Some days you wake up and feel grateful because you are surrounded by happy, healthy, and inspired people. That’s how I felt this morning when I rose from my slumber and grabbed juicy kisses from my children and wife, how I will feel this coming week when I go back to work with my next-level genius colleagues after a great break , and also how I felt a couple of weeks ago when I got to hang with a couple of inspired women, Penny Lam and Joanne Babalis.
Penny is a dynamic fashionista, devoted mother, and newly-minted vice-principal in our great school board. She’s the type of person who makes you feel like great things are possible and takes action to make it happen. I’m honoured to call her a friend, and am grateful to her for bringing the three of us together. Her blog is an up-and-comer.
Joanne you probably know unless you have been resting under an edu-rock somewhere. For the past decade, she has slowly but surely been making an indelible mark on education, particular in the worlds of early years pedagogy and inquiry-based learning. A true artist (and Style Master in her own right), Joanne is the definition of a pioneer and leader. Oh, by the way, not many know how funny she is.
So, mix one cup of Penny, four tablespoons of JoJo, a pinch of Korean chili powder, and get a slick chef like Burman Lam and crew to whip it all together. It results in the video below, and the continued conversation between Joanne and I which follows.
Describe your blog to us. Who is it for, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Joanne: My blog, TransformEd: Transforming our learning environment into a space of possibilities, is about early childhood education – most specifically, classroom design, creativity, the Reggio Emilia approach from Italy, and inquiry-based learning. The intended audience was originally educators in various contexts (e.g., teachers, designated early childhood educators, teacher candidates, graduate students, administrators, and systems support staff), however, my goal is that it will eventually reach a wider audience that might include parents of young children, artists, and creative thinkers who believe that anything is possible when we dare to be different and step outside of the box.
I hope TransformEd will continue to be a place that allows my unique voice (and images) to be heard/shared about my ideas on education, modern learning, and life, as well as a source of insight into how my thinking is always in transformation. I strongly believe that we are constantly evolving if we are open to learning each day. The moment that we think we know everything about a given topic means that there is no room left for us to grow. To me, a curious inquirer at heart, that would be a very sad day! Blogs have the potential to share a journey, and I couldn’t be happier to know that my journey is just beginning!
Royan: The Spicy Learning Blog is about me and my thoughts. If you read it, you’re going to see me reflected in every part of it. Since I’m a family man, progressive educator, and general nerd, you’re going to like reading it if you find that type of person interesting. I hope my blog touches readers’ emotions and intelligence. Most of all, I blog because I consider it an outlet for creative, autonomous expression. You don’t want to see me on a day when I feel I don’t have that.
What prompted you to start blogging?
Royan: In 2008-2009, I was part of a network of educators from three different Ontario school board’s learning about Instructional Intelligences. It was there that a lovely educator named Danika Barker (now Danika Tipping) approached me and asked me if I’d seen the great blog post Kent Manning wrote about an Ontario Ministry of Education video my class had starred in. My first thought was, “What is a blog? And who is this dude writing about me on it?” Needless to say, I read it and loved it. Then a light bulb went off in my head.
Growing up, one of my dreams was always to be a writer. I have also always been someone obsessed with new media creation. It was predestined that I would sit at my kitchen breakfast bar one day and write my first post and send my first tweet.
Joanne: I started blogging during my Master of Education program at York University. A colleague of mine suggested that I share my pedagogical documentation online as a means to track my journey and see the growth in my research and learning about the inquiry approach. Having had some experience with blogging in my undergraduate degree and knowing that YouTube “how-to” videos were always at my fingertips, I dove right in! I wasn’t too concerned about my visuals, writing, or if anyone would read it. Instead, I focused on using the blog as a vehicle for my own reflection. If someone told me back then that I would have over a million views, let alone a hundred, I would have called them crazy! To this day, I cannot wrap my head around how this happened, and that a simple blog could have such a powerful influence!
What do you love about blogging?
Royan: I love blogging because it’s fun. As a kid, I was always fascinated with non-fiction media in the form of magazines and newspapers. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom trying to create my own zines (which, I believe, were the precursor to blogs), and always dreamt of having a byline in a newspaper. My blog takes me back to that feeling. It’s my own little sandbox.
Blogging gives me clarity. It takes the muddle of thoughts in my mind and turns it into something cohesive. I also love the fact that there might be even one person out there that reads a post and is inspired or impacted in any way. When people approach me and say that a particular blog post gave them an idea, made them think in new ways, or caused them to make deep connections, it makes my day.
Joanne: Blogging has become my passion and has changed my life. I love that feeling when your blog post goes public and you push the “publish” button. Such an adrenaline rush!!
Why else do I love to blog so much? It’s because it provides me with a creative outlet. For instance, I can be creative with my words, my photography, my graphic design, and, of course, the work that I am showcasing within the photographs and blog posts! Since I started to blogging and sharing on popular social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.), it has opened up a new world of opportunities for me both professionally and personally! As a result of the blog, I got hired by York University to instruct their Kindergarten Additional Qualification courses, to speak at workshops and conferences across Canada, to learn from young children in my new role as Teacher Librarian, to engage with talented artists, academics, and techy’s, to create my own network of educators that meet monthly (#CTInquiry Connected through inquiry: A curious community of learners), to study at the PhD level, and as of most recent, to begin my own consulting company (TransformEd Consulting Services). Though, my blog has made me believe that anything is truly possible and that dreams can become our reality, I never take this for granted. I often look back at my humble beginnings, and feel as excited and thankful as I did then when a new follower sends me an email, posts a comment, asks me for some advice, or comes up to meet me at an educational event or Michaels (yes that did happen!). I am motivated and committed to blog, in hopes of making a difference for educators and essentially for the young children that they are so fortunate to work with each day!
