new and more complete blogroll... Hmm. Tricky.

Dan Meyer

I don't get it. You and Borsch seem to be advocating vastly different things, unless I'm completely misunderstanding you and completely misreading him.

You haven't quoted Borsch at all, which could be a function of your crazy 10-posts-a-day pace, but maybe because you're stretching his thesis out quite a ways. Mostly, I don't see how Borsch can be extrapolated to endorse boycotting anybody. Let 'em all write what they want -- kids barfing and everything. Cream's gonna rise, man.

I can't find any sort of logical extension from Borsch in the direction of a boycott and I'm not particularly sure who you're calling out and why. (I mean, y'know, deep down I just want to be on the winning team.)

His point seems to be, blogs are the new resume, so let's not clutter ours with worthless content. That just feels like Blogging 101, though.

Christian

Dan –

The use of "boycot" was just a semantic Trojan horse used as a what-did-he-say? starting point in an effort to focus on the idea of 'passion-value' blogging (per Steve).

This doesn’t minimize the potential for confusion, Dan. Hardly. If anything, the post was meant to be a provocation for exploring the ‘frame’ our collective conversations tend to use today and in the future. People can take what they want from my post. Not meant to be a literal or linear statement. Something you either get as a pattern-forming or not.

Something that continues to cross my minds these days: Do we blog because of our profession or because of our passions? As the ranks of educators who blog grows, the ‘value’ (if you will) of such conversations may ironically be in jeopardy if we default to ‘edu-bloggers’ as a way to figure out who to connect to. Or at least over-saturated and harder to evaluate/notice.

This is where Steve’s post sparked something for me. I am intrigued by those who focus on their passions (whether in education or not) rather than their criticisms or “I’m a teacher, therefore I know better” responses to others who are passionate about education (for instance). I’m also interested in the unique connections that occur when people link on this level rather than the default ‘professional’ tags we start off with. Ex: “I’m a teacher (or fill in the blank), therefore I blog about teaching.” Steve – a colleague of mine – focused on blogging based on passion, and using a passion to inspire blogging. While coming at it from a different direction, I’m echoing his thoughts…and using it as a re-framing exercise.

Too often, the edu-conversations are about compelling teachers to blog...but they fail to suggest why. We rarely ask what the teacher's passion might be, and how blogging could fuel that. Same with students. We see it as a 'tool' that must be used...or we'll fall behind. The focus on edu-bloggers seems -- in my mind -- to foster this mindset because the very premise of being a blogger and an educator seems to be enough reason for people to stop by. But do we really know what the passions (rather than professional title and expertise) is of we edu-bloggers? Perhaps we have an opportunity to demand better of ourselves.

Hence, passion.

We’re all – self included – caught up in this artificial “edu-blogging” frame today in part because the #’s are still fairly limited. Easy to ‘stand out’ and gain an audience just because you have the word “education” as a tag. Tomorrow? In the future, however, how will you – and others – filter who is in your blog feed as the #’s increase exponentially? And will anyone show up to hear what your wrote? What is the max # of blogs you can keep track of in a normal function? And how do you refresh your go-to list to prevent the same-ol-voices syndrome occurring after a few months?

More than a math/time function, I’d suggest that as more and more of us use our passions as our defining principles for becoming bloggers, the greater the chance that we’ll find audiences and connections and ‘teachers’ along the way. And the better others voices will be, too.

But again, the use of “boycott” was a Trojan horse merely meant as an invitation to ditch the “edu-blogger” frame. Don’t look too much into it. A throw-away phrase. A burning match that isn’t meant to be lit for very long. Certainly not meant in the most literal ways.

Example: Your passion for geometry and graphic design is a hell of a lot more powerful, Dan, than any “edu-blogger” frame someone could give you. Perhaps today someone will take note of you for that, but in 6 months? What will draw them to you? What will draw you to others after you’ve been doing this for a year? Two? More? For what it’s worth.

