Caring Counts: Relationship over Requirement

Whether we like it or not, students are far more often the products of their culture than they are the impetus who contribute to cultural change, though we have some powerful cases recently in which student voices are now imploring change at the highest levels of governmental authority. It’s a simple matter of a cultural conformity that largely favors the status quo over the originality of individually held values, generated by lengthy reflection on one’s experiences. Nonetheless, students are increasingly more prone to attribute greater authority to those who have gained their respect rather than those who have earned positional titles without their consent or endorsement. Think about the staggering occurrences of violence exhibited towards law enforcement in the past three years or the use of social media as a means to elevate dissension in the face of governmental authority. It is productive for any system to have some level of scrutiny and resistance to ideas and philosophies with which they disagree, to prevent tyranny and despotism from running amok without appropriate ethical discourse and tension which contribute to greater realization of values and principles. Even so, such dissentient factions could be mitigated or strengthened in conveying their purpose and message if supported by those who have gained their trust in relationships, especially if they coincidentally hold positions of influence.

 

In a world in which we increasingly experience diverse sets of culturally conditioned expectations, relational influence has a much further-reaching impact than positional authority, to the extent that position is frequently hollow (in the absence of a meaningful relational element) despite some valuable factors that may contribute to it.

 

Edicts and decrees no longer carry the weight that they once did; many in my generation or older begin their responses to student misbehavior with remarks like, “If I had ever treated my parents that way…” or “I was always taught to have a certain respect for adults like these students clearly don’t.” Somehow, the badge, the hat, or the suit somehow dictated a greater sense of influence (or we reflectively think it did). In all reality, it is likely that compliance or obedience still never contributed to impactful results that we somehow fallaciously thought were attained through use of such an authoritarian model. The truth is that position is circumstantial while relationships are continual and require some type of investment or withheld investment. Think about it this way: even when we try to sever relationships with some sense of finality, we do so with some degree of conviction, while conviction associated with position must be added through relationships. Talking heads do not give rise to enduring results; people do. In order to better understand the relational versus positional influence, it helps to consider a few positions which usually carry some cultural level of authority.

 

The parent, whether biologically or systematically defined, has a level of positional authority over his or her children. It is rather widely expected that a parent is to care for his or her children, providing minimally for physical needs. If a parent fails to provide for such needs or even societally delineated social emotional needs of his or her children, his or her positional authority is not only culturally diminished, but his or her position may be legally removed as such.

 

The teacher, a more electively assigned position, is generally entrusted with some positional authority with respect to his or her students, though this varies with the family dynamics that present in each individual home, and the authority of the position typically varies with the level of authority conveyed to children by their families or other social influences to which students give their devoted attention in matters of whom to respect.

 

The school principal, once thought to be the “boss” or leader of a school, is granted such a title based on any number of processes and has no means of arriving at a tenured role in most districts. Not so infrequently, this person or small group of people may be assigned to a school in which a culture has already established expectations for the role prior to his or her arrival. Therefore, asserting a positional authority without a relational element can contribute to diminished morale or a false sense that the person in the position is subject to the circumstances surrounding it, which may change often.

 

From a cultural anthropologist’s perspective, there are two primary ways to understand a culture: etic and emic. The first approaches culture from an outsider’s view, looking for the structural elements with a “third-party” sort of approach. The latter looks at the culture from within the perspective of the constituents thereof, often through participatory means rather than primarily through third-person observation. The danger of an etic perspective is that it can become too detached from the culture itself and may treat it as a kind of subject of study rather than as an organic entity. Two dangers of the emic perspective are that one becomes so immersed in the culture that he or she no longer distinguishes its unique characteristics from his or her own previous cultural experience and that the anthropologist may somehow influence elements of the culture, thereby changing the cultural values or systems. The etic perspective and emic perspective both ascribe positional values to the anthropologist, namely outsider or insider. While it is impossible to completely eradicate the distortions associated with either of these perspectives, empathy is an approach which can allow one to experience culture as an outsider but to potentially become sensitive to the needs of those in many cultures. This pseudo-scientific approach is probably the most suitable for educators, who intend to both understand and shape the cultures of the students whom they serve. The question arises, then, “how do we effectively empathize to serve our students and their families, especially if there exist significant cultural differences?”

 

The following may serve as some possible ways to empathize with those whom our schools serve:

 

1) Engage students and their families in activities that involve common materials with no preconceived notions. We hosted the Global Cardboard Challenge at our school last year and were thoroughly impressed with the expressions of creativity exhibited by our students and their families, using common craft supplies and cardboard amassed for several weeks beforehand. Projects ranged from family homes to fanatic signs for a family’s favorite collegiate team to a skee ball machine and even a large hen laying eggs. The beauty of the event was in its simplicity that allowed our students and their families to reveal family values and creativity without any judgment or anxiety about the products.

