Anonymous Education Bloggers Must Balance Freedom and Prudence

The Houston Chronicle reports on a number of teachers who blog, a trend that they describe as largely anonymous. Some teachers blog for “free therapy,” while others blog to defend public education, and still others use the medium to interact with other educators.

Of course, blogging about work is a complicated matter for those who work in the helping professions. Issues of confidentiality are paramount, which is why so many teachers who blog do not use their real name or divulge their location. However, simply avoiding names does not solve the problem. Some districts are considering implementing policies about online communication by staff:

Most Houston-area districts have remained silent on the issue of what teachers may post on their blogs, although the Katy school district issued a stern warning to employees last fall after some expressed concern about educators and students chatting online. link

Clearly, publicly badmouthing students, parents, or co-workers is unprofessional and ill-advised, even when blogging anonymously. However, blogs can be a healthy and responsible way to communicate online, provided that appropriate precautions are taken. The Chronicle article says:

“While the district does not have the authority to prevent district employees from subscribing to these types of applications from their homes or from exercising their rights to free speech, employees are held accountable for adhering to the state code of ethics for educators,” wrote Lenny Schad, Katy’s deputy superintendent for information and technology services. link

Whether or not you choose to blog anonymously, there are several factors to keep in mind:

  • Domain registration – if you own your own domain name, the WHOIS record can reveal your identity unless you use private registration
  • Social networking – if you use MySpace or similar online services, your network of “friends” or contacts can reveal your identity or location even if you don’t state them explicitly.
  • Comments – if one of your readers knows your true identity, they can reveal it by leaving a comment. For this reason, it may be wise to moderate comments, so you have to approve each one before it appears on your site.
  • Inbound links – if other blogs link to yours and use your name in the link, your blog can turn up in search results even if you never reveal your identity on your site
  • District policies – if your district has a strict policy against personal use of school computers, blog only from home
  • Permanence – most blogs are checked automatically by feed readers every few hours, and once something is published, it’s safe to assume that it can never be completely deleted

Social networking sites such as MySpace raise a host of other issues, such as the problematic nature of inadvertently linking to inappropriate material via contacts’ profiles. For that reason, I recommend blogging only on services that do not have extensive social networking features. Even if you do not blog about work, using your real name or work location on a social networking site will allow students to find you, which creates complications that are probably not worth dealing with.

Blogging, however, can be useful and enjoyable if done ethically and prudently.

How to Minimize Reactionary Reply-Alls

If you are sending an email to a group, and want to discourage people from sending reactionary responses to the whole group, you can use the BCC field in your email application:

  • In Outlook, create a new message.
  • Click View -> BCC Field
  • Enter your own email address in the TO: field
  • Enter the group address(es) in the BCC: field

Any replies to the message will only go to you, so if someone wants to send their response to everyone, they will have to enter the addresses manually, if they even know them.

Starting Confused: How Leaders Start When They Don’t Know Where to Start

In this Phi Delta Kappan article, Barry C. Jentz and Jerome T. Murphy of Harvard explain how a new educational leader can “hit the ground learning” rather than “hit the ground running,” in order to become established as a leader and avoid making hasty decisions.

Starting Confused: How Leaders Start When They Don’t Know Where to Start

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