On a side note, the “boycott” language was also used by several other bloggers recently to protest what was seen as inappropriate web 2.0 tools being used in schools. I thought they lost perspective in using that language. Consider it a touch of blogging zeitgeist that became an easy word for me to cherry-pick in this post. A double-entendre. Even if I was the only smiling.

Beyond that, the post is wide open for interpretation. And critique.

Cheers…and thanks for such a thoughtful and in-depth response.

Christian

Dan Meyer

"Do we blog because of our profession or because of our passions?"

No way you believe those two are mutually exclusive, right?

See I'm getting this funny picture of some bizarro-Christian on some bizarro-graphic design / geometry blog saying, c'mon, everyone, we've gotta stop being JUST design-bloggers. We've gotta discover passion in ourselves and everyone else. "Dan, your interest in teaching is way more interesting than any design-blog framework I could fit around you."

In Bizarro world there and here, I'm pretty sure the answer is: but, Christian, we ARE passionate about our professions. Phrased as a question: how many ed-bloggers do you think are out there just grinding out posts for the status?

In Bizarro world and here and in the future where bloggers beget more bloggers like rabbits in the field, passionate, excited bloggers are going to be the cheap currency. Everyone's already passionate, angry, ranting, enthusiastic. Quality writing, quality thinking, and a quality product will always rise to the top faster than passion.

Which, I think, is closer to Borsch's point than this idea that we need to forsake the values that make us professionals in favor of passion. Passion is important, but professionalism defines success in Borsch's post.

Basically, at the heart of your post and your follow-up is some semantics I don't think you've sufficiently justified.

Oh, and I've also filled my quota for the word "passion" until 2010.

Scott Elias

You know why I like this post? It addresses something I struggled with for the first few weeks I had my blog. I have a lot of varied interests - Macs, GTD, productivity, photography - and was trying to figure out a way to "categorize" them for inclusion in my sidebar. Or thinking maybe I should have another blog for "personal" stuff that interests me.

But as I thought about it, I decided that this WAS me. Who I am is not completely defined by what I do - although it's a significant part of it. Who I am is also defined by my quirky affinity for high-end writing utensils and quality writing paper, by what apps I install on my Macbook, by what digital camera or new cell phone I'm thinking of purchasing, and by what I do with my family outside of school hours.

Thanks for the post, Christian.

Christian

Dan -- I'm truly enjoying the path -- stone by stone (even the ones that do not sit in a straight line from A to Z) -- of this conversation. First and foremost. Let’s see (no promises here) if we can make some inroads with regards to your last comment reply.

*****

Scenario (purely fictional, mind you; certainly never would happen in the ‘real world’):

Blogger/Expert/Speaker: “Mr./Mrs. Teacher, you must begin to blog immediately or you and your kids will fall terribly behind. Certainly behind China and India, which we used to take for granted, but today we realize that they are not only much larger but also able to do remarkable things as economic powers.”

Teacher: “Ah, I’m not very technological. And I’m not covering China or India this semester. We do, however, work on a really wonderful cross-cultural journaling project…”

Blogger/Expert/Speaker: “Wait, let me start over. You must begin to blog immediately because your students are all what we call ‘digital natives’ who are computer literate the second they step foot into your classroom, need constant engagement, access to every corner of the information superhighway (even the dusty ones that nobody thinks are very interesting), and the freedom to mash-up (we’ll define that later) whatever they find into novel outcomes.”

Teacher: “Half of my kids are 3 grades behind in reading and seem to struggle when I give them work to do in the computer lab. And I’m not sure that I want them to find everything on the Internet. I’d rather have them focus on what we need to do in class to help them be more confident readers today. They have the rest of their life to learn how to use the internet. And whatever this blogging really is about.”

Blogger/Expert/Speaker: “Wait, wait, wait. I’m not making myself clear. You must begin to blog immediately because you want your school to be a 21st century school!”

Teacher: “I’m confused. It’s 2006. Doesn’t that mean we are already a 21st century school? Or am I being too literal for you?”

