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Updates (and Goodbye, Sort of) to the Teaching the Core Blog

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Hi! Welcome back to Teaching the Core. Er, the Dave Stuart Jr. blog, I mean.

I’ve been productive during my July sabbatical, and I’d like to explain what I’ve done and why I’ve done it.

But, first, here’s the awesome news:

Three posts per week in August! (Colloquially referred to as “The Blitz” within the Stuart household)

For the entire next month, I’ll be publishing an article every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. There are several reasons for this:

  • First, I want to show my appreciation for you, and I know that August is an intense month for all of us. As you gear up for 2015-2016 then, I’ll be providing you with a variety of articles — ranging from quick, immediately applicable “beginning of the school year” articles and lessons, all the way to something that’s shaping up to be the longest article I’ll ever write (10,700 words and counting; update: here it is). If you’re new to the blog, feel free to sign up for my free newsletter so that you get all those posts straight in your inbox.
  • Second, I want to live out the Do Hard Things mantra of my classroom, and publishing three posts per week will push my writing muscles in a way that my past habit of “write when you can” won’t. This strength training, if you will, is partially a measure designed to prepare me to persist in publishing 2x per week for the 2015-2016 school year, week in and week out.
  • Finally, I want to reassure those of you who’ve been around for the 3+ years of this blog’s existence that a name change isn’t going to alter the content of this blog.

Just in case you’re scared that this increased frequency will mean watered-down content, fear not! Many of them are already completely written and scheduled, and those that aren’t are in the drafting stages. My goal is zero rush jobs, and my August speaking and workshops schedule ought to be amenable to that as I’ve taken on a reduced load for the month as compared to last year.

(Speaking of speaking and workshops, I’m currently in the market for gigs this fall — if your school is considering PD in literacy across the content areas or your organization needs a keynote, let’s start the conversation.)

Now let’s talk about changes I’ve been making this past month.

Changes to the newsletter

Last January I set out to publish two articles per week, but it didn’t happen. Part of this was because of a crazy health event with Crystal, and part of it was that I was just trying to do too much on top of teaching. When we “focus” on everything, we live in perpetual frustration.

Part of my problem was that every new article required me to craft new newsletter text within MailChimp. (See Fig. 1.)

Fig 1- Newsletter Changes

While it was fun writing that newsletter-y stuff, it wasn’t as important as the simple discipline of getting posts out consistently. As Fig. 1 explains, the newsletter is now 100% automated. Blog posts will now head straight to your inbox, in full — and if I ever need to write a newsletter-y update, I can still do that within the automated form.

All right, enough nerding out about the newsletter. If you’re into that kind of thing, feel free to join my Better, Saner Teacher Blogging course (free) and the included private Facebook group where dozens of teacher bloggers (myself included) share questions, encouragements, and lessons learned.

Changes to the site’s design: Toward a reader-centered design philosophy

When I started teacher blogging, I’d figured I’d learn some things. What I didn’t count on was learning so much about not simply teaching and blogging, but about life and psychology and priorities and productivity. Some of those lessons — how to overcome procrastination, how to be a better husband, how to write when I don’t feel like it, how to quell inner doubts and demons, how to teach more like I hoped to when I began my career — have changed my life.

And here’s another thing I’ve learned: simplicity trumps complexity. (See Fig. 2.)

Figure 2 - Blog Design Teaching the Core versions

I had an epiphany this summer — subconsciously, I enjoy reading sites like The Atlantic or Medium, and I hate reading at places like the Huffington Post. This isn’t because HuffPost doesn’t have awesome content — they often do! It’s because HuffPost’s “Click! Click! Click!” design scheme guzzles my brain’s focus tank, whereas The Atlantic and Medium don’t. They’re design schemes are what I would call “reader-centered,” in that, mostly, they just let me read.

Ironically, if you look at most teacher blogs and edu-websites out there, we tend to fall squarely into the HuffPost school of “Yell at You” design. Heck, we could even teach HuffPost a few things with all of our sidebars and widgets and buttons and links and clickies and ads and gimmicks. Some of the most popular teacher sites in the world are distracting to the point of potential brain damage — from a reader’s point of view, I’m saying. [1] It’s like, the whole time you’re reading, you’re being yelled at to read something else.

I don’t want to distract you; I’m done yelling at readers with my teacher blog. I want this blog to make you feel like you just took a breath after holding it in for days. I want you to be able to simply come, read, and go on with your life without feeling incomplete or exhausted because you didn’t click on All The Things.

