Nobody’s Version of Dumb

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Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh CC0

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I follow more people than I can actually keep up with and miraculously a bunch more follow me and I apologize that I can’t just follow right back. I’m overwhelmed. I lose threads and also get lost in reading. I miss a lot and what I catch can probably be attributed to Twitter’s algorithmic sorting which keeps the folks I most interact with close to the top of the tweets I will see. It’s an imperfect system. My interests and responses are being guided, steered, nudged to achieve the golden data outcome of ‘maximum engagement.’ As long as I keep clicking around on the platform and rewarding the algorithm that delivers those precious “In case you missed it” messages, I am holding up my end of the user-platform bargain. Twitter stays in business and I cultivate my little networked worlds almost as intricately as my 9 year-old’s Minecraft creations.

Then along comes a short thread like this:

There’s more but that’s the core.

I know this lamentation. It is familiar and well worn and different figures deploy it at different junctures. Of course, @gsiemens is not just anybody. He’s a public intellectual, well recognized in the tech and higher ed circles I frequent. So I also hesitate to publicly push back on this particular take. But, alas. I get tired of authority type voices telling me and others that Twitter is making us dumb.

Speak for yourself, I say. Rain on your own parade, not mine.

Look. Not everyone who comes to social media is looking for a fight. We have not arrived here to recreate Greek forms of debate. We are not showing up so that we can rattle our intellectual sabres. We are not turning up to punch each others’ academic lights out, argument for carefully crafted argument.

I, for one, came because I was looking for others who could help me grow. I was in the market for good writing and good people and I found them. The longer I stayed and the more I engaged, good people found me. Good writing – I mean, strong, critical, robust and also sensitive writing walked right up to me and said, “Hi!” I got involved. I created adjoining spaces and fashioned a new home to welcome some of that rich writing. And I found art, humor, compassion, support, care, and (*praise hands*) Black Twitter. My life has been tremendously enlivened and broadened through my social media connections. I am a smart person who is more open, more aware, more vocal and more critical due to my connections via social media.

You will rarely find me putting up my verbal dukes on Twitter but I will support those who do it well. When authority type voices trot out these blanket statements about our shared intellectual demise, they offer a point of view that can be as narrow and constrained as those they accuse of the same offense. And often such voices enjoy the comfort and yes, privilege, of established recognition through institutions, publications, speaking invitations and considerable social media reach. These statements seem to come when these, usually male, individuals no longer feel “challenged” – when their membership in the social media ‘Gifted and Talented’ program is losing clout.

When I first ran across this thread, I wanted to ignore it. Give it the ‘ho, hum, somebody’s bored’ non-response. But the annoyance stayed with me because I felt in those few tweets that my experience and the experience of too many others were being denied. And thoughtlessly so.

Some of us are here for community; to gather and confer with the like minded. To remind each other that our presence matters. For someone with a particular kind of status, this aspect might easily be overlooked. Not for me. I come to Twitter to prove to myself again and again that I have a voice and know how to use it. In other circles, my voice, my presence runs the very real risk being inaudible, invisible. But for an authority voice type, this instance may not occur or even register.

Formulating this kind of push back takes energy. It takes energy away from some things I’d rather read and write about. And I don’t wish to expend more energy delving into the right-left Twitter divide article which prompted these tweets. When George Siemens claims that his network is fairly homogeneous, that is something that he can fix if it’s a priority. But to drag us all down into a space that he in a later tweet describes as “closed, intolerant, narrow minded, and short sighted” is decidedly unfair and unnecessary and I refuse to be placed there by proclamation from on high.

Maybe this is precisely how and why I persist on social media: Refusing to be placed somewhere by someone who is not me. I place and position myself. I speak my own mind. I pick my own battles. I am nobody’s version of dumb.

 

Note: The image is from the The Met collection of Public Domain images which is well worth a visit.

Because Someone’s Listening

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The sign that’s not on my fridge but should be:

“Don’t go there.”

Of course, I go.

Damn social media. Damn me.

The time I spend in my own head is no longer solitary.

I can hear myself think (still)

but

my voice is tempered for your possible reception;

my words carefully tested for palatability

before they can be released.

And I keep writing, writing, writing

straight onto the screen, so few

filters between this thought

and what you might make of it.

 

But let me say this:

I have an Alice Walker T-shirt from the Writing Project and the quote says:

“Writing has saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.”

And every day that I come to terms with concentrated power

in the (tiny) hands of a federal administration bent on

harm, revenge and unmitigated selfishness,

I thank God for writing saving me from the sin and inconvenience

of violence.

