Ten Years

2439090788_b175f92406_mGuess what today is? Ten years ago today, I wrote my first entry on this blog. I don’t know that I had a notion when I started this blog that I would keep it going this long. I didn’t think about it at all. I just did it.

I had just finished my first year teaching in a private school. I started reading education blogs. At that time, most of the education blogs were written by ed tech folks. Very few classroom teachers were blogging. I am really excited to see that is no longer the case at all. Teachers at all levels are now blogging about teaching, educational issues, their classroom, educational policy, and, yes, educational technology, and it is wonderful that they have that outlet so their voices are heard. Do you remember what it was like before we could hear from teachers like we can today? How many of us used to sit in our classrooms, feeling alone? I know I did, which is part of why I started blogging.

One of the things blogging has helped me do is be more reflective. I admit at first I started blogging so that I could connect with teachers like me. I was feeling pretty isolated, as I mentioned. Over time, it allowed me space to think about the craft of teaching, what I was reading, and what I was teaching in some seriously helpful ways. I can’t even tell you how many friends I have made through this blog. I don’t think I could honestly tally it up. It was such a wonderful feeling to meet up with these friends at conferences and know that I was no longer alone.

Once I started teaching at a school that was more in line with my educational philosophy, I admit that I didn’t write as much here, mainly because I was supported and encouraged at work. It makes such a big difference. But it meant that I didn’t really need to blog in order to connect to others who shared my thinking. One thing I have realized just recently, however, is that this blog is really about the conversation. Sharing ideas. Committing to reflect. I say it like that because getting lazy about reflection gets me into trouble. I need to have some time to think, and the best way I think is through writing.

When I was a relatively new teacher, I remember a teacher I worked with, a well-respected teacher whom everyone loved, spoke out when the superintendent visited our school. She let him know she disagreed with the fact that he was cutting PD and taking some of the management away from the schools. I still remember her saying, “In this county, we have a concept called site-based management.” I thought she was so brave. She wasn’t afraid she’d be fired on the spot, like I would have been if I had spoken. She didn’t care. It was worth speaking out because it was a problem, and he needed to hear about it. Even if he elected not to make changes, he would know he was not supported, and in that county at the school board was elected. I don’t remember that he actually stayed that long with us. In fact, I barely remember him at all. But I do remember my colleague standing up to him, and I have always wanted to be brave like her. She just recently retired after teaching the first grandchild of one of her students, which is quite an achievement.

Over the years, I have spoken out about some topics that concerned me, such as the way we teach writing, or the way we put students off books, or censorship, or standardized testing, or homework, or any one of a variety of educational issues over the last ten years. I have been pushing myself to write more. It’s important for me to sift through my ideas and feelings here. One of the things this blog has helped me do, actually, is to figure out how I feel about educational issues and speak out about them. I need to do more of that than I have done in the last few years.

Something I heard last week at a conference has resonated with me. I mentioned it before when I wrote about the conference, but now I’m seeing new applications. Rosetta Lee, one of the speakers at the conference, was speaking in the context of how we can be good allies. She said that when allies are silent, she can’t tell if they are silent because they agree with the comments or treatment that others received or if they disagree, but are afraid to say something. I have been thinking about that comment for a week now because it has so many applications. If we are silent about anything that is important to us, no one can tell what we are thinking. And sometimes that kind of thing is important to share. It might help someone. It might encourage someone. It might teach someone. But most importantly, it helps us because our voices are heard. Teachers need to continue to speak out about educational issues. I really do think it’s making a difference. Maybe not as quickly as we would like. But if we don’t speak out and share our ideas, how quickly would things change?

We have a voice. We have the opportunity. I know you’ve probably heard like I have that the blog is dead. I don’t believe that. It’s easier than ever to start. If you haven’t started a blog yet, I challenge you to do so. If you have one, but you haven’t written in a while, or you’ve abandoned it, or you feel like you don’t have a lot to say, so you just don’t post a lot, I challenge you to resurrect your blog. It’s not easy to start. At first, not many people are reading, and it can be frustrating to feel like you’re talking to an empty room. But people will start reading. In fact, leave a comment and link to your blog here, and we’ll support each other.

