As a classroom educator, the idea of self-censorship among my students would have broken my heart. Our learning environment was built on a foundation of trust, candor, and transparency, so if we weren’t truly honest with each other, then I would have considered it a failing I needed to work on as the leader.
It was a reciprocal relationship where I shared my frustrations and pride much in the way I encouraged my students to, and as many of you know (my PLN), I shared openly on my blogs and in social media.
This served many purposes, for one, sharing my story meant being able to share the good, the bad, and the ugly because teaching is a messy and complex business. To only show one side of that story is just not true. It’s unbalanced, and the journalist in me is just not okay with that.
However, now that I’m a team leader on the administrative side of things, I’m finding it more challenging to share as freely. It isn’t because what I have to say is any less valuable or that the story itself isn’t true; my biggest concern is really presenting the information in a way that doesn’t implicate other people.
Granted, this is my experience, my voice, and I would NEVER speak for anyone else, but as I am building the relationships I do with my team, knowing how public my experience is, it’s hard to share some stories without potentially hurting other people unintentionally.
So the challenge has become how to present my story in a universal way from a place of learning that still centers on my story without dragging other people in with me.
Since I have taken this new role, many folks have reached out to me privately thanking me for sharing so honestly, and that transparency is truly a part of who I am as a leader and a person. But the level of respect I have for my team has forced me to add an extra step in the process.
For example, there is no longer a direct pipeline from situation to Tweet, for better or for worse. Instead, I sit quietly and allow emotions to settle before I construct a Tweet or blog post that expresses my views in a more succinct and honest way after the initial reaction has subsided. (Plus, there are other very public figures who clearly don’t know how to practice a cooling down period before they share potentially inappropriate or incorrect thoughts that affect a lot of other people. I don’t want to be like him.)
So after being in the position now since September, this is what I have learned:
- My story still matters, but how I present my story must be nuanced. This doesn’t make it less valid, it just accounts for the other people involved. I probably should have been more cognizant of this while I was doing it on the other end too, but I was more emboldened then and tenured.
- Being transparent is key, but choosing the right stories to tell that show my struggles and successes can’t be without purpose.
- Although emotion is a big part of what we do, I can no longer take for granted that my emotions sometimes cloud a clear portrayal of what has happened. A cooling down period is optimal before sharing.
- The more public my career has come, the greater responsibility I have to be clear and respectful of growth. I never want to present something as more simplistic than it is, but I also don’t want to share someone else’s experience through my lens. So asking myself, which part of this is me and which part is someone else and then sticking to my side only, making generalizations for the rest.
- Specific references to situations that will easily identify specific people are inappropriate unless I’m willing to name them publicly, for a purpose. Otherwise, it creates more headache than it is worth and doesn’t serve a greater good.
- Social media is a powerful tool that amplifies our voice—if we don’t want the situation to resonate and live on, is it worth tweeting, blogging, or posting about? Sometimes it makes better sense to have a private conversation with a trusted mentor and then write about it as a reflection later as a learning experience with some distance. In other words, “what did I take away from this experience that makes me a better leader, educator, person, parent, etc.?”
As the world becomes increasingly more public, we need to consider if everything we share has value, at least in the professional realm. How can we continue to develop a culture of transparency and change while still respecting those who aren’t where we need them to be yet?
How do you decide what to share and what to keep private and do you feel that adding the extra step undermines transparency in any way? Please share.
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.