 

2) Visit students’ homes. One might imagine that this is a common practice among educators, but it is far from common. Visiting a child’s home could potentially reveal something that the child does not want educators to know about his or her life, but at the elementary school level, a home visit somehow bridges the divide between educator as positional at a school and educator as a person who cares enough to be a part of my life beyond school. Obviously, one should exercise caution in visiting children’s homes to ensure that dangers that may not be apparent or present at school do not meet an unsuspecting teacher who wants to form a stronger connection with a student. It is strongly advised that home visits never be made by a single person.

 

3) Walk home with “walkers.” Even though this doesn’t qualify as a home visit per se, one of the most rewarding experiences I have had occurred when I walked with students to their homes after school one day. We were informed that a certain bus route had been blocked and that a bus would be unavailable for one afternoon, so I volunteered to walk with students to their homes and found the journey to be more important than the destination. The students valued that I wanted to walk with them to their homes and had plenty to tell me along the way.

 

4) Work “car rider” duty as much as possible, and talk to parents in their vehicles. Because our lives and experiences are most immediate to us, sometimes we forget that others have some incredibly adverse or exciting experiences that will contribute to our students’ and their families’ lives. By engaging in conversation during this somewhat idle time, we can keep ourselves informed, either directly or indirectly, of what is going on with families.  

 

5) Be willing to listen and respond with active empathy or sympathy when students and their families share struggles. Look for support when support is requested, patience when patience is beneficial, and education when education is necessary. Preparing answers prior to conversations or as someone is talking is not generally responsive and may prescribe action plans without sufficient information. Realize that every situation encountered may display subtle nuances that require different responses than similar ones.

 

6) At the core, value the relationship over the requirements. This is not to say that we should dismiss our expectations in the interest of keeping people from hating us. This implies that though we hold certain requirements to be important, we must ground our decision-making in our efforts to build and sustain relationships of trust in spite of previous occurrences that challenge such. When we discipline or educate students or families, we must provide the reason why, which is tethered to our concern for people above policies and character above consequences.

 

Positions are generally static while relationships can change and adapt to changing circumstances. The use of positional authority is predicated on both parties’ acceptance of such an attribute to the position, so when a person challenges this authority, or more, defies this authority, the position no longer carries culturally defined weight. Furthermore, as the culture adapts to the relationships that embody it, positional authority may become more of the vox populi rather than oligarchy. Roald Dahl satirically points to the assumed authority of a parent in his renowned work Matilda, as Harry Wormwood (Matilda’s ignorant father) asserts his authority to Matilda: “I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Matilda’s perseverance and ingenuity usurp all of the father’s assumed authority, which is negated by his inability to connect in a meaningful relationship with his daughter. Though Dahl vilifies the father and presumes the child’s motives are purer and of greater substance than Mr. Wormwood’s, the picture is painted clearly how authority has little effect without a relationship that supports it.

 

Few relationships in my life have taught me more about the importance of empathy than my relationships with my family. When I assume that my wife or children will do what I like as a matter of respect, I soon discover whether or not other relational elements are present. Most who respond to authority are responding in a manner of compliance rather than to please or reciprocate in a healthy relationship pattern. Those who submit under an authority without any relationship are responding to power rather than people. My family operates most effectively when we mutually invest time and energy in one another’s lives rather than through exchanges of stated positional rationales for exercising authority in different circumstances. In fact, some of the most mundane and caustic conflict results from people fighting for or against positions.  

 

Frustratingly, meaningful relationships take time and considerable effort and can often be deterred or derailed by adverse circumstances, thereby making them less than appealing for someone who simply desires an easy and comfortable path. Even more complicating is the fact that no two relationships are alike, and so the skills and efforts that we invest in one relationship may be largely different from others and may not pay the same sorts of dividends that we intend to acquire through them. In a world of increasingly more frequent mobility and circumstances that entice or demand temporary conditions in work and home life, we find many of our relational investments to be short-term investments, which generally do not give us as much satisfaction. Nonetheless, our positional transience needs not predicate an absence of relational investment, nor should it prohibit us from learning from the lives of others. As we witness the power of the elevation of voices which have previously been stifled as a result of positional power and authority being exercised to muffle or mute them, think of how important the relationship is to the messages conveyed and how our purpose becomes more evident in the presence of a constructive and collaborative relationship. Rather than naively continuing in a pattern of expecting respect because of our positions, we must aim to earn respect through our relationships, which can continually develop greater capacity in both parties, especially through empathy which seeks to understand before assuming any sense of authority by means of one’s holding a position.

 

As I continue my journey towards developing more meaningful relational capacity, I would be quite interested to learn from others how they make this happen in their lives and how empathy helps in this endeavor. Please share with me how relationships have reinforced or removed your positional authority or influence or, perhaps, how they have developed new positional influence as relationships have endured over time.