What challenges do you face as a blogger?
Joanne: One of the biggest challenges that I face as a blogger is that I am sometimes seen as an expert. What I am sharing is just one example of early learning, and it is always changing as I learn from courses, professional readings, and from collaborative experiences with educators and children. The ideas shared are my own and are not the “right” way or “only” way. I hope that the audience can feel connected to what I share and leave inspired to try a version of what they feel is right for their students and context. Even when I worked in the same school, same classroom, with the same DECE teaching partner, same administrator, and same community, our practice changed year-to-year according to the needs and interests of our learners. Trying to replicate or view the strategies shared on the blog as a formula/recipe to be copied, will only cause frustration. Your best teachers are your students! Take the time to get to know them and observe what messages they are communicating to you about their learning. The children have taught me far more than any conference, course, or article!
Sometimes being overly transparent has lead to the criticism of my blog content, but I am learning to be strong and stay true to myself! In this journey, I recognize that I cannot please everyone, so I take great joy in hearing from those who have found it helpful. My goal is to inspire one classroom at a time to begin their own transformation, and if I can accomplish that, then I will feel as though I have made a positive difference to the education community.
Royan: I can really relate to what Joanne’s saying here. Educational blogging is often seen as just another way to share best practices or expertise, but I hope we think of it more as a process of thinking, reflection, and documentation. It’s tough because you put yourself out there, and sometimes your ideas will get picked apart because folks presume you’re trying to make grand, universal statements. I’ve recently realized as well that I’m quite privileged in the sense that female bloggers seem to get nit-picked or trolled far more than male ones such as myself. I find that really disconcerting as a husband, son, and father of two future female superheroines.
In what ways has your blog evolved over time? How do you hope it changes in the future?
Joanne: My blog has truly been through an evolution both in its physical appearance, as well as in its content. When I first started to blog, I used the Blogger template and wrote really long posts with a few photographs or video clips that were specific to early childhood education. Currently, the blog went through a makeover with the help of a graphic designer from San Francisco, California, and looks completely different! It has a fresher feel and showcases more of my educational photography, as well as who I am on a personal level. I have started to write less, and share more of my thinking through visuals. This was an intentional decision, as I believe a picture is worth a thousand words, which leaves room for my audience to make their own interpretation(s). My hope for the future is that it continues to make visible my transformation in classroom design, photography, pedagogy, creative thinking, and life! It will be fun to blog as a parent too, but one step at a time!!! I just got married…
Royan: Like Joanne, my blog has gradually moved more into the visual over just text, and I received tons of help from my buddy Fred in redesigning my old generic WordPress theme. Other than that, by blog hasn’t really changed in purpose. I still write and publish because I enjoy the process and since it helps me reflect. The biggest evolution, I guess, has been my outlook on educational technology (#edtech). Many people started reading The Spicy Learning Blog for my experiences, ideas, and reflections on #edtech. I still love writing about it and always will. However, I would say that I started out with a real utopian view of tech in education in the first few years of my blog, and have know evolved to recognizing the inextricable paradoxes that #edtech brings us. For example, the tools can be transformative and liberating while simultaneously reproducing inequity. Also, they can aid social justice actions or supporting corporate hegemony. There are so many gray areas. So, I guess it is my ideas that have evolved as much as anything, and I’m actually very proud of that.
Do you have any tips for bloggers who find it hard to find an audience, or publish posts regularly? What has/hasn’t worked for you?
Royan: First, keep blogging, don’t stop. Karate chop that voice in your head that reminds you constantly, “Why are you bothering with this? You know you suck, right? As if anyone’s going to read this…” That creature on your shoulder is not your friend. Second, create a workflow for blogging. It should weave itself seamlessly into your daily life. If it feels like a onerous school assignment, you’re doing it wrong. Lastly, keep it simple. If you want to write about how good your cup of coffee was this morning, the best Magic the Gathering game you ever played, or how great your grandma’s perogies are, just do it and do it right. By not trying to change the world with your blog, you actually just might.
Joanne: My honest advice is don’t blog or post on social media in hopes for more followers, likes, retweets, pins, and views. Just do your thing and do not worry about what other people think of you or your work. I never thought that I would have an audience, let alone one that extends throughout the world! Reading comments or emails from places like Australia, Asia, Europe, was never even in the scope of my imagination! However, even when this wasn’t the case and I had an impact on a single follower (one, in particular, stands out in my memory who introduced themselves at a conference and shared that she cherished her time reading my posts with her tea), makes me feel like it was all worthwhile!
Over the years, I used to follow a schedule for blogging, but now just give myself weekly goals and am more flexible when “real life” happens. Being less predictable with my posts, makes it a fun surprise for my blog visitors and allows them to discover something new that they hadn’t come across the last time! I also make it a point to share bits and pieces of my posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, which might encourage those who stumble upon it to read the entire story!
Thank you from my heart for continuing to peek into my reality! I hope that I can continue this conversation with all of you for many more years to come…
Connect with the Origins of Blogging crew at the following places and spaces:
Pinterest: Joanne Babalis
YouTube: Joanne Babalis
Professional Blog: royanlee.com
Parenting Blog: medium.com/@royanlee
Dog Blog: firstname.lastname@example.org