The Courage to Try
I am so proud of my friend and colleague Sherri Peterson. Sherri is a teacher who cares so much and is so energetic about her teaching practice that she has ventured far outside of her comfort zone and started her own blogging space for her students.
Administration of a student blog is no small task. It can be scary, confusing, and frustrating. I was delightfully surprised when Sherri pulled me aside during a rally last week and handed me a slip of paper with the url of her site. She asked me if I would like to check out what she is trying and warned me that she is “just getting started.”
That evening, as soon as I had a chance, I logged on to the system that hosts her blog. What I found was the beginning of a class wide “conversation” that was well underway. Sherri had posed a straightforward question to her students: “What have you chosen as a topic for your persuasive essay?”
I have run a blog site for my students for several years. I can appreciate the courage that it took to get this project off of the ground. Sherri had to research a blogging system that she feels comfortable with. She had to create an administrator account and profile on the site. She had to populate her site with content (such as the persuasive essay topic). She had to schedule time in the computer lab for her classes. She had to explain the details of the activities to the classes. She had to have her students create accounts for themselves (a singularly enormous undertaking). She had to deal with all of these tangible challenges while dealing with the pressure of developing a rationale for engaging in blogging, objectives that would need to be clarified to her students, methods to check for understanding from her students, and methods for assessing the success of her students and her project.
When I started blogging with my students, it was because I felt compelled to do so. Blogging with students was a way to keep teaching fresh and interesting for me. I was eager to learn about the backend of content management systems. I was curious about how to setup, maintain, and backup a database. I had experience writing to my personal blog. I had dabbled in html and css as a hobby. Blogging with students seemed an inevitability for me.
Sherri often expresses chagrin in regard to technology. I wouldn’t label her a technophobe nor a luddite but certainly a neophyte. That is why I was blown away when she handed me her url and invited me to check out her site.
It is clear to me that Sherri got her class online because she is a teacher that does whatever she can for her students. She is a teacher who is willing to work through obstacles and challenges because she recognizes that our students need to learn to write constructively online. I am so proud of her.
Moving forward, there are more hurdles. Sherri feels frustrated by some of the rude commenting written by a couple of her students. She also feels frustrated by the way the students “game” the system to make it social. I am going to do my best to encourage her to deal with the bad but set her focus on all of the enthusiastic and constructive writing by her students. One of the many great responses written by a student on Sherri’s site reads, “It concerns me because kids may not be getting the right nutrients and it can contribute to obesity. I would like to persuade the schools to consider healthier options.”
I will encourage Sherri to focus on that piece of writing and the relationship created between that student and the readers of the site rather than on the fellow student who responded with the one word comment, “like.”