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Blogging and a little common sense

I serve at the pleasure of the school board.

That means I am not affiliated with any organization that bargains for me, offers legal protection to me, or stands beside me if my job is on the line. It's not so bad. Really...

But it was with a bit of trepidation that I read the following opinion on a couple different blogs:

Blogging 101 Prepared by the PSEA Legal Division January 2007

As a school employee, you must exercise extreme caution when you engage in blogging or other forms of internet communication. Keep in mind that your First Amendment rights can be limited by virtue of your position as a school employee.

If you blog or maintain a web page, you should adhere to the following tips:

  1. Minimize the risk associated with internet communication by limiting access to your blog or web page using a "friends only" or similar restrictive setting.
  2. If visitors can post to your blog or web page, monitor postings constantly and remove any that are inappropriate.
  3. Do not blog or post about your job duties, colleagues, supervisors or students. This will reduce the danger that you might disclose confidential information, share information about a private workplace complaint, or otherwise carelessly or unintentionally engage in speech which could affect your future employment.
  4. If you choose to blog or post as a citizen about a non-job related matter of public concern (i.e., the elections, terrorism or environmental issues) take care that what you say will not impede your employer's effectiveness or efficiency or otherwise disrupt the workplace.
  5. If you are blogging or posting about innocuous information (i.e., your favorite football team or family genealogy), you still must be careful not to engage in comments that could adversely affect your employer (i.e., damage the employer's reputation) or interfere with your ability to carry out your job duties.
  6. Do not blog or post about personal subjects (i.e., dating, romance, or drug or alcohol use). Your blog or web page should not contain any references to sexual subjects, or contain vulgar or profane language or graphics. If your blog or web page was a movie, it should be rated "G."
  7. Blogging and posting anonymously does not protect you. Names of bloggers, web page authors and other internet users can be discovered through litigation.
  8. Check to see if your employer has any policies regarding blogging or web pages. If so, you should review the policy with your PSEA Uniserv.

taped.jpgIn conclusion, you should be aware that if you blog or maintain a web page, you must use prudence and be extremely careful in your comments. You must give the necessary time and attention to the content of your blog or web page to make sure that it satisfies the general principles above.

Please contact your PSEA Uniserv Representative if you have any questions.

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 if I was banned from blogging.

But then I 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. 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 boss in the past has 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.

Putting this here from Dr. Scott McLeod so I can find it again:

The law basically says that as a public school teacher you can not be disciplined for your public speech UNLESS it

  1. pertained to a private matter rather than an issue that is of general public concern (i.e., of interest to the public), or
  2. seriously disrupted the working relationship between you and your peers / supervisors.

I’m paraphrasing / summarizing here but you get the gist. See also:


Forecasting Trends

Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it.
Plan more than you can do, then do it.
- Anon.

In response to an earlier comment I made, Peter Reilly over at the terrific Ed Tech Journeys blog sent me  this link to his wiki page that predicts some of the elements to consider in an updated planning model:

  1. The role of online learning both for teachers and students.
  2. The ability to provide home access to school resources, 24x7x7.
  3. The need to provide a structured plan for the acquisition of software and digital content.
  4. signpost.jpg
  5. The emerging role of data in decision making.(warehousing & SIF)
  6. Unified desktops (portals) that aggregate appropriate resources and allow single log ons to multiple applications.
  7. Lower computer costs making "one to one" more feasible.
  8. WiMax and meshed WiFi making the school network accessible from home.
  9. A new emphasis on innovative Leadership to inspire change in teaching and learning.
  10. New networking strategies including "virtualization" and "remote support" that lower support costs and allow re-allocation of resources to "one to one" iniatives.
  11. Inclusion of students in the planning process and as a resource in implementing the plan.
  12. Identifying whether you are a candidate to move to Open Source software.

In The Vision Thing earlier blog entry, I talked about the big picture of tech planning. Here is the more granular part of our draft tech plan that is being distributed throughout the district for comment.  I am pleased that so much of it addresses Peter's "elements":

Directions – 2007-2011 (These actually changed little since the 2003-07 plan.)

