Friday, February 7, 2014

Taming the #EdTech Ego

I heard a significant amount of talk this week at TCEA14 (Texas Computer Education Association 2014 conference) about what I would describe as poor etiquette (self-promotion, self-aggrandizing) among EdTech gurus. I've got to admit. It really made me reflect. Luckily, I have a great, humble, wonderful friend who is herself honest and aware, and by her example, I strive to also be kind and humble. Yet many times, I fall woefully short of her excellent example.

When I was a girl growing up in East Texas in a rural town, people said that rude people were either "Yankees" or "acted like Yankees". I now understand that "acting like a Yankee" is actually quite different from hubris, self-promotion, self-aggrandizing, or other unconscious behavior. After getting to know some wonderful, refined "Yankees" like Sean Beavers, Lisa Parisi, and Sandra Wozniak, to name a few, I now understand that while they may at times be more outspoken than would be generally accepted for southerners, there is a refreshing honesty to their communiques that I quite admire. From them I have learned it's okay, and not rude at all, to be outspoken.

After all, I wouldn't want my Ed Tech Gurus to come out like demure southern ladies and gents of old. I like their brash ways and strong opinions. What I would like to see is more "drinking from the finger bowl." This phrase comes from a quintessential tale about manners and etiquette featuring Queen Victoria who drank from a finger bowl after the Shah of Persia, her guest, did it first. When your guest eats with the wrong fork, you do the same, but only if you have impeccable manners. The worst thing is to make him or her feel uncomfortable by pointing out a faux-pas. The whole point of manners is to make guests feel at home, comfortable, and a part of one's world in every possible way.

By the same token, when a reluctant beginning Twitter user Tweets with the hashtag in front, we don't shame or humiliate him or her, we say, "When you search the hashtag, yours comes up. Isn't that cool that it worked?" He or she will soon notice that most hashtags appear at the end of Tweets without my "help." After all, if pointing out mistakes makes us feel better about ourselves, we are in the wrong headspace to provide pd. The staff development business is about making everyone better, not about shaming and potentially alienating learners.

The smartest person in the room is not the know-it-all who shows up to try to trip up the presenter, or worst of all, the presenter him/herself. The smartest person in the room is everyone in the room working together.

I had a great experience yesterday where I learned about 20 new things about Screencast-O-Matic from my "Easy, High-Impact Staff Development" session on screencasting at the above mentioned conference in Austin, Texas.  Because I knew little to nothing about this tool, and the participants, as a group, knew a whole lot, we were able to learn together about it as well as about the tools I had brought to share with the group. I hope it's not rude of me to share that example; I have to admit, there were a couple of ego-tamping moments that had to happen for me to open up to the experience of being educated by my guests, but I'm so glad I was able to. I hope I usually act with grace in these sorts of situations, but it's a completely different thing to be able to feel the grace in the moment.

At the risk of losing your attention, I'd like to share one more important example. Last Fall I found myself at a high profile EdTech event as a presenter. Unfortunately, I looked around and saw I was sitting at the "Cool Kid" table. The PRESENTER table. If we were in high school and 16, this would be ok. You're so insecure at 16 you do anything to fit in, but at 40-something? Not so cool. As soon as I realized it, I excused myself and sat with the participants. I can't say how glad I am that I did. After changing my practice and meeting people outside of the "popular crowd" during that event, I met some folks who I sincerely believe will be life-long friends and colleagues. Meanwhile, I've never heard a thing from any of the cool kids from table number one.

The bottom line is that when I am responsible for teaching others I must visit my own intentions frequently. I'm not there to impress an important person in the audience or to get more online followers, if I am, what I say and do will be tainted by an intention that is focused on my ego and not on my participants' or my own desire to learn.

This is a message to presenters and to participants everywhere, and most of all to myself: be kind and show good manners. Don't be a know-it-all. And don't be a cool kid. If your participant drinks from the finger bowl, take a swig yourself.  And if you start thinking you're "Twitter Famous," attend a non-EdTech event, hey, look at that, back to normal and no one knows your name. Guess you won't need those body guards after all.

This article is in the vein of two prior greats on the same topic, both thought provoking pieces. Please check them out . . .

+Jessica Johnston Twitter Fame . . . It's Not Real

+Greg Garner EdTech Has a Humility Problem


Anonymous said...

Amy, I really enjoyed this article. It really
Made me reflect about both sides of
many situations that I have been in.
Thank you so much for sharing.

Unknown said...

Well written, my friend. I am happy to know you and work with you. I am glad to skip out on the cool kids table and hope I get smacked in the side of the head if ever start to act like a "star," ;) XOXO

Shannon Applegate said...

Amy, I have never seen any other reflection on this topic in the EdTech world but I have to say that the tendency for presenters to be impressed with one's self has dampened my enthusiasm to get more into PD. Give me kids any day! Your blog is always a place for me to learn and reflect, thanks so much!

Amy Mayer said...

@ Pam: Thank you! @Jessica: You're my inspiration, and yes, I'll be glad to smack you if you smack me.

@Shannon I love providing PD, but I agree that it is impossible to lose your humility when you're in the classroom. EVERY SINGLE DAY my students reminded me I was human. Hey Miss, why's your hair like that today? Hey Miss, how many tattoos do you have? And on and on and on. No chance for a high horse. . . EVER!

Cindy Tucker said...

Amy, I was in your fabulous "Easy, High-Impact Staff Development" class at TCEA last week (yep, that was me from the front row!)

Even though I was already quite familiar with Camtasia, you showed several new things that I couldn't wait to get back and try.

As a presenter myself, though, I was most impressed at how you welcomed comments from the people in the room (myself included) about Screencast-o-matic. In fact, I visited with my coworkers about it that evening and talked about how much I liked the fact that you immediately updated your presentation right then and there and them moved right on with the session.

Together, I think we all learned a lot. I did question myself a little bit and wondered if I spoke out too much during the session - I hope not!

Thank you for this great post!

Amy Mayer said...

Are you kidding, Cindy? You are an AWESOME participant! The worst (as I bet you'll agree) is when your whole audience just gives you one blank stare after another. I knew I had a live bunch when they started shouting out answers. It was GREAT!!! I wouldn't have been able to enjoy it 10 years ago, but the 40s are good for something :-) Thanks so much for your comments. YOU can come to my session ANY time, and I would love to come to yours!