Collaborating with the Boss

My budding questions around how power operates in social networks and how networking constructs our identity are still on my mind.

I suggested in one post that the reality of using social media (“If you’re going to be a big boy and swim, and benefit from, these waters you have to be able to take it.”) means that teachers, who are often not in positions of power, need to be mindful of how they construct their identity online, and stop being naive about the ‘glorious, open sharing’ promised by social media being consequence-free.

These ideas were not met well by some.   I suspect that such comments sound like an attack on ‘the boss class’.  But this is an exact example of the very thing I’m talking about.  It’s hard to discuss online practices without taking it personally if you think you are being criticised, because we invest our identities in what we do and say online.

So, I tried to take my thinking in a different direction, and came up with some generative ideas about how school leaders can better support teacher change by more specifically ‘diagnosing’ the reasons for resistance.  People liked this.  I liked this.  And it’s a line of thinking that I know I’ll follow up.

But it doesn’t really speak to the original issue.

That’s why I’ve gone for a nice, clear, provocative title for this post.  And I hope people will not take it personally (as so many people in my PLN are bosses!) when I say that there are real problems with inviting staff collaboration if you don’t have a plan for how to cope with dissent.

We can say that we ‘encourage dissent’ until the cows come home.  We can say that disagreement is generative.  Sometimes these things hold true.

But what support structures, what strategies, need to be in place for this to succeed, for all involved? (<– this is the generative part that I hope people will think about and engage with)

And what are the costs of making your identity known online if you are a dissenter?

When I write online, I do so in good faith – in the spirit of sharing my ideas and resources.  I’d like to think I’m open to criticism, and change.  But can someone like the NSWDET Director General afford to do so?  Surely not – he is limited in what he can share because of his role, and so it should be.  What about a school principal?  As the most powerful ambassador for their school, there are limitations on what they can say too.  What about classroom teachers?  They are incredibly vulnerable to misinterpretation and misrepresentation, and as the lowest on the professional pecking order, the easiest to impose consequences on.

Please don’t misunderstand this post as undermining social networks – that’s not what I’m trying to do.  And please don’t take the absence of all the usual ‘good news’ stories about how developing an online PLN increases professional development and sense of contentedness as a sign that I don’t fully support all of the wonderful work that is going on out there on Twitter, Yammer etc.

But I think we need to come clean about the need to tighten up our approach to professional discussion in the online world.

Because at the end of the day, if you are a ‘boss’ and you ask people to share ideas and collaborate with you (online or in real life), you are giving up some of your power.  And things are going to get complicated if/when you find yourself having to reign that in.

NB: anonymous comments are welcome.

  1. #1 by roobz on July 21, 2010 - 10:27 pm

    In my short time reading teachers’ blogs and following tweets, I’d say that most forms of dissent constitute real debate about teaching practices. That can only be a good thing. I doubt anything like this would affect the image of the school. Most members of the community would encourage hearty debate in any profession.
    The only worry is when teachers step out of the sphere of their profession, or get particularly political, and then having your boss (or the Director General!) in your PLN could get messy.
    Perhaps having two personas/profiles online is an answer; one professional and one personal? Obviously, not one without limitations.
    Keep spitballing Kelli, this is very interesting!

    • #2 by kmcg2375 on July 21, 2010 - 10:46 pm

      Thanks for the reply!
      Personally, I have found the same – that ‘dissent’ in my PLN is actually formed as healthy debate. But this relies a lot on people to ‘know the rules’ and be aware of the culture of the medium.

      When I started this blog I really wanted to move away from splitting up my identity online ( But I had already spent a bit of time in online environments, picking up the culture, and felt confident in publicly (pro)claiming my thoughts. This is not to say there haven’t been mistakes along the way!

      I wonder if these days I would recommend teachers start accounts using pseudonyms at first, until they ‘got the hang of it’. It’s difficult to say to people, on one hand ‘this is so easy and fun, you will love it!’, but then have to back it up with ‘but be careful what you say, because someone could be watching’…

  2. #3 by Paula M on July 21, 2010 - 10:34 pm

    Hi Kelli, an interesting post. Being a HT and having been a relieving DP I am fully aware of the need be reserved in what I share on line with my PLN and the world in general. I have a responsibility to my students, my fellow teachers and my community to be respectful when “sharing” online. I share my journey, my needs and am very aware that everything needs vetting to make sure that I am not seen to be attacking others “behind their back”. I am also aware that I have students who are following me on Twitter and that adds another layer of reserve to what I express. Likewise, we all need to be aware that journalists etc tap into our conversations and that we need to be conscious of what message we are putting out there. As an educator, Twitter is for positives – sharing ideas, resources, asking for support and ideas, exploring theories etc. If I want to vent, to seek advice on negatives that are linked to my place of work etc then I use more direct and closed means of communication such as direct messages, email, phone.

    Social media brings great value but it brings great responsibility as well. We can never forget our need for a professional and responsible face when out in public. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves.

    • #4 by kmcg2375 on July 21, 2010 - 11:03 pm

      “As an educator, Twitter is for positives”
      I think this is a good rule. And it is a generative one – it can be a real downer when people are ‘sharing’ negativity. Thanks so much for sharing your own experience here.

      But – what about when people are trying to find solutions to problems? This is sometimes going to generate critical speech. One example is how, on Twitter, educators have felt very comfortable about openly complaining about the lack of access to Twitter at school. Another is when educators complained LOUDLY about the MySchool website. These weren’t positive tweets. At times they actually felt like a kind of lobby movement.

      So who gets to decide what’s OK to lobby about, and what is just negative? Are we creating a culture with rules that are too fine tuned? (but, as you suggest, we have little option as professional voices in a public sphere)

  3. #5 by roobz on July 21, 2010 - 10:39 pm

    On another note, if my boss was part of my PLN, I’d feel a lot less free to speak my piece on a lot of issues if that was not ‘the way it’s done” in my school.
    Which is sad.
    Really, we just need a new internet. One that’s less permanent.

    • #6 by kmcg2375 on July 21, 2010 - 10:51 pm

      It sure is a tough call. ALL my ‘bosses’, as well as some students, are in my Twitter PLN. For me it has been a joy, actually, and very rewarding because it has broken down a lot of that crappy boss/underling distinction. We have all been learning and sharing together, and I’m more than happy to give up the chance to bitch about a crap day at work for the benefits I get.

      But, on the other hand…I’m not going for promotion. I’m not likely to get fired. And I roll with the punches quite easily. It’s a tidy trifecta that not everyone has the luxury of having.

      • #7 by roobz on July 21, 2010 - 11:22 pm

        You seem to have clearly set your goals for what you want to get out of the whole online thing. You’ve also decided on a scope for your output (e.g. “giving up the chance to bitch about a crap day!” hehe).
        I’d say that in this, more than your RL situation, is where you’ve made things work so well.

        Take some applause, you’ve given me food for thought!

  4. #8 by Rebecca Louis on August 2, 2010 - 10:48 am

    I hate that I have to feel like ‘big brother’ is watching me all the time. I make one little slip ad then before I can even breath the mistake has been noticed, communicated and all of a sudden I am in trouble.
    Facebook is my only safeplace…. fancy that?!

  1. Insubordination « Kelli McGraw

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: