I was really pleased to learn about the forthcoming release of Elizabeth Collins’ new book Too Cool For School: A Memoir. Living in the bookstore-deprived area that I do, I purchased her e-Book through Amazon, which means I can read it a few weeks before the print book will be released, and I downloaded it as soon as I learned it was availabile. Talk about instant gratification!
I first learned about Collins in 2010 when a Philadelphia news story came out about her dismissal for blogging while teaching, which is evidently a fireable offense in some locales. Collins & I became acquainted through social media after I mentioned her story in another blog post about a separate blogging teacher incident. Collins rightly points out that the details of these two stories I discuss are miles apart, with the only similarities being that a teacher was dismissed for something written on a blog. (These stories were starting to appear on my radar some years ago, but they are becoming so frequent nowadays that when a new Google alert appears in my inbox, I don’t always bother to click on it.)
In the memoir, Collins asks, “Will any online presence ultimately damn a teacher?” It is a question that all teachers need to consider. I think mileage will vary, and that much depends on where and who you are teaching. For example, I have noticed that many college educators are actually advancing careers through blogs and other online media. But college students are adults, and this is a key factor. We still have a boogie man mentality when it comes to discussing or involving minor kids online. Apparently some people are afraid that kids will be kidnapped by Bulgarians if their likeness appears on a website, but the research does not bear this out. But we still have the mentality and look with deep suspicion upon any teacher of kids who shares “too much” in online spaces. I agree with Collins when she says, “I believe this is the pivotal moment when things can either get worse or get better for teachers who blog, tweet or even post on Facebook.”
Let’s show them why this is an important issue. Teachers who blog are actively working on improving their practice, and teachers who blog with their students are teaching them to be citizens in a digital world. There are a lot of amazing opportunities being missed because of the fear mentality associated with teaching, blogs, kids and the internet.
In my own case, a blog led to a collaboration with someone I have never met before, and having my thoughts being published in her book. I can only assume that, although it was only a small contribution, having my ideas in print would have some benefit to my career as a college educator. This couldn’t ever have happened without my blog.
One more recent, and fun example. Teacher Kathy Cassidy tweets that her 1st graders are doing a “snow clothes challenge” with a video showing how quickly they can don their winter gear for recess. They did it in around 1.5 minutes.
I saw the tweet a few minutes after the video was posted, and my schedule permitted me to make a video reply for them to watch, on the same day! Mrs. Cassidy reported that the kids really enjoyed it, so I showed my own students who also agreed to do the challenge.
Both groups of students benefited from this interaction. The children reached out beyond their classroom and felt important that people were replying to their message. The college students took a few moments of their time to create what amounts to an act of generosity. Both learned something about digital citizenship that day. This is not possible in a climate that views blogging and internet interactions with suspicion. It is past time to wake up and see the enormous potential benefits that are possible when teachers go online to interact with other educators and with other classrooms.
Thank you Kathy Cassidy for including my students and me in your lives and in your learning. Thank you also to Elizabeth Collins for thinking that what I wrote about was relevant enough to repeat in your book. I am humbled to know such people.