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy acceptance speech, I do want to thank a few people for their support of this blog. I want to thank Robert Talbert, who left the first ever comment on my blog and has supported me ever since. I think that comment may have disappeared when I had to migrate my blog from Movable Type to WordPress, as I can’t find it now, but I remember it. I also want to thank Glenda Funk, for pushing me to write and for commenting often. I am not as good as she is about supporting my friends. I want to thank Grant Wiggins for supporting the efforts of the UbD Educators in trying to create a wiki. It hasn’t really turned out like I wanted (which was no surprise to Grant, when I told him), but he didn’t have to support it. I appreciated that he did. I want to thank all the teachers near and far, who have come along over the years and supported this blog. I am afraid there are too many to list, and I am deathly afraid I’d leave someone out and hurt someone’s feelings, but it would be wrong of me not to mention several folks by name: Clix, who made so much effort to help me get the wiki off the ground; Nancy, who has been a long-time reader, commenter, and now a friend; Mike LoMonico, who brought me into the Folger fold; Bud Hunt, who gave me some personal attention when I changed fields (back in English again, though, Bud!); Peter B-G, who is now a more local friend and has supported me by coming to my sessions at conferences; Buffy Hamilton, BEST LIBRARIAN EVER; Megan Hayes-Golding, who made friends with me at the first ever EduBloggerCon (I forget what they are calling it now, but it was nice not to feel alone in that room full of super techy folks when I was a new blogger). There are a lot of people who contributed to making me feel like I was worth listening to, and I appreciate you all very much.

Image: René Schäfer.

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Slice of Life #5: A Week in the Pause

Slice of LifeI forgot to do my Slice of Life yesterday. I think I’m settling into a lazy summer groove. I haven’t read as much on my time off as I thought I would, but I did finish a couple of books this week (and I started a new audio book). I blog about books in a separate blog. I suppose I could have folded book reviews into this blog, but truthfully, that blog sort of came first, and it had a different audience that I wasn’t sure would be interested in teaching. Likewise, I wasn’t sure everyone who stopped by here would be interested in my book reviews (unless they concerned professional reading). I actually love blogs, and I really compartmentalize my interests in different blogs. None of the audiences for any of these blogs really overlap much from what I can tell based on comments. I don’t write in any one of them a great deal, though I suppose my book blog gets the most attention these days. I decided not to worry about it and just write when I felt moved to write, though I was looking for excuses to write more often.

This Saturday, I’m traveling to Kenyon College in Ohio for the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop for Teachers. I have a notebook ready to go, and I am looking forward to seeing what it will be about, though I admit I am sad I’m missing my children’s first full week of summer. I hope that when I get back, we can take the commuter rail into Boston and have a fun day exploring. Later in July, I’ll be going to AP Literature training. I’m offering a workshop on digital storytelling at my school. In fact, if you are in the New England area, check out our summer learning series.

Tomorrow is an important anniversary for this blog. Today’s post is a bit rambly, but tomorrow’s will be a bit more focused.

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Slice of Life #4: Blogging

Slice of LifeI had an interesting revelation today. This blog will turn ten years old in a little over a week. I used to blog a lot more than I do now, and I have tried to figure out why. I am no less interested in educational issues than I was when I started blogging. I am still invested in blogging as a way to learn and reflect, too. So what gives?

One reason I started this blog ten years ago is I needed validation. I was not getting it where I taught. I was not teaching with other folks who were invested or thinking about blogging or, in some cases, even in reflecting. It was not an easy place. I needed to find my people. I was chatting with a work colleague about my blog today, and I mentioned that I didn’t blog as much after I started teaching at my current school, mainly because I am validated at work. I don’t think I realized it before, but I think blogging was a way for me to connect to other teachers so I didn’t feel like I was crazy. There were other people out there I could talk to about the issues that concerned me, and I had to go outside the school building to find that validation. Now, I tend to have more of those conversations with work colleagues. It’s refreshing.