As quickly as technology changes, it is nearly impossible to predict or plan with any accuracy the specific challenges that will be facing us over the next few years. We can speculate on some general trends:

  1. Less emphasis on “technology’ as a separate area of concern; more emphasis on technology as a means to achieve goals of other areas.
  2. Greater need to train students and staff on ethics, safety and civility when using technology, as well as the ability to evaluate the reliability of information found and to use it purposely.
  3. Need for formal integration of technology skills into the content areas to meet specific state standards as well as being able to meet NCLB requirements that all students be technologically literate by the end of eighth grade.
  4. Increased demand for individualized technology training by staff.
  5. Continued, accelerated move to information in digital formats such as e-books, online databases, electronically submitted student work, web-based video conferencing, and video on demand.
  6. More emphasis on anytime, anyplace access to personal information through web-based personal file space, calendars, and wirelessly networked hand-held devices. Increased access to tools that allow teachers to supplement classroom instruction with online learning opportunities such as class chats, threaded discussion groups, online syllabi and study materials, collaborative workspaces, etc.
  7. Increased desire by parents for real-time student information available via the web. Higher parent expectations of schools and teachers to provide comprehensive information about school programs and individual student achievement.
  8. Continued importance of the tools and knowledge needed to do good data-driven decision-making by administrators, building teams and individual teachers.
  9. Increased efforts to assure data privacy, data security, and network reliability.
  10. Increased educational options for all learners including more choices of schools, more online course offerings, more interactive video offerings, and more computer courseware options. This will result in an increased need for school marketing efforts and increased “consumer-driven” attention..

Big tasks 2007-2011

  1. Continue/finish SmartClassroom project, installing interactive whiteboards and mounted LCD projectors in each classroom along with teacher training necessary to use them.
  2. Explore use and need for voice enhancement systems in classrooms.
  3. Refine regular replacement/training schedule for all staff, including secondary. Do needs assessment of staff development in technology.
  4. Implement secure wireless network.
  5. Evaluate current student information system and related programs (grade book, parent interface, class management).
  6. Monitor feasibility of 1:1 student to computer programs using computers designed specifically for student use.
  7. Supply additional computers and support for online testing required by district and state.
  8. With assessment department, support training for all staff in using data mining system.
  9. Create assessment of 8th or 9th students of technology skills. Design remediation opportunities for those who lack technology skills.
  10. Move all web materials and services to ASP (rSchools). Train all teachers in use of rSchools for use in placing teaching materials online.
  11.  Refine and develop security procedures. Do regular external and internal security audits.
  12. Upgrade building networks by replacing 100mg switches with 1 gig switches.
  13. Explore updating of library circ/cat system.
  14. Develop and implement comprehensive new staff training programs for teachers, administrators and support staff.

Our bright, young IT manager, Jim, adds these to the list:

  1. Consolidate server resources and provide thin-client (virtualization) appliances to accommodate increased needs of online testing.
  2. Develop and integrate course management systems (CMS) within the curriculum and foster online courses.
  3. Develop a true “web portal” for access to all systems (student info system, online storage, email, etc…)
  4. Similar to #2, use a CMS type system or facilitate new forms of communication between students, teachers, and experts by using technology and the internet interactively in the classroom.
Now how to sell it, how to finance it, how to schedule it, how to implement it, how to maintain it, how to...  In other words, who shall bell the cat???


Story with a lesson

I don't usually re-post jokes on this blog, but I like the message of this one...

On a busy boulevard, a stressed out woman was tailgating an honest man.

Suddenly, the light turned yellow directly in front of him. He did the correct thing. He stopped at the crosswalk even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman went ballistic, pounded on the horn, dropped her makeup and cell phone, and screamed in frustration and was swearing a blue streak as she missed her chance to get through the intersection. As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up.

He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday-School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated 'Christian Fish' emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."


Yes, it's your WWJD thong...