 

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Come What Résumé: 10 Tips for Creating a Worthwhile Showcase of You (for teacher candidates, specifically at my school)

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It’s that time of year when I am inundated with a stack of nicely formatted lists of credentials, often slipped into plastic-bound report covers or printed on some stronger-than-usual cardstock with an elegant parchment appearance in hopes that they will somehow impress me more than the other competing profiles. Increasingly, though, these résumés are being submitted digitally, and all too often, they have a redundant appearance of the mediocrity for which our profession is all too often criticized.

In an effort to provide a more interesting endeavor for myself in reviewing these sometimes painfully boring documents, I would like to provide my ten tips for improving résumés. Understand that not all résumé recipients may have the same expectations; it is especially important to try to get to know the prospective employer or employers before writing any résumé that is likely to gain his or her attention.

My 10 tips for writing résumés:

  1. If you are submitting your résumé through an online application service or attaching it as a digital document to some form of communication, please name the file something other than “Resume.pdf.” Though I appreciate the .pdf format, the generic “resume” does not set it apart from others. Granted, it would be obnoxious if every candidate for a position submitted a file with superfluous modifiers like “Rachelsreallyawesomeresume.docx” or with some odd title like “MyDogAteMyResume.pdf,” but including your first initial and last name or other identifying characteristics helps when sorting through numerous files with similar names. Two other possible additions that may appear in the file name are the identifier for the school or date for which the interest is expressed. This subtly suggests that the résumé has been recently updated or designed for this particular submission. My résumé file name might be “PCSS_TFUHRMAN_RESUME.pdf” or “TFuhrman_Resume_2017.pdf.”
  2. Please do not mistakenly use the word “lead” in place of what should be “led.” If you led an activity, please demonstrate your effective leadership by using the correct homophone. It is difficult to lead very effectively if you have too much lead in your résumé. Homophones are sly and often fly under the radar of most spell-checkers, so watch for these tricky little words. They can persuade a prospective employer to consider other applicants more seriously when it comes to other similar qualifications.
  3. Don’t let your font choice and résumé template be more impressive than your credentials. Whether the résumé was Pinterest-inspired or a quick choice from a set of Google Doc template choices online doesn’t have much bearing on whether I intend to interview a candidate. Instead, the substance should be in the quality of the credentials and the diversity of experience noted in the words of the résumé.
  4. Include an unique experience or educational element. For some, this is more readily available than for others. Perhaps, you had an opportunity to serve as a missionary in a remote part of Africa or overcame what seemed the insurmountable conditions of poverty to be the first college-educated member of your family. Keep in mind that I am hoping to invite a person to become a part of our school family, not to simply enlist a conglomeration of listed qualifications to fill a void intended for a robot. Our experiences shape who we are as educators, and significant experiences contribute to significant learning, both personally and professionally.
  5. Give me an indicator that you have some tech savvy.  Some of the greatest educators I have known have used very little digital technology in their practices, but they have also been very willing and receptive to incorporating technology to better meet the needs of their learners. Here’s an idea: include a QR code link to a Youtube video about you or a portfolio or website you have designed. Even better, link a Google Form asking for feedback, either about your résumé or your candidacy, in general. Include questions like, “What most impressed you about my résumé?” or “What types of professional experiences would you like to see that are not currently on my résumé?” If you include this on all résumés, you may receive some valuable insights while impressing prospective employers with both your affinity for using technology and your interest in getting meaningful feedback.
  6. Know my school. Certain data is available on the state’s public report card, but do as much as you can to learn about our school and whom it serves. As I indicated before, we consider our school a family, and if you want to be part of the family, make sure you know with whom you are intending to get into a relationship. If you have opportunity to volunteer or get temporary experience at our school, this will help you to better understand who we are and whether you want to be a part of it (understanding that every family has changing dynamics, and we are always interested in changing in ways that will better serve our students). If you minored in Spanish or have done extensive study of Ruby Payne’s poverty research or Eric Jensen’s brain-based research, you might want to mention it in your résumé.
  7. Find a place to include titles of your most valuable reading selections or what you plan to study next. Just as knowing my school would help you to know what we value, it is important for me as a future employer to know what you value in educational research and study. Noted membership in an organization or attendance at a conference may not tell me nearly as much about your views related to education as your most powerful book studies, video playlists, or Facebook groups. Be authentic, and reveal what drives you as an educator. Though a résumé doesn’t always offer a lot of room for this, be clever in letting me know what drives you as an educator and in what you are most willing to invest your time and energy. I am convinced that some of the most powerful learning experiences have no GPA attached to them, so it is important to include something beyond the Dean’s List distinctions.
  8. If appropriate, find a place to include your sense of humor in your résumé. Ultimately, this has the potential to set a tone for collegiality or completely undermine it, so be careful not to offend or inadvertently confuse a potential employer. I like to think I have a healthy sense of humor that makes life more enjoyable (though some of my colleagues may question this self-evaluation). This is a risk that may not work for everyone, but if I can identify a common sense of humor with a prospective candidate, I am confident that both my colleagues and students will appreciate the authenticity of a person who can appreciate some of the comical elements of life in spite of the many stressors increasingly associated with education.
  9. Give me food for thought. I love brain-based teaching practices and research (as well as many other innovative and emerging educational topics) and love to learn something new every day. Find a creative way to teach me something with your résumé. This may require a little bit of effort to guess at something that I don’t know (though I can assure you that there is plenty), but if it challenges and engages me, I will have a hard time not looking at your résumé again.
  10. Finally, proofread your résumé, and have an honest friend read it. Not all principals and prospective employers are former high school English teachers, but pretend that they are. If I read a résumé with too many grammatical errors or odd choices of words, remind yourself that I am looking at this as the work of a person who will educate my students. If he or she is not attentive enough to detail in a representation of his or her skills and qualifications in a document for which the author had plenty of opportunity for revision and refinement, how will this person likely perform in a classroom where decisions must be made spontaneously and with accuracy every day? I would suggest to anyone submitting a résumé to read it to someone whom he or she trusts as a person who will provide honest feedback and ask the person to ask an array of questions related to what you have included on your résumé. The more opportunity you have to speak about and process what you have written, the more you will recognize areas for revision and determine whether the document really represents you well.

