How safe are you online? Is there anything you do, that could hinder your employment prospects?
Should we accept poor behaviour online? I’m sure the answer will be a resounding ‘no!’
Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of conflicting opinion or point of view.
This is a blog I have wanted to write for 2 years, but have avoided so that I do not attract the attention I hope it should distinguish. I have even slept on the decision overnight to ensure that what is written, is fair and coherent. It needs to be said. It also needs to be shared with the profession. Sit down; grab a cup of tea and get yourself comfortable. This is a must read from start to finish.
- What do I get from writing this blog? Closure.
- What does the reader take away from this blog? Awareness.
How would you feel if one single tweet ruined your day? Or whilst walking out with your loved ones at the local park, a torrent of tweets took your mind away from what you were doing, instead sucking your focus into your device to read a flurry of abuse? I’m certain one or two of you reading this, will know exactly how this feels. Well, I do too and I’ve had my fair share of these events ruin my day. So much so, I now know when to alert those around me, so they understand the reasoning behind my silence or distraction. I’ve also learnt how to handle it better.
After 15 years of blogging on various platforms, 3 years on this website and over 500+ blogposts later, you’d think I would know what I’m talking about when offering some blogging tips for others? Well, some may think not …
In this post, I’d like to share with you the downsides of being prevalent online. Of course, I have made my mistakes, but I also know I have a social media responsibility personally and professionally. I also know, with the number of readers this blog may generate, there will be many who are genuinely interested and perhaps shocked by its content, as well as those who will interested in it for the wrong reasons.
One month ago, I posted my 500th blog post and wrote 10 Tips for Education Bloggers. In one of my tips, I suggested;
Stay away from pointless arguments on pedagogy and political ideology. The occasional rant is good … We cannot all agree with each other; we cannot all want the same ideals, methods and systems. We need to accept this. 1/2 million teachers in England; 25,000+ schools and over 8.2 million students in our schools (source), it will be very difficult to have us all agree on single policies and methods. The same applies to the blogosphere. Accept others will write different points of view and that’s yours is just another.
Seasoned advice in my opinion …
The reason I write this, is to share why I use social-media. Of course, we all have a choice to make, and that we all have the functionality to allow us to restrict what others see and don’t see; some people will enjoy pointless arguments, debate and light-hearted banter. Only today, I unfollowed, block and muted social-media accounts that I no longer have an interest in pedagogically.
Here is a reminder I tweeted earlier;
Only this week, this sentence below was quoted in a blog with direct reference to me. It was actually a good read. Well argued with some validity, until I read what the author claimed, that [bloggers] ‘avoided controversy’ to advance the greater good. It said:
… government policy has been influenced by bloggers and not the bloggers who avoid controversy.
I found this statement very interesting, considering I have had no online exchange with this source, it did make me think. How quick is one to make such an assumption? What particular policy are they referring to?
- Lesson gradings?
- English Baccalaureate?
- the Arts?
- Staff well-being?
- DfE publications?
- Poor leadership practice?
- Evidence-based research?
Of course, it didn’t take very long to work out which side of the team this blog was resting; nor the small readership it was generating. I only happened to notice, because there was a pingback to my original blog which had inspired their retort. It wasn’t offensive, but despite some sort of claim or accusation, I’m not sure what the point of it was. Have they not been reading my blog for the past three years?
Probably not …
Of course, we all have better things to do and we are all entitled to blog about what we choose to do. I’m not expecting anyone to read this, or to care for that matter! This is the wonderful world of social media. We all have a voice; we all have an opinion. We can all decide what to take away. However, it did strike me, that this type of critique – when directed at me – always come from a certain source:
- With respect, and more often than not, it will be a man or a group of men who seek to challenge.
- These gentleman are more likely to be in support of acquisition of knowledge over skills.
- They will believe that progressive teaching is to blame for poor standards of education / discipline in British schools.
- They will likely disagree with everything I have to say online, making the assumption I am doing it for self-promotion; including this blog.
I know much of the above may be a sweeping generalisation on my part.
The strange thing is, is that I qualify in all aspects listed above too! How odd? I just choose to keep certain opinions to myself, rather than provoke or offend an individual. I also know, 115,000 others are likely to read my views and I’d rather not have that many people reading about my professional gripes with other individuals. I also know that blogging and commenting on people’s blogs, including mine, is an acceptable forum to do so.
So, this made me think a little more deeper as to why such a statement may have been made; “bloggers who avoid controversy.” We know there are many examples, and controversy can be defined in many different ways; particularly when it comes to shaping government policy. I only need to look at my network to see that I have a direct channel through to the DfE, Ofsted, Ofqual and all leading unions and chief executives. Why on earth would I want these folk to read spiteful messages online? How on earth could I (or you) shape government policy if we were so poisonous publicly? Do I really want to be perceived as a grumpy old man? And I mean this generally, and not in reference to any individual.
