A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to have a bit titled Learning with Blogs and Wikis published in ASCD’s Educational Leadership. Obviously, having your work spotlighted by one of the leading educational journals in the nation is a satisfying feeling.
Another satisfaction that I get each time something I write is picked up by a journal is answering questions and offering advice to readers. Inevitably, three or four people email me after each piece looking for a bit more information, advice on how to best move forward, or the friendly kick-in-the-pants they need to take long-delayed first steps.
That happened today when a reader in Iowa emailed and asked about the professional risks of blogging.
Hi Mr. Ferriter-
Your article in Ed Leadership has motivated me to delve further into blogs and wikis. I like to read blogs, and I have always been tempted to try writing my own blog but have held back due to concerns about attaching my name to my opinions about teaching and learning.
It’s not that my views are extreme- I’m just wondering what the ramifications could be for my school (or for me) since my name is also attached to my school. Would a parent who disagrees with me think differently about my school because of my opinions? Will my school district feel betrayed if I comment on something in our current professional learning with which I disagree?
This is a question that a lot of novice bloggers wrestle with—and for good reason! Teachers are often in positions where they have little organizational power, yet they’re asked to carry out decisions that they may not agree with. Questioning can quickly land one in a bit ‘o hot water known as “insubordination,” and doing THAT publically is a ticket to the unemployment line.
When addressing these concerns with novice bloggers, I always begin by emphasizing that each individual needs to seek out their own comfort zone before making any decisions about how to move forward. “Comfort” in this case is a completely subjective term based on a person’s personality, their position in life, and the work environment that they currently find themselves in.
I’ve chosen to remain completely open about my blog because I think it lends a sense of trust and honesty to the conversation that I’m trying to become a part of—both in and beyond my district. I want other edubloggers to see me as a willing and positive contributor to an ongoing conversation about what works in education.
Remaining anonymous would cheapen those contributions, wouldn’t it? After all, it’s difficult to feel a kinship with someone who chooses not to reveal who they are. By remaining open, people begin to know that I am who I am—which in turn builds a sense of confidence in the ideas that I share—and that’s important to me.
That being said, remaining open also influences how I write.
My blog isn’t called the “Tempered Radical” by mistake! I realize that my thoughts and ideas can be seen by anyone at any time, and I understand that even though I’m blogging beyond the school day and as an independent thinker—rather than a representative of my district—-I’m always representing my district.
Literally—I think that language is even in my contract!)
What does all this mean in action?
I rarely “spout off,” ranting and raving about district or state policies: My posts are—for lack of a better word—tempered instead of confrontational. While I don’t hesitate to question the logic behind decisions that I don’t believe in, my questioning is balanced and fair instead of accusational.
Some of my critics call that a cop out.
I call that promoting responsible conversations.
Think about it: The blogosphere gives anyone the right to have a voice, and—mirroring American discourse—-many choose to use that voice to attack. They’re digital pit bulls. For me, that’s frustrating because little is added to the collective body of knowledge that we’re building about teaching and learning by shouting.
I’ve chosen to avoid those kinds of behaviors, which means I have little to fear when it comes to embarrassing myself or my district.
I’ve also built strong human relationships with my district leaders: One of the reasons that my district leaders don’t worry about what I’m writing is that they all know me well. I’ve done the kinds of “relationship leg-work” necessary for earning their trust over time. They’ve interacted with me on a personal level for years. I send them emails with interesting and helpful links. I ask provocative yet appropriate questions. I volunteer my time to district efforts.
All of this work gets me a bit of leeway when it comes to my online writing. If I say things that may be controversial, my district leaders have had enough shared experiences with me to know that my intentions are good and that I’m an ally instead of an enemy.
I’d recommend that any novice blogger concentrate on building human relationships with supervisors and district leaders while writing. Doing so only makes you more influential and trusted.
In the end, though, if novice bloggers are still worried about the potential consequences of transparency, they can always create a really good alter-ego and write under a pseudonym! Some of my favorite bloggers are completely anonymous. For some, the comfort offered by semi-secrecy is key. They wouldn’t write without that kind of professional cover.
For others, anonymity allows for a level of frank conversation and disclosure that they couldn’t possibly approach if they were open about their identity.
For me, though, I figure if I can’t say something openly, I’m not working in a healthy system. At that point, it’s either time to move on or time to build the kind of relationships with leaders that may just result in meaningful change.