Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blogging "Naked," Or How Does Being Transparent and Digital Change Our Relationships with Just About Everyone?

One of the greatest challenges -- and temptations -- to blogging and other social media is being transparent, exposing our naked thoughts to the world. Yet this is also part of blogging's power. How does being transparent, honest, "naked" metaphorically speaking, affect our relationships with colleagues, bosses, students, others? Can we really be as honest as we want to be? Do we want to be? If we "learn out loud" with our tweets and posts, how does exposing our foibles and mistakes, passions and persnicketiness, change us and our connections to others?

On Saturday, at the great ad hoc think tank for educators, Edubloggercon 2011, I wrestled with these questions with a few bloggers and tweeters, novice and experienced, from the education world. This blog is my thinking based on those conversations.

So, what is being transparent? Being open and honest. Sharing freely about our mistakes and reflecting deeply. Asking the hard questions about ourselves and what we do. Letting others see how learning gets messy. Showing accountability, perhaps, by documenting a process. Giving voice to thoughts that might make others uncomfortable.

Taking risks.

Why do this? Because being transparent means being a straight shooter, having honest and open conversations with others, not hiding stuff. It also means being honest with yourself -- and learning by being unafraid to examine your experience for what it can teach you. These are characteristics I believe in aspiring to as much as I believe in breathing. Being transparent implies the integrity of the examined life, the confidence to learn openly, fearlessly.

Because transparency fundamentally changes your relationships with others by assuming that all the game-playing, posturing, and secrets are dissolved, and because doing this digitally makes you accountable to a whole host of people -- your entire online readership potentially, including your mother, your spouse, your boss, your former English teacher, your neighbors, and the students at the elementary school down the street -- the people who should be modeling this new way of conversing and learning, educators, are downright terrified.

They fear being exposed as poor writers and shabby thinkers. (If they have taken their own educations seriously, how can this be?) They fear that they don't really have something to contribute to the conversation. (At a time when it is absolutely critical that their voices be heard.) They fear having their ideas squashed, ridiculed, rejected. (When they need to muster the courage necessary to make a difference.). They fear pushback, being held accountable for their ideas. (When they need to be models of both for their students.) They fear losing their livelihoods (While they risk becoming obsolete.)

Yet, to be fair, how can teachers risk being transparent if they fear justly or not that they will lose their jobs? How can teachers model "learning out loud" for their students and colleagues if they are afraid to speak? When will the frankness, the fascinating mutability of the thought process, the vulnerability of sharing the creakiness of learning inherent in blogging and other social media conversations be understood and embraced and valued by those with whom we work and struggle and grow? When can we start having honest, real conversations about what matters?

Thank you to Scott McLeod, Larry Kahn, Lisa Thumann, Leigh Zeitz, Bethany Smith, and others for the great discussion at EBC11. If I have left your name out, please comment so I can thank you properly here.


  1. I'm sorry I missed EBC11 as sometimes the conversations and learning that goes on at EBCs are more enriching than the those at the main conferences themselves. One of the topics most often discussed is that which you shared in your post. Being transparent is one thing, but being transparent online is quite another. It truly is like being naked for all the world to see, in perpetuity. It's very scary because your words, no matter how clearly stated (or so you think), are still left to the readers' interpretation. And, unless they comment, you have no way of engaging in further conversation with your readers who are interpreting your words. It's really much more difficult than most think.

    If you've read my blog for any length of time, you'll have noticed that my blogging has trailed off a bit since I've changed positions in my district. I left the classroom in January for a high level district admin job, that is a little more (ok, a lot more) politically charged. Transparency is a little trickier. Stating your blatant opinion about certain things can come back to hurt projects your team is working on.

    I wish I could have been there to engage in this conversation with you guys, but blogging is the next best thing. :)

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Thanks so much for the great discussion. I appreciated the topic and the evolution of the group discussion. (I was two seats to your right). Several things come to mind, such as readiness for blogging, which beckons the change discussion, and when people are finally ready for blogging, the more transparent becomes easier to identify with in many cases.

    In all of the aforementioned, do you think that pedagogy seems to be the common thread to get us to the point of digital transparency?

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

  3. Lee, you make a good point about how speaking out can sometimes affect the good work that others do. I just bemoan that we don't yet have a culture that understands or fully embraces respectful debate or honest reflection in blogs -- and the learning that can happen as a result.

    Tracy, I am beginning to think about a pedagogy of transparency. It is certainly something that doesn't come naturally. I wonder if it is not a key component to learning as well -- reflecting and cementing that reflection through sharing and testing ideas. Do you know of anyone who is writing about this?

    Thank you both for pushing my ideas and continuing the conversation.