Small Steps Toward Transparency

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot more talking and listening than reading and writing. It’s felt good. Two particularly strong Klingenstein marketing classes with Mark Neustadt initiated incredible conversation around the role of social media in education. As a cohort, we’ve had very little conversation around “the future” of education. While I’ve been disappointed – we are enrolled in one of the best leadership programs in the country – I’ve noticed a change in the past few weeks and there’s a certain energy in the air. In fact, I’ve had three members of the cohort  ask about RSS and enlist my help in setting up a reader account. And two have joined Twitter! It’s okay to be (very) excited about these five conversations, right?!

In light of these small steps in the right direction, I’m even more encouraged by the “weightier” conversations around transparency that have been taking place. Will Richardson wrote a post almost a year ago entitled Transparency = Leadership where he ends with the following question (from Dov Seidman’s book, How)…

The question before us as we consider what we need to thrive in the inter-networked world is: How do we conquer our fear of exposure and turn these new realities into new abilities and behaviors? How can we become proactive about transparency?

As my PLN continues to grow, I am more and more impressed with the hundreds (thousands?) of educators who “get” the power of transparency. Many of them work in incredibly traditional schools and are modeling what our kids need to see: examples of self-directed, passionate learning  not confined by school walls. While I’m impressed with the individual efforts, I’ve been thinking a lot about how schools can stop being so fearful about transparency and instead, lead by example and actually display what’s happening in the classrooms and in the minds of the students.

Emily McCarren’s reflections after our marketing class and her comments about UMBC’s College.Be portal are insightful. She connects Pink’s ideas about motivation with website design and writes:

The creation of the Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose trifecta is how you must engage people to communicate, particularly on a school website. Come up with clear expectations, a shared purpose, the opportunity to grow and improve and then provide autonomy.

What an idea, huh? While I’m still trying to wrap my head around these notions of transparency, I could imagine the tweet by brandon w., archived under “most popular” on the College.Be portal, would send most teachers and school leaders running for the hills. But that’s the power of transparency. The folks at UMBC understand networks and community…they’re willing to accept the good, the bad, the ugly, and a few f-bombs in exchange for a dynamic space that’s very different than most (all?) college websites.

While the portal at UMBC will inevitably make many squirm, Northfield Mount Hermon provides another example of the power of social media. If you scroll down to the bottom of the school’s website (I wonder about the purpose behind the placement of the link), you’ll see something that says: Visit us on NMH BOOK.  While NMH BOOK is much more controlled than UMBC’s College.Be, it speaks to the potential of being proactive about transparency. UMBC seems to have conquered the fear of exposure pretty easily, however NMH is still holding on the reigns. The Facebook posts are pretty traditional for an independent school and the NMH blogs page provides lots of examples of class blogs. I’d love to see more student voices – specifically their personal blogs – linked to the site. After all, wouldn’t that provide a bit more texture and transparency?

So, as I think about “thriving in this inter-connected world,” I’m a bit more encouraged than I have been in the past. I’m also a bit more challenged to work on the transparency piece in my own personal/professional life. As individuals and schools continue to experiment and harness the power of social networks for learning and innovation, there’s real hope, I hope. Small steps forward…small steps.

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