 

My moral outrage is but a drop in the bucket of

untold suffering among

too many.

Some of whom understand what is in the making and many more

who have no inkling that they will not be spared

the pain and humiliation

of being discarded, dismissed, and annulled.

 

I regret to inform you that

I have spent time reading the incomprehensible

transcripts of a figurehead

who struggles to express one thought

coherently.

 

I regret to inform you that

these elementary and primitive

patterns of speech

appeal to some,

to many, in fact.

The joke that was now lays like detrimental oil spill

over the gulf of what we thought

was a semi-functioning democracy.

 

The bill for the clean up will be paid

by our children and grandchildren

But the spill is ongoing,

widening its toxic reach

seeping and tumbling past each new measure

designed to contain it.

 

I can be angry about social media

about myself on social media

and I can write

because someone, somewhere

is listening.

and sometimes that is just enough

of what is needed.

 

 

Speaking Digital PD

I recently held a workshop entitled: Navigating The Blogosphere and Social Media for Professional Growth. It’s a long title for a few simple ideas. I designed this 90 minute session as an interactive, experience-sharing and question-growing learning event and that’s mostly what it turned out to be according to participant feedback. I’m glad about that.

While part of my aim was to encourage participants to seek out social media opportunities to grow their professional practice and connections, I found that there was more I wanted to say. So often in promoting digital tools in education spaces, we emphasize all the things we can get from them: lesson plans, snappy ideas, old wine in new bottles, new wine in virtual bottles and on and on. There is no doubt much to be had, to be consumed, to be added to our overflowing professional plates.

At the same time, there is a piece that is so often ignored or hardly mentioned: the potency of our contribution. Yes, bloggers will tell you to blog, and that others can benefit from your hearing your story. This is true and frequently shared. The missing piece, however lies not simply adding to the jumble of voices but to take an active part in creating and sustaining community. That means finding ways to acknowledge the voices you respect,  giving credit where it is due, providing feedback and links which may benefit others. I summed up this idea in the slide below: “Go for what you crave, stay to make the space a richer one.” Show up on social media and be an example of positive digital citizenship: be kind, be thoughtful, be you. Make social media spaces better by being a good human.

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The other point I wanted to emphasize with regard to social media use is that only you know (and will find out) what (and how much) is good for you and your aims (recognizing, too, that this will shift and change over time). Resist the pressure to try all platforms or to be everywhere at once. Let those impulses die a quick death. Instead, find the things that you find useful, do those and skip the rest. If Pinterest works for you in your private life, it may be a tremendous resource for your classroom or office needs. On the other hand, if you feel especially comfortable with Facebook, why not seek out like-minded groups there to begin your journey into education conversations in the digital sphere? Start somewhere and go from there.

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If our goal is to encourage and empower colleagues, students, parents, administrators and policy makers to engage in education conversations on various channels, we need to think about how we welcome them into spaces which are new to them but territory to us. In that process we also need to break open our ideas about what PD is and can be. This is as true for us as it is for the systems we inhabit and sustain.

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I don’t consider myself a digital evangelist. I do consider myself an active member of the commons who appreciates and uses digital tools. This distinction matters to me. And that is what I aim to share with colleagues when I find myself speaking digital.

 

Blogging Beyond the Classroom – A Talk

Below is the text of the talk I gave at the panel discussion session I participated in at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference 2016. I shared the panel with Marcy Webb (@teachermrw) in person and Christopher Rogers (@justmaybechris), who was not able to join us on site. The full title of our session was “Blogging Beyond the Classroom: Online Engagement for Professional and Personal Growth.”

While planning this short talk, I started out with all kinds of “what” – What I do and where and for whom on which platforms.

It took me some time and a dry run to realize that that is not what I really want to talk about. Rather I want and need to consider the “whys” of my writing, of my online engagement, of being here.
So while I have prepared these remarks for you, they are also words I need to hear myself speak in order to test their truth.

Some truths – here goes.

There are days when I cannot wait to be able to sit down at my laptop and write, write, write.

The more I write, the greater my appreciation for those who write better than I, the larger my confidence that I can become a better, stronger writer.

I write to understand.

When I tweet I join in conversations. When I blog I join in conversation.

I find community in conversation.

What I write about is deeply connected to what I read.

The fact that I am here to talk about something that I choose and love to do blows my mind.

Having a blog means having a space for me to place thoughts and ideas. My blog is a sense-making tool.

