If you are interested in keeping a professional journal, you probably have something in mind already that you want to write about. You may not need anyone else to offer suggestions, so I’m going to keep my suggestions to a minimum. Think about journaling things like this: (1) the day to day life of your classroom; (2) ideas for assignments; (3) responses to articles about teaching or about your subject area; (3) issues affecting education; (4) creative ways to cope with the stresses of the job; (4) wish lists for materials or equipment for your classroom; (5) observations of successful teachers’ approaches to the classroom; (5) books you’ve read for fun or otherwise.
As noted, you’ll have your own ideas. There’s no need to elaborate. I prefer to move on to the issue of how you keep yourself motivated. Like going to the gym, you know journaling is a good idea, but you probably aren’t going to do it until you find the exact inspiration you need. My suggestion is the buddy system. I’ve mentioned several times in other posts that blogging is a social activity. I might add that any kind of professional journaling that lasts will probably need to be done with some idea of audience in mind. Teachers are busy people. They are also very human in their need for feedback and encouragement.
Journal by all means. You need to do it. You know you do. But don’t set yourself up to feel bad when you don’t follow through. Find a way to make the journaling last. Create a buddy system. Find another teacher or a group of other teachers to journal with you. If you choose to journal via blogs, link to and read each other’s blogs. Leave comments on each other’s blogs. Make a comment in person the next time you see your blogger buddy. If you choose to journal the old fashioned way, set times to meet and share. Even if you meet your journaling group once a month for coffee after school hours, you’ve got a social system to keep you going.
You might also consider creating a group blog. If multiple people contribute to the same blog, it will be more active and will probably attract more traffic. This way too you only have one site to keep track of in order to read and respond to your group’s journaling.
Next, set realistic expectations. I know a lot of teachers who blog. I don’t know any who consistently blog every day. If you plan to blog every day, you’ll do it for a time, and then you’ll get busy, tired, and overstressed, at which point you will abandon blogging in favor of sleeping an extra ten minutes in the morning or watching old episodes of The Tonight Show on Hulu.com. It happens. Don’t let it bother you. Remember a neglected blog does not have to become an abandoned blog. It isn’t going to die like the plant you didn’t water while you were having your meltdown. It will still be there, and you can go back to it.
A realistic expectation for a busy person’s blog might be to update once a week. Find seven people to join your blog as authors, and you can have a daily blog that doesn’t demand more of your time than you plan to give. An even more realistic expectation is that the blog might not be updated more than once or twice a week even if it does have multiple authors. Find two or three people to blog with, and try to blog once a week. If you miss a week, just pick back up the next week. Even at that rate, before long you’ll have a substantial archive of articles built up. And it will all be good.
The main reason to blog or to journal by hand is to keep your teaching energized, but you might also energize your professional involvement by journaling. With your group, discuss ways to turn your entries into articles for publication, conference presentations, or workshops for other teachers. Those things in turn will expose you to new ideas and feed energy into your teaching.
Use your journaling to solve problems, not create them. Use it to think through classroom challenges and to solicit feedback from friends and colleagues. Use it to remind yourself of the parts that are working well in your teaching. Use it as an opportunity to share those successes with others. They’ll be grateful for the ideas, and they’ll give you some in return.
What you don’t want to do with your journaling, particularly in a public blog, is to use it as an outlet for complaints. Don’t complain about students or colleagues on a blog or on any other public forum. Just don’t do it. I’ve seen plenty of blogging teachers use their spaces to vent. They seem to think it is okay if they don’t name names, but it isn’t. It’s unethical to use a blog to make negative comments about students, with or without names. It’s also unethical to use a blog to reveal any kind of confidential information about students with or without names.
You wouldn’t be teaching if you didn’t care about students and want the best for them. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that your blog is public, though, when you’re only aware of a handful of friends speaking to one another. All teachers have at some point said to another teacher that a particular student did something annoying or even unforgivable. Maybe you do share that information in confidence with a close friend over a cup of coffee. It’s not worth sitting down to write about, though. Instead, you want to use your writing for the greater good.
Write about how you might make an assignment work better. Write about the challenges of adapting to an over-crowded classroom. Write about new technologies and uses for them. Write about how to manage a decent diet on a limited budget and schedule. Write about changes you think need to happen in mandated curriculums. Write about strategies for keeping up with your grading load. Write about teachers who were a big influence on your own education.
In all of that, and in all of the other great ideas you’ll come up with, journaling will give back to you everything you put into it and more. Make it fun. Make it useful. Make it your quite time, your reward for all the other hard work you’ve put into your day.
You’ll be glad you did.