How do we push boundaries without being a jerk?

I love Twitter because it's filled with a bunch of innovative people who really care about kids. There are a lot of amazing educators out there, pushing the status quo and challenging others (myself included) to think about why we teach the way we teach.

However, Twitter is also filled with a lot of jaded people. Since we're used to fighting for what we believe is the best for the kids, it can be difficult to remain a positive attitude when that fight is squelched by administrators, parents, or infrastructures. And I get that. I hate being told no, and I go crazy when people attack the things I know to be true. But I've also learned that there's a certain tact that needs to be used in our approach to finding change.

I first learned this lesson the summer after my senior year of college. I was working as the director of a camp program, and I took the DISC personality test. I know that a test can't tell you everything about yourself, but this test really did help me understand who I am in the working environment (which often comes off as a jerk). In fact, my report says that colleagues should "Keep at least three feet away from [me]" and avoid "unreliable sources." I'm known for valuing the task over the people and the logic over the feeling. This can be really helpful for getting work done, but I've really had to learn (and am still learning) to not trample people in the process. I've learned that sometimes people just want to feel heard. I've learned that although facts inspire me to act, they often bog others down. I've learned that I need to consider my audience when seeking change, just like I'd like others to do for me.

And so as I follow people on Twitter, I can't help but wonder how we can push the boundaries and not be a jerk about it. On the one hand, I think sometimes we can be too passive, thinking it's better to just keep the innovation inside our classrooms. This decreases the amount of pushback we get to our ideas, pushback that sadly, can often come with serious consequences. However, on the other hand, we can't be a jerk about it either. We need to consider our audiences and their needs and struggles and joys. At the deepest level, all of us are in education for the kids. There just isn't any other reason to be here. But in the midst of disagreements, we lose sight of this common vision, and it becomes an us vs. them mentality. We throw insults, cast blame, and focus on problems instead of solutions.

When I posted this proposed a blog series on Twitter about how to push the boundaries without being a jerk, I was meant with a variety of responses that continued my thinking. My former boss (@dmeest) asked if I was looking for pointers, which, since he has the same personality, is fair (and funny) of him to ask. Brad Wilson (@dreamambition) observed that "'Visionaries' lose credibility in [his] book real quick if they are being jerks." Isn't that the truth? We lose respect for others, but even more, it causes me to reflect on if I'm causing others to lose respect for me. I thrive on credibility, and I want to ensure that my voice remains true... and that people respect that truth.

Then Michelle Cassidy (@michellemcass) chimed in, saying, "I'm a firm believer in modeling 4 kids- it's not ok to bully, even from a pedestal." Ouch. So right. Her response reminded me that the way I expect ed tech leaders (with or without an official title) to act is what I'm trying to teach my students every single day. For example, I often hear my students whining about the amount of time they have to spend doing homework (yes, this is another issue all in itself). In the midst of their whining I ask them, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" Yeah, you can whine to me, but you're not doing much homework in my class. And even if it was my class, do you think whining really makes me evaluate my practice? No! It just makes me cranky. I'm trying to teach them to approach a teacher calmly and explain their own feelings instead of attacking the task. I'm encouraging them to explain the amount of time they're spending on a task and ask for strategies to decrease that time. Because the fact is, none of the teachers at my school want our students to do homework all night. We want students who have other passions and pursue them boldly. But sitting and whining about the situation solves no problems.

So I guess my point is really a question: how can we effectively push the boundaries of our profession while continuing to model the citizens we hope our students will become? What does this look like in the teachers' lounge and on Twitter? How do we speak at happy hour and in out principal's office? How can we be agents of change without just being a jerk? I'd love to hear some more responses via Twitter or your blog or the comments about strategies that help you find this balance.