Blogger/Expert/Speaker: “Okay, let’s just cut to the chase. You must begin t blog because everyone’s doing it. And you don’t want to be the only teacher not blogging, do you?”

Teacher: “Thanks for your concern. Really. But if everyone’s doing it, then what are you doing traveling the country and the blogosphere – did I say that correctly? – trying to get everyone to blog? Seems like a lot of work just convince me – the last teacher who hasn’t blogged – to get involved. I’m flattered. But I’m okay. Really I am.”

*****

I offer this scenario as a lens, Dan.

Certainly not about any one person, but a step-back-and-rethink opportunity for all of us who are in the ‘education’ camp and also the ‘blogging’ camp. For lack of a better phrase, many of us use the phrase “edu-blogger” as a convenient starting point.

Why?

Because it is an obvious derivation of 2 large associations, it is easy to remember, it helps to define what is and what is not, it has a few sprinkles of geeky-cool thrown in just for good measure, and for the last few years it actually meant something unique to a relatively small community who were early adopters and writing passionately about what they did regardless of how small the maximum community and audience would be.

So, why write a post like “Stop Blogging Because You’re An Educator?” Great question. Let me first start out by saying what it does NOT mean:

1. It does not mean “Stop blogging.”
2. It does not mean “Educators should not blog.”
3. It does not mean “Boycott all bloggers who blog about education” or “Boycott all educators who decide to blog.”

Now, onto what it does suggest (allude to, might be more accurate, as I’m not intending to be the definitive answer, but rather a bit of a spark that allows others to come to their own conclusions. The ex-English teacher in me perhaps.):

1. Telling any educator to blog JUST BECAUSE they are an educator seems to offer little to either party at the end of the day.
2. Being disappointed JUST BECAUSE a great, decent, or not-so-inspiring teacher chooses not to blog – or simply hasn’t made that shift yet – seems to be a waste of time. Even well-intentioned time. And certainly seems to lead to an overall fueling of the them vs. us paradigm which is rarely the point. Or of value.
3. Likewise, JUST BECAUSE we tend to craft side bar blog rolls and RSS feeds that contain the vast majority of the same “edu-blogger” links (as everyone else) doesn’t actually return us to the heyday of the NYTimes or local paper where everyone in a single community had access to a shared culture. It’s actually an echo-chamber dominated by a few early adopters. And a few folks who have oddly climbed the Technorati ladder just ahead of the explosion of others that are entering the same ‘tagged’ community. In fact, why do we use side bar blog rolls? To be instructive? To show our unique personalities? To be repetitive or accepted? To get cross-linked? To appear ‘in the know’? To show allegiances? Or to get noticed?
4. Ultimately, JUST BECAUSE a hundred thousand, a million, a billion, and maybe even a few more teachers end up getting blogs to talk about education itself, even become regular contributors to a larger conversation about education on occasion, doesn’t mean much more than an exercise in quantifying entrants based on ‘profession’ overtime. OK, perhaps a grad school student or a statistician or a futurist or policy wonk will find this very useful and begin to suggest cultural patterns, but for the vast majority of those ‘inside’ the edu-blogging community or conversation (depends on your choice of semantic), once it hits a scale of 1,000 or 10,000 or so, there is simply NO way to possibly aggregate it all, make use of it all, skim it all, understand it all, or frankly care beyond a small tipping point of easily discovered material that just-so-happens to pertain to a default professional label.

Plenty of holes in that semantic structure, Dan, so dive in. Or, see it as a pattern from a distance only and then consider the following:

The ONLY thing that mattered in the original blog was the single word “because.” Truly.

Everything else was either a Trojan Horse to spark attention/curiosity/reactions or it was a playful rant based on a quick idea spark. Nothing meant to dramatically change the course of human history. Just a blog post. Not the holy grail in anyone’s universe.

