We can’t all be right all the time – why a little bit of online conflict is a good thing

Early in my career I had a team leader who had a reputation for being highly critical. Other teachers thought this teacher was hard to work with. My team leader could harpoon an idea at any meeting big or small with a simple question:

“Have you thought about…”

It was a highly effective strategy.

I still think ‘what would my ex-team leader say’ when I’m doing something new for the first time. The truth is I learned more from having someone pushing my ideas back than I did from having people tell me what a wonderful job I was doing.

I learned barriers aren’t there to stop you implementing new ideas, they are to stop you implementing bad ones.

Simply put my old team leader taught me how to turn crazy ideas into reality.

At TeachMeet Singapore @robnewberry floated an idea that twitter has become too much of an echo chamber where we don’t challenge each other. It has become an endless stream of sharing ideas of a small group of  educational thought leaders with followers in the tens of thousands that Rob terms educelebrities.

I thought back to a recent incident where someone prominent in the education technology field shared one of my posts on twitter. There was a small problem, a small typo meant the link to the content was incorrect.

Yet that initial tweet with the bad link kept being retweeted.

Which led to me to wonder.

How much content is being re-shared without people actually bothering to click on the links much less read the writing?

Why did nobody (including myself) correct this person?

The numbers of teachers engaging in online communities has grown considerably in the last few years. However we’re engaging with each other on a more superficial level, through shares rather than reaction or action. This  mirco-engagement  is as @TomBarrett pointed out killed the edublogging community.

Image by @tombarrett

People are less likely to comment on blogs than they were 3-4 years ago and I’ve watched a number of bloggers either cut back the frequency of their frequency or give up on blogging altogether. The push and pull of comments often leads to inspiration for further content.

When I started edublogging in 2011 I  held a utopian belief that the internet would be a force to democratise teaching, a first year teacher could have as much of a voice as a veteran teacher or even a principal. But now as the crowd has descended online we’re less focused on sharing our own ideas, just those of a few tastemakers. More importantly we’re becoming less tolerant of those who disagree with us.

Getting shares, likes and positive mentions feels great, but is it really pushing our learning forward as educators?

In another online community I’m a part of there was a discussion about teachers querying other teachers classroom practice. I was bothered by how many teachers stated flat out that it is unprofessional for teachers to disagree with each other online.

On the contrary I think it is unprofessional for teachers not to speak up whether online or in person when they disagree with classroom practice. 

We can’t all be right all the time.

Critical discussion is such an important of what makes us learn and grow as educators, not the number of followers we have on twitter. Those growth mindset quotes and infographics that teachers keep retweeting mean that we actually need to act on constructive criticism.

Yet how much critical discussion is really taking place online?

Could it be a problem within education itself that we don’t actually like conflict, and those who do challenge the status quo are viewed as troublemakers?

To be clear I am not saying that online education communities should descend into full on flamewars – we can still have robust conversations without descending into full on personality attacks.

But because we’ve got out of the habit of being critical with each other, those challenges can make it feel like we are being attacked rather than our ideas simply because we aren’t used to having people disagree with us.

That isn’t a good place to be in.

We should all be worried about the echo chamber the education community has created through twitter chats and edublogging awards is leading to a re-creating of old educational hierarchies in the online environment where who shares the idea is more important than the idea itself. 

Lets have more conversation and push back than shares and retweets.

Lets share content from new faces rather than the same old names.

Lets grow our learning.

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8 thoughts on “We can’t all be right all the time – why a little bit of online conflict is a good thing

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  1. Excellent post!! I think it’s hard for many people to admit when they’re wrong (myself included). Teachers all have this huge sense of pride- pride in their classroom techniques, pride in their students, pride in themselves, and when someone disagrees with something teachers take it as some sort of personal assault. It’s not so, I agree that disagreement brings discussion and critical thinking. We try to teach our students to think critically, but I wonder how many teachers use those skills themselves?

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  2. I challenge a lot in my own environment but have to admit sometimes on Twitter I am weary of it. Which I shouldn’t as to be honest I probably should feel more uncomfortable challenging someone in person than in 140 characters! I do feel teachers don’t do enough of this. I was told once that as a new teacher to a school it was best I didn’t say anything out of line until at least I had been there for a year! Obviously that was never going to happen. I think to often we feel that those in more senior roles or experts know more and are right but that isn’t always the case.

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  3. The temptation to be cheeky and write “great blog” and simply support what you have written is strong! Your comment “barriers aren’t there to stop you implementing new ideas, they are to stop you implementing bad ones” speaks volumes to me. I am one of those people that often asks “have you thought about…” and people don’t really like it. Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is time. Many teachers feel they don’t have time to make good ideas better. Also, I think teachers aren’t accustomed to being criticised – even when it’s constructive. While I think it’s absolutely wrong that teachers shouldn’t give each other feedback, I have read some tweets and blog responses that have made me cringe because of their superiority and condescension. These are rare, but they are out there and they contribute to my own fear of sharing my thoughts.

    Further, Twitter works well as an “echo chamber” and for some people just using it in this capacity is wonderful and supportive. It depends where you are on the continuum of involvement in the online education community. I personally often take things from said echo chamber and build on these ideas in my own practice. I would imagine that a lot of folks do the same. This is a huge step from not having access to other people’s thought and ideas. I also struggle to find the time to share my remixes. I see provocative blog posts and images created by the likes of you (meant as a compliment) and am completely intimidated. And, to be honest, I’m not sure how my ideas have been received unless they are retweeted, commented upon, or favourited. And that fear of not having that kind of support prevents me from sharing more often. But, you’re right, it doesn’t help me build my ideas further. And that is the point, isn’t it? Great blog 🙂 (sorry this is so long)

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  4. A colleague of mine recently described twitter as the new talkback radio. Your post raises some interesting points about blind sharing of ideas, tweets, chats etc. However, through any medium this is likely to occur. I must admit I get frustrated by some of what is out there, and I have also favourited things without reading (I won’t reblog or retweet unless I’ve checked it).

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  5. Really good post, Steph! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. I am missing the robust conversations. I am going to make a more conscious effort to respond, challenge and discuss, I also need to ensure my reflections are on my blog and to illicit feedback and conversation!

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  6. This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing, and challenging me. I felt the same way when I began blogging in my first year of teaching, then over the last few years I’ve found it harder and harder to write posts. I think the main reason has been because I haven’t wanted to offend anyone or write something that causes problems. But perhaps I need to be brave and open up those opportunities because that’s when I’ll learn more about myself and engage in more rigorous conversations with other professionals.

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