25 February 2011

An Online Presence

Its been a while since I have had the time to say anything on here. I've gotten to the point that I finally have a minute or two to breathe so I thought I'd just write some thoughts. So if I ramble, I'll apologize upfront.

A certain online instructional technologist/English professor forwarded me an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education and it made me do some serious thinking about my "online presence". In fact, in the last couple of weeks, there have been several things making me think about it.

Many of you tweet regularly, blog, and update your status on Facebook, which is probably why you are reading this post. I imagine most of the people who read this blog do so as a result of either my Facebook status or a tweet they may have seen. Although I would like to send a shout out to those of you coming to us via your Feedreader! But I digress.

I tend to tweet about much more random stuff than I should. I mean I'm not telling people when I pass a kidney stone, nor do I talk about what I ate for breakfast. However, I have realized when I am feeling some bit of angst about something, it seems to be therapeutic to tweet or share on Facebook. This extends into all areas of my life. I'm not above letting my frustrations show. There have even been a few times when I have shared my feelings about a student.

However, I've learned that talking too much about what I am feeling can be inappropriate. I'm learning that everything I think does not have to be shared. I agree with Billie Hara when she says "Suddenly my Twitter stream was a teacher’s lounge". I don't want to be accused of being "that guy". You know those folks. They have nothing good to say about anyone, especially students. Now if I am struggling with frustrations, why in the world would I want to hear about yours?

Most of you know I am a heavy Facebook user and I use it in class. I have to think carefully about whether or not I would want students to hear what I am saying. I'll be honest, I have even gone as far as backspacing a tweet/status update inside TweetDeck because I thought better of it.

I had an interview last week with several School Board members, Putnam City Foundation members, and administrators. This interview was as a result of my selection as a PC Foundation Educator or Excellence. Many people would view that as a good thing and I won't disagree. However, there is a side effect of being recognized for something by those in power above you. You have to think about who might be reading your blog/twitter/Facebook even more!

As I write this, I think, "What if so-and-so is reading this?" What will they think? How will that make them view me? (either as an educator or simply as a person?)

There was one point in the interview when I kind of stumbled as to what I wanted to say and the Foundation Director reminded me that I do a lot of reflection here. I moved on and was able to answer the question (hopefully to their satisfaction). Later, I began thinking about what was said and I came to the realization that they had been reading what I've been saying here! I began to wonder, "Is that a good thing?" "Is that a bad thing?" I guess it all depends on what your goal is.

I then decided what mine was and what mine has always been in my writing here: I want to reflect on my practice and make a chronological log of my journey into being a professional educator. Its funny because I'm sure that was much more simplistic 4 years ago when I started writing. Anyway, would it be nice to be selected as "the" district teacher of the year, but that has never been my goal. So, if my administrators know what I am doing on some deeper level, then that's good. If my students know that I am always trying to learn something new, then that's good. If my colleagues know that I am human, I have insecurities and self-confidence issues, then that's good, too! I talk to students about transparency and I intend to model that through by blog.

I will make this vow: I will never disparage students in a public, online platform. If I need to gripe, this is not the place. I will be cognizant of my online presence and I will consider my audience when writing. This excludes my blog. I write here for myself. If someone else reads it, then that's good.

05 February 2011

5 lessons for educators from Mr. Rogers

I was stumbling around the interwebs the other day and found a blog post with 5 lessons marketers could learn from Mr. Rogers.

Rogers was a PBS staple when I was a child. I wasn't a dedicated watcher, but on the occasions I did see the show, I enjoyed it. I always learned something from the show and it was a great exercise in imagination. Even though Fred Rogers passed away in 2003, I think the 895 episodes he made still have a lot to teach us about how to be a great educator, but only if you are willing to use your imagination.

  1. Relationship-building beats content and pedagogy every time. Mr. Rogers never spoke above his audience. He didn't "teach" at you; he talked to his audience and we learned in the process. He did things in a friendly, conversational style and he always talked to his television audience as if they were right there in the room. It seemed that no matter what Mr. Rogers was doing he always had the time to stop and talk to his neighbors, whether on they were the television neighbor or a person in his studio.

  2. Be willing to acknowledge that kids can be better at something than you are. Mr. Rogers had a lot of friends and was never afraid to stop what he was doing to admire someone else doing a good job. I recently saw a video of Mr. Rogers doing a bit of break-dancing. He freely admitted to Jermaine that he would never be able to dance as well as Jermaine did. Often, teachers think they have to be the expert on everything since they are the adult in the classroom. However, if we are willing to be transparent with students and let them see that we are human, with our own gifts, the relationships we build with students(see #1) can go much deeper.

  3. Be consistent with who you are and what students can expect from you. There is likely only a small population of Americans who have never seen the opening scene of Rogers' show. He opened every show exactly the same way. Even as a 41 year old adult, there is still something comforting about hearing him sing that song, change into the zip-up cardigan, put on his comfy shoes, and welcome me to the neighborhood. I am constantly amazed that he could time everything so that he would be tying the last shoelace when the song ended. Teachers who are consistent (different than stagnant) will be more successful at causing learning to occur. Plan and procedures must be put into place so that students know what they should be doing at any given time. Otherwise, a huge amount of time can be wasted. This can also be applicable to teacher personalities. Students cannot focus on learning if they are fearful of some kind of outburst of wrath from the teacher when the class is not acting "as they should". Remember teachers, we are adults and are charged to act in a professional manner when things don't go as we had planned.

  4. Inquiry is a great way to learn about content and about people. Mr. Rogers was always willing to answer a question. He never shied away from questions, whether it was from a viewer or from the US Senate (defending the value of public broadcasting). He used questions to engage people in conversation. He asked people about their interests, objects they were carrying, where they were going, and what they had been doing. He got to know people simply by engaging them with questions. In these times of high-stakes testing, it can be hard to have time to answer students' questions and to get to know them through simple questioning. Maybe social media would be a way to engage in asynchronous dialogue? Just a thought.

  5. Be positive. Mr. Rogers always encouraged people to do their best in whatever they did. I'll be the first to admit that our education system has its faults. I'm sure most people have an opinion about that subject and could talk about that all day. However, if teachers see a problem, maybe they should work on fixing the problem instead of moaning about it all the time. Often, this means working within the existing system instead of actually changing it. If you are part of the system, and the system is not working as it should, I think the only thing to be said is, "How can I work within the system to help my students succeed?" Anything beyond that is just whining. Either change the system, or work within it to get the results you are seeking.

Mr. Rogers' show could be a bit awkward at times. However, I think that awkwardness shows that Mr. Rogers was just an ordinary guy. He was real. He wanted to engage the viewer. He didn't have a lot of fluff. No computer animation (that I know of). He encouraged viewers to use their imagination in the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe." When was the last time you asked students to imagine something?