So, let’s go back to the original title (and similar sentiments expressed throughout the post itself):

“Stop Blogging Because You Are an Educator” entirely rests upon the word ‘because’ and nothing more. In other words:

1. Just because you are an educator is not sufficient enough of a reason for someone to tell you that you have to blog.
2. Likewise, just because you are an educator doesn’t mean you have a purpose in blogging. You may, but it takes more (not from outside criticism, but for you to commit to being a regular blogger)
3. Finally, blog because you are passionate about something ONLY. Not because it is a default professional label that comes with your chosen career or paycheck. Yes, it'll be easier to be found if you use 'education' as the reason in a few years, but then it makes it easier for everyone to be found, too. Passions and unique patterns of passions, on the other hand, are always found. And they'll matter even more in the future.

Dan, you asked if I thought that “profession” and “passion” were mutually exclusive. Great question. Certainly the appropriate skeptical place to begin.

No. Never. Hardly.

But, and here is a key point for me (although I’m sure it’s laden with semantic holes, too -- he smiles). If I had to choose only ONE thing in life to blog about – just ONE – and I was about ready to begin my FIRST post in my FIRST blog, and I had the option of choosing something associated with my “profession” or my greatest “passion”…well, I might pick something other than my profession. On the other hand, there might be overlap. Or, they might be one in the same.

But, the more we dedicate ourselves to our absolute passions as bloggers – not just the default categories we are hired to execute – the greater the chance we’ll tap into something bigger than us and frankly have a chance of having a community to tap into in the coming years when the blog pool becomes very crowded. And its about ready to become very crowded!

This is not – as you suggested – about simply “grinding out posts for the status.” Who does that? I could be accused, but if nobody came -- as it was in the beginning when I still did 10 a day on average -- I'd still write, write, write.

This is about the sheer fact that the # of educators who blog will exponentially explode in the coming years, perhaps only matched by technologists (but probably even extending past them, too, soon enough), and that as we entice teachers/administrators to begin blogging, we must re-think our opening invitation.

At the end of the day, it can’t be just because they are teachers and/or administrators. It has to be about something greater, something more inspired, something more akin to what drives them forward as a human. Call it passion, if you will. If it’s teaching, great. But if its not, perhaps we should remind them to blog about their passions first and to invite ‘education’ into the conversation when there is a great fit.

Remember, the word "because" was all that mattered. And this isn't about those -- like you and me, Dan -- who already blog regularly. Instead, the word "because" is key in terms of those we are trying to invite into the blogging experience. This is what Steve and I share. This is the reason the word "because" was used.

Likewise, if I were a new teacher blogger, where would I turn for others ‘like’ me? Often, one tends to gravitate towards other teacher bloggers, and then to a few A-listers who everyone is linking to, as a place to start, and of course a few folks we are passionate about but can’t frame as education related. Nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is instructive. Today, not such a big deal. In a year or 3? I think that simply choosing to link to others who are in the same profession or grade level will have a reverse big-picture outcome that we have today because it’ll be too splintered, too segmented, too small echo-chamber. Yes, everyone has the freedom to link/listen to who they want. But as #’s increase, “edu-blogger” will begin to lose value over time.

What’s left?

Blog your passions. Link your passions. And whatever the cross-over is, it is.

Finally, you asked in your comment reply about the bizarro world where everything is simply reversed – especially semantically – and while I smile at the Seinfeld reference, I would say, yes, you’re right on some level…but for a different reason.

“Stop blogging because you’re a…” can be filled in with countless titles/professions/labels. It would hold true well beyond the halls of academia. Same principles exist. If, as a designer you’re blogging just because you’re a designer, I’d say that has limited value over time. If, however, as a designer, you blogged about your passions – and that included design as well as many, many other things – I’d say that you’ll not only have a more powerful community over time, but you’ll become a better writer, thinker, and leader.

