Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Is Blogging Worth The Risk? - Yes!

Editor’s Note: Learning & Leading’s popular Point/Counterpoint section is looking for arguments on both sides of the question “Is blogging worth the risk?” They go on to say, “If you’re a K–12 educator under the scrutiny of students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, is publishing a personal blog worth the potential risk to your professional reputation?”

This post is written in response to that question.


21st century education evangelists often share a dark little joke saying, “If Rip Van Winkle were to awaken in the 21st century he would be bewildered by what he saw. Every place Rip went would baffle him, but when he walked into a schoolroom, the old man would know exactly where he was. ‘This is a school’, he would declare. ‘They looked just like this in 1906.”’ When I began talking about starting a blog several of my colleagues wished me luck, but said they would be apprehensive about doing the same for fear of, “getting in trouble” if they happened to publish ideas that their employer didn’t like.

While I recognize the fear is real, as an innovative educator, I’ve always felt it was part of my responsibility to evangelize different ideas and perspectives when it comes to educating students in the best way possible. A blog provides a terrific platform for doing so. Having a blog is also a great way to get the digital footprint conversation going as well as model best practices for using 21st century tools to build professional learning communities and personal learning networks that support the work we do.


With this philosophy in mind, I began my blog, The Innovative Educator and started writing about educating innovatively. I was so excited to finally have a place to capture and share valuable ideas with a large audience rather than only with those whom I had direct contact. It was also wonderful to be able to answer frequently asked questions with a link to my blog posts. No more having to say or write the same thing again and again.


Once I felt my blog was ready for show time, I followed in the footsteps of some other educational bloggers that I admire and included my blog url in my email signature. That’s where the trouble began. Shortly after, I was mandated to remove my blog url from my email signature which I wrote about in a blog post called Mandate Against Professional Blog URLs in NYC DOE Signature. This in turn led to a slew of press coverage like this piece from the NY Sun Education Dept. Restrictions On Blogs Rile a Staff Blogger (You can view other stories at the original blog post.). I was disappointed by my employer’s decision. I felt my blog was an extension of professional and responsible dialogue. I was excited about the sharing and exchange of ideas with colleagues that having my blog url in my signature provided.


As directed, following the mandate, I placed a disclaimer on my blog indicating the opinions within were my own and were not representative of another entity and I removed my blog url from my email signature. As a result of the chain of events, several colleagues suggested I blog anonymously, however I feel there is tremendous value to blogging under my real name. Because I stand firmly behind what I blog about, I believe it is important for my audience to be able to know the source and engage in conversation with a real person. As Will Richardson (my blog mentor) shares, Those Who Publish Set the Agenda. Maintaining a blog, absolutely comes with a LOT of work and some risks, but for me, the reward of being able to increase the prevalence of educator voice to help “set the agenda,” is well worth it.

8 comments:

  1. This response refers to a Point/Counterpoint question asked by Learning & Leading with Technology, the flagship magazine of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). In every issue, we publish the top two submissions from readers addressing either side of a hot ed tech issue in the Point/Counterpoint section of our print edition. This month was the first time we have asked readers to submit their responses via our L&L group page on the ISTE Community Ning.

    Lisa's blog post is exactly the kind of personal story we were hoping to discover. Thank you, Lisa, for beginning this conversation as a blog. What a perfect medium to illustrate the differences between blogging and print, for one thing! Ironically, we couldn't do this response justice by publishing the text in the print issue of our magazine because we'd miss all the context provided by your embedded video and links. Obviously, the way we all communicate in the world is changing rapidly, and our students need to be prepared for that new paradigm.

    Andra Brichacek
    Assistant Editor
    L&L Magazine

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  2. At the beginning of the 2007-08 school year, Katy Murphy, the Education Reporter for the Oakland Tribune, asked several of Oakland's new teachers to participate in a blog called "My First Year." It sounded like a good idea, right?

    The blog had a short life, something which I was not at all surprised to see. These smart and nice, but innocent, young teachers had been given about a month and a half of training, then they were sent to deal with Oakland's most difficult-to-educate kids, in Oakland's most stressed out schools. Most gave up posting within the first few months. I always suspected that getting confronted with the awful reality had done them in.

    One of the teachers, Siobhan Boylan, wrote a piece called "To be free or not to be" in which she contemplates some of the issues you bring up. She asks readers:

    "Am I risking my job by writing this blog? How much freedom do new teachers have? How much freedom should new teachers have? What are the ethical and professional considerations of publishing this journal? What are my rights to free speech as a probationary employee?"

    Find it at http://www.ibabuzz.com/myfirstyear/2007/12/04/to-be-free-or-not-to-be/

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  3. @The Perimeter Primate, thank you for sharing the story of the First Year Teacher blog and Siobhan Boylan. I took a look at the very interesting post. I would think it to be very difficult for someone brand new at any profession to openly blog about their experience. It is a very vulnerable position to be in. I tend to think requesting this of new teachers is probably an exploitation of their eagerness and innocence.

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  4. I.E.: I get your point. It certainly provides the public with a bit of sensational voyeurism, since so many of the readers wouldn't touch those schools with a ten foot pole.

    However, with the high turnover here, and with the press that the TFA and Oakland Teaching Fellows programs have received, I'm sure part of it, too, was an awareness that the community is sincerely interested in these young peoples' transition and overall experience with working in those notoriously tough schools.

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what body of knowledge these teachers happen to collect in those one or two years. If that research was done (not by the programs themselves) and reported objectively, the results might help everyone figure out what to do.

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  5. Lisa, I really enjoyed this post. A piece like this is ripe for numerous discussions on many different levels. I plan to share this with the teachers and administrators I work with, especially those who are blogging or considering the challenging endeavor of keeping a profressional blog. You have given me a lot to think about, especially as I work towards helping to grow AUSSIE's digital footprint.

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  6. Lisa, you end your counterpoint in L&L with the statement, "I think most will ultimately find that blogging is just not worth the risk."

    You are obviously still blogging and find it worth the risk. How do you propose one combats that mentality driven by very valid fears?

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  7. @Steve, I think that we have to present facts. There are pros and cons on each side and those who are considering blogging need to decide what is most important to them. There is also the option to blog anonymously. This is what many educators do. It's all about looking at the purpose and payoff, weighing each, then making a decision that feels right.

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  8. Lisa,
    I also agree that posting the present facts and blogging about them is important. As an educator there might be some things that I would rather blog about anonymously. I do believe that there will always be issues with blogging and that there will always be someone with a conflict about what someone is writing.

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