Current best practice tells us that in good teaching, communication is key. Not just communication in Professional Learning Communities (which I’ll come back to in a later post), but communication with the world outside of one’s school. But teacher bloggers enjoy this lovely Catch 22: communication is key while maintaining the image of the quiet, polite, politically unaffiliated, quintessential socially acceptable teacher. I have spent countless hours thanking my lucky stars that my administration and district encourages social media communication and interaction within the education professional world, but no matter how social-media friendly your district and administration may be, there are some basic land mines to avoid.
Let’s start with the obvious: as a teaching professional, I have a responsibility to protect the privacy of the minors in my charge. My local policy states that I should “use my professional judgement”, which of course includes my careful consideration of content that impacts or interacts with my students in any way, but also anything which would negatively influence or inhibit my ability to perform my job. Basically, I need to interact with the whole of the web as if my most culturally-sensitive and staunchly opinionated students and their parents were listening. Got it. How does this limit me? I am professional whenever I reference people or entities in the real world. No problems there. I am able to weigh in on religious and political influence, but steer clear of religious and political opinions. Fine lines there, but okay. I can discuss culture-specific or controversial topics by weighing sides as a part of the issues’ diversity, but I cannot advocate for a specific stance or ideology. Now I’m starting to worry. I can comment on current events and issues in education, but I must consider my own professional circles and the personal opinions of anyone or thing contributing to my views on them in my real world. Uh oh.
While seemingly straightforward, using my “professional judgement” translates to taking into account the level of comfort and acceptability of my actions within my school community, and this can be tricky. With a supportive administration, this is a beautifully smooth and freeing process, but with a mistrusting, protective and/or hostile administration, there are any number of subjects that can quickly change from safe to dangerous territory. Then there are my colleagues and professional circles to consider; posting content that covers current event topics with which my colleagues and I currently grapple, even without specifics, could include content that others deem not ready for a public stage.
All of that said, and with countless intricacies in the mix, here are the guidelines that I will follow:
1. I will post content as if speaking to someone who is both resistant to change and extremely culturally sensitive. To account not only for this fictional person as well as all of the other infinite folks on the continuum of opinion, let’s refer to the total group as the Master Set (a term borrowed from set theory). This way, I can approach each subject with respect to the Master Set and with a respect for the process of philosophical thinking and a patience for the careful semantics and guidelines that help me work toward cooperation with complex ideas. I hope to find a cuter name for referencing this down the road 🙂
2. I will not compromise culturally-pressing or controversial content, but will instead work to approach these subjects with a political correctness that allows for the progress of the topic.
3. I will discuss content considering various angles and perspectives whenever possible.
4. Whenever discussing current events from my school circles, I will omit details and discuss the issues as generally as is possible for a meaningful discussion.
5. If ever I post a reference to or a quote from a colleague, or an issue that directly effects of involves a colleague, I will discuss it with them first.
I am sure to think of more, but for now, this should get me through. Now back to that Catch 22. Can a teacher blog on education topics while meeting their professional requirements? Can they share freely without getting too comfortable? I say yes, as long as you create guidelines based on your own policies and schools’ professional culture. But most importantly, I think that it is possible to redefine the ideal professional teacher by respectfully and thoughtfully participating in critical discussions around education.
So with big things on the horizon, I’ll just try very hard not to screw up too badly or piss anyone off too terribly. Wait . . .