Confessions of a Blogging Dean

The dean on blogging: "It's liberating"

By Tim Cigelske
Seven months ago, Marquette College of Education Dean Bill Henk published his first blog— with a confession.

The inaugural Marquette Educator post detailed how young Bill made a daring escape from the classroom on his first day of school and “put the fear of God” in his teacher. But despite that inauspicious start, he wrote, he began a “love affair with education.”

That blog set the tone for his subsequent writing, which has both tackled weighty education issues like school choice and schoolyard bullying, and also given an honest and rare glimpse into the passions and personal life of a college leader. In fact, Bill’s blog is unique among education deans nationally.

Since August, the Marquette Educator has posted blogs at least twice a week without fail, received more than 20,000 visitors, and engaged students and alumni on an intimate level that would have been difficult to achieve without the widespread reach of the blog. In short, blogging has become a vital communication tool for the college.

Today the blog posts its 100th entry, and for the occasion Bill Henk agreed to an interview touching on his fears about starting the blog, what has made him cry, and what he finds most gratifying.

Congrats on the 100 blog post milestone! How does it feel?

Thanks! It’s a mix of relief, gratitude, and pride. Failure terrified me, but we succeeded because of our readers, and I’m grateful to them. And now I’m genuinely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

What did you know about blogging before you started, and what were your expectations?

Virtually nothing. I had read and responded to exactly one blog post out of political necessity. It’s a miracle that I even pulled that off. In fact, I really didn’t know enough about blogging to have expectations. Mostly I feared being expected to write so much.

What has been the biggest hurdle to overcome so far?

Actually there have been four pretty equal hurdles: managing my time, getting readers to comment, achieving deeper buy-in from my faculty, and trying to recruit guest bloggers.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect?

Watching our readership numbers swell and being told by so many people how much the posts are appreciated. Plus, it’s liberating to be my own editor and not tied to a stiff academic style of writing. Did I mention that it’s exciting to have a public voice, too?

What’s been the biggest surprise?

That being a blogger has become an integral part of my identity. I’ve also been surprised that readers gravitate to human interest stories more than controversial issues in education.

What role has guest bloggers—including the ongoing first-year teacher series—played in the blog?

They’ve been vital. Guest bloggers address a universe of topics outside of my limited range of expertise, and they diversify the blog’s voice. And honestly, I appreciate that every time someone else writes, I’m off the hook for a while.

What’s your favorite post and why?

Great question. It keeps changing. I invest so much time getting each one “just right” that I’d struggle to pick one. There were two posts, though, that were labors of love and emotionally moving to me. One dealt with three close deaths I experienced in consecutive Christmases. The other centered on a fellow education dean who tragically lost his wife and then magically found new love. I cried a lot while writing those posts, and I cry when I reread them now.

As a communication tool, what has this blog meant for you and your college?

The blog has provided significantly greater reach within and beyond Marquette and given us greater relevance with those audiences. It’s an extraordinary way to engage students, faculty, alumni, donors, and friends. I now regard the blog as essential to my work as dean.

Any advice for other aspiring bloggers?

It can be joyous, but to do it properly you’d better be prepared to make a significant and enduring commitment.

What would you like the future of this blog to look like?

I’d selfishly love to see our readership become mammoth. And I’d like for the Marquette Educator to be much less of a dean’s blog and more so one that is owned by our broader College community and reflects its thoughtful voices.

Readers can subscribe to the Marquette Educator blog and follow the college on Twitter @MUEducation.

Tim Cigelske is an alumnus of the Diederich College of Communication journalism department and former writer and editor at the Marquette Tribune. He currently serves in the role of Communication Specialist in the Marquette Office of Marketing and Communication, and has been blogging personally and professionally for six years.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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