How to be an educational blogger

28th November 2012 at 17:47

Tom Bennett
Tom Bennett is a man who believes that the beginning of wisdom lies in understanding that you know nothing. In other words, he knows nothing, and he knows it. Every week he'll be chasing his own tail or shouting at the laptop about some damn fool idea in education, or else he'll be writing about classrooms, students, or why teaching is the most important job in the world. This week Tom reveals his top tips for teacher bloggers.

I've been blogging for a few years, so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on what does and doesn't work for me. I stress that last part: there isn't a right way to do this. There's just your way, and what works.

I got started by reading blogs that resonated with me: Oldandrew's Scenes from the Battleground and Birbalsingh's spoke truths to me that were rarely discussed in the traditional Fourth Estate. Most education journalism in the tabloids, and even the broadsheets, seemed to be written by people who rarely stepped in classrooms. But these, my God, you could smell the chewing gum and the body odour of the classroom. Which brings me to my first suggestion:

1. Write because you have to. Write because you itch to write; because there's something to be said that hasn't been said before and you need to be the one who says it. Write because you own some part of the truth that nobody else possesses. Write because you're lying awake at night and a particular arrangement of words won't leave you alone, nudging you to trap them on page or screen. Write because you can't sleep for not doing so. Write because a day without writing makes you feel empty and indolent.

This is important. Don't write for money, at least not at first. If money is your primary concern, then get a paper round. Don't write because you want to be famous: drive your car through a shopping centre if you want that. Write because you are a writer, and that is what you do.

2. Say exactly what you want to say. Say what you want to say in the most direct way you can. Don't worry, as you write, is this good enough? Worry about that later. Instead, write about the thing that makes you angry, sad, upset, agitated or elated. Write your truth, in your voice, but don't worry about what your voice is; just speak. Say it in exactly the way you want, and don't worry about offence. That comes later. But if you self-edit at this point, you dam the river of words that bubbles and boils inside you.

3. Edit your work. You should write as if no one is reading it, then edit as if everyone is. Fix grammar and spelling first. Try reading it aloud to yourself. How does it sound? By the end of the piece you usually have a better idea of how it should start, so unpick, unstitch, and most of all, hack away. Gut anything that doesn't add to the meaning. You love a phrase but it doesn't serve the whole piece, or it detracts or distracts? Get rid of it. Save it for later. If it's good you'll find somewhere to plant it.

If a paragraph doesn't help the whole thing, cut it out. If you find one half goes in a different direction, cut it in half, like Solomon, and decide which half you love most. Finally, edit for libel, and ask yourself if you have inadvertently caused offence. Nothing wrong with offence at times, but make sure it's advertent. And legal.

4. Blog regularly. I feed robins in my garden. At first they must have been delighted by my RSPB coconuts. Eventually they started coming back looking for more. Now, they're fat. Good.

5. Interact and promote. You want a readership? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn't be blogging: keep a diary instead if it's just the love of writing, because the love of being read is another requisite of the whole thing. Respond to comments. Use networking sites like Twitter to spread the word. Leave links as parts of discussions on other blogs and education websites.

6 Be prepared for the bouquets and the brickbats. And finally, the most important thing is to be prepared for a reaction. Some will laud you, and some will damn you. As Malcolm Tucker says in The Thick of It, `Are you prepared to be a dartboard?' The answer has to be yes. But that doesn't matter, because some of the darts will be flowers, and because blogging is something you love to, have to, do. And if people still troll, even when you've genuinely attempted to engage with them, then, as Christopher Hitchens said, `They can take a ticket and get in line to kiss my ass.'

But first you have to write the damned things. Stop thinking about it. Just write.

Read the article on the rise of the teacher blogger from the 23 November 2012 issue of TES

Read Tom's previous blogs;


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