Two recent blogs have gotten me to think about why we do what we do. The first is this Education Week blog by Megan Allen about becoming a better speaker. Getting to see a variety of educators present at conferences is always interesting, because some are presenting for the first time and it’s very exciting, while others more fluent and engaging speakers who frequently present, and then many people in situations in between.
Twitter has really opened up opportunities for some speakers, and as they gained popularity or achieved a bit of notoriety, they seem to be at risk of forgetting why they became educators. It makes me wonder how many education presenters and authors present on not being the “Sage on the Stage” at the same time their actions come off as wanting to be the “Sage on the Stage” In their own lives.
I used to think that reality television is what is wrong with America, and then I realized that reality television is just giving America what it wants. If America didn’t want it then shows like the Kardashians would not be pulling in so much money. But, what is their message? What do these shows want to add to the dialogue happening in the world? If there is anything amazing, it is getting lost in their need to be famous. What they represent, and what is happening with some educators on Twitter seems to be similar. Their message, whether it’s a good one or not, gets lost in their need to be recognized or popular.
In his blog post about the amazingly well-attended ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, Middle school principal Glenn Robins recently wrote,
Without mentioning names, I was disappointed by the actions of some "edustars". This is by no means a gripe session, or pity me, but a hopeful wake up call to them. When I tried to speak with these individuals, I couldn't help to feel judged, deemed unworthy, and looked down upon. Perhaps they were having a bad day, were tired, or just didn't care. Yet, I couldn't help to think, has this "connected celebrity status" gone to their heads? I found it sad that the mindset of "look at me" overruled "we practice what we preach, and make a positive difference in all lives." Are we not educators who preach to our students to be respectful, don't judge a book by a cover, and don't forget where you came from?"
Glenn taps into a feeling that many of us have had for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, there is a fine balance between promoting blogs and books which share your message, and over promoting yourself as the next big thing. I have met, and get to work with, some impactful names in education, and what strikes me the most is how kind and compassionate they are when they meet “fans.” They have not lost sight of their work, and what it represents to people. In education, the next big thing should be the innovative work we do for kids and the impact it has on them. We need to be careful though because the next big thing may actually be a recycled version of what others have done before us.
So, how do we know if we are at risk of becoming Twitter egomaniacs? I think there are 3 ways to decide and they are:
1. Being popular is more important than your message - If the need to gain more Twitter followers and see your name in lights is more important than your actual message, you may be a Twitter egomaniac. The work should be central to the message. If other educators want their photo taken with you, be proud of the fact that your work matters to them.
2. When you go to a conference you’re surprised people don’t know you - If you assume that people know you and get upset when they don’t, you may be a Twitter egomaniac. Do yourself a favor, introduce yourself, talk about your passions, and cut someone a break if they don’t recognize your name. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Use this as a time to create a bond, not to create a wedge.
3. You ask what people can do for you before you decide what you can do for them - Too many times people are more concerned about what they can get from people, when they should be more concerned about what they can do for people. Social media should be a place to create partnerships with other educators, leaders and organizations. Use your work to bring people together and ignite a revolution. So much is working against education...use this as a time to be a positive force, and through the positive synergy that takes place, everyone’s message will get out to the public and be stronger because of the collaboration.
In the End
Let’s remember the reasons why we actually got into education. Today’s Twitter Edustar will be tomorrow’s “has been” if they worry more about their status than their message. New people with big ideas are always climbing up the ladder, be careful how you treat them. Learn from Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.
The greatest part of using Twitter is the connection it creates between others. Through Twitter, I have found many leaders, teachers, authors and parents who I admire. Some of those people have a few hundred followers, and their message is as important to me as some people with hundreds of thousands of followers.
There are also those people I admire who have a boat load of followers. They are kind, compassionate and use their status to share many inclusive messages about marginalized populations. They rally the troops and inspire you to be awesome every day. They know their message, understand how to use it, and do it from a respectful place. Find those people, as I have, on Twitter. And please leave your ego at the door.
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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.