However, I do find blogging to be a great way for me to think and reflect. Writing is the way I learn, and participating in the Slice of Life weekly writing challenge (is it a challenge? or a meme?) has given me a reason to blog. I have rediscovered why I wanted to blog in the first place. I even wrote a post about an educational issue that concerns me yesterday. I haven’t done that in a while. I really do miss the regular interaction with folks who read this blog as well as the thinking that writing here allows me to do.

Today I went to the Multicultural Teaching Institute (day one of a three-day conference). I am enjoying it so far. This conference gives participants plenty of time to think and talk to each other. It’s active, and I’m engaged. I really like all the journaling they are asking us to do. It’s like my English classes! We each received paper-cover Moleskine notebooks for journaling, and I love mine! I want to have a whole stack of them. I was able to talk about an incident that bothered me this year in a comfortable space and get a few tools for dealing with a similar incident in the future. The food is also great. Often, big conferences skimp on food, if they provide it at all, and it’s refreshing to see such care taken at this conference, mainly because when you gather teachers together, you need to feed them. If you are looking to learn more about diversity issues or multicultural education, I definitely recommend this conference. I think at this point, my mind is a little full, and we have just started, so I don’t have a lot of major reflections aside from the fact that the facilitation is great, and the teachers I have met so far are great. I think I will be learning a lot.

So, no creative writing for me today. Really just some reflection, and that’s a slice of my life today, too.

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Nine Years of Blogging

nine birthday photo

I first posted to this blog nine years ago today. My first post, in case you are interested, was a review of Constance Weaver’s book Teaching Grammar in Context. It’s not the most comprehensive or reflective review. I actually re-read a few of my early posts and cringed a little. I like to think I became much more reflective over time, and this blog is a big reason why.

If I had not started this blog, I sometimes wonder if I’d still be teaching. I was in a frustrating position as a teacher for a very long period of my career. I learned a lot. One thing I learned is that there were people out there, people with whom I connected over this blog or their blog or later, Twitter, and they were going through some of the same difficulties, and they shared some of my opinions. It meant so much to have a source of validation. It can be so hard to teach on your own. It took me a long time to realize I was just not teaching in the right place. I’m so thankful that I am teaching in the right place now. However, I wonder—if I had not had this blog and the connections I made starting here, would I have been able to stick it out, or would I have made the assumption teaching wasn’t right for me rather than that I was just in the wrong place?

So I am grateful for my blog because it is the first step I took into being connected to other educators, and it helped me find my voice, and figure out what I believed. I have not always been the most prolific blogger, and I know I don’t post often, but it means a lot to me that this space is always here for me.

I’m also grateful to my blog for helping me reflect. Having an audience and space to talk about what I was reading, doing, and thinking really helped me grow as an educator. I felt myself becoming a better teacher as I began blogging. I taught for about six years before I started blogging, but it was after I started blogging that I became interested in integrating technology. I would never have thought, when I started teaching, that I would ever be “tech savvy.” I certainly didn’t think I’d ever have a real website or anything.

Finally, I’m grateful for you, those of you who have read and sometimes commented. It helped me to know you were out there, somewhere, and that we could talk about whatever was on our minds, read books together, and share ideas.

Photo by LifeSupercharger

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Do You Know What Today Is?

Birthday CakeIt is huffenglish.com’s 8th birthday! To make it even more special, I’m celebrating by writing this post in the Blogger’s Cafe at ISTE!

Of course, a cursory glance at my content for the last year or so reveals very little actual blogging.

Why is that? Well, I moved 1,000 miles away and started a new job. I now work at Worcester Academy, and this summer I begin my second year as their Technology Integration Specialist. I can’t think of a more wonderful place to work. They value my professional development enough to send me to the premier educational technology conference in the world, and I work with some truly amazing educators.

I have been really dissatisfied with the quiet on this blog. Even though I made some major changes in my professional and personal life over the last year, and I gave myself permission to let the blog go for a while, I have always maintained that people make time for things they consider important. People used to ask me how I had time to blog, tweet, etc. You know, all the social media. I said I made time to do it because it was important to me. And it is still important to me, but clearly not as important as some other things going on. I am announcing today that blogging has once again moved to my front burner, and if it’s not on the very front burner, at least it’s on the stove again. It’s been relegated to the recesses of the freezer as I tried to acclimate to my new home and job, but because blogging is important to me, I’ll be making time for it again.

