When I published my first blog post over ten years ago, it was clear to me that the possibility to share and share online, had the potential for something special. This new-found ability to share at a global level has provided teachers access to content and ideas never before available and connected teachers to people who have helped to transform classrooms around the world.
I created this video five years ago that remains an important part of my philosophy and message.
Ever since I began teaching over 25 years ago, I’ve had many conversations with teachers about their reluctantly to share for fear they might be seen as braggarts. One of the benefits of sharing online was it allowed teachers working in toxic or distrustful environments to share and not worry what the colleague across the hall might think. In many ways, it was and remains a revolution that has reinvigorated many careers. Even teachers in good environments found a way to expand their networks and discover new ideas to improve learning. Online spaces like blogs and social media have been platforms for people to post ideas, lessons, tutorials and other successes.
So what’s the problem?
Maybe there isn’t one but what is emerging of late is the hidden and sometimes not so hidden nature of sharing. When I posted that video, all the examples and all my experiences had been with people just saying, “here’s what I’ve/we’ve done, maybe you find some of this useful.” For most of us, the biggest joy we get from sharing is knowing that someone else found it valuable. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for some acknowledgement. That’s what makes the sharing economy work. Thank yous and reciprocity are essential if we want sharing to remain part of the culture. That said, the unwritten rule is you never ask or expect it. When you share to be acknowledged or praised or get something in return it makes sharing something ugly.
The idea of self-promoting is fairly easy to recognize. Does the person share solely about their accomplishments or do they share about student success or ideas from which they’ve benefited? That’s not to say one can never talk about their own achievements, but the tone shouldn’t be “look what I’ve done” but “I’m learning, here’s how I learned it, here’s how you can learn it too.” Sharing in online spaces lack the context for many to break down. However, over time, you can tell whether someone is self-promoting or sharing. Even then, it’s a blurred line that often is a matter of interpretation.
The tension between those in public education and those in some type of for-profit education entity, has always been challenging. Educators generally see themselves in a more philanthropic light, and rightfully so when it comes to sharing what they’re doing. They aren’t seeking remuneration. But right along side those educators are others who now rely on selling their ideas because it’s their livelihood. They are sharing for very different reasons. In between are those that are looking to advance their careers or supplement their income with educational products and services. What’s sometimes confusing or frustrating is trying to decide the motives and purposes of these different purposes as it relates to sharing. What’s the difference between the teacher sharing because they’re excited about a success and wants you to read their blog and the author that wants you to buy her book? Does it matter if they repeatedly share the same content with tweets and facebook posts? It seems at that point they aren’t just sharing but they want something from you. Maybe that’s obvious and maybe that’s okay.
Sharing in its purest form is a moral imperative. It’s my belief that since others have shared with you, it’s your obligation to share with others. That sharing needs to remain essentially free. Sharing needs to be acknowledged but that shouldn’t determine whether or not you share.
Selling of ideas is also an important idea. No one teaches for free and those who have chosen to earn a living in education outside of public service still have a place. My question is how do these two notions, sharing and selling co-exist? Right now they exist in the same space and context.
I’m someone who currently works for a private corporation. I also occasionally speak and get paid. I wrote a book. Those are things that people pay for. I’m not sure those are the things that are part of the purest form of sharing and yet I don’t apologize for them. That said, I rarely use a space like twitter to promote that side of my work. To do so, in my opinion, would be selling. Selling isn’t bad, I just don’t want to confuse people more than they already are. For me, it feels like a salesman in a bar who sits down under the pretense of a social conversation and then starts asking you if you have term or whole life insurance.
Maybe the question to ask would be “Why am I sharing this?”
If the answer is: to get retweets, likes, acknowledgment, praise or money, perhaps you’re not sharing. Maybe you’re just bragging or self-promoting or just selling. I’ve always taken issue with those who retweet a compliment. I’m not talking about the occassional retweet because you’re proud someone recognized your work, I’m talking about a habitual trend. When I look at someone’s twitter feed and it’s full of retweets of compliments about their writing or presentation, that’s selling. Again, not that those are always bad, but I’m not sure that’s what sharing online should be. Like every blog I write, I could be wrong and welcome those who can push my thinking, clarify my thoughts or better yet, add their own.
Like every blog I write, I could be wrong and welcome those who can push my thinking, clarify my thoughts or better yet, add their own.