Publishing blog posts lets me invite others into my thinking and writing space.

Just because I offer an invitation does not mean that people will come.

By publishing publicly I do not get to choose whom I invite and who shows up.

When I read the work of others and comment thoughtfully, I join a conversation and add value.

My greatest insight so far, “If we want to have audience, then we must first and foremost be audience.”

This is my motivation in my cycles of reading and writing. Reading deeply, widely, consistently leads me to write as a response, as a means of processing. And as my own writing elicits response from others, I listen and think alongside others and we start a new cycle of reading to write, and writing to read.

In other words, my writing – tweeting, blogging, curating, publishing – are forms of call and response, call and response.
I do believe that you can write your way out of ignorance.

When I started my blog, when I began tweeting, I was not aware of these things. I simply began and slowly found my way.

And I’ve had help and support. I have a “digital Godmother” who is Rafranz Davis, an outspoken tech integrationist out of Texas who welcomed me into edu-twitter like no other and made me feel at home. I found men and women in various education circles, both K-12 and higher education who gladly supported my work, and welcomed my commentary. This has made me want to stay and build and most recently, to learn how to resist the ravages of the current political climate.

I didn’t realize the strength or depth of my political views until I began writing publicly.

I did not understand that being in contact and in dialogue with authors whom I admired would matter in the way that it does, both for me and them.

It took some time to appreciate that my voice, my style, my sense of urgency mattered to more than a few people.

Now I can begin to understand that when I write, I am being politically active. I am being culturally active. I am being educationally active. And over time, I walk that arc from being active to becoming an activist.

As I stand before you today I believe that I am in the midst of that process without having landed: Active on the way to becoming an activist.

No piece of my writing is fully done when it is published and finds an audience. It is always imperfect – my best shot at that moment- and I own that.

Once upon a time in grad school, I developed some theories of action for my practice as an education leader. At the top of the list was this: Care must be at the core of everything we do. At the time, although I was thinking about schools and the education communities we build and inhabit, I see now that this particular theory of action underscores all of my public work as a writer, contributor and digital interloper. I show up and speak up because I care. I enter into dialogue and cultivate relationships of support and encouragement to both demonstrate and receive care.

I am proud to be here in this space with all of you and can honestly say that my presence at this conference, on this panel, in this community is about care – our collective and individual care.

I hope that it is helpful.

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The world is not always our target audience

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I’ve been thinking about privacy and exposure in the context of this ongoing feel-your-way journey of cultivating a digital presence. On a personal level, this does not seem overly complicated. I make my choices and have to live with the consequences. The degree to which I keep myself informed as to my risks and rights in my personal use and application of particular digital tools and platforms is up to me. I can’t easily hold anyone else accountable for the choices I make on my own behalf.

But that’s the catch. My digital engagements (entanglements, perhaps?) by their very nature almost inevitably involve other people: their work, their images, their responses, our shared interactions. If I take a picture with my phone and share it on social media, it is mine; until of course someone else finds another use for it and can choose to credit the source or not. In  most cases, it seems highly unlikely that I would ever learn of any other use unless I pursued a distinct search. If that same image contains another person, then sharing the photo on social media or other open internet platform should only happen if that person has actively consented. (This is based on my fuzzy understanding of model release and use of public domain images. Which is another way to say, “don’t quote me on any of this.”)

Enter, my work in a school. I happen to work in a resource-rich learning environment which means that I and my colleagues and our students have remarkable access to hard- and software to make the most of our digital skills. In my own PE classes I have an iPad and an iPod touch, reliable and generous bandwidth access, a beamer in one space and stereo systems in both teaching spaces. I use Spotify playlists for my classes and can show short playback videos of kids performing various skills and because I can, I now take several pictures of my kids in action.

What happens with all those pictures and video clips? Some are shared with families individually to celebrate a highlight or to document a specific difficulty. Some become resources for our online curriculum archives – providing useful exemplars of successful skill applications. And still others find space on our PE website. Our school has an opt-out policy with regards to use of student images. Families may inform the school if their child’s or children’s pictures may not be used in any school related media, print or online. Unless such a statement is delivered, consent is assumed and images of students may be used in various media. As policies go, this is not uncommon among schools and districts of various sizes.

Not too long ago, privacy expert in the field of education, Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey) raised this question:

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since. In a highly informative post on student directory information he points out that he does not count a school’s website as belonging to social media as they typically receive far less traffic than social media accounts. So our sharing of student images, while available to “the world,” all those images and accompanying words are really designed for our school community to enjoy: students, families, colleagues, alumni and any other interested parties.

