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Why We Should Blog in Education, Part II

I wrote last week about the use of blog-style websites as an effective tool for educators to communicate with parents, students, the broader communities we serve, and to network with professionals across the country. Today, Letitia Stein of The Gradebook highlights a blog used by Hillsborough County, Florida School Board member April Griffin for exactly that purpose:

Hillsborough School Board member April Griffin wants people to tell her what they really think. So she’s started the blog, “Sound Off and Be Heard,” at http://soundoffandbeheard.blogspot.com/.

Post anonymously. Post regularly. She just wants to know what’s really on your mind.

“I just wanted to have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on,” Griffin says.

Griffin’s got it – the key to public service is having your fingers on the pulse of the community so you can factor in their concerns to the policy decisions you make. Soliciting opinions from the community doesn’t preclude a member’s individual leadership; instead, the two forces work together.

She won’t share her opinions online, saving them for School Board meetings. She has two rules: Don’t be vulgar and don’t waste her time with insults.

I have to assume that Hillsborough County’s public meetings include full, public discussion of issues. If that’s the case – and I have every reason to believe it is – then she is candid and open about her opinions without having to air them on the site. Her request for an acceptable level of decorum is a reasonable one. And April’s no stranger to blogging; she authored April Griffin’s Campaign Blog to help with her election to the board.

E.C. Huey, a candidate for the Guilford County, NC school board, also thinks education blogs are an important element of effective communication between a district and its constituents. He’s challenged his district’s officials to start blogging.

UPDATE at 5/09/07, 2.34pm:

Calls for blogs by school officials are growing in both volume and frequency. Kimberly Moritz, principal at Gowanda High School in New York, has challenged her superintendent to start blogging to erase misconceptions about the school budget and, in general, to improve communication between the district and community.

7 Responses to “Why We Should Blog in Education, Part II”

  1. TourPro says:

    I totally believe that blogging, er, self-publishing will change the face of education. Especially in higher education.

    What I don’t like is the institutionalization of academic blogs. Because most educators are so behind the curve when it comes to this, entire school systems are being sold very expensive content-management-systems.

    Every class, every semester/quarter should be publishing a group blog detailing their learning goals, process, and results.

  2. E.C. Huey says:

    Elected officials have a responsibility to their constituency. As such, the process of both airing their opinions during a public meeting and blogging should be complementary, the two should work hand in hand. Some of our elected school board members are more willing to air their opinions in our school board meetings, but then shirk listening to opinions from their constituents, even during open public comments at school board meetings. So I think this is a fabulous idea, one that should take place on a regular basis, not just during election season.

    E.C. Huey
    Greensboro, NC

  3. Matthew,

    I agree that blogging is a wonderful, free communication tool. I want the blog to be a sounding board for the public.

    I don’t limit posters comments if they follow my two simple rules because I want the blog to be productive. I also allow anonymous posts so people feel free to ‘call it like they see it’.

    I do, however moderate comments before they are posted in order to make sure the blog doesn’t disintegrate into a name calling battle between posters, as often happens.

    In regard to my comments on the blog. Elected officials in Florida are constrained by a law called the “sunshine law”. Board members are only allowed to communicate in publicly noticed meetings. For this the reason I will not be discussing my view on agenda items that come before the board for a vote.

    Thank you for writing this article.

    See you in cyberspace, April

  4. Fred Burns says:

    Hi Matthew:

    I’ve declared my candidacy for the Hillsborough County School Board, District 3. (Not April’s District.)

    I’ve also set up a blog. I’m not taking comments yet, but will be in the fall, when I expect to be campaigning much more. The blog will also detail my views on why I’m the right choice for the Board.

    My site is at http://burnsfortheboard.blogspot.com/.

  5. Matthew says:

    April and Fred,

    I’m excited to see so many current/prospective board members and school officials blogging. A conversational website has the potential to be an incredibly effective communication tool. Most of us would agree that communication is a major issue in public education and, in general, public service. By setting up and maintaining these sites, our officials not only communicate better but also subject themselves to the accountability that the public deserves.

    I like April’s common sense approach to regulating comments. Everyone gets their fair share of negative comments, but it’s easy to regulate. Personally, I delete comments with profanity or baseless ad hominem attacks – everything related to the issues is fair game.

    We also have Sunshine/Open Meetings Laws in New York: http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/openlaw.html . Here, we are also required to make available communication – that link sums it up well. I do not see information on blogs as a violation of these laws; as long as our sites are accessible in the public domain, we’re actually inviting the brightest rays of sunshine.

    I am such an advocate for the use of blogs because I recognize that many interested parents/community members just can’t get to meetings for any of a number of reasons. The more of the public process that we can make available, the better. I am not suggesting that there aren’t any problems with this type of openness, just that is is a refreshing, appropriate method of communication and that the positives far outweigh the benefits.

    I have added both of your sites to Google reader and look forward to following April’s service and Fred’s campaign. I think you’ve both got the right idea in terms of communication – hopefully this is a trend that will catch on.

    Matthew

  6. As an employee of the Hillsborough County I created “The Wall” to pass information and post opinion with an immediacy heretofore untapped. It is the first time I have ever done anything like this.

    I have not had to moderate or remove a posting.

    The discussion is frank and often leaves me muttering “brilliant!”.

    We have been able to unite against a scheduling change being forced upon us under the quise of “The Class Size Ammendment”.

    We have been turning over rocks.

    Our “union” has been shown to be unable and maybe even unwilling to represent our interest. We are begging for an opportunity to change “unions”. We’re talking Teamsters and hoping they’re listening.

    Progress is slow in matters like these but our School Board, Superintendent, and parents are seeing outraged teachers making valid points in under 3 minutes. The blogs provide a great avenue for everyone involved. We provide links to other bloggers and more ideas.

    We are NOT rolling over. Stay tuned.

  7. “I have to assume that Hillsborough County’s public meetings include full, public discussion of issues. If that’s the case – and I have every reason to believe it is – then she is candid and open about her opinions without having to air them on the site. Her request for an acceptable level of decorum is a reasonable one. And April’s no stranger to blogging; she authored April Griffin’s Campaign Blog to help with her election to the board.”

    It would be nice, but it is not true. April is a fresh breath. Teachers and the community are given 3 minutes (2 if there are more than 7 people on a topic) at board meetings. There is NO response from the board or district administration. It is not even put on official record, unless you write the board and ask for “audience” comments.

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