photo courtesy of fmgbain on Flickr

During this week’s edchat I saw a name scroll by that made me look twice. Mixed among the many tweets was a tweet from Diane Ravitch.  I had just recently read an adaptation from her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education in American Educator, which I had really enjoyed.  For those of you not familiar with Ravitch, she was Assistant Secretary of Education for George W. Bush and a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act when it was first passed. Over the years she changed her views and is now adamantly against the policy.  In short, she is highly influential and well-respected amongst many educators and policy makers.

Thus, seeing her name scroll by caught my eye and my attention. It also caught attention of some other edchat participants. What ensued was a debate over whether to acknowledge her presence or not. On one side, edchat is not about who is more important, or as it was put, about ‘rock stars.’  On the other side, edchat participants want their voices heard. Some of us feel like we’re trapped in a bubble, with all of our ideas, reflections, experience and knowledge bouncing around inside our community without escaping into the mainstream.  “I wish Arne Duncan was here to hear this,” or “It’s too bad Obama isn’t at edchat tonight” are some of the comments I’ve read over the last year.

So, when Ravitch’s name crossed my twitstream, it was a big deal. At least to me. I thanked her for participating in the conversation. This sparked a conversation with an edchat participant I respect about whether we should be highlighting people who participate in edchat just because they are influential.

What makes edchat unique is that it is for and by the participants. While there are moderators and organizers, it is ultimately the participants who choose the topic and make the conversation. The conversation moves so fast (Ravitch herself confessed it was too fast for her!) and there are so many ideas flying by that when an idea or comment catches my eye, or if I engage in conversation, I may only have enough time to make a note of the Twitter handle. Often, I must go back afterwards and look through the stream to learn more about a person I was conversing with. More than often, this person becomes part of my learning network.  While they may not be as highly influential on a larger scale, they are influential to me and I respect their ideas and the dialogue that we share.

So do we treat someone who is influential and well-known, an established member of the education field, differently than we would a colleague?

I don’t think we should treat a ‘rock star’ in education differently than our colleagues. I think we should engage them on the same level we would our colleagues. I think we do need to keep in mind, however, that if we don’t remind ourselves of someone’s influence or if we shrug someone off due merely to their influence, we run the risk of perpetuating the ‘us vs. them’ culture between those of us who are in the classroom and those outside the classroom or those with seemingly little power and those who seem to have all of the power. Of course, ideally, it should be educators who are the policy makers and educators who run schools and the school system. In order for this to happen, we need to engage policy makers and so-called ‘rock stars’ in our conversation and expose them to our day-to-day struggles and our innovative ideas and practices in the classroom.

What are your thoughts?

11 Comments

  1. Reply

    Mary Beth,
    I appreciate this post so much ! While I am not a big "fan" person, I totally understand the feeling you had when you saw that she was part of the edchat conversation. I had a similar experience when Daniel Pink, author of Drive and other books I have enjoyed, responded to one of my tweets. For a moment I was taken aback, perhaps a bit starstruck, but mostly appreciative of the conversation between 2 people who shared a comment interest: improving the lives of others. I agree with you that it's helpful to acknowledge folks with a certain expertise, while also acknowledging each other, who serve in the daily work with kids each day. Thanks for your insights!

  2. Kyle Pace

    Reply

    Great post MB. There were several comments by a particular person right at the end of EdChat about us not recognizing Diane Ravitch. You and I both knew she was there, and we both had a similar reaction within the first 5 minutes of EdChat. Something like, "Whoa! Did you see who was here?" Then honestly once we got into our usual "groove" like we do every Tuesday night, I didn't think about it again until the end.

    I appreciate this other person bringing it to my attention, what I didn't appreciate was the criticism about us as moderators when you're trying to manage anywhere up to 1,000 people and around 3,000 tweets in an hour. We apparently weren't engaging enough and didn't give the "rock star" treatment to Ms. Ravitch. Did she deserve it? Of course. Did she want it or request it? I doubt it and no she didn't. Had Ms. Ravitch requested a special edition edition of EdChat to engage with the participants that would have been a totally different story.

    Where I see my failure as a moderator was that I knew she was there, and I didn't engage her as a participant. I try to engage with as many as realistically possible, but maybe I should have made more of an effort to engage Ms. Ravitch. An equal participant with tremendous experience yes, but I think she was just trying to follow the conversation as we all do.

  3. Reply

    Mary, you are right on target with your inclusive approach to involving "rock stars" or district or campus leadership in the conversations. I can assure we are all on the same team (I am a practicing superintendent) and require each other's support and expertise to do what we are called to do…educate the children of our nation. If we (educators) are ever going to make progress with the policy makers and the naysayers of public education we need to be united on all fronts. There is so much to do in this nation and we have to enact change in the minds and actions of national and state policy makers so we can best serve our students. Thank you for your comments and thank you for the work you do for students. Please continue to engage everyone…it is the only way to truly make a difference.

