Myths, Sorcery, & Influence in the Digital Age
This is a timely post for Teacher Appreciation Day celebrating what’s REALLY happening in professional development online.
It’s also a response to professionals and academics out there who still have trouble finding their footing in the digital age. There is some lingering confusion out there as to what teachers actually do online, the substance of their work and why it should make any difference. Some of this confusion manifests itself in the phenomenon of using old yardsticks to measure new dimensions on the cusp of a new frontier. Today, on Teacher Appreciation Day, I will share what we are proud of, as well as address questions of substance and ‘sorcery’
Professional Engagement Online
This is a story of power and influence. Not the kind of egocentric power we may associate with cut-throat business, but that of collective people power. Professional development initiatives online are bringing teachers together from all over the world. Experienced veterans in the ELT field who have established a strong online presence are working together to share their ideas with teachers on the ground.
In the not so distant past, this knowledge and experience was very hard to come by without paying an arm and a leg for it. As for ideas, why would anyone give away ideas? For free?
New definitions of power
As we celebrate teacher’s day today, I feel it’s imperative that we should take a fresh look at the educational landscape. Power no longer means holding the monopoly on information and ideas. Power lies in sharing positive influence and celebrating the fact that those you influence will rise to the occasion and create better things than you have created. The new creations will be celebrated collectively and used to enhance classroom experiences all over the world. The power of sharing online cannot be over-estimated. It is a sea-change occurring beneath the crusty surface of a disgruntled academia still stewing in papers and citations.
Positive influence is all about humanizing action research through the eyes of others.
Those who appear to be ‘magically’ building viral reputations online are simply in tune with the essence of collective teacher integrity. They are able to transmit this to others. They can tap into the minds of others through empathy and experience. If what they do is relevant, it will catch the public imagination. Not everything we do all of the time can be relevant to everybody everywhere because sometimes we need to go back to our own minds to reflect and explore the introspective terrain. Yet this ‘rest’ from social interactivity serves to refuel batteries for more inspiration and more sharing later.
In this dance between introspection, privacy and more public leadership, teachers of substance have a vision beyond fads and votes. Popularity is good only if it makes a difference. Substance comes in many shapes and forms. Popularity does not mean lack of substance or entail some kind of social media manipulation. Lack of public presence, conversely, is neither here nor there. It’s a choice, a temperament, and another kind of magic presence from the inside out.
Whether you see yourself as a public figure or a quiet thinker with your own quiet revolutions, the goal is the same and the magic is the same; true inspiration for true learning.
Then there are those touching moments: video by students of MJ Gsm
Some examples of professional development initiatives online are the MOODLE MOOCs on WiziQ, ELT-T MOOCs, Spring Blog festival, Reform Symposium RSCON, The Electronic Village Online, The Edugoal Movement, The Virtual Round Table Convention, British Council Webinars, IATEFL webinars, and Harrogate online livestreaming events.
Dehumanisation and the competitive spirit.
Before the world became connected we lived in separatist enclaves of the mind. Closed systems reflected closed minds and closed minds perpetuated closed systems. We had elitism versus the hordes. We had white collar supremacy and intellectual ivory towers warding off the masses. The masses were shallow, mainstream drones happy to believe what they watched on tv. The establishment happily made sure to feed their drones enough addictive nonsense to ensure the survival of this policy of mindlessness.
The prevailing mindset was an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. When we are psychologically or physically removed from others, it creates a sense of dehumanization. We categorise groups, nations, and sectors of society without feeling or emotional engagement. This is dehumanization and it is actually a scary part of the human make-up. This feeling of separation is what breeds a harmful competitive spirit where ones value can be felt only through temporary, hollow accolades. When some traditionalists see online professionals share their work online or see their tech-savvy influence, they tend to equate hits and statistics with some kind of incessant game of one-up-man-ship. Yet, any online professional will tell you that this shallow mentality would burn you out in a matter of months and it is also one reason why many of us work together for something greater than statistics.
Sorcery is social
We can no longer refer to ‘the masses’ as ‘drones’ in all good conscience.
The ‘masses’ have been disempowered, dumbed down, and manipulated through bureaucracy and elitism for too long. Today, any teacher from any country, school or situation with an internet connection can hook up with the best minds in the business and gain inspiration. Then they become the best in their business and better than the best. They share their best, and so it goes on.
Here’s an example of dehumanization from a book I’m reading called ‘Mindwise’ – How We Understand what Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want by Nicholas Eply
A case study of workers in a General Motors plant showed statistics of the worst-ever performance from workers. The managers of the plant referred to the workers as no-mind idiots who were only in it for the money. Employees had no control over their work, were given no understanding of how the business worked and worked as isolated cogs day in day out. Morale and morals were at an all-time low.
Then a change in management brought in professional development, inspiring training programmes, workers had a say in organizing things and were trusted to make smart decisions. There was, of course, a massive turnaround in excellence.
I see the situations teachers have to work under in some places today to be the same as those of the dehumanized workers. If teachers are dehumanized, then what of the students under their care? If colleagues dehumanise each other, then what of pride in the profession?
So, what do teachers of substance have to celebrate on teacher’s Day?
1) Professional development opportunities.
2) Supportive networks.
3) Pride in accomplishment and sharing.
4) Opportunities to publish and help students publish.
5) Breaking down barriers and humanizing corrupt systems.
6)An evolution in educational consciousness.
7) Knowing that teachers of tomorrow will succeed through the power of psychology applied to education.
8) Empathy bringing about real creativity.
9) Creativity bringing integrity into the educational mindset.
10) New generations of citizens who will be better than us.
The Academic Heart
Finally, we can celebrate knowledge in all its forms. Intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and humanistic. We are complex beings. We need to open up. Personally speaking, I often gravitate toward intellectual debate and need the company of thinkers to keep my inspiration alive. I read, question and seek out intellectual discourse.
Yet there are times when I feel that intellectualism is biting the intelligence that feeds it. I have found it most succinctly expressed by David Deubelbeiss, and this is what I really wanted to share with teachers today.
You can read David’s article about Teaching and Learning Online: Three Myths busted here. David Deubelbeiss is an educational leader in the field who has done much to inspire teachers everywhere. Yet he gives us the impression that he wants to be seen as an ordinary teacher who champions ordinary moments so that we can have extraordinary results. Check out the amazing breadth of his work here.
Relationships are the key:
“Give your brain a hand”
Teachers of substance live in the love of the common people.
‘Love of the common people ‘ is a folk ballad about poverty popularised by Paul Young in 1983. One way to breach materialistic divisions in society is through education and escaping from the poverty of intellectual, cultural and linguistic oppression.
We can celebrate being ‘common’ as in ‘connected’and we can celebrate being uncommonly free.
Happy Teacher’s Day!!!
What do you think you’ve got to celebrate? Why not share your stories below:)