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.