Tweeting and blogging: Selfish, self-serving indulgences?

Narcissus by Caravaggio http://totallyhistory.com/narcissus/

This week I’ve been mulling over a post in the TES written by Claire Narayanan in which she argues that teachers’ time is precious and they should quietly get on with their jobs, not spend time writing about it. In encouraging teachers to be ‘do-rus not gurus’ she writes:

In a world where self-promotion has rather shamelessly crept into education, the real heroes are not those who we may follow on Twitter, read about in leadership manuals or hear speak at conferences, but those who are at the chalkface.

These are the teachers who seek no recognition beyond a set of decent GCSE results; a thank-you from their headteacher every now and again and, best of all: “Thanks Sir/Miss, I enjoyed that lesson”.

They haven’t got time to attend every single TeachMeet in their region, read every piece of research written, attend every conference around the country on their subject area or update their blog. Does that mean they don’t care as much as those who do? No chance – they’re too busy marking and planning.

I found this interesting and a little challenging. Of course no-one attends ‘every’ TeachMeet, reads ‘every piece of research written’, or attends ‘every conference around the country’, but the suggestion that ‘real teachers at the chalkface’ are too busy marking and planning to entertain attending professional development, reading research, or blogging, implies that those who do make the time for these activities are perhaps neglecting their teaching jobs. Otherwise, how would they have the time? It also implies that these activities aren’t a valuable use of teachers’ time.

I agree with Claire that we shouldn’t pursue gurus and heroes in education. My PhD reveals the importance of leadership that is deliberately invisible and empowering, rather than visible, focused on the leader, or driven by outward performance. I’ve spoken of the silent work of coaches and leaders. And as a full-time teacher and school leader who also tweets, blogs, and writes peer-reviewed papers and chapters, I know the tricky balance between self care, time with family and friends, and service to the profession and to my students.

I wonder, though, about the implication that those who are on Twitter or presenting at conferences are shameless self-promoters or narcissists seeking heroic guru status. Many of those who tweet and blog, I would argue, do so because they are interested in learning from others, sharing their own perspectives and experiences, and engaging with educators from around the world.

Part of what keeps me blogging is that it helps me think through ideas and get feedback from others. Another part is how useful I find the blogs of other people in helping or challenging my thinking. I also see blogging and academic writing as a service to the profession and a way to reclaim the narrative of education from those normally at its apex. It is why I am involved in the Flip the System series of books, which offer and value the voices of school practitioners—those working at the whiteboard, in the playground, and in the boardroom—that are often ignored in education reform, and yet are crucial voices to drive change in education. As Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber suggested in the first Flip book, teachers and school leaders can be agentic forces in changing education from the ground up by participating in global education conversation.

When I asked Claire on Twitter whether she saw all who tweet, share, blog, and present as shameless self-promoters, she responded, “Not at all. I’m all for sharing and learning. We all get on with the job in the way that suits us.” We seem to agree that different things work for different people. I don’t expect everyone to use their time as I do. There are benefits and costs to choosing to spend evenings, weekends, and holidays on professional activities or presenting at conferences. Last year I paid the price of going too hard for too long without a break.

For me, social media provides an avenue for sharing, learning, and connecting. I can tweet out my thoughts into the nighttime abyss, and somewhere, someone in the world is there to respond. I found this especially useful during the isolation of my PhD. I connected via social media with generous, supportive academics, researchers, and doctoral candidates from around the world who provided crucial advice and moral support.

My understanding of the world is broader for the conversations I have with those around Australia and the world, on social media and at conferences. These conversations and relationships allow me to see outside of my own context and my own perspective. They spill sometimes into productive collaborations that shape my thinking. I wrote here that:

In a world in which we are more connected than ever, we can be buoyed, empowered and supported by our connections…. We can pay forward and give back. We can … share our knowledge, contribute our time to help others on their journeys, listen to others’ stories, and celebrate others’ milestones.

Do I think we should acknowledge and celebrate the quiet daily work of committed teachers? Absolutely. Do I think we should encourage teachers to be mindful of workload, wellbeing, and self care? Yes, yes, yes. Do I think this is mutually exclusive from professional learning, engaging with research, interacting on social media, or writing blogs? No, I do not.

