To Blog or Not to Blog?

I have recently been thinking about the amount of time I spend working on my writing. For each blog I publish, pages of scribbles, nonsense, rubbish, and incoherent ramblings are produced. I go through multiple revisions, each draft more perfectly crafted (or at least I think) in one area while still frustratingly weak in another. I ask others to preview pieces and provide feedback on the work (sometimes painfully so), and finally, I am able to hit “publish” on the piece–only to read it and realize I still don’t like this word or that sentence.

While many people may call this the textbook definition of insanity, I call it the perfect balance of painful struggle and blissful excitement. However, a colleague and I were talking about blogging the other day, and he admitted he just didn’t see the purpose, wondering why, in a time when our jobs already have us booked beyond anything that remotely resembles a “40-hour work week”, I would go out of my way to work more writing this blog. In that moment, I stumbled to clearly articulate why I do this, but I knew that writing about it would help me crystallize my belief in the power of blogging. So, consider this my meta-blog…the blog to help me realize why I blog.

Chris Bronke

Chris Bronke

1. Because I don’t know what I don’t know until I write about it
When I really stop and think about it, my somewhat new obsession with my own writing (and therefore blogging) came from attending a workshop given by Penny Kittle which focused on strategies for getting students to write more, more creatively, and with greater style. In this workshop, she argued that we write simply because it helps us learn, to uncover things we didn’t know–it is a vehicle to self discovery. She is right. I could write pages and pages about all that I have learned about myself since I began writing frequently upon the returning from that workshop. Words are our we think; it is that simple. So, as Penny did to me in that workshop, I encourage you to explore your words, your thinking, and yourself–write more!

2. Because I have a lot to say (for better or worse)
While I am not always sure if people really want to hear what I have to say, that is the great thing about a blog; no one is forcing anyone to read what I (or any blogger) write. However, in writing all that I have over the last year for this blog (as well as all that didn’t make it to this blog), I have learned that my thoughts on education are important, that they do matter, and that people do want to hear them. More importantly, people in education want to hear your voice, too. We are blessed to live in a world that provides us with so many ways to share our voice; don’t miss out on the opportunity to share in writing–blog!

3. Because teachers need to do a better job of self-promoting
Be default, teachers are selfless; they give their all rarely looking for or expecting anything in return; it is a beautiful sacrifice and one that shines a light on the true people teachers are. However, in a time in which that light is being darkened by a cloud of media misinformation, political agendas, and an over dependence on standardized test scores to determine success, teachers must fight back–refocus that light on to all amazing ways we help kids. My blog has become very personal; it’s a confusing juxtaposition insomuch as the writing, in and of itself, has become more reflective, more personal, all the while the amount of people reading and commenting on it has steadily increased since I started blogging. However, it is through this increased audience that I feel I have found a voice in self-promotion, and most importantly not just for myself, but for the profession as a whole. Will you join me in sharing the good word of all teachers do for kids?

4. Because it makes me a better model for my students
I love teaching writing. I always have and always will; however, I have become exponentially better at it– more honest, more real–since I started blogging. Why? Because I am going through the same worries with word choice, the same struggles with syntax, and the same consternation over commas. Because I am concurrently engaged in a never-ending battle for non-existent perfection that taunts and haunts us…all while rewarding us in ways few other endeavors can. Simply put, writing for my blog makes my students and I equals. It isn’t teacher and student; it isn’t “trained” writer and novice; it is a community of learners equally struggling to make our words dance, to create a joyous cadence with our sentences, and to allow our emotions to permeate the page and our readers’ hearts. Will you join me in being a writing model for your students?

5. Because it is fun
One of my favorite quotes from anything I have ever read is so beautiful in its poetic simplicity: “Words, words, words” (Shakespeare, II. ii). Here we see Hamlet both having fun with Polonius while also expressing the unspeakable power of language. It is just that simple: playing with language is fun. Writing is a “1.21 gigawat” trip back to the future. It forces us to reconsider our believes, reexamine our ideals, and defend our thoughts. But more than anything, writing gives us a pathway to play, to have fun…a chance to be a kid again, using language to do that back flip off of the swing set, to race down the monkey bars, or skin our knee falling off our bike. So, the next time you are having a bad day, frustrated by the mundane and seemingly pointless bureaucracy of education, take a few minutes and WRITE! Because it is fun!

