Image Source: http://photowebs.blogspot.com/2006/03/transparent-butterfly.html
Think about your topic, and ask yourself what do you believe in, not as a researcher but as a human being? Do you think it is possible to be totally unbiased about a topic, to have no opinions one way or the other?
Source: Beloo Mehra
As a citizen-journalist, a poor one at that I think, I’m often engaged by stories that authentically remind me why people do the things they do…the role of those stories is to paint a picture, a picture that portrays what has occurred and allows me to come along for the journey. If I’m fortunate, the author of the story has declared his/her biases and is merely sharing what is happening. I expect honesty, openness and transparency.
Even if s/he is cheering for what happens in the story, if I know what their bias is, at least, I know what is happening…I can subtract their participation from the story and obtain a true account, an accurate reporting informed by a well-reasoned opinion, however, I disagree/agree with it.
In qualitative research, it is a matter of declaring your biases. When I read the news I’m reminded that the motivation of the journalist also must be factored in. One would hope that citizen-journalists would do the same.
My bias in THIS blog entry is that I’m an educator who believes change is necessary, that K-12 educators need to be telling “their” story, sharing what is happening at their schools, in their classrooms, in the offices, as openly and transparently as possible. My bias is that I believe that most educators live in fear of speaking up, fear of losing their jobs, being censured, being called into their supervisor’s office or at Human Resources and asked, with the force of temporal power lurking behind each word, “So, tell us. What do you really believe and why should we continue to employ you if you’re going to say this about us?” Instead, anyone with with the temerity to be transparent about the work they are doing should be celebrated and applauded.
Image Source: Tank Man
My bias is that organizations, especially the Central Authorities, are AFRAID of what might be said, that they simply don’t trust their people and are not brave enough to change the culture that, as Dennis Sparks writes in “Reach for the Heart as well as The Mind” published in the Journal of Staff Development (Winter, 2009; Vol. 30, No.1), trumps process and content.
A school’s culture and structures either enable or disable the application of new knowledge and skills…Process trumps content when it comes to teachers applying research in their classrooms. The learning process must be sufficiently robust to ensure that the content has been understood and acted upon. When it comes to all teachers in a school using research to continuously improve teaching and learning, context trumps both content and process.
Since culture is so powerful, it is critical that honesty, openness and transparency be our bywords–as citizen-journalists, as educators, as newspaper journalists.
Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business.
The rise of Social Media–everyone a reporter and creator of ideas and information with a global audience–makes disingenous that storied transparency that seeks to spin, an act of lying self-evident by those who give voice to what has happened.
The stories we tell about ourselves influence other’s perception of what we’re sharing about. Shouldn’t those stories be true? Should our perspective be balanced when we’re talking about stories that we “own” or have earned the right to speak about, or should they be slanted towards our perspective? After all, if I own a story, why should I bother being “balanced” about it?
I took a fresh look at these ideas and questions after attending a workshop. The workshop was a one-day retreat for 20-25 administrators and instructional leaders. While there was much to praise, I felt myself growing nervous about one of the perspectives shared. I did point out my nervousness to the facilitator but found some of the ideas expressed powerful and worth sharing.
Consider this series of ideas expressed by the facilitator….
Telling a positive, engaging story…the district becomes the stories it tells. Don’t tell the story of the 1 time when a kid screws up, but rather than 9 times they did something right. It is…a story of redemption and revision.
Let’s take these ideas one at a time. As I listened to the speaker, I was struck by the idea that school principals shouldn’t be just telling positive engaging stories. . .they should also tell the stories where things don’t go well. We must do our best to transparently report what happens, and the decisions ADULTS in K-12 education organizations make. We can’t just tell good stories to counter-act the bad ones that legislators are telling. Telling stories is important, though. As shared in Dennis Spark’s article, some ineffective approaches to changing ourselves and others include:
- Facts – humans are more emotional, less reasonable than they think
- Fear – only works for a short time
- Force – which can take many forms.
We have to do our best to portray what has occurred in our school, in our district, in our organization. While we may “own our story,” we have to be diligently open about how we communicate that story, we have to be transparent about our own biases, carefully laying them to the side.
In the story of the “kid” who screwed up, a principal is sitting in her office. The student has just returned from in-school suspension when very important persons walk in for a tour of the school. The principal points out to the group that the student is to be honored as one of the experts at the school in something (I forget the exact words used). In the story, the principal chooses to tell what the child has done right instead of focus on the 9 things the child did wrong, namely, whatever act they committed to earn them in-school suspension.
The story is positive, but leaves one with a sour taste. A child has been manipulated, raised up. Why couldn’t the child’s transgression have been acknowledged after the child was out of earshot, a recognition that we are human beings and each of us makes mistakes and has successes to be proud of? Or, better yet, find a way to handle the child without involving the child in a positive, engaging story that paints a story that is not the WHOLE story?