Why is blogging important to me? It allows me to reflect on what I’m thinking and learning. Sure, I can do that offline in any one of a variety of note-taking apps I use or even with a pen and notebook, but the kind of thinking and reflection I do here on this blog transformed me as a teacher. Eight years ago, when I started this blog, I was an English teacher, and I had no idea technology integration specialists even existed, much less did I dream of ever being one. I assumed I would spend the rest of my career as an English teacher in Georgia. I am still teaching one English class, by the way, but who could have imagined I would be helping teachers integrate technology in Massachusetts? I didn’t even like technology when I started teaching, and I certainly didn’t think I was any good with it. Now I teach others how to use it in their lessons. Is that crazy?

You really never know what trajectory your career is going to take, and it is smart to make connections with really smart educators online and off, to participate in chats with other teachers when you can, and to tap all those great resources online and in your community. You just never know where your life will take you, and even if you plan it, opportunities will arise that you never foresaw, and doors will close where you expected them to be open.

I am the happiest I have ever been in my life right now, and a lot of that happiness has to do with my professional satisfaction. But only a few years ago, I felt like I was at a professional nadir, and my dissatisfaction at work made it hard to enjoy everything else. It is really true that if you find something you love to do, you really don’t ever work again.

Here is hoping you can find what makes you happy, too.

Happy birthday, huffenglish.com. To many more years of blogging! (And I mean real blogging.) Cheers!

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Tuning Out

Fingers in EarsSometimes you just need to take time off and check out.

I can’t remember the last time I checked Twitter and tried to read most of the tweets. I can’t remember the last time I checked out one of my favorite blogs. I haven’t written a whole lot lately, either. And all of that is OK because I think sometimes we need to take breaks from all the information overload.

I like to be a part of the edublogosphere and keep up with my colleagues and friends on Twitter. But sometimes it can be overwhelming, and the sheer volume of information can be daunting. So, I have been on an information sabbatical, and it has been wonderful. I have learned how to make soap, and it has become a satisfying, engaging, and interesting hobby for me. I have been reading a little. I watched the entire first season of Doctor Who and a few episodes of the second, so now I’m totally hooked. I have been busy with the start of school in my new position.

The move from Georgia to Massachusetts was mentally and physically exhausting, and I think I just needed some time to recharge my batteries. I didn’t unplug right away, but I would say it’s been about a month since I really kept up with all the social media I usually use. I am beginning to feel recharged. I think once I get my bearings at my new school and find myself settling into the routine of the school year, I will be able to engage in social media again. As for right now, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, well, here I am. I am not the kind of person to announce a hiatus or quit altogether, but I recognized I needed to tune out the cacophony for just a little while.

It’s been a wonderful vacation, and I know in my heart I’ve missed some really important things, but stepping back can be important, too, and I think many of us hear the message that we need to be continually engaged in the conversation or people won’t read our blogs or will not follow us on Twitter. I decided not to worry about that a long time ago. If my blog is good, people will visit when I post. If they are looking for quantity, they probably won’t. If what I tweet is helpful and interesting, people will follow, and I don’t need to worry about losing folks who think I don’t tweet enough. This is great advice to anyone who wonders how to juggle it all. The fact is, I’m not sure anyone can. You have to set priorities based on your goals. Right now, my goal is to settle into my job and enjoy my new home. So far, so good. I will be in touch soon.

Image via Roxie’s World

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Email Subscriptions and Theme Changes

Subscribe by EmailThose of you who receive post updates in your inbox will want to take note of some changes. Up until now, I have used Feedblitz to manage email subscriptions. However, in order to streamline services and make things a little easier for me, I am discontinuing support for old Feedblitz subscriptions as of one week from today, July 8. At that time, I will delete my Feedblitz account. If you would like to continue to receive posts in your inbox, please visit the blog at huffenglish.com (assuming you are receiving this post in your email), and look for “Subscribe to Blog Via Email” in the sidebar on the right of the page. Enter your email address and click the “Subscribe” button. You might receive posts twice during the one-week grace period until I delete Feedblitz. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I have been dissatisfied with the Feedblitz option for some time, and it is my hope that if you want to continue to receive posts via email, this option will work for you.