Towards the very end of your reply, Dan, you suggested that professionalism made up of “quality writing, quality thinking, and a quality product will always rise to the top faster than passion” and I agree 100% without disclaimers. On the flip side, and this is where you really help to make my larger point, just because we are in a profession or blogging about that profession, doesn’t mean we are offering “quality writing, quality thinking, and a quality product”…nor that as the blogging waters fill with more and more bloggers that we’ll “rise to the top faster” either.

So, if we had to pick one over the other, and we want at the end of the day to be better writers, better thinkers, and offer a better product, I suggest that we say to potentially new bloggers, “Blog because you are passionate. Let your profession follow.”

Last and final point, Dan. I’m not contending that any post – let alone this one – is supposed to be a “sufficiently justified” final product. This isn’t law school 101 or an encyclopedia. And I don’t want everyone to agree, either. So, your final comment is actually a compliment and further proof that what keeps us in the conversation is ultimately better than the final answer. The proof is in the making of the pudding, so to speak. Semantics are poor bedfellows if our life depends on the final answer. On the other hand, they are merely rabbits that each Alice is allowed to follow wherever they lead…and ultimately, my friend, that ride down the rabbit hole is infinitely more interesting than simply having the right answer.

Thank you again for your thoughtful and spirited reply and your challenges, even more so.
Cheers,
Christian

Dan Meyer

So is this how you assess the current state of things? Or the state of things to come? If I had to quantify your writing, you seem to think that (approximately) 2 out of 3 ed-bloggers are only in it out of either peer pressure or a desire to ride that cutting technological edge, that 2 out of 3 ed-bloggers are dispassionately traveloguing their profession without much enthusiasm or acuity for the details whizzing by the window, and that the proportions will only get worse.

The middle ground I can offer you here is that I find two blogger phyla equally vapid:

a) the school 2.0 blogger who only has a blog because it's on the school 2.0 charter, who maintains a blogroll several feet long, and who spends most of the day linking to, but not expanding on, other commentary around the web.

b) the fella who's just super excited to have his very first blogger and just wants to know what this technoratty thing is everyone's talking about. Meme, anyone?

Both people -- one blogging out of professionalism alone, one just real passionate about everything she's doing -- have lousy compulsions to blog.

A teacher is considering investing her time in a blog. We can both agree that blogging because, "that's the direction education is moving in, towards an interconnected, flat classroom," is a lousy reason.

But no way I'm going to tell her "just make sure you're passionate about what you write." For sure it won't be boring, but it won't (necessarily) be good.

I don't even know why we bother we these two, who are obviously (to me) the last-finishing horses in this race.

For myself, for anyone who'd ask my opinion, for anyone reading this, the only way to avoid becoming a boring bust-up of a blogger is to a) have something interesting to say, b) an interesting voice to say it in, and, extra credit, c) an interesting product to offer.

Personally, I never would've put a welcome mat on my own blog stoop if I hadn't thought I could fulfill all three criteria.

Passion's great and trimming all the dispassionate professionals from your blogroll is categorically A Good Thing. But you're still gonna have a lot of insubstantial garbage left over. History bears out here, from other bizarro'spheres I frequent, that no matter how saturated the blogscape becomes, passion, professionalism, but most importantly, quality rule. And they're easy to find.

So definitely, let's trim those blogrolls. I keep mine at six, simply because I'm so hesitant to promote anybody who's in the game for the wrong reasons. But I'm way more optimistic than you, Christian. So long as we keep promoting those quality bloggers at the exclusion of all the echoey professionals and enthusiastic cheerleaders, I don't think our ten-year forecast is nearly as grim as you do.

A Mercer

Ya know, when I started on the Internet, I was a banker. I wrote about other things because, well it wasn't my passion. Now I teach. It's maddening, it's infuriating, it's wonderful and I am passionate about my profession, so I share that in my blog. Sometimes I talk about policy, sometimes I talk about kids barfing in my classroom, sometimes, I talk about the frankly brillant things my kids do, which is sometimes on the Internet, but sometimes isn't. It really doesn't matter because although I think Web 2.0 helps kids make connections (even kids who are 2 to 3 grade levels behind -- which is most of the kids I've ever taught), but it's not the medium that's the idea, it is the message, the thinking, the analysis, that is what we should all be after. It's what I'm looking for from myself, and my students.

