Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 reasons

To learn. Like many others, I read books and articles, attend conferences, workshops and trainings, and visit other schools in order to learn more about best practices and innovative new approaches.    But I know about myself that I will retain much more, and be much better able to draw upon and use that information in the future, if I write while I am learning, if I record the main ideas I am learning in writing, and if I reflect upon them.   So I write to learn, and if I am writing about these ideas anyway, I figure, why not share these writings.

To model learning. I think that educational leaders should publicly demonstrate that we too are learning and we too love learning: chiefs of learnings need to be chief learners.   Blogging is a great way to display the ways in which I too, like our students, am trying regularly to learn.

To share. Like all principals and school heads, I often speak) to students, teachers, and parents, and sometimes it seems that what I say might be of interest to other constituencies or those who could not attend.   My blog is a great way of making these remarks available for everyone.

To showcase my school. There are so many things about my school I am proud of and which I want others to know more about so they will more strongly appreciate and admire my school (and perhaps choose to attend it).  My blog is a way to share great things happening here at school.  I can re-post the syllabus for a cool new class, write up what is said by teachers about their courses at Curriculum Night, or publish fine student work.Videos made about our school can also be reposted.   Prospective parents considering attending St. Gregory should be able to, and do,  find my blog a valuable showcase of the school’s qualities.

To articulate a vision. School-leaders are often asked to have a “vision,” and at times, earlier in my career, the “v-word” seemed daunting.  I neither knew how I was supposed to have a meaningful and broad “vision,” nor how I was supposed to effectively articulate it.    I demurred; I don’t have a vision, I am just here to serve the school and its mission.

I still believe that to serve a school and its mission is important, but I have come to recognize and appreciate that leadership is more effective when a leader does have and share a clear vision and conviction of his or her educational aims, aspirations, and ideals.   My blog is one of the essential ways I articulate my vision of where our school is headed in its never-ending journey of educational improvement.

To develop a vision. That said, blogs are not final, static documents; blogging is a new narrative form which is vital, vibrant, and dynamic, and my blog is intended to reveal the journey I am on in continuing to shape my educational vision.  Andrew Sullivan, who blogs so brilliantly for the Atlantic, is a terrific thinker about blogging as a unique writing practice.  In an excellent video he posted recently (entitled How Blogging is Changing Writing), he explained “Blogging is ‘truer’ than the ‘conceit’ of a finished piece of work…. Blogging is thinking & writing in real time, in a constant present-ness.”

To connect and converse. There is an interesting conversation happening in the blogosphere about whether blogging is a “social media.”   The term derives from the words web-log, and a log is largely  synonym for journal, and we don’t think of journaling as social.  Blogging can be lonely and isolated; a blogger is sometimes perceived to be a hermit in a basement writing only for himself.   But when I blog, I am so delighted when people reply and comment, or discuss with me the ideas expressed, or reach out to me and want to communicate further; I feel far more connected with a large and widespread set of colleagues than I ever did before as a result of my blogging.

To lead. Recently I heard my national association President, Pat Bassett,  tell a group of school-leaders that he believes we are mistakenly spending too much time managing, and too little time leading.  I agree.  Over 12 years of heading two schools in California, I found myself much too much a manager: responding and reacting rather than initiating and guiding, attending to organizational details rather than to educational program development.

In preparing for my new, now current position,  however, I became determined to not repeat that mistake, and to use the blog as a platform from upon which I can lead.   By virtue of my blog and its public recognition,  I view myself as an educational thinker and leader who is applying himself to the particular school I have been called to serve, rather then seeing my identity as an educational leader derived from, tied to, and dependent upon my (perhaps temporary) job.

This seems funny, and maybe it is bizarre, but I am a blogger first and a school-head second.   I was a blogger before I became head of St. Gregory, and I will be a blogger afterwards.  My blog is not a “head-of-school-blog,” it is the Head of School’s…blog.   (It is linked to from and embedded in the school’s website, but it is not hosted on the school’s website and I “own” it.)

To contribute to and influence the broader educational conversation. It is an enormous honor and privilege for me to have been called to serve St. Gregory as its head, and I would hate to ever allow the inference that I think it anything other than that. I am very appreciative for and humbled by this opportunity.

