Thinking about Thinking

Blogging started for me as a way to document a year living overseas, and although many serious bloggers sneer at the idea of using a blog for something as lowly as a simple travel diary, I found it a wonderful jumpoff point into the wider world of blogging. Not only do I now have a permanent record of a wonderful year in Canada, but that blog got me into the habit of writing regularly. And really, getting into a habit is an important part of the whole blogging experience. I guess, I’m writing this now because I hadn’t written a post for a few days and I was starting to think that I needed to! Not for you. For me. This blogging thing has become an integral part of who I am, and when I go for a few days without writing it just doesn’t feel right.

But the habit is not just about writing, it’s about thinking. It’s about engaging with ideas that you read on other blogs, or through listening to podcasts, or even from trawling through Twitter posts. It’s about simply not being able to let that river of ideas flow past you without having to respond in some way. I can’t imagine being exposed to this rich smorgasbord of ideas without having some reaction to them, and responding via a blog seems like such a natural thing to do. It’s definitely about the thinking and not the writing… (in fact if you only knew what a lousy typist I am, you’d realise that the actual writing is a real pain!)

So I blog. I can’t help myself.

What’s become really interesting though is the environment that the blogging habit exposes you to. Without realising it, I look at my feedreader these days and it amazes me just who I have been inviting into my world, and even more amazingly, who has been inviting me into theirs. Browsing through my Skype contact list is like a who’s who of incredible educators from all around the world. My Twitter feed is a rich tapestry of deep thoughts, trivial chatter and personal relationships, but it’s engaging me with these constant ideas about learning, teaching and the relationships we form with kids in our classrooms.

Having just gone through the process of applying for another job, it really struck me just how much my online world has contributed to who I am as an educator. I don’t have a string of letters after my name, in fact I’m not even teaching in the same discipline as I was originally trained. I’ve occasionally considered going back to university, doing some further study and becoming a bit more learned, but I look at the idea factory surrounding me and can’t seem to justify the time and cost involved… and although I’m not sure how I’d ask the question, I suspect my new school saw enough of this world reflected in my interview that it played a big part in them offering me the position.

I did go back to university a few years ago to do part of a masters course in educational technology. It was a good experience, and forced me to start reading literature about learning that I wouldn’t have done otherwise – Negroponte, Papert, Stoll, Cuban, Spender, etc – all names that I had never even heard before despite having been a teacher for many years. It was this exposure to ideas that flipped switches in my head and caused me to rethink a few things about school and learning. And it made me realise that many teachers never do this sort of thing at all. Try going to work on Monday and when your colleagues ask what you did on the weekend, tell then you went to an education conference (in your own time!) or read a book about learning theory, or chatted with other teachers about how to make learning more relevant, and see the sorts of odd looks you get, or the sarcastic “gee that must have been fun!” comments.

The thing is, I don’t mind learning. In fact I can’t imagine not learning. And exposure to this stream of ideas and thoughts and opinions is quite possibly the best environment for learning I’ve ever come across.

So maybe that makes me dysfunctional or just plain boring, but I really do enjoy the feeling of being stretched by new ideas all the time. I don’t like to be the same today as I was yesterday, I want to be growing all the time. And one of the most rewarding and amazing ways of getting that constant stream of brain food is through the blogging and the writing and the reading and the podcasting and the sharing and the conversing with other people who I think are some of the smartest, brightest, cleverest people I know.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Thinking about Thinking by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

6 Replies to “Thinking about Thinking”

  1. Great post Chis. I agree with much of what you say in this post. Two observations though strike me. 1) I think the university studies can be enriched by and enrich the web 2.0 learning network you describe. Afterall, if I have learned anything over the past few months traveling the same road you describe in this post, it is that I need to celebrate the many learning opportunities that come across our path each day each day that pass by unnoticed because I’m not focused. I am writing this comment, for example, because I checked bloglines.org for new posts added to the blogs I follow. 2) For me interacting in this online world, it is about the thinking, the learning, the humanity, and the writing. Typing out my thoughts is important, and I did not do it enough as an educator before I started my blog, my wiki, and reading and commenting in a variety of contexts such as this post. I took a course with a man many years ago at Harvard University; the course was Improving School and the teacher was Roland Barth. Roland taught me the importance of writing. He assigned “two-pagers” each week. We would read, reflect, think, and discuss to prepare for class, but to crystallize out thinking on the topic for the week, we wrote two-pagers. I am reminded of that time now and if I can do anything to help people who are or want to be educators, I will. The best advice I can give them is to develop a personal learning network that is face to face and online, and then emulate the Improving Schools model: read, reflect, think, discuss and most importantly, crystallize you thinking by writing and sharing it in a public forum like a blog. Regards, Dennis Richards

    PS FYI, I am trying out cocomment.com to track this comment so I can turn it into a conversation.

  2. Chris – another really great blog entry. I am enjoying your thoughts so much and the expressions of my colleagues at school when i start raving about twitter and voicethread and delicious is something you have to see. they just don’t get how this leads to so many new ideas and is changing me so much , not just my teaching. I am enrolling in a masters in it at melbourne Uni for next year so i guess i’ll have to talk to myself about that. No-one at work gets it. keep writing won’t you. It is such a support. Sue

  3. Hi Chris
    You are so right about blogging and the process of that internal/ external discussion which has become part of our professions practice. I learn so much from people such as yourself just through reading and listening to what you think and do. Wouldn’t it be interesting if schools started to require as part of their job prescription that teachers had to keep a private or public blog? The notion of thinking and reflecting about their work and then writing about it surely would be a healthy habit. We expect it of our students so why not of ourselves. One change we are going to make next year at our school is the requirement that all teachers create and develop a digital portfolio to document their work. I guess that’s a start.

  4. Love your work Chris. Having only recently started blogging and, as a result, reflecting more on my own teaching and my student’s learning, I relate really well with your comments. I only recently thought of enrolling in an ICT distant education course but decided against it this time, simply because I am getting so much out of the Web 2.0 world. In terms of my own learning and professional development – this is where it’s at. Further down the line I’m sure I can add to that by taking courses or doing a Masters but for me now it is the reflection & the reading which are inspiring me. I’ve learnt so much by doing this, yet I have only but my toe in the water. My next task is to educate the staff around me as to the benefits of blogging and using a feedreader.

  5. Thanks to everyone for such positive feedback. I certainly hope I didn’t come across as not appreciating the value of “formal” education… I have spent time at a number of universities and really love the atmosphere of the university environment, often wishing I could have more time to go back and be a part of it. I suppose my point in the post was to say that there is still plenty to be valued about the sorts of learning that takes place in non-formal settings such as the ones we are creating for ourselves through these personal learning networks we are creating with all the Web 2.0 tools.
    I drove a cab for a couple of years and during that time started to feel like I needed some brain stimulation so went back to study Mechanical Engineering at Wollongong University. I only did the first year of it, and never really had any intentions of completing it… it was purely to stay connected to my own learning and to feel like I was growing mentally – I really enjoyed the freedom and social aspect of the cab driving, but it’s not exactly brain surgery! (or mechanical engineering for that matter!)
    The point is that you need to be doing something to keep yourself in a learning environment all the time, and I feel like I get that now from my online activities and connection, and I get to focus on what I want to focus on, to be as intense or as relaxed about it as I like, to do it in my own timeframe, and at zero cost. You have to love that sort of learning environment!

  6. I’m overdue making this comment since reading this post when it was fresh. Just wanted to say that it’s a keeper – one of the most well-written and apt explanations of this experience I’ve come across.

    Keep it up, Chris 🙂

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