So as I become more comfortable with various video and slideshow making tools and posting these to youtube to then share on our website, I want to be sure that my colleague and I are asking ourselves some critical questions.

  • Which story are we telling?
  • How will our students benefit?
  • How will this grow our teaching, expand our repertoire, and/or contribute to the community?

Not every blog post that we put up needs to be broadcast on Twitter or Facebook. But a single photo sent home to a parent celebrating a recent success can make all kinds of difference. Drawing the line between posting for the sake of being seen posting and posting to inform and include is healthy practice in which many more of us could afford to engage.

For our PE website, the world is not our target audience. We’re not out to prove how great our teaching is or how talented our population – rather it is an opportunity to provide parents and colleagues a window into our day-to-day operations with elementary students. And the process has helped me realize how important it is for students to see themselves! So I have promised myself that once I get a slideshow up and running, our first audience needs to be the kids we are featuring. We owe them that much. And, in fact, so much more.

image via Pixabay.com

Twitter Talk, Year 3

I want to talk a little bit about Twitter. I do this periodically in different forms and I am still learning as I go. And I want to address folks who are perhaps new to this thing and are perhaps weighing the costs and benefits of engaging.

Some thoughts from my previous posts strike me as still true and relevant. On the one hand, I am quick to extol the virtues of this non-stop stream of eclectic content. On the other hand, I wonder about some challenges of engagement including, but not limited to overwhelm and unanticipated negative exposure.

Here’s the stuff I appreciate about Twitter now:

  • My people. Yes, my people. Through this platform I have developed relationships that matter. I have met people who encourage, support and challenge me. Over time I have learned about their lives, their concerns, their joys and struggles. And I, in turn, have been able to share my own. Safely and authentically.  It’s worth underscoring those last two words, because they are not a given on Twitter or other social media channels. This fact reinforces my gratitude for the community I enjoy and prize.
  • I think it’s making me smarter. The more I read, comment, re-read, and dialogue with others, the more thoroughly I am forced to clarify my thinking and develop my own positions.  This is definitely good exercise for my brain and my social and intellectual development building stamina, strength, flexibility and power.
  • I have opened myself to the world in ways I never thought that I would. Increased and more varied reading has prompted me to write more, to reach a growing audience, to explore areas of interest which extend well beyond what I thought I knew. My work is intentionally visible and public. That fact surprises me even now.
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Visible and public – on purpose. ‘Author, Audience and Parts of Speech’

  • Twitter allows me to distribute my work more widely. I blog here on my personal space, I use Medium for other posts, I’ve become a publisher and editor and I tweet (@edifiedlistener). I specifically use Twitter to share my content and to boost writing and perspectives I consider valuable. These actions go hand in hand for me. Without the contributions of others, I would not be out here engaging.
  • I’ve learned to have more fun. It took me some time, but I’ve developed my use of humor in under 140 characters. I chat more back and forth with friends, have begun to incorporate the occasional GIF, and find myself literally laughing out loud while scrolling through my feed.
  • My use of Twitter is still quite primitive relative to others. For me there is just the platform. I don’t use an add-on organizer like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck yet. I have 1 or 2 lists which I don’t really use. I’m okay with that. Efficiency is not my point at this stage.
  • As my follower count has climbed, the currency of established significant relationships on the platform has also increased. Meeting more & new folks can be invigorating and potentially distracting. Maintaining significant relationships requires a special effort and, in a fast-paced forum such as Twitter, a certain degree of vigilance. Making wise choices about whom you engage and recognizing how they affect your energy becomes more important.
  • My connections on Twitter have opened doors I didn’t even know existed. Thanks to @EdSpeakersCo I had the opportunity to travel to Denver for ISTE 2016 to address affiliate conference organizers in a keynote smackdown. Conversations with fellow independent school bloggers led to an accepted workshop proposal for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference to be held in December 2016. In this respect, Twitter has done more for my professional and career development than Linked In ever could.

This list is longer than I anticipated. As much as I aim to resist the trap of jumping on a particular branding  bandwagon, it is not lost on me that with this post and others I have written specific to this single platform, I am fueling the corporate machinery that keeps it all going. This post ends up as a wonderful display of brand loyalty and customer enthusiasm; a textbook testimonial. I want to acknowledge that and my conflictedness over it.

