Bloggers are the jellyfish floating along, sharing everything and the way we look is incredible with the light on us, but the monster is out there...waiting. For educators, that monster is a puritanical public that believes in they are the moral authority, and educators aren't measuring up when they foster 2-way communication, shared responsibility and trust in "the world out there." Miguel Ghulin, Jellyfish Blogger-Radical Transparency.
In Miguel's post linked above, he argues for a radically high level of transparency by educators. He asks if the reader sees this working:
Not just transparency, but Radical Transparency. The whole teaching, learning and leadership process laid bare, and opened to critical input from teachers, students, parents, and administrators without censure or penalty. Educational administration in public, via blog. Teaching and learning in public, via blog. Superintendents talking straight, unafraid of where the chips may fall, in mid-day postings.
While I appreciate Miquel's passion and rationale for that passion, he needs to acknowledge that there is a difference between transparency and TMI (too much information). The "monster" of the "puritanical public" may well be those people concerned about student and staff privacy, accuracy of information, and appropriate topics for public discourse. No matter how well disguised, people who are used as "bad examples" will recognize themselves (I know from experience) and the public outing will cause strained or broken relationships. Some situarions are sufficiently complex, nuanced, or values-driven that it is difficult if not impossible to explain them to a lay audience. Admitting one's mistakes, while perhaps cathartic, is not beneficial unless reflection reveals a lesson learned. And Miguel, like it or not, some people in an organization have as their responsibility to be the "voice of the institution" and doing an end run around them in a public forum is just damn poor manners.
While I very much disagree with legal advice that suggests limits to anyone's free speech, including that of education bloggers, I would also hope that we as professionals are willing to accept some self-imposed limits about what, about whom, and about how we speak in public. In practice, radical transparency may well do more harm than good.
From Blogging and a little common sense, January 26, 2007:
When I first started teaching back in the mid-70s, the district I worked for had two rules. The first was that you had to live in the district; the second was that you were to set a "moral" example. And the good folks in central Iowa had a pretty rigid definition of "moral." Not being able to drink a beer on my own front porch rankled me then and it rankles me now to think that my free speech rights might be abrogated were I banned from blogging.
But I also remind myself that rights are always accompanied by responsibilities.
Here are some things I try to keep in mind when I write for the Blue Skunk. I honestly don't want Johnson vs. the Mankato Board of Education being studied in school law classes someday.
- Write assuming your boss is reading. That's good (and common) advice as far as it goes. But I know my wife, my mother and my daughter all read The Blue Skunk now and then. (My wife is lobbying me to change how I reference her from the LWW - Luckiest Woman in the Word - to the BBWWLMEWIJ - the Beautiful, Brilliant Woman Who Loves Me Even When I am a Jerk). I assume my co-workers read the blog, as might anyone for whom I might work for someday, either as a regular employee or a contractor. Somehow this doesn't really narrow the scope of what I want to write about, but it does force me to ask questions about language, taste, and approach. Every time I've wondered if I should put something of questionable taste in the blog and did, it's usually come back to bite me. A person can tell. Mostly.
- Gripe globally; praise locally. I don't think anyone really fusses if you express your opinions about global warming, the Iraq War, or NCLB. But you will never catch me dissing a person who lives close enough that he could easily come by and TP my house. Nor would I say bad things about a person who I might then have to avoid at a conference. Even going negative, I try to make it about ideas, not people. I have to admit I am really lucky to be working in a school with people I genuinely think are pretty darned good and with whom I am proud to be associated. I don't agree with every decision made, but I know that the decision was made thoughtfully.
- Write for edited publications. I've been writing professionally for almost 20 years and certainly on a continuous basis since I've been working for the Mankato Schools. A good deal of what I write is opinion and I've even written a several editorials for the state and local newspapers. My bosses in the past have shared things I've written with the school board as a point of pride - I hope. Were the district now to react negatively to my blog, I believe it would have a difficult case showing that my writing impedes my employer's effectiveness or efficiency or otherwise disrupts the workplace, since it has not done so in the past. It would be a condemnation of a technology, not of a practice.
- Write out of goodness. I have a difficult time believing that anything you write because you want to improve education, improve kids lives, or improve society will be counted against you. If you write out of negativity - to vent, to whine, to ridicule - yeah, you'll probably have problems. But I am guessing you were probably having problems at work before you started blogging if that is your blog content. In a workplace where dismissing someone for mediocre job performance or poor interpersonal skills is nearly impossible, supervisors are often looking for any legal means of firing people. If you are doing a good job at work, blog. If you aren't, don't blog.
It is our professional duty to share what works for us and ask for help when we are stymied. Blogs allow us to do both and it would be a crying damn shame if the advice of an overly cautious lawyer stopped this flow of information.
Earlier I mentioned that rights are accompanied by responsibilities. Another thing usually must come along as well - courage. Be brave - blog.
Miguel, perhaps I am too cautious, too cowardly, too traditional. Thank you for challenging my thinking.
Other random thoughts on blogging
Don't blog the cat and other virtues, April 28, 2007
Liz Ditz's thought on blogging ethics, December 2005 - still good