The Manual

Earlier this week my friend Royan Lee wrote about Peel District School Board’s new Social Media Guidelines.  

When I read them I had a pretty strong reaction to them:

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The reality was that I hated the Guidelines even more than I was tweeting out.  I was angry at Peel for sanitizing/sterilizing something that I loved. Guidelines such as “We strongly advise against the use of a blended personal and professional account. Staff are encouraged to maintain a clear distinction between their personal and professional social media use, and should have two separate accounts for these purposes” made me compare the board to this 1990s Lysol commercial: 

As other #ONTED educators weighed in, my position softened.  In fact it was Carla Pereira that really got me thinking.  She wrote that Peel’s suggestions “guide staff in the safe and effective use of social media. For those who were hesitant, they now have a clear sense that the board supports the use of SM and wants them to use it confidently.”

Carla is right; people do need a starting point.  If, however, these guidelines move from starting point to something more like a teacher’s manual, then we’re in trouble.

In my opinion, the teacher’s manual is a plague on our Educational System.  Manuals stop teachers from thinking critically about their students and good pedagogy.  When teachers, follow “the plan” or “the manual” or “the binder”, they stop wondering about why students aren’t understanding/growing/developing. Assessment turns into evaluation and marking instead of a conversation

At the risk of borrowing from something a little over-referenced, Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about Changing Education Paradigms perfectly describes the scourge of the manual. He talks about how our education systems tell students that “there’s one answer. It’s at the back and don’t look”.  Manuals are scripts, and answer sheets for teaching.  They ensure consistency in delivery, not quality of learning.

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Robinson encourages us to use new modalities of learning grow divergent thinking in our students:

“Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but it’s an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question to think what Edward de Bono would probably call laterally – to think not just in linear or convergent ways. To seek multiple answers, not one.”

If a teacher is teaching the program or the manual or the binder so that all sections of a course get the exact same message, then how is s/he developing divergent thinking?  More importantly, how are those students’ learning needs really being met? It’s not right that learning is sacrificed at the expense of consistency.

That argument can also be extended to a professional’s use of social media.  

If we start sanitizing people’s conversations to maintain a consistent voice for the profession, then we run the risk of removing some of the elements that make social media beautiful. 

We run the risk of professionals being less willing to vulnerably share their failures and seek out help. “What if a parent is watching?”  "What if my boss is watching?“ "What if my students are watching?”

We run the risk of educators sending out nothing but boring lists of “Top Ten Ways To Who-Gives-A-Care” from Zite and updates to their classroom calendars.

We run the risk of teachers never building meaningful connections with others in the same profession from around the world.

I hope Carla is right.  I hope Peel’s Social Media Guidelines are just a list of suggestions written to help educators venturing into social media for the first time.  I also hope that they were written to help those of us that need a reminder to behave ourselves online.

More than anything, I hope educators read the Guidelines mindfully and use them as a starting point to from which to grow.  I really hope they never become set of rules to adhere to, or (still worse) a manual for social media. 

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