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7 thoughts on “Tweeting and blogging: Selfish, self-serving indulgences?

  1. It’s a really interesting point of view. That we can’t do both. I mean, I manage to do well with a full time teaching load and present at conferences, write articles for ed tech magazines as well as producr actual research into Flipped Learning. However, I constantly here the references to “classroom refugees” when we get PD from people who aren’t teachers anymore.
    But what do you want. You can have professional companies running PD sessions and that’s cool but if people get involved on Twitter, at conferences that’s the only way to have that spread from teacher to teacher. Surely sharing is part of our ed responsibility?
    @Mr_van_w (included my Twitter handle for self-promotional eduguru status building)

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    • You make an interesting point, Pete. Part of the reason I have chosen a ‘pracademic’ path – to stay in the school classroom and also in the academic space – is because I believe in the credibility that comes with talking from the lived experience of teaching. I agree that it’s part of our professional responsibility to engage with and give back to the profession.

      If I didn’t already follow you on Twitter, your shameless self-spruiking would have earned you another follower!

      I am aware of the irony of blogging a response to a piece that suggests that blogging is shameless self-promotion in the search for guru status.

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  2. I have to admit to feeling slighted by the original article. I blog a lot, mainly due to the fact that i wake up very early and, sadly, reading and thinking about education seems to have become my hobby. I have also presented at conferences. However, I have turned down as many offers to present at conferences than I have accepted because these conferences were scheduled for weekdays in term time when I have regular classes to teach. That’s why I am a fan of researchED – it organises conferences on Saturdays so that teachers can, should they wish to, attend.

    So it is a balance for all of us but I much prefer a situation where teachers feel empowered and have a voice to one where the teaching profession is simply done to by others. I would also add that social media has injected a much greater variety of opinion into education discussion than seems to be present in traditional forums. And that’s a good thing.

    I think your exchange with the author is quite telling. It seems that she doesn’t think that *all* who tweet, share, blog, and present as shameless self-promoters. I strongly suspect that her views on this will be coloured by the degree to which she agrees with any particular blogger’s stance on educational issues.

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    • Greg, I also feel like thinking and writing about education is something I do in my down time. I often wonder if it’s healthy as it means I often feel professionally ‘on’ and find it hard to switch off and take a real break, which I think we all need sometimes.

      I agree that social media, including blogging and Twitter, can be about teacher empowerment and can democratise the education space so that those teachers who are going about the daily work of teaching can have a voice that might influence policy and practice.

      The variety of voices and perspectives is something that can be celebrated. It certainly allows me to have a broader view of what’s happening in education around the world than the walls of my school allow.

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  3. My blogging is a hobby too. Most of the comments/reactions to the original post were pretty mild, but I was incensed that some school leader felt it was her place to command that bloggers give up their edu-hobbies (actually, I’ve been told in person) to spend even more time marking, planning and worrying about their classes. I’m glad I don’t work for this person.

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  4. Great post and response to the original article, thanks.
    I can honestly say that blogging for me is deeply selfish. My wife doesn’t like my late nights with WordPress and special time with the latest literature. I don’t do it to pass it on (although it’s nice to share).
    However, I also don’t do it to self-promote. There are others out there who do it far better and more regularly than I.
    I do it because by committing to putting stuff somewhere that could be read, it means I must read stuff and think about it. My pupils were doing alright without me doing blogging and reading – I have always been able to look myself in the mirror and say that I’d done my upmost for them before blogging. But blogging gives me control of what I read, what I write and what I think. That is deeply selfish, just not in the way the original article portrays it.

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  5. Great post Deb – I am a ‘du-ru’ and proud of it, different from what the original article talks about I suspect. I am at the ‘whiteboard face’ BUT I also tweet, blog and read edu-articles, blogs that challenge and inspire me and 100s of research papers to learn – It makes ME a BETTER educator…Is that not what a ‘du-ru’ should be? Guru, shmu-ru

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