Photo credit: wocintechchat.com
Speaking up in education debates isn’t often easy (or warmly received)–even in writing. It also matters tremendously, especially for those who have voices that are too often underrepresented or ignored.
And it turns out that the humble blog can be a critical vehicle to speak up and be heard – if you know the rules.
In today’s Q&A with Tanya Paperny, managing editor at Bellwether Education Partners, we dive into why blogging matters, why Bellwether hosts trainings for education bloggers, and how all of us writing about education can raise our games.
Ready for more? In July, Bellwether Education Partners will host its seventh training for current and aspiring education bloggers, “Better Blogging: Skills and Tools for Education Bloggers.” (Application deadline is May 2nd.)
1| Big picture: Why does Bellwether Education Partners host a training on blogging in education? What’s the value of blogging, both for writers and their audiences?
Tanya Paperny: Bellwether sees a few problems with education conversations online. There is too much name-calling, misinformation, and vitriol. But that’s not the biggest problem. We’re frustrated that nuanced and thoughtful voices, and those that reflect underrepresented viewpoints and experiences, have trouble standing out amidst all the noise. Some writers and organizations have great ideas, but those ideas are lost in cumbersome prose and jargon. Others struggle to effectively market their work in today’s crowded and fast-moving social media environment.
Bellwether’s Better Blogging training enables smart voices to improve their writing and better reach new audiences. We believe information and analysis matter, and too many people are turned off by the current tone of online education debates. (Side note: I have a fun job overall, and helping to run our Better Blogging trainings is one of my favorite parts.) What’s at stake? The ability of teachers, education leaders, and organizations to better spread new ideas that could ultimately change the game for this country’s students.
One of the unique things about this training is that it serves voices across the education spectrum. Since launching these trainings, Bellwether Co-Founder and Partner Andy Rotherham has been adamant that participants are selected based on thoughtfulness and not any particular viewpoint, so attendees are always a great mix of people with diverse views.
The value of blogging for writers? Refining one’s ideas, learning how to speak to audiences with different levels of background knowledge, and practicing concision and clarity to ensure ideas land as intended. Audiences that read blogs have their views challenged and refined and are exposed to stories that ground a sometimes wonky space in real lived experience. Writers and readers together can find community.
[Full disclosure: one of our EP team members attended a previous Better Blogging training. Andy Rotherham has served as an EP advisory board member in Washington, DC.]
2| As an accomplished writer and editor, where do you see opportunities and challenges for those writing or communicating about education?
TP: I see many emerging writers with smart ideas that never even make it to the drafting page, let alone to a finished blog post. I see so much fear of not being expert enough, of not having anything relevant to add. In my coaching at Bellwether, I remind people that no one has their exact set of experiences and no one can write from their particular point of view. The Better Blogging training reinforces this idea of identifying your niche and using that to discuss issues from your unique perspective.
The challenge of self-censorship is directly connected to an opportunity. In education, we tend to hear from the same people over and over again. Bellwether wants more voices engaged: smart voices, new voices, and voices of people who know what’s at stake because they’ve lived the realities of our education systems.
3| What topics do you focus on through the “Better Blogging” training, and why those?
TP: The topics we focus on are directly connected to the problems we see in education writing: rambling posts that don’t have a clear or narrow point, good posts that go unread because people are too shy to promote them to audiences, excellent posts buried behind terrible headlines, and sloppy writing that turns readers away.
We see these challenges for both independent writers (those who might contribute to magazines or group blogs or have their own platform), and organizational writers (those who translate the work of their employer into messages for the public). We think that these two groups have overlapping needs, which we address through two days of presentations, interactive workshops, and discussions with coaches and peers. The coaches are senior editors at major publications, winners of prestigious journalism awards, and leading social media professionals. Because of these high-caliber coaches and the tailored content, our training consistently gets high marks from attendees.
In particular we focus on:
● Identifying your niche and angle
● Writing brief, reader-friendly commentary pieces
● Ledes and headlines that attract and retain readers
● Self-editing and effectively revising copy
● Increasing blog readership using social media and other tools
● Pitching your content to other blogs and websites
4| What are 2-3 best practices that great bloggers follow that we can all learn from?
● Write every day. Even if this means just jotting a few notes in a journal or Google Doc. Writing is like any other skill: it requires diligent practice.
● Read your writing out loud. Do us all a favor and review your writing before you hit publish! You’ll catch mistakes, but you’ll also get more comfortable with your unique voice.
5| What do you look for in applicants/applications? Any tips for those considering applying?
● People from all ideologies are encouraged to apply. This is a viewpoint-neutral training, and our coaches and participants come from various backgrounds, political persuasions, and positions within and outside of the education space.
● Our primary selection criteria is ability to benefit. You don’t have to have a ton of readers. You just need to demonstrate how this training will support you.
● For people with existing blogs, at least 50% of the content needs to be about education in order to be eligible.
● For people who are launching or want to launch a blog, we need to see that you have concrete plans. We want to extend the training to people who will actually use it.
● Take your application seriously. We get way more applicants than we have space for so quality really matters.
If folks have further questions, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about the training and to apply, visit http://bellwethereducation.org/better-blogging-training. It’s free—participants just need to cover travel to D.C. and lodging and stipends are available for participants without organizational affiliations. And to hear about future trainings (in case readers can’t make the July 5-6 dates), sign up for our newsletter at bellwethereducation.org or follow us on Twitter @bellwethered.