In high-freedom environments, people use social tools for fun. In low-freedom environments they use them for political action.
Back in October, 2008, a TEA official shared a lesson about the nature of public information. I thought it was right on target then, and, as you’ll see further down, it continues to be on target. It’s an important lesson that ALL of us need to learn, from administrators to teachers and anyone who lives in these times. Transparency is important…

  • “Transparency”: Nothing to hide
  • “Transparent: free from pretense or deceit; readily understood; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices” (Meriam-Webster.com)

The TEA official below–Anita Givens–shared a lesson she’d learned and I hope you find that lesson as memorable as I did.

One thing I will share with you that is important for us…and I learned this lesson the hard way…a long time ago, I could talk in groups because what was said in this room stayed in this room. [when] technology made it possible that what was said would not stay in this room so I don’t say it anymore.

I tell all our new staff…anything you say or do as a TEA employee has to be OK to be on the front page of the Austin-American Statesman or the London Times. As long as it is OK to appear in those publications, and now on the world wide web. anybody, anywhere to see or hear. If you’re uncomfortable with what you say or do, don’t say it or don’t do it. That’s the mantra we have to live by because we are state public officials.
Read Source

This reminds me of Seth Godin’s points in Meatball Sundae. For anyone in a public arena, you have to fundamentally change your approach. One of the tough moments in Godin’s book is this section quoted below. I don’t know why but every time I read it, I get chills…and I seldom get chills when reading Stephen King but Godin, well, that’s something different.

All I’m arguing for is synchronization. Don’t use the tactics of one paradigm and the strategies of another and hope that you’ll get the best of both. You won’t. After just a few minutes of conversation…one person realized, “So, if we embrace this approach, we don’t have to just change our Web site–we’re going to have to change everything about our organization. Our mission, our structure, our decision making….” Exactly.
[Emphasis mine]
Source: Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae

The scary part about this is that this paragraph makes it seem like it’s a choice to change. But it isn’t a choice over time…if an organization fails to change, there is going to be increasing conflict between the way the organization works and the culture around it. That’s why we’re watching newspapers die in the face of the bloggers and the Internet. And, if you don’t accept the lesson that you’re always on parade–would Google publish a picture of your front yard if you were standing in it? Maybe not yet…but someday?–it can have catastrophic consequences…sort of like a car on a road under construction where the the drop-off to the shoulder is a foot high.

What IS the fundamental mission of an organization like a state education agency? Is such an organization TOO big to remember what its mission is and then to transform and redefine “what they actually do to add value?”

As an educator, one of the things I look forward to is information sharing…open and transparent access. If I were working in an organization like a state education agency, it wouldn’t be enough to know that the microphone was always on. It’s not enough to realize that there are some things you share and some you don’t–is it wrong to think, you are open and transparent about everything in education?

Consider how this conversation–one that is frank, clearly a “fierce conversation” about the realities of state education agency–is made available on the Web, a news scoop if there ever was one. Yet, if these issues were being discussed aloud, shared openly, would they even exist?

A couple of high-ranking Texas Education Agency officials forgot about a valuable reminder recently: Watch what you say in the presence of a microphone.

The State Board of Education committee on instruction had just adjourned when TEA Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds and Gina Day, a deputy associate commissioner, began chatting candidly about the State Center for Early Childhood Development. The two education officials were unaware that their 7-minute chat was being broadcast live via the Internet.

The two officials were discussing problems with the State Center, which runs the state’s Pre Kindergarten program.

The Texas Education Agency removed the audio from its website last week after learning that the private discussion involving Reynolds and Day was part of the broadcast.
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As edubloggers know, removing a blog post or audio is NOT recommended. What if TEA had taken a different approach to this audio? What if they had written in their blog and shared MORE information on the thoughts of those high-ranking officials and what they were doing to fix the problems?

Is this kind of perspective naive?


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