As teachers we are moving away from isolated classes behind closed doors and becoming more open and transparent about what we are doing. I feel we have a responsibility to engage in and model good sharing practices for both our colleagues and our students. We don't need to share personal details about our lives, but we do need to share details of our professional lives if we are to connect with others who will find our ideas interesting and from whom we, in turn, can learn. Perhaps we might start by joining a ning, such as the The Educator's PLN or the PYP Threads or as social networking site such as Classroom 2.0. We might start reading blogs written by educators and then sharing our ideas by commenting on what we read. We may begin by publishing photos or video online or by starting our own blogs. We might create our own Twitter accounts.
I'm interested in the idea of always using our own names. Today I tried to find the person who has been employed to replace me at my school next year. I know his name and I know which school he is at right now. Although it was a simple matter to Google his name, it took me longer to find him on Twitter because he doesn't use his real name or display a real photo . When I did find him I was surprised to see that he was one of my followers! I hadn't made this connection before. And then I started to reflect on the fact that while I blog using my full name and this is connected to my email which contains my full name, I don't use my real name on Twitter either so how easy is it for people to find me?
Then I started to think about what I am going to do when I move on to my next school. My blog and email will remain the same of course, but I'm thinking now what to do about my Twitter name. Should I use my full name, or should I think of something else? If I want to connect with others, then I have to make it possible for them to find me - if someone Googles me I want them to find all the positive things I have done online which is essential to being a connected teacher - if the person who Googles my name is a student I want him or her to see that I am modelling the creation of a good online presence. To do that we have to balance our privacy with our online identity, we have to consider the risks versus the rewards.
I try to monitor my own online presence. I check the stats every day: who is reading my blog, where do they live, what terms are they googling to get directed to me, what websites have links to my blog, what responses am I getting to my posts, who is following me. I filter out the comments that are clearly promoting their own products/services. On Twitter I block and report anyone who sends me spam. I have alerts on my name and the name of my school. I see my blog posts as conversations starters. I know, for example, that some of my posts have been used in workshops and in staff meetings in schools in various parts of the world. Even though I'm not physically there, some part of me is and I'm happy to join the conversations. The rewards I've received as a result of connecting with these teachers in far away places have been immense.
But there are risks. There are some administrators who don't like it that their staff have an online presence - that they are reading online or publishing online. Perhaps they are concerned that if all their teachers are blogging, connecting, questioning and perhaps being given answers to some of those questions by members of their online communities outside of the school, that as administrators they are "out of control" of what their teachers are thinking. These administrators want all the good ideas to come from them, not from people in other schools. They see openly questioning and wondering as "letting the side down" - perhaps they are concerned that it won't look good if it seems that they and their teachers don't know all the answers, or that teachers make mistakes and then blog about what happened and what they had learned as a result. Perhaps they fear that a teacher openly admitting that he or she has made a mistake might damage "the good name of the school".
But how can we as teachers be effective in giving our students the skills they will need for the 21st century if we are not online and using social media? How can we teach them to be effective online communicators and collaborators if we are not doing this ourselves? How can we develop good pedagogy with technology if we are not actually using it and getting our hands dirty, making mistakes and learning from them? How can we teach our students to have a good digital footprint, if we don't know how to create one for ourselves? Teachers must be able to do these things themselves first, before they are able to teach their students how to share and create safely online.
Today I helped one of our new music teachers to set up a blog for her classes. Setting this up, showing her the mechanics of how to post, add photos, videos and audio took probably less than half an hour. But I know that the basics are not enough. For her to move forward she will need not just to publish blog posts, but to find ways that these posts can reach other music teachers, to build a network. New ideas will come to her only if she is able to make these connections. Our online learning is all about our ability to reach others, to connect with them, collaborate with them and learn something from them.
The administrators at my last school all blog and these blogs are linked from the school website. I think this made a huge difference in the way that networked teachers were regarded as we were actively encouraged to connect with others outside the school. Other schools, I've noticed, share a lot online. They are involved in action research and they are not seeing this learning as something that must be kept private to just benefit them - they are sharing their findings with the rest of the world - blogging about their learning and then tweeting links to the blogs. They don't see other schools or other teachers as rivals or threats but as learning partners. Will Richardson alludes to this when he writes:
Teachers and learners must immerse themselves in these networked environments over the long term, and they need educational leaders to be in there with them, participating, publishing and collaborating with them ... Increasingly those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines.
Photo Credit: Clear ibook2 by Motoyen