Christopher Bronke
English and Communications Department Chair
Downers Grove North High School, IL

Reposted with permission from Chris’s blog.


Why I Joined CEL and Why You Should Too

To be perfectly honest, I joined the Conference on English Leadership (CEL) in 2012 because I wanted to go to Las Vegas where the NCTE Convention was going to take place in November. Now before you judge me, what you need to understand is that I didn’t want to go to Las Vegas to play the slots in Win City, or to marvel at Cirque Du Soleil, or to embark in any of the tawdry behavior that makes one pledge that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. I wanted to go to Vegas for perhaps the nerdiest reason of all: I missed my West Coast colleagues and friends, who I erroneously assumed would be attending the conference. Joining CEL seemed to be a genius way to extend our time together at NCTE.

Gina Sipley

Gina Sipley

Of course, I use the word nerdy, lovingly. Teaching, at its finest, is a collaborative and cooperative endeavor; we grow exceedingly close to those with whom we work. In 2012 I had recently relocated from a small independent school in Oregon to a small independent school in New York. Although I grew up in New York and it has always been the place I call home, it was disorienting to return after having lived for a decade in other parts of the country. My return to New York was filled with the reunion of beloved family and friends who nurtured most aspects of my life, but anyone who has ever taught knows that your professional life at times becomes your entire life. And it was in my professional life in NY that I felt a bit out of step and alone. So attending the NCTE-CEL Annual Convention, seemed like the perfect chance to reconnect with old colleagues, the friends with whom I could reveal the dirty laundry, so to speak, of my curriculum and pedagogy and who could help me without judgment and without repercussion (when one works in a private school without the protections of tenure there is always a sense that one false move could be the end of your career). This was a brilliant plan to reunite with my Oregon friends in Vegas except for one tiny problem: I was the only one who could get funding to attend the conference. Thus, I went to Vegas, alone.*

Except this is what I learned in Vegas, when you join CEL, you are never alone.

What makes CEL so different from other organizations is that its annual convention is purposefully designed to be small. NCTE is a mammoth organization with a spectacular, but overwhelming conference with ballrooms bursting full of eager participants and a seemingly unlimited list of sessions occurring concurrently. Each special event requires an RSVP and a bit of pre-planning in terms of allocating additional funds. The CEL Convention was a welcome respite from the bustle of NCTE. With its endearing Hospitality Committee that immediately greets and identifies newcomers, someone has taken the time to seek you out and make sure that they get to know you beyond your name badge.

It is becoming increasingly rare for a convention to include meals within the cost of registration, but this is where CEL gets it right. Food is community, and at CEL, you have several opportunities to eat with the entire conference while listening to dynamic keynote speakers. This inclusive design encourages more quality conversations among participants because everyone has broken bread together and participated in the same keynote sessions. A particularly wonderful feature of the conference are the facilitated dinners where several veteran members of CEL each choose a restaurant and participants have the option of signing up to a join a group and either make new friends or reunite with others. One of the worst things about attending a conference for the first time can be a solo evening meal in a strange city far from your loved ones, but at that very first night of CEL you are instantly among friends.

CEL has a wonderful intergenerational quality and what perhaps most impresses me about the organization is its commitment to fostering leadership among its novice members. They offer an incredible Emerging Leaders Fellowship, which I was privileged to receive, that offers registration remission and two-year long support with an inspiring mentor. There is an active effort to recruit members from a variety of different types of institutions and across various geographical spaces. Moreover CEL’s embrace of educational technology extends the walls of the conference to a continuous thread of discussion during Thursday #litlead chats, curated #CEL conference tweets, and our blog. The inclusion of educational technologies allow us to not only connect with educators nationwide, but to better understand what’s going on in the classrooms that are physically close to you, sometimes even in your own building.

This November will mark my third CEL Convention. Where I am excited to learn how to become a more effective and empathetic leader in our collaborative world, what I am, secretly, most excited about is connecting with my CEL colleagues, who in a very short space of time, have become old friends.


Gina Sipley (@gsipley)
Instructor of Reading and Basic Education
Nassau Community College