Poking through my feed reader last weekend, I stumbled across a provocative Chris Wejr bit questioning whether or not social spaces were becoming nothing more than online popularity contests where people spend more time pimping their own ideas than they do listening to — and learning with — others.

He writes:

I wonder the point at which social media becomes more about marketing the user than about the learning that can result from using it to connect with others. We often hide behind the idea that “the intent is good and we are sharing good stories of education” when we participate and promote education and social media awards and “top” Twitter lists. Do we really need these awards to share stories if social media is already about sharing good stories?

In a lot of ways, Chris is right, isn’t he? 

While blogs and Twitter and Facebook are SUPPOSED to be “social spaces,” there’s definitely a TON of broadcasting — pushing out ideas to nameless, faceless hordes — going on. “Having followers” has become WAY more important than “finding co-learners” to FAR too many people.

But I think I understand the obsession with digital bling in education’s social spaces, y’all.

We work in a nameless, faceless profession where there are few — if any — real opportunities to be recognized as individuals for what we know and can do.

Even in our own workrooms, we’ve clung to the notion that every teacher and every lesson is equal and, all-too-often, we’ve created workplaces where accomplished individuals are shamed for daring to step beyond the group.

I’ll never forget how embarrassed I was to win a Regional Teacher of the Year award here in North Carolina a few years back — an honor presented at an surprise all-school assembly.

Weird reaction, isn’t it?

At a moment when I should have been full of pride, I worried first about what my peers would think.

Perhaps more importantly, we work in a nameless, faceless profession where it’s REALLY hard to make enough money to actually support a family.

The VAST majority of full-time teachers that I know have to work part-time jobs just to make ends meet.  The rest married people who are paid really well, live lives well below their similarly educated peers or decided to stay single for as long as possible.  The sad truth is that teaching is still seen by the those who pay our salaries as a “nice second income” instead of as a profession for breadwinners.

Can we REALLY be surprised, then, when teachers feed off of the rush that comes from recognition or readily embrace the chance to market themselves to audiences as experts with skills that just might be worth paying for?

Don’t get me wrong: I think piling up followers rather than building networks — broadcasting instead of listening to others — is a failed strategy, for lack of a better term. 

The REAL power in social spaces is found in the relationships that you develop with the people that you’re learning from — not the voice that it gives you.

And the people in your network are far less likely to offer you help — to challenge your thinking, to celebrate your content, to point you to new resources that align with your work — when they feel like you are doing nothing other than using social spaces to push your greatness.

But aren’t those self-promoting behaviors just another condemnation of a flawed profession rather than a condemnation of flawed professionals?



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