The Prophets In Your Land

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Brisbane City Council

Interviewing teacher candidates for new positions in a school, I will always ask the question, “What areas do you believe that you can share with the staff to help them improve in their own practice?”

This question is imperative in the hiring process because I am looking for “school teachers” versus “classroom teachers.” School teachers do all of the things that a classroom teacher does, but they believe that within the school, all of the kids are their kids. They enjoy doing things like supervision because this is an opportunity to connect with students that they do not usually teach. They also look at what they can share with other staff (both giving and receiving) because in a school, it is not about egos and competition, but about collaboration. They believe that what they share with other staff members will help them become better teachers, ultimately helping students. Sharing does not make someone narcissistic. If it does, we should stop telling our kindergarten kids to do the same.

Losing belief

Talking to teachers that are now in school and talking to them about sharing through social media, a response that I often hear is, “I don’t really have anything of value to share.” My first thought is, “Why did someone hire you?” In reality, if someone believes that they have nothing of value to share, is school a place for them to be? Now take that same teacher, throw them in a job interview (where they need that job), and ask them if they have anything of value to share with staff. Do you think that they are really going to say the same thing?

So why the difference in the answer? A few reasons could be that they really don’t have anything to share (doubt it), they underestimate their own value (watch this Derek Sivers video to help get them over that notion), but more importantly, they are in a culture that frowns (either directly or indirectly) on sharing. The view is that the people that “share” are all about themselves (which, if you think about it, goes against the whole notion of sharing), or that anything of value would only come from an outside context.

Bloggers anonymous

Think about it … there are tons of teachers out there sharing awesome things on their blogs, great ideas to improve teaching, learning, and leading, yet how often does their OWN staff use their work as a basis for anything? Have we ever started with, “One of our staff wrote this fantastic post on __________, let’s all take a look at it and have a discussion.” A teacher’s blog often becomes their “dirty little secret” and something that is for the outside world only, not for their own staff.

Sorry to put it bluntly, but that is just stupid.

“My name is George, and I am a blogger. Please don’t tell my boss!”

Promoting within

In my role as division principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning in a school district of 10,000 students, I open my Google Reader every morning and look first at what our teachers are doing and share their work with the world. I know that it is only a small gesture, and I probably miss a lot of ways that I can share, but I want others to see their expertise. I am proud of what our district does, as other leaders should be as well, which I am sure they are, but how do they share that. How do they go about moving away that the “sharers” are the narcissistic ones, but in most instances, the ones that just want to help others do what is best for kids. We have always been good at looking outside for experts; time to start doing a better job looking and promoting within.

Change the focus

So the next time I talk to a teacher and ask them, “What do you have to share,” I am going to perhaps ask, “What does your school do to promote the sharing of your expertise?”

The onus for sharing should not only be on the individual, but the culture of the school as well.

12 thoughts on “The Prophets In Your Land

  1. Patrick Larkin

    Great post George! I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea of many feeling that it is narcissistic to talk about themselves and what they are doing. One of the things that I think is important is the idea that we need to be a community of “connected learners” locally before we can expect staff to start connecting on a large scale outside of their district.

    I am often disappointed in the lack of sharing and connections I see teachers making because I think it is a critical skill that all of our students need to learn. I don’t think we will maximize the potential of our students here without some modeling from the adults in our schools.

    Your work to connect staff in your division with the daily blogs on Parkland School’s 184 Days of Learning is a great way that other districts could get staff comfortable with sharing publicly. (Thanks for sharing this idea with me!)

    I also think Dean’s video from a few years back on the Moral Imperative of sharing is also a good resource here.

  2. Jacob Wilson

    “Sharing does not make someone narcissistic. If it does, we should stop telling our kindergarten kids to do the same.”

    Boy, does this embody today’s successful teachers. I’ve had many a discussion with fellow teachers about this very topic. We must not see the students with which we interact daily as “my students” but rather the school where we teach as “our students”. This is the kind of thing that makes successful schools. Well worded!

  3. Kirsten Tschofen

    Thanks for the post. Yesterday I was showing some colleagues how to use Twitter, and they expressed doubt that anyone would even want to see what they would share by retweeting! When I started tweeting I also felt like I was being pushy when I put a hashtag onto my tweets. You are absolutely right, we need to create a culture where sharing is expected. And acknowledging and celebrating the people who make the things we share is a big piece of this.

  4. Tania Sheko

    I’ve often thought of my blog as my ‘dirty little secret’. Firstly, it’s not something most of my colleagues know about – how would you share your posts with someone not part of an online network without looking narcissistic? – and secondly, some of my posts express opinions about education I expect would result in mixed reactions amongst staff (and have). So I just don’t talk about it. My PLN is separate from my school colleagues. Isn’t that odd? Before I ‘came out’ with my blog at school, I would want to be convinced that robust debate and diverse opinions would be respected and encouraged.

  5. MrDDon

    Thanks for the kick in the pants. I slowed down in writing because I felt it wasn’t making a difference for the ones I wanted to share my thought and ideas with the most. Their comments were “nice, but we don’t have time to do everything we do now.” We have to take the time. I have learned so much from my personal PLN and enjoy and implement what others have shared with me. When I’m asked about something new in my classroom or some new process I tell them proudly that is is from a “friend of mine from Canada, or Australia or Connecticut or even just a few streets over.” They look at me and I smile and say from their tweets or blogs or website. That’s when they turn away. I do have some colleagues that will share others they are following or reading and we have a great time discussing what we have found. But those moments should be in larger settings, I.e. faculty meetings, Prof. Dev., etc. I will reinvigorate writing over the summer and will write because I am a School Teacher not a classroom teacher.

    Thanks, George!


  6. Rosemary West

    “I am a rung on the ladder of your child’s success.” There, you now know what my motto is for the coming year…….and yes- we need to do everything necessary to climb upward with others in the school. George, you rule!

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  8. Mr. Theriault

    This topic comes up so much on Twitter, and in informal conversations with other teachers. Some things never change. There is a part of teaching that is exactly like school was for us as kids. When you see someone blog or talk at a conference there is a verbal back-channel of snickering, eye-rolling, or comments from parts of the audience. Not every speaker or blogger is comfortable with this so they blog in private or stay off the stage. As an ENTIRE community we need to do less of this to encourage participation. On the admin side they MUST take pictures or Tweet teach success stories to show those teachers the power of sharing. Let’s commit ourselves to scaffolding and supporting sharing in the community. If you truly believe that all students have value then the same must be said for all teachers. Let’s help them discover and nurture that value.

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  11. Tabitha Ellison

    I love this. I am a para-educator and teacher candidate in my last year of school. I started late…I’m 38 but I am learning a lot- in school, and using blogs like yours to learn even more. There are situations at the middle school I work in…where I just want to share! I don’t know a teacher or admin in the building who is building a PLN or the like…and I think, “I’m just a para-educator”…I am not the one with an education degree. I finally took a chance last year because of a situation with a boy with emotional and behavioral disorders…he was not being served the way he should have been. Long story. I shared a book with a counselor that was trying to advocate for him but wasn’t being listened to. She read the whole thing- we had an amazing conversation- she will share with the staff at the beginning of this school year. She didn’t look at me as ‘just a para’ she looked at me and said, “Are you almost done with school? You need to hurry up.” I will be careful not to think I know more than the professional educators, and not overstep boundaries that should definitely exist, but I won’t be too shy about what I am learning, to share when it will benefit.

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