I don't have collegues to share ideas with, because lord knows I've tried. They aren't techies like me. I don't want or need them to be, but I've got to have someone to chat with about what I'm doing, because if I lock myself in my room, and just keep doing things without reflecting, seeing what's out there, etc. it won't work. It doesn't work if you do that with paper and pencil, why would it be any different with technology?

Maybe I'm too new to educational blogging to have perspective (I started this winter), but I've been on the Internet in one form or another for a while now, so I'm no newbie either.

By the way, your kid is really cute.

Kelly Christopherson

To join or not to join? My goodness. As an a person interested in technology and how it influences and impacts our lives, I was drawn to blogging because of the access it gave me. To be truthful, it was because I disagreed with some of the "prominent" bloggers that I began my own blog. I still disagree with some of the ideas out there and I like to find those who push me to reconsider my ideas. Is it passion? Is it because I'm an educator? Both. But more importantly, it is because I believe that I have something to add to this discussion about life, technology and education. I believe my experience as a teacher, administrator, father, coach, etc give me a perspective and lens by which I can filter information and provide some insight into this vastly uncharted world. I enjoy blogging. It makes me reflect on what I do and how I see my world. I have many passions and sometimes I spend too much time going through the old aggregator, reading and looking at what others have to say. But I enjoy that part of blogging. It allows me to connect with people outside my small, rural town. Do I have something to say? I really think that I do. Do I care about how many people read it? Well, yeah. How many? Doesn't matter. I just enjoy the conversation. I'm not as prolific as many of the other bloggers because I'm sometimes up to my neck with the workings of the school, coaching and raising 7 children. Oh, and talking with my wife once in a while!
I blog because I want to add to the discussion on education.
I want to be part of seeing where education will go in the future.
I want to get past the whole us/them paradigm that has been created and begin to think about we.
Will my ideas rise to the top? Hell if I know. But, then again, I quit reading those who are the "all-stars" because I'm past that. Now I want something that is more true to teaching - more the day-to-day of what education is all about.

David

Christian,
I have a thin blogroll and still I can't keep up. I got here after reading a post by Kelly (see his comment above). I enjoy reading his posts, but some of them can take 20+ min. to read when I am in the mood to follow the links, and Kelly is very good at making the links meaningfully relevant. Sometimes I end up following links in other links until I have lost my trail, and often that is when I find a rose among the thorns... a post that is off the beaten path that really makes me think. This is why I have been looking for new voices, but your post has made me wonder if I should be doing this unless I get rid of some of the 'old' voices first?

To be honest I don't have you in my blogroll but I have read at least 6 or 7 of your posts in the last few months... and your manifesto was the first of many I have read about 2 months ago, (although I credit Christopher D. Sessums for inspiring my own version).

Why am I writing this now? Because I think your message here is very good! As one of my past students wrote, "Well, there’s a lot of flotsam and jetsam in creative work floating around today–or should I say, dotsam and netsam..."(http://wanderingink.wordpress.com/2007/01/18/selectively-permeable/)
She says flotsam, you say algae, regardless of what you call it, there is an exponentially growing, disproportionate amount of 'fluff' out there in the world of edublogs. Even Warlick and Richardson seem to be more about post-cards than edu-posts. I am reminded of a chapter in the book 'Zen in the Martial Arts' that distinguishes between 'spending time' and 'wasting time'... to me, this post is about weeding through your feeds, pruning the time wasters and finding the rose among the thorns.
I don't think I have the will power to clear-cut my feed garden and start from scratch as you suggest, but some pruning will be healthy- Thanks for the inspiration!
(Sorry for all the mixed metaphors, it is way past my bed time.)


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David Truss
Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts blog
datruss@shaw.ca


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Do Good Deeds.

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