In the spirit, then, of reader-oriented design, I’ve made some minor tweaks:

  • The header is significantly thinner, allowing you more screen space for reading.
  • The font and line spacing are a bit different, with tweaks made toward increased readability.
  • The pop-ups are gone. It’s still important to me as a writer to build the subscribership of the blog, but c’mon — none of you are dumb. You don’t need me popping a form in your face to decide whether or not you want me in your inbox. (Let me rephrase that…)
  • The ads are gone. It’s still important to me to make this blog pay dividends for my ladies (three girls under five… I need a nap), and so sponsorship is one means of doing that. I am very proud to be sponsored, then, by an organization whose work and mission I believe in: my alma mater, the American College of Education. With that said, I know there are more effective methods for supporting ACE’s work than putting them in the sidebar — and that’s one of the reasons I created my free, 5-day email course on de-stressing your M.Ed decision. The course isn’t designed to “sell” ACE, but it does aim to explain how my thought process on a teaching master’s degree evolved into considering an all-online school like ACE, and how that decision ultimately led to this blog.
  • The sidebar is gone. Yes, I still want folks to support the blog through purchasing my various resources and booking me for speaking engagements, but no, I no longer think the best way to do this is to assault them with images of the Pop-Up Debate Starter Kit or the like. Plus, I’m selling most of my resources for $1 — the income I earn from the .1% of people who purchase these things isn’t worth degrading the reading experience for the 99.9% who just come here to read. Folks who really want to consider buying my resources will click on the appropriate part of the menu — again, ain’t no dummies reading this blog — just like folks who really want to inquire about my speaking rates and available dates will figure that out as well.

In short, I’m stepping off the cliff of Conventional Design Wisdom into the pool of Do Unto Others/Trust the Readers, seeking to create the reading experience I most appreciate.

Getting around the new design: Quick tips

If you’re a long-time reader who wants to easily navigate to all of my posts, things have changed a bit. Check out this short video where I walk you through it (here’s a link in case the embedded player below isn’t showing up):

Finally: The reason behind the name change

While I have worked hard to establish my reputation as someone who writes about more than the Common Core literacy standards, I’ve come to realize over the past year that there’s no escaping the baggage folks bring to the word “core” in today’s educational environment — and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

I owe the Common Core State Standards a great debt of gratitude; they gave me a challenge to focus on and write about for the initial years of my writing career, and through studying them, I know that I became a much better teacher and thinker.

Even more than the standards, I owe so much to the community that has formed around the Teaching the Core blog. As I’ve met you at conferences and speaking events, I’ve discovered the real magic of blogging, which is the powerful thing of creating a website around which a group of people can become a tribe.

With those things said, I still get introduced at events like this: “Dave Stuart Jr. is with us today because he has done a lot of work with the Common Core.” I don’t want to be pigeon-holed like that because with every post I get comments or emails from people saying, “Argh, I needed to hear that, Dave. I was in a dark spot, and that post got me out.” Every time someone says, “He’s the Common Core dude,” there’s going to be a slew of readers who will immediately tune out and keep looking for the encouragement or equipment they’re seeking.

I want an educator to be able to hear about my work, Google my name, and find a site that, logically, shares my name. I’m a teacher who is also a writer, and DaveStuartJr.com is the home of my life’s written work — and it’s a body of work that I pray will be very helpful to very many people as I continue to practice and hone my craft.

Thank you for letting me be a small part of your journey. Cheers.

Footnote:

  1. I won’t list any of them off, although it’s tempting. That would be messed up. But seriously — you know what I’m talking about.

Thank you to Barrett BrooksJames Clear, and Chase Reeves for teaching me to run my blog from the perspective of the reader. Chase taught me everything I’ve needed to know about web design in his course within Fizzle, James’ articles and site design have given me a specific site role model, and Barrett’s daily blog posts this summer have punched straight through many of my mental blinders.

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2 Responses to Updates (and Goodbye, Sort of) to the Teaching the Core Blog

  1. Justin August 5, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    There’s no better feeling than knowing that your mentor practices what he preaches! Thanks for taking the time out of your break so that your “tribe” can experience a better way to hear your sagacious voice! You’re astounding!

  2. davestuartjr August 6, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

    Thank you, Justin! I appreciate it brother. Cheers from afar — and thank you again for your encouragement!

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