This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Educators from across the country attended the Bellwether Education Partners training session called "Better Blogging: Skills and Tools for Teacher Bloggers" on Aug. 11 in Washington, D.C. This intensive training, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, convened a diverse range of teacher bloggers looking to improve their writing skills and digital presence.
Here are seven tips I learned for teachers and bloggers alike.
- Stories matter. Carl Cannon, Washington editor of RealClearPolitics, emphasized in his opening remarks that telling stories is essential even in the digital age. Teachers need to share compelling stories that influence the education reform agenda.
- Hook your audience. Eleanor Barkhorn, former teacher and senior associate editor of The Atlantic, stressed that writing an effective lead is similar to having an effective hook in a lesson plan. Every teacher has experienced the failed lesson that didn’t grab students’ interest from the start. Teachers need to make sure that we keep the attention of our students, parents and school leaders in our fractured education landscape.
- Brand your blog, brand your practice. Jessica Morales, who works on new media strategies for the AFL-CIO, provided tips for using social media to develop a teacher brand. Teachers need to effectively leverage popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr to make the public aware of what we do and how we feel about education reform.
- Graphs and data convey stories, too. Ezra Klein, editor of Wonkblog and columnist at the Washington Post, suggested ways to use graphs and listicles (I’m experimenting with a listicle in this blog post) to convey complex ideas. Teacherly prose or rants often don’t resonate with the public. Teachers need to share their research and become experts in using data.
- The message is in the media. Matt K. Lewis, senior contributor for the Daily Caller, shared ways to incorporate multimedia platforms. In addition to using blogs, teachers should use podcasts and videos, share our expertise on panels, and submit letters to the editor.
- Keep headlines clear and concise. Megan Carpentier, executive editor of Raw Story, provided insights on search engine optimization (SEO). When writing headlines, she said, pretend you are writing for “Aunt Sally.” Headlines that are clear about the subject are easier to search and find.
- Be transparent – Andy Rotherman, cofounder and partner at Bellwether Education, closed out the training with remarks about being transparent. Bloggers and teachers should attribute information to their sources and point out conflicts of interest or biases that we bring to our practice.
This full-day training was invaluable. In addition to learning about marketing and social media skills, each attendee received individual feedback on his or her writing through an interactive coaching session. Attendees covered the range from novice to experienced bloggers, and from across the education-reform spectrum.
I thank Bellwether for organizing this training session and look forward to hearing diverse teacher stories and participating in the nuanced conversations about education reform.