Come Alive

Note: The following is a rough draft of a blog entry that I'm "throwing out here" for feedback and see what happens. I won't critique it in this short note.

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive," shares Howard Thurman. "And then go and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive." Are educators and school communities ready for their children to take these risks to come alive?

Empowered teachers are looking to groom and brainwash our children as advocates for passionate action, conflict over harmony, transparency over invulnerability, and commitment to virtual friends, and real life strangers. Consider this parade of passionate entries on Angela Maier's blog. (wink) The edublogosphere is without restraint.

Without restraint. That must be the perception of school administrators in schools that do not grant permission to teachers so that they can use social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Plurk. These are tools that thousands of educators use each day to broaden their professional learning networks, and reach children where they are, socially constructing their understanding of knowledge. It's too risky, some say, and we can't contaminate learning environments with these radical technologies that connect us as we learning.

Are the ways we use technology designed to keep students occupied (obstacles) or are they designed to help students experience growth in their learning (conduit)?…The challenge for us as educators is to examine our practices in terms of being either obstacles or conduits to the learning of our students.

We often don't see teachers using social media in schools as a justifiable risk. Yet, going to the place where our children are is necessary. For teachers, parents, that place is virtual space...and transparency in those spaces serves us all, as both a tool to clarify our mission and purpose as well as enable others to understand what we do as educators.

Consider the dictionary definition of transparency:
Transparency: Nothing to hide
Transparent: free from pretense or deceit; readily understood; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices‚ (
And, how it is defined by one Texas state official: "If you're uncomfortable with what you say or do," pointed out Anita Givens (Associate Commissioner for the Texas Education Agency), "don’t say it or don’t do it. That’s the mantra we have to live by because we are state public officials." That mantra serves public school educators. What happens when it is over-applied in school district organizations? Are we doing the right things (e.g. conversations with all teachers and staff about what transparency means in a digital age), or choosing to do the easy things (e.g. block everything, silence everyone) because they are easier to accopmlish?

On my way to work one day, National Public Radio shared an interview with a musician who also happened to have been knighted. In the interview, he said something like, "We know what the right things to do are, yet we consistently fail to do them." Not surprisingly, this is exactly what our organizations do every day...and they choose to NOT acknowledge these acts of "not learning."
Experience shows that organizations have the most difficulty at learning when the problems are difficult and embarrassing or threatening precisely when they need learning most. An organizational defense is a policy, practice, or action that prevents the participants (at any level of the organization) from experiencing embarrassment, or threat, and, at the same time prevents them from discovering the causes of the embarrassment or threat.

Source: Chris Argyris
Social networking tools like MySpace (or Facebook and Bebo) and YouTube grant freedom of speech and assembly to the masses in a way that the American Revolution never could. For this reason, disruptive technologies that connect people to each other are the greatest threat to the powerful who have traditionally controlled the means of publication. Unfortunately, that includes our schools.

School districts protect themselves using policies that ban social media use in schools. Yet, if transparency--still missing in national politics--serves the public good, then school districts must be more open about what they are doing, to share their thinking about WHY their schools work the way they do.

At almost every turn, educators are penalized for using the very social media tools that could be used to achieve transparency. Decisions about what to share, with whom, and the appropriateness dominate our conversations, as Justin Bathon emphasizes below:
Teachers use facebook at their own peril. If you use facebook in a non-professional manner, just be prepared to be fired for it. Students, parents and administrators absolutely will check your page and that information absolutely will be used in employment actions against you. I hate discouraging technology usage, but it is clear that this is one particular technology that many teachers simply have not figured out how to use responsibly.

Source: The Edjurist

Technology advocates in classrooms, teachers by any other name, often find themselves alternating between two extremes. One the one hand, they are struggling to prepare their students to pass the test, while on the other, they are introducing their children to the latest technologies, experimenting with new approaches to engaging students. While some argue that experimentation is too risky, it is the experiential learning--learning by doing--that engages human beings. When we learn by doing, we remember more, we are more actively engaged.

In fact, as adults, the environment we need is not "dissimilar to the atelier of an artist, to be created for accelerating practical learning of both novices and more experienced practitioners" (Argyris & Schon, 1978). Simply, students make discoveries and experiment with knowledge themselves instead of hearing or reading about the experiences of others.

Again and again, we see a message, perhaps unintentional--"Hide who you are as a person, don't share it on the web because it will be used against you." Yet, the question I have to ask is, "Should we be encouraging people who act inappropriately to take their inappropriateness off-line so that we never know what is happening?" Isn't it better to know what's going on, to encourage transparency of foolish actions rather than to hide it?

Each time the lesson is the same one: that professionals should attend to their professionalism, or else the citizens and consumers who pay their wages will find out and -- eventually -- hold them accountable.
Source: David Brin, as quoted at Future Salon

The advice we should be giving educators is, be the kind of person that enables you to be transparent and share who you are because, you know what folks? It's going to happen anyways! There's just too much technology capturing who we are moment by moment.

"I leave you alone, you leave me alone." The proliferation of communication technologies, though, makes such an unspoken agreement untenable. If teachers get fired for indiscretions online, inappropriate images of themselves being racist, shouldn't they be terminated? And, who decides what constitutes indiscretion? Do we want that debate to occur behind closed doors or in the open?

Technology has enabled us to manifest our this transparency for the good or the bad? I encourage all educators--including school board members--who want to make racist remarks to video it and post it on Facebook, to post inappropriate images of a community member, I want to know and its my job, your job, all of our jobs to be the kind of people we want to have around our children, not just cover up the privacy, the secret poor behavior with a facade of appropriateness.

Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.

--Justice Louis Brandeis

Think of the blogosphere as millions of intelligent agents, all of whom are busy redirecting sunshine to where its needed most.

Source: Bubble Meter

Just as our political leaders face increased scrutiny, so should our teachers, and education system, who deal with our most precious resource--our children. And, so, I encourage every educator to get a Facebook account, to live a life worthy of being shared with others, and that when your students look, they will see exactly what manner of person you are.

Some points to keep in mind:

  • Share the truth and your perception of it--but distinguish between the two.
  • Be transparent about your motivations and expectations.
  • Share your learning like beads on a string
  • Use linktribution
  • Revise and publish that as a new blog entry or clearly labelled update.
  • Don't wait for the opportune time to write, share more now.
  • What you write endures forever.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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