Blogging Teachers: Some Advice

Through the Lens

The investigation into the blogging of Pennsylvania teacher Natalie Munroe has generated a great deal of discussion about whether teachers should blog or what they should blog about, while Munroe contends she’s done nothing wrong and hopes the attention her blog has received will encourage debate about the more difficult aspects of teaching. I have read some of the cached comments Munroe made on her blog. My own advice would have have been not to express such sentiments in a public forum, such as a blog.

Teaching can be frustrating, and I think it does help to vent sometimes, but it’s important to remember that even if we feel our blogs are small and unlikely to attract notice, as Munroe did, or even if we believe we are anonymous, we are putting information out there into the ether, and I think Munroe would certainly agree that once it’s out there, it’s hard to erase it, especially as caches and archives make it difficult to ensure no copies exist somewhere.

One of the more frightening responses I can imagine administrators might have to this story is to ban their teachers from blogging lest they lose their jobs. I think teachers need a voice to talk about education and to share their ideas. If you are considering blogging or are already blogging and are now hesitant to move forward after hearing about this story, I would advise the following:

  • Don’t count on remaining anonymous if you choose a pseudonym. In fact, I have long contended that teachers should blog under their real names.
  • Don’t blog negatively about your students. However frustrated you may feel, think about how you would feel to read a teacher’s disparaging remarks about you online, even if no names were used.
  • Don’t blog negatively about colleagues or administrators. I think that’s just asking to get fired.
  • Pay attention to language, tone, subject matter—fair or not, teachers are held to a higher standard regarding public persona.
  • Don’t give up. Building a readership takes time. You can encourage others to check out your blog by commenting on theirs and linking to their blogs in posts and/or blogrolls.
  • Try to update consistently, but don’t stress out if you can’t. I know I’ve lost readership as my posts have become less regular, but I had to cut back for a variety of reasons.
  • Figure out what you want to do with your blog—reflect? share? interact with others? Blogs usually do better with some sort of aim or niche, but you need not feel confined to discussing only that subject.
  • Keep the conversation respectful. Making a lot of noise and attacking other bloggers might get you attention. The wrong kind, in my opinion. People won’t listen to you if you’re rude and nasty.
  • Trust your common sense. If you wouldn’t say it at work in front on colleagues, students, administrators, or parents, you should probably not say it online.

Should Natalie Munroe lose her job over her blog? Well, indications are that her school had no blogging policy that she violated. I’m pretty sure they will now, and it’s likely to be a draconian one that prevents teacher voices from being heard, which is unfortunate. I don’t know the context of the comments she made, but on the surface, it’s an issue of professionalism. That said, I’ve had my own comments taken out of context and exaggerated, and I really wish I’d never made them in the first place, but I own up to having made some of the mistakes I’m advising you to steer clear of. Not all of them, sure. And that’s perhaps why I’ve managed to stay out of trouble at work.

What advice would you give? What did I miss? If you’ve been following the Munroe story, what do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: davidz

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23 thoughts on “Blogging Teachers: Some Advice

  1. That's great advice you gave. I'd say simply:

    “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

    Endeavor to be a great mind.

  2. I try to stay positive in my blog (especially with regard to students) but I also write things that can be philosophically provocative. What concerns me is that teachers need to have a public voice, even if it's a disagreeable one. So, it leaves me with some random thoughts:

    1. Even on a bad day, I don't talk like that about my students. Period. Not at a bar. Not in a staff lounge. Not even to my wife. Teachers who are that bitter about their classes need to find a new profession.

    2. Punishing everyone and creating rules and structures will end up silencing the wrong people. Horrible idea.

    3. If an employee were to say those things at a Walgreens would be ban them from going to a drug store? Or would we teach them about how to create better guidelines for behavior?

    4. Society hasn't done a decent job deciding on the purpose of a blog. Is it a public conversation? Is it a place to share one's personal life in a public journal? Is it journalism that is protected by the First Amendment? We don't seem to have a firm grasp on the functionality of a blog and to me that's a pretty murky issue.

    • Very good points, all. The last thing we need this to turn into is some sort of blanket decision that teachers can't blog, though I'll bet that the school system where Munroe works will probably take such an action.

  3. I do blog for my students and a (very) little about them. I blog about them on my book review blog, where I talk about what YA books are interesting my YA readers. That's it.

    I feel that teachers are always on, even after we leave the classroom. All of my social networking attempts are kept clean and are fine to be viewed by my students. We are always modeling appropriate behaviors and while this might seem "draconian" to some, I think it's just part of the gig.