In other blog-related news, after many years, I have changed the blog theme. If you are interested, I have installed the Twenty Eleven theme from WordPress. I like the font and the clean look. I have streamlined some of the sidebar content. You can also now find my links, categories, and a tag cloud on the bottom of the page.  My links area used to be on the upper left hand side under the disclaimer. I link to several social networks and other sites, such as the English Companion Ning, and some of my website content that for whatever reason I didn’t want in the navigation bar on the top.

Let me know if you are having any trouble finding things. I hope you will find the site just as easy (perhaps easier) to navigate.

Image via derrickkwa

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Seven Years of Blogging

It seems fitting somehow that my blog turns seven years old as I am currently attending my first ever ISTE conference. I am also starting a new job 1,000 miles away from the place where I have lived and worked for the entire time I have written this blog. I started this blog because I thought I had something to say about education, and I was impressed with what I was seeing in the edublogosphere (which was much smaller at that time). I didn’t try to analyze what I would focus on or what my audience would be. I just decided I would write about the things that interested me, and if they also interested others, so much the better. I still think that was a smart move because even when months go by without a post on this blog, I know that I am writing here still because I want to share something, not because of any expectation I set for myself. I have seen so many good bloggers quit over the years, and I think that they are partly crushed by unrealistic expectations:

  • They feel pressure to build a huge audience really quickly. I know how it feels to think no one is reading your posts. You don’t see comments. It feels like an echo chamber. But over the years, I have heard from lurkers who might never leave a comment but still get something out of what I post. There are a lot of bloggers with wider audiences, and there are all kinds of reasons for that, but I feel blessed to have a supportive readership.
  • They feel they need to focus on one thing. It’s true that niche blogs seem to do well—just a focus on math or technology or educational policy. But I think sometimes folks put themselves in the position of feeling like they can’t comment on other things because their audience expects them to write about one subject only. It’s your blog, and you should explore topics that interest you.
  • They set up a posting schedule and/or feel they must write every day. Write when the spirit moves you, I say. If you force yourself to write every day or to write according to a posting schedule, you are going to wind up treating your blog as work instead of your own reflective space. I am guilty of this, too. I have a posting schedule set up in my calendar. I was worried about how little I was posting, not realizing that part of my silence was due to some real unhappiness on the job. I determined that a posting schedule would solve my problems. I couldn’t follow it. I started feeling guilty, and I worried no one would stick with my blog. It didn’t turn out to be true, and putting that pressure on myself only made me want to blog less. Blogging when I want to about what I want to made me love my blog again.

This conference has been amazing so far, and I am sure that once I have had time to think, decompress, and reflect, I will have plenty of posts about it.

Image via Martin Thomas

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Technology Integration for Preservice Teachers

Bethany Smith asked a great question on Twitter this morning:

I don’t remember learning much about technology integration when I was a preservice teacher, but then that was 1996-1997. We thought we were advanced for using email to communicate with each other. I’m not sure what has changed in the intervening years, if much of anything. I have found, contrary to popular belief, that young teachers do not necessarily know as much about technology as older teachers think they do, nor do younger teachers necessarily naturally integrate technology. (For that matter, I don’t think kids know as much about technology as teachers think they do, at least not using it for school or work, but that’s a separate blog post.)

The key word in instituting technology integration as part of a preservice teaching program is integration. Technology shouldn’t be an add-on, or else preservice teachers will only come to think of it as such in their classrooms. Asking preservice teachers to create lesson plans and assignments for their college courses that integrate technology and then reflect on how that technology might be used in their classrooms might be effective. An e-portfolio would be a great start. preservice teachers could share it with prospective employers. It can be hard sometimes to find a job with no experience, and a great portfolio can encourage administrators to take a chance on first-year teachers if the portfolios show the young teacher to be thoughtful, engaging, organized, and involved in their field. That portfolio should include a blog. When I was a preservice teacher, my classmates and I had to write weekly “think pieces” about an issue we were concerned about. We passed these around in class so that our classmates could be exposed to our ideas, and of course, they were graded by our professors, too. A blog would be a natural forum for such thinking aloud.

