Thursday, November 11, 2010

Freedom To Be an Independent Source (Updated 1/4/2011)

Source: Norman Rockwell's 1943 "Freedom of Speech"
On whose behalf do you speak as a citizen-journalist, a blogger, an educator? Do you speak on behalf of yourself or the organization that pays your salary? Do readers need to know who you work for to make a decision about what you say, or being able to google you enough? Two real life scenarios force me to reconsider these questions again.

Is knowing that you are an educator in a school district, a published author and edu-blogger enough to get the message across?

These are questions that came to mind as I consider two different scenarios that have arisen over the last few weeks. In both scenarios, I clearly stated that I was not willing to speak on the record if my employer was to be mentioned but I could certainly be mentioned as an educator and school district administrator in San Antonio, Texas. Unequivocally, I made it clear in email that if my employer was going to be mentioned, then I would not grant permission for the interview to be published.

My reasons for the denial are straightforward. I simply want to speak on my own, as an educator, blogger and don't think my employer should be dragged in. Another reason is that obtaining approval for an interview can unnecessarily delay the process.

For example, in getting approval for this EDTECH Magazine article--where I essentially stated I was speaking on my own but my District was mentioned--the delay involved a few weeks as responsible parties took the time out of their busy schedules to review the quotes I had given. The quotes were not objectionable, it just took time for the people to grant approval to review it.

I found myself recalling my experience when I worked for a regional education service center, simply trying to publish a newsletter to member districts (over 52 not to mention charter schools). By the time the information was approved, it was obsolete.

Finally, it's a simply a pain in the neck to have to shuttle a publication request through one's employer when I'm stating my own opinion.

Here are the two scenarios and I want to lay this information out there so as to

  1. Accomplish transparency
  2. Highlight how to different publications approached this. 

And, of course, I welcome your comments and feedback as educators embracing social media to share what you are doing and citizen-journalists interacting with traditional media.

The two media outlets--who both produce nice work--include the following:
  1. The American School Board Journal (ASBJ)
  2. Technology and Learning's SchoolCIO

SCENARIO #1 - American School Board Journal

Around October 21, 2010, I received a request from an ASBJ journalist to share my insights on social media. Here's the request as it was sent to me without mentioning the name of the interview/editor:
My name is [REMOVED] and I'm an editor with the American School Board Journal, a national education magazine based in Alexandria, Va. I'm putting together a story on the importance of public engagement in education, in particular, the strategies, practices, and paths that school districts and educators take to get community buy-in and participation in their schools and student learning. In my research, I came across an article you wrote that speaks to these very issues. I would love to speak with you further on this topic and include you in my piece. I'm unfortunately on a very tight deadline and need to conclude my interviews within the next several days. Hopefully, we'll be able connect within that timeframe. I thank you in advance for your help and look forward to hearing from someone soon.

First of all, I was honored that I was being considered as an interview subject. My response was as follows:

Thank you for the feedback on my article. I suppose you are referring to this article:
Reaching for the Heart: 5 Tips for School District Communication Directors

and/or this presentation to Chief Technology Officers:
that may provide even more background info and quotes from end users.

I would be happy to respond to you, however, not as the Director of Instructional Technology for [large urban district] in San Antonio, Texas. If you need me to respond as a freelance writer/blogger, educator, director of instructional technology for a large urban district in San Antonio, Texas, then I would be able to grant an interview.
Source: Excerpt from Email Response [Emphasis Mine]
That section in bold is critical and I reiterated it in the actual conversation.

To that email response, I received the following from ASBJ writer:
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly! I really appreciate it. Sure, speaking to you in one of your other capacities except for as a representative of your school district is just fine.
Source:Email from ASBJ interviewer/editor
So, the interview was conducted--I spent about an hour at least at 7:00 PM one night, and recorded the audio--and we had a great chat. We parted ways and I gave the chat no more thought except to think, Wow, we really covered a lot of ground.

Then, in early November, I received this email:
Well, I have finished my article on community engagement, sent it off for editing and just proofread the changes. I’m fairly pleased with the end result, though I wish I could’ve used more of the great material my interview sources provided. There is one change that was made to my copy that I initially disagreed with but my editor feels very strongly about: identifying your place of work. Per our discussion, I had identified you simply as a blogger and an instructional technology director at a large Texas school district. After a few clicks on the Internet, however, my editor was easily able to find out which district you work for, which is part of his reasoning. And by inserting a line closely after your title that clearly states you are speaking as an individual and not a representative of the district, my editor feels respects your base concern of keeping that distinction clear. I’m fine with the change as long as you are because, as I stated to my editor, I made an agreement with you. Please let me know if this is OK. My editor is pretty firm about keeping the integrity in our product and maintaining that transparency.
At first, I was inclined to let it slide. The interview was done, the piece written, why put them through all the trouble? But then, as I started to write, I realized my response was more sympathetic than it should be. Had I not been up front, transparent about my expectation? Whether anyone thought it was unreasonable, the terms under which information would be granted were clear.

As you can probably tell from the content shown below, there is nothing problematic that would incur the wrath of my employer. However, that wasn't the agreement.
The old approach isn’t a way of engaging the community as much as putting that version of reality out there and the problem is sometimes that doesn’t really reflect the reality,” says Guhlin, an avid blogger who also works for [NAME OF DISTRICT PLACED HERE BY ASBJ]

“I’ve noticed that people don’t realize how valuable it is to share what they’re learning as they’re learning it,” he says, quick to note that the opinions are his and not his employer’s. “Seeing how our thinking develops is at the heart of our creativity.”

