In light of recent events, Tom has given me the job of beginning the “teacher blogging at work” guidelines discussion, and I have to say I’m not sure I relish the assignment. It’s a much needed discussion, no doubt. But by its very nature, it’s a sensitive issue that I’m not sure there are any absolute rules to successfully navigate through. On the K-12 public school level, at least, it depends on your board, your superintendent, your community, your personality.. too many variables to set something in stone.
I’ve been very lucky in the support I’ve been given to pursue my ideas for the Read/Write Web at my school. Not unsurprisingly, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. And there will be headwinds with the technology and the policy in the future, I’m sure. But by and large, my particular district has a reputation for forward thinking when it comes to technology, and that has been my good fortune.
Regardless, I consider very carefully what I say in my public space about the workings at my professional space. (I’m considering very carefully right now, in fact…) And I try to maintain a very clear and fairly narrow scope in the topics I discuss here in general. In my mind, this Weblog has many purposes, not the least of which are to archive my own thinking and learning about these technologies, to archive research and information relevant to these topics, to reflect on my own practice and share as much as I feel comfortable about my own struggles and challenges in the hopes that others can learn from them, and to provide a forum for a community of educators with similar interests and ideas.
But this is not my public venting space. I have other, more anonymous spaces for that when the need occurs, which isn’t that often. I don’t infuse my politics in this space if I can possibly help it, though a close read of my blog will surely give you an indication of where I stand. I do this because while Weblogg-ed may be my domain, I cannot completely disassociate myself from my employer as I carry my school’s name and my job title with me when I blogvangelize in person and in print. My words here, even though they may be my own and in no way reflect the thinking of others at this institution, nevertheless represent the face of that institution whether I like it or not. But that is my choice.
I often wonder if any parents or community members read this space, and if so what image they form about my work and the initiatives at my school. I doubt many do. But when I post here, I am very conscious of that potential audience. When I do choose to include stories of my work life in this space, I do not embellish them to put a good face on the school. I do, however, choose carefully what to write about. There have been “bumps” that I think would be instructive to edu-readers of this site that I have nonetheless chosen not to write about.
There are other ethical questions as well regarding time spent on reading and researching and blogging, the equipment used to do so, and the time of day it all happens. Again, there are no black and white answers. I do spend time during the school day reading and researching and blogging. And I use school equipment to do so. I find justification, however, in the fact that my job revolves around finding and learning about and implementing educational technologies. Other teachers will not have the same role. And I try to accomplish personal tasks outside of my contracted day, which is 7:30 to 3:30. I get here at 6 a.m. most mornings.
Having said all of that, Tom is right in his prediction that at some point, if it hasn’t already happened, some teacher is going to drink the blog Kool-Aid and find herself with a huge problem about something she’s written about her students, her peers, or her administration. Bound to happen. Until you really understand that this is real live publishing for the masses, it’s hard to believe that anyone is reading. But they are…
So, here’s a short list. This is open-text, remember, so we can all play along.
1. Decide carefully if you want to create a public space for your ideas with your name on it. Maybe going anonymous would be better. There are a couple of great anonymous teacher blogs out there, Hipteacher among them.
2. When you write, assume it will be read by the very people you may not want to read it. Think about the consequences.
3. As much as possible, blog on your own time with your own equipment.
4. Tell the truth. If you can’t, don’t write.
5. Ask people’s permission before you write about them in your blog, especially if it revolves around some struggle that you might feel worth reflecting upon or sharing with your audience.
6. If you do use a blog for professional reflection or opinion, my personal wish is that you take the time to present those ideas well. I’m not perfect when it comes to misspellings or errors, but I try to read everything at least twice if not three times before publishing.
7. Start simple, and find your groove. If you just post about news and don’t add much in the way of commentary at the start, it will give you time to develop your voice.
8. Again, if you decide to blog openly, don’t try to hide that fact from peers or supervisors.
9. If you think people may have an issue with your blog, ask first, and make your decisions based on the feedback you get.
10. If you find yourself looking over your shoulder, don’t blog.
I really believe in the value of blogs and blogging for professional growth and reflection. But I can understand the reluctance of many teachers to want to try it. The transparency is scary. The concept of open-text for one’s ideas and experiences is very different from what most are used to. Each of us has to weigh the benefits against the risks, real or perceived.
Tom Hoffman says
I think the nature of “anonymous” blogging needs closer consideration. It is difficult to stay anonymous over the long run, especially if you give away details like the city in which you work, since this will encourage greater attention from the people most likely to be able to identify you. And anonymity encourages sloppiness regarding the privacy of people you’re writing about.
I also think that people don’t quite grasp the implications of the temporal specificity of blogs. If I say, “a while ago I had a meeting with a really difficult parent,” I can’t easily be accused of violating that parent’s privacy (unless there are a lot more subsequent details). On the other hand if I say “Feb. 11, 2005: I had a meeting with a difficult parent today,” that parent has grounds to get me in serious trouble if they read my blog.
You have written some outstanding common-sense guidelines that teachers should consider in order to avoid falling into some of the pitfalls that await those classroom teachers/administrators that blog work-related issues.
I think that it might be a good idea to add something about the absolute importance of maintaining student confidentiality. What will get an educator into trouble faster than anything else (at least here in California) is failing to maintain “professional silence” regarding kids.
Tom Hoffman says
Student confidentiality is one thing EdWonk and I agree on 😉
Steve Dembo says
Very well written and well thought out. This is something that I have struggle with myself quite a bit. I have decided to keep my blog and podcast public, and child safe. Believe me when I say that there have been many occasions where I’ve wanted to rant about the goings on at my school, but I force myself to assume that anything I write or say will be heard by parents, students and administration here. As educators, we are public employees and role models for our students.
I’d love to see this post get turned into a Wiki, possibly something that Edupodcasters could contribute to and link to formally. A bloggers code of sorts for educational environements.