Is It Sharing or Bragging? Educators Struggle With the Topic of Humility

Why do some people think we want to know about the awards they've received? The successes they've experienced? When they tweet or blog about the great lesson they just taught, or even their opinions -- isn't that just bragging in the guise of helping others?
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Why do some people think we want to know about the awards they've received? The successes they've experienced? When they tweet or blog about the great lesson they just taught, or even their opinions -- isn't that just bragging in the guise of helping others?

I admit to having had those kinds of thoughts. For those of us uncomfortable with the concept of "self-promotion," it's challenging to see these actions as sharing, versus bragging.

I'm so uncomfortable with self-promotion that last year, when I was honored with a prestigious award -- one previously bestowed to Dr. Henry Heimlich, former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, and Graham Kerr, television's "Galloping Gourmet" -- I didn't tell anyone except a couple of family members and close friends.

Why did I remain mum about such a momentous event? Because it felt like bragging. Could posting and tweeting the news have created more speaking opportunities for me, thereby providing more chances to spread my message about children? Very likely.

So was my decision to remain quiet a dumb move? Probably. If I had the chance to do it differently, would I? Probably not -- because, like most educators, I feel uncomfortable drawing that sort of attention to myself. An attitude of humility is so ingrained in educators that most are nearly invisible.

Is such humility an asset or a liability? It depends on whom you ask. For many of us, shining a spotlight on ourselves is akin to running around naked in the streets. We don't want people pointing fingers at or passing judgment on us. (And, let's face it: Given the power of the Internet, passing judgment is all too easy to do in a very public way these days.) Others, like principal Eric Sheninger, who recently joined me and four more educators for a fascinating discussion on this topic, believe that educators haven't done enough "bragging" - that the profession has paid the price for its humility. After all, it is exactly because, as panelist Tom Whitby indicated, educators have been expected to "do [their] job and keep [their] mouth shut" - and have complied with that - that we now have a culture in which non-educators are making all the decisions in this field.

I tackled this topic previously, when I wrote "To Toot or Not to Toot? For Teachers, That Is the Question." But two years later, as Bammy Award nomination season once again dredged up the "humility debate," a revisit seemed warranted. So we at BAM Radio Network scheduled the above-mentioned discussion for Taboo. And I'm writing yet another post on the subject.

The biggest change since the first post appeared is that the use of social media has soared. And as it has, many more in the education world are using it to tell the stories of their schools, their classrooms, and their students. Some are using it to convey news of their successes. Is it bragging or is it sharing? It seems to depend on what you're sharing/bragging about. And, again, it depends on whom you ask.

For those who aren't actively engaged in social media and fail to see its value, simply communicating thoughts and information can be seen as "promoting." One K-12 principal told me that merely for tweeting and blogging she's often told she thinks she's better than everybody else. Who is she, after all, to believe she has anything of value to offer?

At the other extreme, you have people who can't get enough of the celebrated principal, the popular superintendent, or the outspoken teacher they follow on Twitter. They want to soak up everything these people have to offer -- all the stories, opinions and resources they blog and tweet about.

In the middle, you have those who believe it's okay to communicate the successes of your students, school, and staff (sharing) but not of your own (bragging).

So, where do I now stand? Well, I may not be comfortable myself with the idea of self-promotion, or "bragging," if that's what you want to call it; but for the sake of the profession, I'm glad there are those who are comfortable with it -- whatever successes they're sharing or to whom they belong. And, for the sake of this bruised and battered profession, I wish to heck more of us would get the hang of it and stop pointing fingers at and passing judgment on those who do feel at ease with it. If it weren't for them, all of the stories told about education would be coming from those outside the field.

I must tell you that just last month I struggled all over again with this issue, with the publication of three of my books. In the end, I tweeted, posted to Facebook, and alerted my Linkedin connections. After all, I thought, if I'm not willing to let people know these books exist, what was the point in creating them? I want people to know about them because I want people to buy them -- because I believe they have much to offer!

There, I said it. The world did not fall down around me. And if someone chooses to point a finger at me for lack of humility...nwell, so be it.

Recently, a friend sent me Marianne Williamson's "Our Deepest Fear." Not surprisingly, she felt I needed to read it. And considering the topic of this piece, it seems appropriate to share these lines from it here:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.


... as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.

Shine ("brag") on, educators.

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