But that said, it isn’t enough for me to seek to improve learning at my school only.  From my more than 20 years of practice, observation, and reflection, I have ideas I wish to share about how we can improve learning for all students.  I am so very glad blogging exists: it is a such a wonderful way to have a voice and to participate in and contribute to the broader conversation around the nation and the world about where schooling should be headed, and it is so meaningful and rewarding to me that by blogging I can do so.

To get perspective. Many days on campus I spend entire days drawn away from what is most important and interesting to me.  It is incredibly important to my successful leadership that I raise funds, organize marketing, plan events, hire, fire, budget, etc.  I do enjoy all these aspects of my job (well, not all of them, but most), but it can be disappointing and even disillusioning when there are days when they are all I get to do.

In blogging, though, which I do almost exclusively at home outside of normal work hours, I get to return to my professional passion: learning about, reflecting upon, and sharing ideas about k-12 education in the 21st century.  In blogging, I gain the perspective that those work-day actions are in service of my opportunity to advance the kind of educational excellence to which my blog is devoted.

To make mistakes. Blogging is like live TV;  it is less polished,  unfinished, a work-in-progress.   I make mistakes when blogging; I experiment with ideas;  I try things on for size.  This project is anything but perfectionist in quality or in style.   I make too many mistakes on my blog; I know I ought to do more and better copy-editing and proof-reading,  (and I will!).

But as one twitter friend/colleague, Matt Montagne, tweeted recently,  “blogging goes a long way in crushing a culture of perfectionism.”  Let’s all allow ourselves to reflect, observe, comment, observe, and share without allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

To show off. Time to name the elephant in the room.   I know all too well that some observers of my blogging, and the blogging and tweeting of others, think it is nothing but attention-seeking and showing off.   Why don’t you just keep your thoughts to yourself?  Why do you need to foist every idea, every observation, every thought that comes into your head onto others?

It is hard to know how to respond to this.   I do do some small things to call attention to my blog;  I try not to push it upon others; it is really always only voluntary reading.  I don’t email it to people, like a chain letter, except to those who have signed up for its delivery; I don’t “assign it” as required reading (in contrast, say, to the way we insist parents read school newsletters); I don’t announce new posts on list-serves or on other web-sites (except twitter).

I am aware, I believe,  that many or most of my fellow school-leaders could do just as good a job as I do (or better) writing a blog like this if they took the initiative to do so.   Most don’t.   I do, but in doing so I only earn and deserve credit for my initiative, not my intellect.

The other thing to say about this criticism is that it is not entirely unfounded.  Yes, I do like the attention.   It makes me happy to know that people are visiting my blog, mentioning me in tweets, recommending me to others, and learning from what I am sharing.   It is nice to be valued and praised as an educational writer; it is among my many goals to continue to build my prominence and enlarge my visibility, and if that means calling a bit of attention to my blog, so be it.

To write.  I love to write.  I find myself constantly composing sentences in my head, and wanting to try to put them on paper. (Metaphorically speaking; it doesn’t sound the same to say “wanting to rearrange electrons on a screen”).    I don’t think I am an especially good writer, but I enjoy it, and it makes me happy.

[cross-posted from my blog, www.21k12blog.net]

18 comments for “Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 reasons

  1. October 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    This is excellent. I would suggest two edits. Rather than develop a vision I would say to refine my vision. This makes you look like you are continuing to grow. If you blog to develop a vision it implies you didn’t have one when you started and I am sure you did. As far as the mistakes are concerned, you are only as good as you worst post. Great care must be taken as you are exposing yourself and your organization to the world. If you do make a mistake, admit it, ask for forgiveness, move on, and hope your boss can take a joke. As far as showing off is concerned, as a leader you are constantly on stage. The key thing to remember is that it is not about you, but what is best for the organization and most importantly the students. Check my blog for more free self-development resources. I believe that my book summaries are my most valuable resource. DrDougGreen.Com
    Douglas W. Green, EdD

    • October 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      Hi Doug:

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read and respond. I appreciate your thoughts on the topic.

