Allowing the Dispositions of Practice to Guide Online Exchanges

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post lately. It’s an important one. Go read it.

It makes me think about the not-so healthy level of competition that sometimes exists between people. It astounds me that so many people can’t appreciate this simple truth: there is a lot of work to be done in this field. There is plenty for all of us to do. Trashing colleagues we disagree with and belittling those we feel threatened by accomplishes so little. There is no room for ego in our field. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been treated with great respect online and in my work with teachers, but I witness the damage wrought by those who act like sandpaper often, and like Vicki, I sometimes find myself wanting to hibernate as well. 

Today, I got to spend my time with Communities for Learning fellows. Important discussion ensued around the differences between online and face-to-face communities, the unintended consequences and potential costs of establishing an online community to support our face-to-face community, and the varied levels of comfort and discomfort that fellows have about the notion of sharing their thinking in blog posts and in ning. It’s not comfortable. In fact, it requires a great deal of discomfort and courage to post anything online, and at times, the propect of doing so is made that much more terrifying by the existence of those who are more sandpaper than salve, if you know what I mean. I’ve been told that educators who engage online need to grow a thick skin, and while I have witnessed interactions that warrant such advice, I respectfully disagree. I think it makes sense to invest in a different kind of growth, perhaps.

I’m wondering what cyberspace would be like if more people understood and were willing to commit to dispositions of professional practice online as well as on the ground. Doing so might create a sense of safety wherein everyone might feel more comfortable adding their voices to the conversations that take place here. Unless, of course, we’re REALLY only into welcoming certain voices rather than all voices. Practicing the dispositions does not stifle conversation, and it does not silence dissent and the learning that can occur as a result of it. Quite the opposite. Practicing the dispositions silences the judgment that people sometimes begin hurling at others (or themselves) when they feel threatened and defensive. This could leave room for meaningful debate to occur. I also think that practicing these dispositions could potentially improve the quality of  what we share in online spaces.

There are complexities that I haven’t wrestled with around this, of course. I’m really just thinking aloud here right now, in response to some of the valid fears that folks have about adding themselves to the mix online. Trust is a big issue everywhere, it seems. Are there better ways to grow that in our online communities?

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9 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks Angela, both for the link to Vicki’s moving post and for raising the issue here. Because of the many people (like you) who seem to go out of their way to respond warmly and openly to what they find on the net, my own (brief) online journey has been a lot of fun and wholly positive. But I’ve just this minute been reading about the wounded feelings of one contributor to a site that I have come to value greatly, the English Companion Ning. We have learnt, haven’t we, that emails demand a particular kind of care if they’re not to cause more harm than good, and it’s great that you’re encouraging us to develop the same kind of awareness in all our online conversations.

    • Angela says:

      I think I’m still trying to figure this all out for myself as well. When it comes to how we speak to others, raise questions, or challenge perspectives, I think it’s important to do so in a way that is less about criticizing someone and more about inspiring discussion, debate, and growth. I’m also considering the effect that commiting to the dispositions might have on the quality of the thinking and learning and community-building that happens online. I think it could do much to help everyone become better creators and consumers of the information that is shared here.

  2. Thanks for this post.
    I often when reading my online comments think, wow that sread rather harsh.
    The issue with online communities is that we have a challenging time expressing tone in out comments.
    With a face to face community we hear tone although we fall into routine scripting of our perception of others.
    Both display unique challanges.

    One suggesetion (communicaton and conflict 101, we all teach this) is to focus on the issue and idea and not the person. When personal attacks happen they are personal.
    I am not pressing the idea of pointed attacks of marketing and advertising. Just open discussion of ideas.

    Additionally I wonder if those who feel attacked and vonerable on-line are the same people who feel this way in face-to-face communications. This comes down to a esteem issue and how the reader translates the word into personal messages.

  3. Angela says:

    Hi Michael–
    I agree with you completely. So much is left open to interpretation online, but at the same time, there are exchanges that I’ve witnessed where it does become personal and people do act in ways that aren’t professional. The dispositions are about much more than how we treat others as well…and I’m really curious about how practice of them might look online and what the benefit might be of commiting to them in our practices here.

  4. To me, the online exchanges that get really nasty are particularly those where we have depersonalized the other person and forget that they are just that — a REAL person!

    It bothers me to see how unprofessionally many of the Congressmen and Senators have treated professional business people — the Congressmen have no room to complain about poor fiscal management.

    And yet, we see this all over the place! To me, rising above to great leadership REQUIRES taking the high road. It means that we move onward and upward because truly, throwing mud gets everyone dirty.

    Right now it is tough – there is sooo much pressure – more than enough to go around and many people, I think, are especially edgy. It takes certain people, like you, to rise above and see the ethics with how we should act.

    People people people – all we’ve got is people – so we’d better learn how to get along with them! People who want to use computers and technology to teach but forget the people part of the equation will not accomplish anything.

    GREAT post!

    • Angela says:

      Vicki–
      I’m guilty of unprofessional behavior inasmuch as anyone else might be from time to time. I just tend to act it out inside my head because I’m no fan of conflict, and I tend to question my perspective more than most people might. Either way, it gets in the way of more productive work and thought. The older I get, the more I realize that I’m not alone here. We’re all the walking wounded, aren’t we? And you’re right–it’s easy to forget that we are all real people. Especially when we lose faith in the notion that if we simply do good things for the right reasons we’ll be okay. There is often such a desperate drive to accomplish what we need to–to close the deal, to impress, to “win” somehow. It plays itself out in spades online too–doesn’t it? It can get discouraging. Your post was salve for me. Truly. So thank you for sharing that.

  5. Angela-

    Thank you for sharing both these messages. This really get down to the heart of who we are and who we can be as human beings. It is beyond just being professional, but recognizing that we have the power in our words and actions to be the “sandpaper” or the “salve”.

    I am continuously amazed at what happens when human beings from diverse perspectives and positions, bring their best disposition to the table for a shared cause. The outcome is transformative.

    Unfortunately, I am equally amazed at the damage we do to ourselves and to our cause, when we enter the conversations closed- minded, arrogant, disrespectful, and unwilling to learn.

    It is both a question, as Vicki points out of leadership, but also of personal and professional responsibility. Wherever I am learning or leading, I remind my self to answer the following:

    What is the value that I can add to this discussion? this learning? this student or teachers life? this project or process?

    Great post, Angela…as always you do make me smarter!!!

    • Angela says:

      Angela–
      Thanks for dropping by to share. I still consider myself fairly new to blogging and to using other social networking tools like Twitter to learn from others. The prompts you share should be pasted to each learner and leader’s bathroom mirror for easy and frequent reference : ) I know that in my own moments of frustration, I could use the reminder. Throughout this week, conversations were unfolding around me about shifting the focus away from attaining goals–away from the products and the prizes and the “win” long enough to study the process of how we go about getting there. What you are saying fits right in. These are the enduring questions of our profession. It’s easy to forget that.

  6. Nadine N says:

    Great post, as always…really made me think. You are right, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a real person behind a post or a tweet. I had a recent personal experience that really drove home the point that face to face communication is essential to really understand the person who posts. This will make me think twice next time I judge a person based strictly on what they write. In addition, I think it’s important to carefully chose words when writing so as to not seem negative, judgemental, or confrontational – just in case you never get a chance to meet your reader face to face. Diverse opinions can be productive and help us grow and learn, but a sensitive approach is important as well.

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