Rather than offer advice, I prefer to share my experiences (overwhelmingly positive to date) and leave it to you to determine what this platform might have in store for you. I am writing this after 3 years of fairly steady engagement. I feel like my growth by all measures here has been organic and manageable. I’ve had time to adjust and expand my parameters of engagement. And that has felt healthy. Which is saying a lot considering that we’re talking about social media.

Come for the intellectual buffet, stay for the kittens:

 

 

On-Stage, Off-Stage

 Pretend for a moment that you’re alone with your thoughts, and that whatever you think or feel in the next few minutes is not designed for social media consumption, interpersonal bonding, or heated debate – that it’s just you thinking through you. (emphasis mine)

If you’re angry, why? No, really? What makes you angry about recent comments, events, interpretations, etc.? There’s no right or wrong answer here – you don’t have to tell me or anyone else. If you feel a bit defensive, or defiant, or sad, or guilty, or even if you’ve been trying not to think about ANY of these seemingly distant riots and uprisings and whatever, ask yourself why. Just for a few minutes.

Let your mind sift a bit. No one will know.

– Blue Cereal Education, To My Confused White Friends

“Let your mind sift a bit. No one will know.”

These words and the idea of being alone with my thoughts and not grooming them for social media consumption – well now, that caught me in a sensitive place. Because, he’s absolutely right. For those of us who show up here daily on the social media channels of our choice – we admittedly have a lot going on. When we have something to say and decide that it is indeed something we need and want to share, we run a risk. In fact, we run a whole host of risks.

We risk being misunderstood and our words misconstrued.

We risk being confronted with our own ignorance, misjudgment, and narrow mindedness.

We risk saying something that may offend or hurt someone else.

We risk being called out for our arrogance and tone deafness.

We risk being too right, too wrong or simply too much.

And yet, if our online experiences are positive enough, it can become quite easy to make our presence a habit, our contributions frequent and our interactions numerous and varied. If those experiences strike us as positive enough through favorites and retweets and follow-up shares, then we feel affirmed in our presence and contributions. We may feel heard, valued and seen. Like our being here is a good thing.

A challenge I face as frequent user of a few social media spaces, however, is being honest with myself outside of those spaces. IRL – in real life, my family members do not toss out stars of approval at my wittiest statements or my forthright requests. There are no retweets of our dinner conversation.  And yet, a surprising portion of my inner dialogue seems to run through a type of  social media filter.  How would I want to blog about that? Is that tweetable? What’s the right tone here?  For lack of a better term, I’ll call it “social media creep” (as in “slowly progressing” not “wierdo”).  These more recent thought filters slide in and make themselves at home in my day-to-day habits.  Their reason for being is rooted in the potential response of the other. These social media thought filters reveal speculations about how I wish to be seen, heard, and recognized in this great big untamed space by others.

I, by myself, entirely alone with my thoughts… I know it happens and it is becoming rare. My thoughts drift into writing and that writing happens with some sense of audience in mind. Before I have gone too far, my thinking may become a text that I choose to publish. Where I used to commit all this stuff to journals, I now have the opportunity to do that AND share those thoughts with the whole dang world immediately.  When Dallas Koehn, alias Blue Cereal Education (@BlueCerealEduc), suggests that we pretend for a few minutes that our thoughts are not designed for social media consumption, he cuts to the core. He calls me and so many others out for staging our being more than actually being our being. When we enter the social media fray, we step on stage and although we may feel like nondescript extras in a scene of the masses, we want to play our parts well and to the best of our ability.  If we’re good, the thinking goes, surely someone will notice us and our performance.

And being noticed, catching someone’s attention – this becomes our new currency of influence and prestige: Follower counts, potential reach. This is how we figure out who’s boss and who’s not (yet).  Social media creep wants me to care about those things. Social media creep beckons me to maximize and optimize my presence. Because being noticed more often by more people – well that must be a reward in and of itself, right?

What does it mean that I have nearly 400 followers on Twitter? Or that some 70 people follow this blog? My hope is that each of those individuals derives some benefit, some usefulness from my occasional contributions. I’m not here to start a movement. I am here to learn. to grow. to stretch. to engage.  Staying alert to what’s happening on stage may prove to be less challenging than recognizing the processes going on behind the scenes – inside ourselves. Our vanity, our egos, desires, and our need to belong have become economic drivers on a whole new scale and we find ourselves vulnerable  in strange and unanticipated ways thanks to the wonders of digital technology.

Given the personal impact of social media creep, the time that I spend alone with my thoughts becomes the best preparation I can imagine for keeping this thing real and human and meaningful, on stage and off.   “Let your mind sift” may need to become my new mantra.