As I begin serving in a new school district, I thought it a good idea to review some of my own principles on blogging and presence in social media. In fact, I am little surprised to get hired, knowing that my public online opinions can't be universally popular - and I know for a fact that I do have blog readers in my new district. Oh, and after taking a very good organization to task a bit in my last post, it's obvious I need the refresher. (Please don't TP my house, Mary M!) Anyway, here are my "rules" of blogging ...
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.
When I first started teaching back in the mid-70s, the district I worked for had some rules. One was that you had to live in the district; another 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 just as it rankles me now to think that my free speech rights might be abrogated were I 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, foreign policy, or the Common Core. 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 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 25 years and certainly on a continuous basis long before social media. A good deal of what I write is opinion and I've even written 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 my writing 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. We should be asking questions about current practices that may not benefit kids and promote those that work or show promise. Blogs are a serious tool for improvint education and it would be a crying damn shame if overly cautious lawyers 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
- pertained to a private matter rather than an issue that is of general public concern (i.e., of interest to the public), or
- seriously disrupted the working relationship between you and your peers / supervisors.
I’m paraphrasing / summarizing here but you get the gist. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garcetti_v._Ceballos