Are You Willing to Lose Followers for This?

It's pretty rare for someone to unfollow a person on Twitter because he or she doesn't like homework. It's a safe topic, even if it stirs up a little controversy. Same goes with being for or against Professional Learning Communities.

However, there are certain topics that will lead to a loss of blog subscritpions and Twitter followers. In the past, I've seen this happen when I wrote about racism and Trayvon Martin or my support for marriage equality or when I mentioned my faith or my beliefs about immigration.

It doesn't have to be inflamatory, either. People shy away from discomfort and issues that make us uncomfortable sometimes seem to go against the notion of a PLN. We're supposed to be talking about education and learning and the best strategies to help kids learn.

And yet . . .

Some of our kids and co-workers are gay and will be affected emotionally if they don't have the same legal rights as others. Similarly, undocumented immigrant children have this cloud above them that can cover up their dreams. And faith, as divisive as it may be, often informs the values and philosophies of teachers.

We don't teach in a social, political and economic vacuum. And while being rude or preachy or sanctimonious are all dangerous traps for teachers (myself included) I am struck by the fact that these "outside" issues often permeate the classroom experience. What if, in talking about these issues, we get a chance to model meaningful, respectful discourse? What if, in advocating for these things, we get to offer a human perspective that's often missing from the debate about ideas?

So, it has me thinking . . .

What issues do you choose to be public about even if it means you'll lose followers, subscribers and friends?
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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7 comments:

  1. I'm very disappointed that the most important issues result in unfollowing, pretty much lending creedance to the argument that we are seeking echo chambers here. I was so proud of tweeps like you and Amanda Dykes for speaking up during the Trayvon Martin verdict. You were both saying different things, but each came from the heart and with obvious honesty and critical thought. In contrast, I was fairly disappointed in the deafening silence from our sphere in regards to such an important issue in education (not to mention the lack of chats on Prism and NSA issues).

    I too have become both very wary and also much more honest in the way I post. On one hand, I'm much more reluctant to engage in serious debate online. I don't think it's a good arena for conflict, respectful or otherwise. On the other hand, I'm much more eager to have people unfollow me that should be unfollowing me.

    One of the things I respect about you is the extent to which you understand and critically reflect upon your own privilege as a white, middle class male who has an audience. This always comes through in your conversations and creations.

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  2. John,

    While there are inappropriate things for teachers to discuss via Social Media, the things you mention are important to our students. We should not worry about un following. The number of followers we have or don't have has no impact on our students. If our audience is our friends, they should already know our political and religious leanings-or they are not really our friends. I'm always open for discussion. If the other person is irrational or a bully, I sleep on it and decide the next day if I should un follow. I am open and honest about my faith online

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  3. Well, considering that I've been called snarky and disrespectful quite a number of times because of the candid nature of my own blogging, I can probably speak to this. In fact, I was just writing about this in some way the other day.

    I obviously choose to be vocal about issues concerning education but the issues outside of education? Of course. I have political and social beliefs that fall on the side of "liberal" (if you have to attach a label) and I will readily share them when I want to and I honestly think that it's doing students a disservice when you tell teachers "be careful what you say" when it comes to such issues.

    I am sometimes careful about what I post or tweet not because I don't want to get in trouble but because I want to sound intelligent or like I know what I'm talking about (granted, I usually don't anyway) or I want to be careful not to feed ignorance. I have plenty of friends who have posted extremely intolerant things on Twitter or Facebook. I've either ignored it or quietly blocked those things because I wonder if responding to it would justify it. You know, how getting mad about someone's nutjobbery gives them credence or something.

    And this comment is probably a rambling, incoherent mess, BUT I would like to say that while I thought your comments about Trayvon Martin were spot on, knowing how you usually express yourself when we're not in agreement politically I wouldn't have unfollowed you. It's not like you were deliberately trying to start some sort of flamewar or something.

    I wonder how much fear goes into getting your hackles up about someone having a different opinion, just like I wonder what motivates those who would accuse any teacher who has opposite beliefs of trying to "indoctrinate" their kids. Is it fear that they'll consider a different opinion, that they'll see both sides of a story, that they will think for themselves?

    I don't believe in preaching at my students. But I also don't believe in the sentiment that I don't have a perspective to offer. No, I don't have a monopoly on [insert rhetoric here] but I'd like to think that my education and experience can bring something to the table and that I can model an effective discourse and there's nothing wrong with that.

    That probably made no sense.

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  4. Twitter is a great place to hear from people from outside of your usual circles and in a non-threatening way. I wouldn't unfollow someone who differed in opinions from me. I find it interesting to hear different views. If the person was continuously preaching & shouting about things to the point I felt judged and was developing an inferiority complex about it...that would be different. That's not what you're doing.

    Honest, sincere, respectful discussions shouldn't be a problem. They give us a chance to develop empathy for the "other side" and greater understanding of the issues that we can't get from mainstream media (which is often slanted). As you say, these are issues that impact education too.

    I don't think Twitter is a good platform for in-depth discussions but that's where the invitations are posted to visit people's blogs and that is a better place.




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  5. I don't blog and am only on the fringes of using social media, but I am a teacher and learner....and have beliefs that are defined by faith in Christ and by the truth of His Word. I share those and stand for those, but I don't impose my beliefs on other people. The only influence that I could be is if my life is evidence of the grace of God and the difference that He has made in who I am. Like you mentioned, isn't the purpose of these interactions to respectfully discuss the issues that affect our lives, and the lives of the kiddos we pour into.....I would speak about the beliefs that I hold and stand for them and hope that I could disagree with others without damaging them.
    Thanks for this question and for being willing to hear the perspective of others who see differently.

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  6. The whole notion of civil discourse is one sadly lacking both online and off. I think we continue to struggle with focusing on ideas and not letting things get personal. That said, many issues are just that, personal.

    I have strong convictions and most of my educational beliefs are the ones I'll be most vocal about. Moral issues are ones I might not be as willing to voice online if only because I feel like they often require more context. I don't have any issues with these discussions happening, I'm just more careful to be too opinionated. That's not to say I've never engaged in such debate but as Vivian said, twitter isn't the best place. I've not chosen to use my blog for anything other than a professional space and random posting on blogs or forums are again, too easily taken out of context.

    To me the issue remains teaching and modeling how to have these conversations in respectful ways that actually teach and aren't just debates with the intent of winning.

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  7. Dear Royan,
    It's not quite as dramatic as I made it in this post. The truth is that I've gained followers for the same reason. And, more importantly, I've made friends with people who have very different beliefs about the universe. Ultimately, that's pretty awesome.

    Dear Suzanne,
    You're right. It's really not about the numbers. Thanks for the reminder.

    Dear Tom,
    I think you nailed it in mentioning the fear factor (bad word choice, I suppose, if you're now imagining people eating bugs). The truth is that we can only take so much discomfort without feeling tired or angry.

    Dear Vivian,
    You've got a point about Twitter. It's hard to have in-depth, nuanced conversations 140 characters at a time.

    Dear Jenny,
    Well put. I think it's critical to express without imposing the beliefs.

    Dear Dean,
    I'm okay with beliefs being personal. Moral issues are tough. So are ones of spirituality or social justice. But to what extent do we hide beliefs when we always stay professional.

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Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.