      Reasonable people can certainly disagree. Discriminating between refine and develop may lead into the semantics of each word, but I think that my vision has developed, and is continuing to, develop substantially as I blog; refine would seem to me to be applied to something that has already arrived at a place very close to completion, and I don’t think in my case it applies.

      I agree that, in general , clumsy mistakes are unfortunate. But I want to disagree with your argument about mistakes: I do not accept that “I am only as good as my worst post,” and I think blogging as a form does not align itself with that position. (See Andrew Sullivan). I am better than my worst post- (and I am not as good as my best post.) If we tell students, teachers, and learners in general that they are only as a good as their worst post/speech/class/project, I think we are inculcating a perfectionist mindset that is not supportive of learning and growth. I want people to put themselves and their thoughts out there, and learn from their mistakes, not be judged by them.

      Thanks Doug,
      Jonathan

  2. October 28, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Hi Jonathan:
    Duck and run from the self development juggernauts, leadership gurus and all those with canned answers. And keep blogging, taking risks and learning. There is no template for what you do. You are creating it as you go along. And as for the risk of being wrong and not being perfect – Wallace Stevens said it best: (The Poems of Our Climate.)

    The imperfect is our paradise.
    Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
    Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
    Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

  3. October 28, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    schools have been too good for too long at promoting a culture that privatizes student and teacher work. This has ripple effect consequences on all aspects of school life. For example, we still do parent teacher conferences in much the same way that we’ve always done them-they typically still serve as a platform for teachers to share mundane news about classroom happenings, student work, etc…all of this type of work could be shared on nearly a daily basis so that conference time could be used for more interesting conversations and work.

    There is a GREAT quote by the company founders that developed the iPad app, “Pulsepad.” This was the most popular iPad app within a few weeks of the iPad’s release last spring. The quote goes like this…”Continued improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Writing in a blog, for me, represents an effort to engage in an activity that promotes continues professional improvement.

  4. October 29, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Jonathan,

    I agree with you (and Josie) that blogging as a medium liberates the writer from the same demands of perfectionism that result in stale official documents that take several months to produce with countless hands involved in the process. What joy there is in simply thinking, writing and responding to matters as they happen in schools as in life. When we wait for things to be perfect, we miss too many opportunities. I also agree that this is one of the great advantages of contemporary technology for children in schools as they learn to write. How wonderful for your students (and parents and board members and prospective families, etc.) to be able to see you as a real person through your blog and even better – to INTERACT with you in conversation. How much less canned it is to read a blog entry than an annual report (does anyone read those?) And guess what – when you spot an error, you can go in and fix it with the click of a mouse (and its free!) Kudos to you for your work and for your ability to articulate it’s meaning so clearly.

    All the best,

    George Swain
    Poughkeepsie Day School

  5. October 29, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Wonderful!

    I never thought of my blog as ‘Showing off’ but perhaps it is? To me it is more about creating a learning conversation. I think the number of comments I’ve made on other blogs far surpasses my blog post count.

    We teach kids that audience matters and ‘write to your audience’ but even as an adult, as a teacher, I didn’t really ‘get it’ until I started blogging.

    Here is something I shared a while back… a screencast about Why I blog; Why blog with students

    ~Dave.
    ps. Love the quote Matt shared, ”Continued improvement is better than delayed perfection.”
    It was worth repeating!

  6. October 29, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Dear Colleagues,

    What a powerful message and enlightened responses – feeling a certain pressure not to lower the standard as I type…

    To build confidence in students we constantly remind them that being wrong is not a problem as long as it is on the road to being right. Parents do not always accept that view, but then there lies an educational challenge to change that mind set.

    However, it is the articulation and dissemination of vision that I am pondering… In changing times (and the education system in the UK is on the event horizon) the Mission remains, but the Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Tactics will vary. The consultative power of blogging remains, for me, a powerful tool in gauging opinion allowing me and my team to create the school that my community needs and wants… These can be quite different without dialogue.

    For the inspiration, thank you; for the mistakes, my apologies!

    Rob

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  8. October 3, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for such an honest and useful post.

    I am new to blogging and enjoy reading other people’s perspectives and motives for blogging.

    I am really enjoying the process and it is making me rethink all the things I do at school and in the classroom.

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