After some deliberation, I know I am right. The feedback I receive and the blog statistics and Twitter/Facebook followers I have, speak for themselves. Examples shared at the bottom of this post are a small minority. Therefore, in a one-off post (this one), I have decided to avoid some (more) self-promotion and share some of the most vindictive comments I have collated over the past 3 years since my apparent rise in social-media! n.b. not my doing of course. I do not press the ‘follow’ button.
In recent years, colleagues online have supported the good work of bloggers who are here to make a difference. To share ideas, feedback and offer genuine critique; not to ridicule, belittle, or to gather the masses behind the scenes and form playground spats.
These are the downsides of social media dear reader, and worst of all, it exists in all pockets of society. Even in education!
The difference I see, is that you and I are ‘out there’, sharing our views much more readily with the world. We are happy to share and accept advice; as well as influence policy and provide critique when we see work that needs development. On the other hand, with intended controversy, the danger with sweeping statements and in particular, 140 characters, is that we are quick to make an assumption online. Words in black and white can not be spoken or understood in the same way as they would be when spoken face-to-face.
Over the past 5 to 6 years since I have been blogging as @TeacherToolkit, I have learnt the hard way from having grown an incredible readership. Two or three years ago when I first published my book, despite it being one of the best selling education books over the past five years, I started to receive quite a fair bit of criticism from a small group of education tweeters and bloggers. I know this should be expected when publishing content with your peers. After all, I am a grown up. Of course, there was many ‘pats on the back’ and ‘well done’; but there was also covert abuse from colleagues who were frustrated with my work. As a new publisher, I didn’t know what to expect, but I really did not expect to see some of the comments from teachers and in some cases senior leaders. In some cases, these messages were not criticism, critique or advice; nor indeed challenge. In most examples shared below, what was offered was just nasty.
What I would like to provide here, is a small range of evidence of comments and tweets that I have received over the years. I have saved these for a rainy day and funnily enough, it has been raining all weekend! I have always considered whether to expose these tweets, or to anonymised them rather than add fuel to the fire. I have considered sharing these time and time again and have resisted the temptation. But enough is enough. Bloggers need to be aware of the downsides of some of our colleagues online. Therefore, I have decided to share them, yet anonymise the individuals.
Let me be clear. I am in support of teacher anonymity online to encourage staff to share bad news from the frontline. I also think there is a place for anonymity to help shape government policy and expose shameful examples of practice in school, but I cannot think of any teacher who would support anonymity in order to direct abuse at an individual.
Here is one recent example;
Going back to their original point of this blog, my purpose to be online is to share best practice, dispel a few myths about teaching and offer support and challenge. Of course, new to deputy headship, I also seek this for myself. Where I may fall short in the eyes of others, is that I may not provoke or challenge enough dialogue in others aspects of education. My view, is that there is enough of this in the real world, in all places of work which make our daily lives a more stressful places to be. The last thing I would want to advocate, is further and unwanted stress on myself or other teachers online. Further still, new and upcoming teachers joining profession, who are looking for role models, will turn to ourselves for advice. Would we want them to tune into my blog to see me just spouting off a few nasty comments to other colleagues? Of course not.
So, if you’re reading this blog and wonder why on earth I have written such detail, this is a request to all my readers; avoid controversy and instead use your time more wisely. Instead, remain true to yourself. Offer advice for others; by reflecting and sharing your practice, and in turn, you will improve yourself. This is why I use social media. I will not allow the examples in this post to be the voice of the profession and shut people down. Report it, block, mute or lock your accounts …
Here is a gallery offering some of the best abuse I have collected over the past 2-3 years. I have protected the identity of the people hurling abuse my way, as sadly some of this comes from our own sort; those who are classrooms teachers and even, one or two school senior leaders! Brace yourself! There are swear words, messages of bravado and celebration; some are offered purely for context and are not necessarily offensive, or directed abuse at me.
Some may argue the definition of trolling. That’s fine. I won’t. If people want to critique me or my work, do so from a position of transparency, not hidden behind an anonymised profile.
So, whilst I’m happy to hold organisations to account and tweet controversy to them directly, I refuse to do this to any individual. What do I gain from being controversial if what I do day-to-day, attracts this sort of abuse? And how would this stance improve government policy? It won’t. I know. I have done so. And if you are thinking once again, ‘what am I getting out of this by posting this content?’, for me it’s about raising the awareness with others who are using social media, to better their practice, to see the downside of our profession. We want to encourage more and more colleagues to see the benefits of blogging and tweeting, not put them off by destroying the work of others!
We must be mindful, that anything said online can be tracked; content can be viewed by your employer as a breach of the Teachers’ Standards.
What do you think? If we use social-media, should we expect this type of abuse? Worst still, should we accept this from our colleagues?
Keep safe online. Report it. Bin it.