“We want to do awesome things with students and staff and be honest about the work we do in schools,” Guhlin says. “We want people to know, ‘Your child read a poem today.’ That’s when you start getting, ‘I want to see how this is done in the classroom.’” 
Source: Excerpts from my chat with ASBJ interviewer that will NOT appear in the article as originally planned

As wonderful as it is to appear in a national publication, I wanted to do so in my own right and not involve my employer. So, I wrote this response:
Upon reflection, I've decided to NOT grant permission to use the interview for the ASBJ. Here's why:

1) I was up front about NOT mentioning my school district. ASBJ broke the rules we had agreed upon and the editor failed to support the article's author [name removed]. If your editor thought such rules were unrealistic, you should have informed me of that up front.

2) There is no transparency issue in NOT mentioning my employer because there is nothing hidden. ANYBODY can find me on the web. The editor merely wishes to include my work place as a convenience to his readers. If he likes, he can include a link to instead.

and finally,

3) I spoke as an education blogger. When I write for Huffington Post, they don't ask me to list my work place. Being an education blogger, like a freelance writer, education pundit, is a valid option in lieu of employment.

If your editor can't honor his journalist's commitments, then ASBJ is NOT permitted to use anything I shared with [ASBJ INTERVIEWER].

Furthermore, be aware that I intend to blog about this situation so that others will not be fooled by traditional media.

Source:Email to ASBJ Editor

Was I too harsh? Looking at that last statement about blogging it, I suppose I'm blogging it to get a better understanding of my own actions and to get your opinion as well.

The response from ASBJ was straightforward as well, I completely understand and respect your decision. I will make sure to remove your material from the story.

That's Scenario 1. What would you have done?

But then, Scenario #2 presented itself just yesterday with a totally different perspective.

SCENARIO #2 - School CIO*

*Full Disclosure: In the interests of full disclosure, please know that I have written and seen published two articles via School CIO, The Innovative CIO and Mission Possibleand been interviewed/appeared in Ten Tips for Internet SafetyMy affiliation with Tech and Learning has also included serving as a regular contributor to their blog and low-paid (!!) presenter at TechForum Southwest.
Update 01/4/2011: The article has been published...relevant portions appear here.

Recently, a highly esteemed colleague referred a SchoolCIO "technology writer" to me in regards to administrators' use of handhelds in schools to enhance efficiency. I responded with this email:
Howdy! Please note that I can agree to speak with the understanding that
anything to be printed will be reviewed the District's Communications Officer... If it's OK for me to speak on my own as an educator,published author, etc., then no delay. Please let me know if you want to move ahead.
The SchoolCIO was on a fast track for deadline, so a potentially lengthy approval process wasn't an option. More importantly, the SchoolCIO writer stated that such a review of a piece might constitute a violation of free and independent press, which I thought was great to cite, if not altogether relevant.

Then, this excerpt to the response that came back made me smile:
" you mean that if I don't mention the school district, we can go ahead? That would be great. Let me know, OK?". My response was an affirmative. The exchange of 4-5 emails on either side took place as I sat on the couch, catching my breath after listening to the CMA Awards while completing a fast walk on the treadmill.

The interview went well.

Below is a list of the resources and ideas I shared with the SchoolCIO writer. Looking at them, you might guess the flow of the conversation.

Note that some of this was drafted on the fly during the conversation and emailed to the SchoolCIO writer, so it's "rough draft" for sure...more of an illustration. In retrospect, I wish I'd logged into GoogleDocs Draw to illustrate it more (one possible perspective).
Multiple levels of handheld use:

Level 1 - Data collection on student practices
Level 2 - Data collection on teacher practices
Level 3 - Data collection on administrators at the campus
Level 4 - District reporting and disaggregation by geographic area or school feeder pattern (cluster)
Level 5 - Dissemination of professional learning
Level 6 - Dissemination of classroom-based learning

Big schools may have several entitities:

  • Data Warehouse (usually in house)
  • Third party vendor to process reporting of official data to the State Education Agency
  • Third party vendor for the handheld device for employee appraisals

Small schools probably outsource:

  • Data Warehouse and Official Data vendor are usually the same
  • Third party vendor for employee appraisals/walkthroughs or use GoogleForms 
Something thrown together in GoogleDocs Draw

Here are some articles that details the progress and use of handhelds for administrator purposes:

GoogleForms for smaller districts - check link above - -

Professional Development:

Sources of Podcasts for Administrator Professional Development:
Sir Ken Robinson -

Links for use of handhelds with students

So, what do you think? Is my position on whether to be interviewed as an educator/blogger independent of my employer on target or not? Was ASBJ correct in demanding I allow them to print my employer affiliation? Without the "journalism" background, I'm not sure what would be correct according to that discipline.

From my perspective, and maybe I'm completely wrong, the School CIO publication did the right thing to honor my request to be a free, independent source...after all, if people want to know who I am, they can always find out with a simple google search or go to my web sites ( and/or

What would you have done?

Image Sources
Keep on blogging -

Delicious Bookmark this on Delicious
Subscribe to Around the

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

No comments:

Genuine Leadership #4: Gratitude