When should you block a Twitter user?

It’s been an interesting few days in my Twitterstream, y’all.  I’ve been engaged in a bit of a digital slugfest with a guy I’ll call Conner in the interest of protecting his identity.

Conner saw a Tweet sharing a Darcy Mullen bit on the rationale behind flipping learning spaces that referenced me and started throwing haymakers about the complete uselessness of flipping — and of the educators who are exploring it.

I should have known the conversation was headed nowhere when Conner’s first Tweet was, “Talk to cheerleaders and get a cup of Kool-aid.  Is that the intent?”

He followed that up with, “Also enthusiastically awaiting response re: under-theorized, de-politicized “fad” pedagogies.”

After seeing his responses, I decided to push back against his approach to learning in social spaces.

I explained — much like I do to the kids in my classroom — that it is only possible to learn from people with different points of view when you see them as partners instead of opponents.

His response:  “Thinking ‘with’ folks who help hollow out teachers’ work isn’t on my agenda.  Call it a character flaw.”

So I blocked him.  I figured that anyone who was unwilling to listen with an open mind deserved the same fate as the strippers and spammers — and, strangely enough, Scottsdale periodontists — who swill through my learning stream on a daily basis.

But I won’t lie:  I always feel a little dirty when I block an educator on my blog or in my Twitterstream.

I LOVE pushback because it helps me to polish my own thinking — which means I’m always on the lookout for people with different points of view that I can learn from.  And as a guy who believes in the power of collaboration, I’m always somewhat convinced that I have a responsibility to work together with anyone who comes my way.

But I’m also incredibly protective of my learning spaces.  The simple fact of the matter is that I don’t have a ton of time for learning — so every time that I turn to my blog or to Twitter, I want to be with people who see me as a learning partner whether they agree with me or not.

When people come along showing a complete disregard for the thoughts of others — call it “working and playing well with others” if you want — I’m simply not going to allow them to ruin my learning.

And the beauty of digital spaces it that I don’t HAVE to let them ruin my learning.

I create and control the stream of ideas and individuals that I learn from — and just like making careful choices about who to LET INTO your learning network is an essential skill for learning in today’s world, making careful choices about who to exclude from your learning network matters too.

I generally use the following three criteria before deciding to block someone’s voice from my PLN — something I’ve done fewer than five times in the past five years:

Has the person taken the time to get to know who I am before throwing digital punches?

I first started thinking about blocking Conner when he suggested that Chris Wejr, Darcy Mullen and I were intent on “hollowing out the teaching profession” simply because it showed that he knew almost nothing about us.

Spend any time here on the Radical — or over on the blogs that Darcy and Chris keep — and you’ll see that we’re pretty reflective dudes that regularly (1). advocate on behalf of the teaching profession and (2). push practice — and practitioners — forward.

I’m also not sure that Conner has read anything that Chris, Darcy or I have written about flipping the classroom — a topic that he obviously cares deeply about — and my guess is that if he had, he would have found more similarities in our positions than differences.

That means Conner wasn’t interested in who WE were as thinkers or as learners.  Instead, he was doing nothing more than reacting to his own preconcieved notions about flipping — and about the people who who support it as a practice.

Moral of the story: If a person is completely uninterested in YOUR thoughts, don’t give them a spot in YOUR learning stream.

Does the person have a blog — or other online space — where they’ve carefully articulated their thinking BEYOND 140-characters?

Conner’s antipathy towards flipping the classroom was SO intense that I wanted to learn a bit more about his thinking.  That’s what reflection is all about: Seeking out opposing viewpoints in order to better understand your own.

I couldn’t find his blog, though.  It’s not linked in his Twitter profile and I couldn’t find it by searching the Web. As far as I can tell, Conner isn’t starting conversations about his core beliefs beyond Twitter.

Do you see how limiting that really is to me as a learner?

I want to find partners who are articulating their core beliefs in longer pieces posted in spaces more conducive to extended thinking because THEIR extended thinking forces ME to think about — and to refine and revise — my own positions.

Long story short: If a person doesn’t craft anything beyond 140-character messages, they probably aren’t going to push my thinking in meaningful ways — and I’m just not ready to add anyone to my learning stream that isn’t going to push my thinking in meaningful ways.

Is there any evidence that this person sees the collaborative potential in conversations?

What finally convinced me that blocking Conner was the right choice for me was his unwillingness to see other people as potential learning partners with ideas worth considering.

In his mind, he was COMPETING against Chris, Darcy and I.  To him, we were intellectual opponents in some kind of 140-character cage match.

At one point, I reminded him that he needed to see people with different viewpoints as partners and not enemies.  His response:  “No.  We are not all on the same team.  Teachers subvert their interests in a lot of ways.”

What Conner doesn’t understand is that learning is COLLABORATIVE, y’all. Anyone who is unwilling to see you as member of their learning team isn’t the right person to add to your learning stream.

Why get wrapped up in arguments when there are literally THOUSANDS of partners who are ready and willing to think and to push practice and pedagogy forward TOGETHER?

None of this automatically makes Conner a bad guy — or a bad learning partner for someone else. 

Who knows, he might be just the person to push YOU forward.  But I also know that he’s not the kind of guy that pushes ME forward — and in the interest of protecting my own learning, I blocked his voice from my stream.

That’s a lesson I think anyone learning in networked spaces need to embrace.  No matter how polite we are as a profession, policing your PLN doesn’t make you a bad person. 

If someone is polluting your stream — if their contributions are doing nothing to help you to learn and if they’ve made it clear in interaction-after-interaction that they’re not going to change — you’re crazy NOT to block them.

Remember that learning matters — and a learning network can only help you to grow when it’s carefully pruned.

Does any of this make sense?

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