Other artifacts that might be included in such a portfolio:

  • Evidence of understanding good presentation practices. I have seen some horrible PowerPoints in my day (often created by teachers and administrators), and teachers cannot be expected to teach students how to create good presentations if they themselves don’t know how. Presentation skills are a key part of any preservice teacher’s education.
  • Evidence of having created an online PLN through Twitter or through a group such as the English Companion Ning (or equivalent for subject matter). A link to the Twitter account or biography page should be sufficient.
  • Evidence of having created a wiki, perhaps as part of a group assignment for the course or perhaps as a repository for lesson plans.
  • As more teachers are flipping the classroom, I think an important piece of the portfolio should include a lesson delivered via audio, and a lesson delivered via video (could be a screencast). The topics should be well chosen in that they should be topics easily taught and learned via this method.
  • A link to the preservice teacher’s Diigo profile. I think social shared bookmarking has been one of the most fantastic tools to come along in my fourteen years as a teacher. It’s a quick, useful way to share great resources that can be integrated with both a blog and a Twitter account as well as your browser (depending on which one you use). I happen to prefer Diigo to other bookmarking systems myself, but it’s not the only game in town. Any professors teaching preservice teachers could make that call.

One of the most important things a teacher needs to learn when integrating technology is flexibility. Sometimes things go awry when you’re trying to integrate technology, and it’s important that teachers are able to change course if the technology fails. The Internet sometimes goes down. Sometimes the projector bulb burns out. Lots of things can happen, and it’s important that teachers include, as part of any lesson plan integrating technology, their backup plan for what they will do if the technology fails.

As part of their preservice teaching program, teachers should also learn how to search. Using boolean search strings will save them time and help them find resources they’re looking for quickly. Learning how to use the everyday tools of teaching, including projectors, the Internet, videos, and the like should be an essential part of a preservice teacher’s education.

To steal an idea from Melissa Scott, time to share tools, perhaps a weekly session, would be great. The way I would probably set this up is to ask preservice teachers to sign up for time if they have found a cool tool and then present and demonstrate that tool to their fellow preservice teachers. Before long, teachers would have quite a toolkit to take with them to their first job. Any tools that could more easily be shared via a Diigo group created for the preservice teachers would not necessarily need to be shared via presentation, and there should be an expectation that the preservice teachers will make use of Diigo, contributing shared links and also saving links.

It’s also key that preservice teachers understand the importance of rehearsing technology. Teachers who fiddle with tools they aren’t sure how to use in front of a group of students are wasting time and hurting their credibility. Try out the tools and figure out how they are used before asking students to use them or before using them in front of students. Don’t rely on students to be your tech support when you get stuck, which leads me to my final recommendation: learn basic troubleshooting. Most of the troubleshooting I do for other teachers, they could do themselves if they tried searching for the problem online. That’s the first thing I usually do anyway. I’m happy to help teachers. I don’t mind troubleshooting. However, they could save a lot of time if they learned how to do it themselves. It isn’t the best use of the IT department’s time to restart your computer if it freezes up when that is something teachers themselves could have done much more quickly on their own.

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Better Living Through Beowulf

Better Living Through BeowulfScott McLeod sometimes shares blogs that “deserve a bigger audience.” I don’t presume to know how many people read Robin Bates’s blog Better Living Through Beowulf, but I find it consistently makes me think about the connections between everyday life and literature. Robin is an English professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. He regularly shares his insights regarding literature’s and film’s connections to such wide-ranging topics as current events, sports, and spiritual matters. I often save his posts for last when I’m catching up on RSS feeds in my feed reader because I know I will want to read them slowly and think them over. There’s nothing I don’t love about his blog, from his interesting connections and engaging commentary all the way down to his layout. I think even if you don’t teach English, you can learn something from Professor Bates’s blog.

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