  4. Cheryl

    Reply

    Diane Ravitch is an influential person who's earned the respect of many of us. It seems to me we can acknowledge that while treating her as a colleague. Here's an example on a smaller scale: I changed careers to education, and have only been teaching four years. When a respected, experienced teacher works on a project with me or stops to listen, I thank him or her. Ms. Ravitch gives teachers a great deal of respect, and she acknowledges the importance of listening to us. I don't think that acknowledging her position in education puts her on a pedestal. I think it's just polite.

  5. Chad Sansing

    Reply

    Muy thought-provoking. MB.

    Would we object to thanking any other first time participant for jumping in? Would we ignore Arne Duncan or the KIPP boys?

    I don't think we should ever self-censor thanks or invitations to join #edchat. We should, however, mind our cheerleading and be careful to balance it with push. We need to interrogate our own status quo, as well as traditional public education's status quo.

    To a certain extent, we need the involvement of folks at the policy level to push for sweeping change. However, more urgently, we need to engage with one another about the deeper pedagogical issues and beliefs about school that underly most #edchat conversations. Even more urgently, we need to decide if we're going to play along with school despite our rhetoric or subvert harmful practices in our classrooms.

    Karen Lewis, from the Chicago Teacher's Union, might be someone to invite to help us explore such issues from the point of view of a rank and file teacher who has won union leadership in order to take on misconceptions about education perpetuated by the media and government.

    How do you think #edchat should evolve? Would it be a sell-out to invite corporate reformers to moderate a session asking teachers for their feedback about #edreform? Would doing that be any different than inviting in Arne Duncan? What if we spent a week asking ourselves what we're afraid of in taking on the system, as well as asking one another for accountability and support? Have we asked ourselves who we are? Are we hearing from rural and urban districts? Would demographic research lead us anywhere new in reform?

    We've got Ravitch listening. Where do we go from here?

    Bestest,
    C

  6. Kathy

    Reply

    There was a post yesterday from Weblogg-ed entitled "yeah, you've got problems, so solve them." So, it seems to me that if the federal policy maker/power brokers are part orare thee "big problem" of public education, then it seems we need to engage those who have the ear of those policy makers. As stated, Diane Ravitch seems to respect the thoughts, ideas and opinions of educators, so it would make sense that we, as educators look to solve some of the federal policy problems by interacting with Diane Ravitch and others when given the opportunity and treat her with the same respect we would our colleagues. I thank people when they write cool stuff or are even interested in my opinion…so why this would this be different. Thanks for the discussion.

  7. Reply

    As one who works with "the powers that be" often with speakers, influencers, politicians, etc I am well aware that we don't want to elevate any person's position solely based on their power…however engagement at Edchat has always been based on presence and participation and when an influencer chooses to come listen and participate in the conversation we want to embrace that person as well. It's not that we're going to believe that the voice of one is more important than the voice of many, but to help a strong voice speak out is always an important part of developing new concepts. I say put out the welcome mat every time individuals plug in and help do what needs to be done and present their side of the situations.

  8. bhsprincipal

    Reply

    Thanks for the post. I think the thing I love about #edchat and interacting with educators on Twitter is that there is no hierarchy. One of my favorite things about building a PLN on here is that everyone is so welcoming to the newbies. It doesn't matter who you are, it is about what you have to contribute to the conversation.

    Again, this is coming from a guy who was somewhat intimidated to run into some folks who I perceive as rock stars at Educon a few months back.

    Rock on!

  9. Reply

    Good point, Cheryl about being polite. Thanks for your reflections. I agree that when a teacher who has more experience engages me about what I do I feel thankful!

  10. Reply

    Having Ms. Ravitch in the #edchat was nice, but in my opinion didn't affect the flow of the chat the other night or how members interacted with each other. She added some good comments and perspecitve, but I don't think that anyone waited for her to lead the discussion (if they were they were disappointed).

    I am glad that some of the "players" are beginning to listen in on our conversations, the teachers and administrators who participate in #edchat do have important ideas to share and should be heard beyond our echo chamber (which sometimes it seems what it is). But as far how much the "rock star" affected our conversation the other night, I didn't really notice her presence but I was glad she was there to listen to what we had to say.

    Who knows something that she heard the other night might make a difference to something she does in the future, isn't that what we are trying to do – influence the future of education?

    Harold

  11. Reply

    Mary Beth:

    I think the best part of #edchat is that I'm not intimidated by anyone. I rightly acknowledge that there are smarter people there, better spoken people there, and probably more attractive people there, too. In the real world if you put me in a room with these people (and I had an idea who they were already) I'd probably sit there and listen. I'd rarely say a word. #edchat allows all of us to be equal.

    That all said… I had no idea who Diane Ravitch is / was. Not sure how that worked, to be honest – guess I didn't pay attention to much during either of the Bush administrations. I did not like #edchat the week that Alfie Kohn was brought in simply because I felt that we were giving him the "rock star treatment". Although he has a lot of amazing ideas, I didn't like the "politics" of it.

    I think celebrities and "rock stars" ought to participate in #edchat, but I don't think we should deviate from the norm and treat them special. If you had said Arne Duncan was online the entire chat would've changed. I don't want a person's presence to distract from the content of #edchat 🙂

    (but you were ok to welcome her – I welcome newbies and other #edchatters quite often)

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