    I think it's okay to talk about your teaching, but I like to do it in a positive way. Like, if I'm looking for a solution to a problem, that's okay. But, to vent about a problem and not for the purpose of gaining a solution? Not okay.

    This case will probably not be the last we hear of a teacher who doesn't understand her role in this online community. Too bad she's having to pay such a price for her ignorance.

    • Totally agree, and I also think your last point is really fair. I think Munroe is having to pay a really high price for not understanding how her blog might attract a larger audience than she intended.

  4. I don't think she should get fired over what she blogged since she didn't violate any official policy. However, I can understand why parents would be concerned about their kids. It's normal for her to felt the way she did; it just wasn't the best idea to put it in writing. Some times there are just "unwritten" rules that you shouldn't break (for the sake of your career), even though it's not official.

    • That's going to be the legal issue that her school district will have difficulty proving—what was the policy in place, if any, and if none, then she did something that isn't legally wrong, but was unprofessional. I know Georgia has a moral turpitude clause that covers all manner of issues, and I have a feeling that if her district or state has a similar clause, they could be within their rights to define what she did as a violation of such a clause.

  5. I blogged when I took a trip across the country (Canada) and enjoyed the process of writing and reflecting. However, I've been hesitant to blog since. I cannot imagine blogging without teaching and education being the main focus – because most of my time is spent either teaching or thinking about teaching. In a small town, it becomes very difficult to reflect on teaching and how the unit went, etc. as any reference to it will likely identify a student. However, one day I will figure it out!

    As to what does online, I always ask – Would this be something I'd like parents to overhear in the grocery store? If not, then….

    Love your thought provoking entries.

    • Thanks, Cindy. It can indeed be tough to negotiate blogging, but it's worthwhile. I know that blogging has made me a better teacher than I ever would have been without because it's made me reflect, share, and think more.

  6. Even before blogs, teachers have been held to a higher standard; my mother taught for decades in our small town, and literally never knew when she might run into a student, or have a former student be her waiter, or the police officer who saw her run a red light. She would never have spoken like that to anyone outside a trusted inner circle, and while Natalie Munroe seems to believe that is what she has done, nothing on the Internet can be seen that way.

    Your advice is great. I would add, "Blog as if you already knew there were students and parents reading," which should help you keep appropriate boundaries in mind (though it will also mean there are many posts you simply won't be able to write).

  7. There is such a thing as common sense when it comes to writing a public document that will be available to anyone in the world who chooses to take the time to find and read your blog.

    Sometimes common sense is not used and the person not using it held accountable for their error in judgement, that is in my opinion what is happening with Ms. Munroe.

    The rule of thumb that I use and has served me well, is to ask myself if I would project my blog to the front of the room and pretend everyone in the room is either at a parent/teacher conference or at a school board meeting and are reading it. The thought of having to explain or justify what you have written in one of these two venues, tends to keep what I write fairly conservative and positive.

    Yes, I have gotten pretty close to the line a couple of times, where I wonder if I should have written about it or not, but I do not believe that I have ever crossed that line and don't plan to.

    Using those as my guidelines, I have thrown away many a blog entry, just because it was questionable or over the top.

    Sometimes just writing about what is bothering you helps figure out what could be done differently, but publishing something that could hurt a student or is nasty about your fellow employees or your employer is not using common sense.

    The bottom line is that teachers are held to a different standard on free speech and what they talk about in public. We are responsible for what we write and publish and that is just how it is.

    • Harold, I think you're right. Whether it's fair or not, or whether we like it or not, teachers are held to a different standard on free speech. I also think you have hit on a good rule of thumb: what would parents think or what would my administration think if they read what I wrote? I do believe some of my students and their parents read this blog, and while my administration has never mentioned reading it, they know about it, and I always write keeping in mind that I am in public. I may not necessarily represent my employer, but I am a public face for my school, and I do represent myself—I'd like it to be positive.

  8. This is great advice for those thinking of blogging! We hear every now and then of people getting themselves into trouble from calling a spade a spade. Even though you would think common sense would ensure people didn't place themselves in a vulnerable position, occassionally, passion takes over! This advice is clear yet concise!

  9. Tangentially, did you hear about the – I think it was Indiana? – deputy general who got fired for his tweet? I'm not at the computer where I've got the URL bookmarked, or I'd link it.

    • Thanks, Tom. I love your blog, and I liked your own post about this. Considering why we blog is important, and if it's to reflect, share, learn, etc., I think it's great. If it's to vent, maybe we need to invest in a journal.

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