Is this perspective inaccurate or wrong? What do you think?
One of the exercises in the workshop challenges participants to write their own story about their organization. . .because the stories we tell is what our organization becomes. Can you see the problem with that perspective? I’m troubled because while on the one hand you realize that the story is powerful, there is a desire to control that story. How can any organization empower principals, teachers, parents to tell the story, if that story first has to be carefully crafted to reflect the best and brightest of an organization?
Simply, this is impossible. One of the excerpts from a poem shared during the workshops includes Marge Piercy, The Moon is Always Female. It emphasizes that…
How can you stop them? Alone, you can fight, you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can but they will roll over you…
…A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter, ten thousand, power and your own paper, a hundred thousand, your own media….
I challenged the idea expressed in the poem. The fact is, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, wikis enable a level of participatory journalism that means I don’t have to wait to garner ten thousand to obtain power and a newspaper. Now, I can organize that ten thousand online by encouraging them to pursue their own self-interest. More importantly, I don’t have to CONTROL anyone…I simply have to empower them to share what is going on in their worlds. But that control is not granted by Public Relations or Communications Offices, or those they report to. Instead, freedom of expression is tightly controlled because the stories aren’t as positive as the slick flyer or press release says it is.
Transparency is lost when leaders exert spin control, crafting their own stories, to portray an image of what they would like the organization to be without first pointing out, “This is our vision, this is who we’d like to be, but we’re not there yet.” When we seek to “synchronize our watches” and the stories we tell, we toss aside the courage to lead and embrace the tyranny of fear that haunts the enslaved thrall laboring in un-witnessed obscurity.
I wish school district leaders would read the following quote from Jeff Jarvis, writing about newspaper leaders, and consider this for application in their own organizations:
Its leaders should be seeing the potential in collaborating with those bloggers, nonprofit news entities and TV news to create and curate news in new and expansive and more efficient (and profitable) ways. Instead, they want to do it all – and own and control it all – themselves. They don’t see and thus can’t exploit the new economics of the Google age. Instead, they defend their ways. No amount of protest against change will stop it.
As I listened to the speaker discuss telling “stories of redemption and revision,” I was shocked. I was shocked because our goal should never be revision.
As I was writing down these ideas about telling a positive, engaging story that represents your organization, I missed what the second word was in the story of redemption and…something else. Until I could ask for clarification, for fun, I wrote in my notes other words that could be used to fill in the word I hadn’t quite heard. Here are some of the choices i came up with:
Stories of redemption and….
Obviously, the words in RED are problematic. I would have far preferred a story of redemption and reconciliation. I’ve always liked the word “reconciliation.” It doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen alongside the good…rather, it means that they are made consistent, compatible. It means a fundamental re-alignment of what we do, who we are and the external reality.
Maybe, I like the idea of reconciliation because I’m Catholic. Maybe, it’s because I’m a Libra and the balance of the scales catches my attention. Let’s consider this Catholic account of reconciliation together:
Why would anybody voluntarily reveal their failures, faults or even their crimes? God has given you a wonderful freedom to love him, his creation and everyone in it. When you sin, you misuse that freedom. Fortunately, sin doesn’t have to have the last word in your life. You can repent and turn back to God. Jesus is there to help you make that move.
What if we were to consider stories of reconciliation in a different way using the account below?
Why would anybody voluntarily reveal their failures, faults, or even their crimes? You have been given a wonderful freedom to work for the betternment of children, parents, and educators in your school community. When you willfuly choose to talk only about what makes your school look good, you mis-use that freedom. Fortunately, your desire to hide what happens at your school won’t be the last word in your life. You can choose to be transparent about what do you do right and wrong in school governance, while protecting student/employee confidentiality, and the whole Community is there to help you be transparent. The more open you are about the mistakes, errors made, the easier it can be for the community to help you resolve them.
Is this account too idealistic? Like Jeff Jarvis, I believe that sharing is our civic duty. It is important that we do step up and be open and transparent about what is happening in our schools.
And, central office staff shouldn’t be in the position of granting permission or encouraging positive stories. Instead, the focus should be on doing what’s right in schools and empowering everyone in those academic communities to share their perspective on what is happening, as openly, as honestly and transparently as possible.
That story must come from every facet of our learning organizations and community. Where are the silent?
Note to the Reader: Thanks for reading. I wanted to better explore my reaction to some of the ideas espoused in the workshop I attended recently. I have done my best to not identify the provider of the workshop, the venue or the reason why I participated. I did want to reflect on the ideas encountered and found the 1-day retreat to short a time to do so, especially without putting the presenter on the spot in front of others. I also share these ideas because maybe *I* am mistaken, maybe my ideas as expressed are half-baked and need more reflection and sunshine.
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