As I indicated early in this post, I am no definitive expert on this topic, but I am somewhat experienced in the matter of examining and choosing résumés for consideration of applicants for a position, extending all the way back to my senior year in high school. Having reviewed and mentally revised hundreds of résumés, I am looking for a sense of newness and authenticity that will ease the pain of filing through page after page of the same look and feel of résumés. Résumés should better represent the candidates and provide more of a story than a timeline. If I want to attract and contribute to high-quality, dynamic people as a part of my school family, I feel it is important to share these expectations and hope that those who consider these suggestions in their résumés will offer a more colorful depiction of people with whom I want to spend my working days.

Beyond the Test: Some of the Best (Learning Experiences)

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So we have arrived in the month of May, and the great summative assessment monster is being boxed up and sent back to its home, not to be battled with the slender, yellow, graphite-bearing swords again until about this time next year (unless, of course, we have opportunity to battle with keystrokes and mice in the near future). Though an expected barrage of field trip requests preceded the testing window, this year offers a few unique opportunities that get our students and teachers beyond their classrooms at Jere Whitson Elementary.

Annie

We have been blessed to have the opportunity for our entire Kindergarten through fourth grades to attend the Prescott South Middle School production of the acclaimed Annie, and though there was undeniable beauty in the performance of every musical number and lyrical line, the great beauty was experienced in the expressions on our students’ faces, many of whom had not previously attended a musical until last year, and many of whom looked enviously at the middle school actors as though they had the accolades of Broadway actors. The arts are important for creative expression, and this experience reinforced how important they are for the inspiration of younger students to engage in performance and ambitious endeavors.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B

A little farther from our home, our students in our school chorus, comprised of selected third and fourth grade students, earned an amazing opportunity to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and to tour Studio B. The students participated in a pancake breakfast fundraiser held on a Saturday morning at our school in order to demonstrate their investment and eagerness to experience a rich, music education experience. Again, the importance of the arts comes to life in a real and meaningful experience that our students will likely not forget. Our students had the opportunity to learn about the history of Studio B, to experience the wonders of music engineering, and to see the wondrous instruments, costumes, automobiles, and archived performances associated with some great country music artists.

The Great Shake

With emphasis year round on the importance of college and career readiness, we are pleased to host a wonderful experience envisioned and orchestrated by our Upper Cumberland Academic Career Coaches. The Great Shake and JWES Career Day drew from local professionals and community resources to engage all fourth grade students in many brief encounters with adults who care, during which they practiced the skills they had been developing over the past eight weeks during some of their library and counseling classes with their academic career coaches, including shaking hands, speaking articulately, and presenting information about themselves concisely and creatively. No standardized test can measure the impact of the experience, which is intended to shape young students into curious and ambitious learners who are increasingly more aware and capable of pursuing a diversity of higher education and career options.

TTU 4th Grade Visit Day 

An excursion that we pursued last year in an effort to provide greater awareness about post-secondary opportunities was a full day for students in our fourth grade to visit various parts of the Tennessee Technological University campus, with multiple departments of focus. Our students benefit from getting a closer look at the many facets that university life has to offer and recognize that Tennessee Technological University, which is a short walk away for most of them, is an accessible institution which offers a plethora of post-secondary possibilities. This year, our visit includes the following:

TTU iCUBE and iMakerspace

Hooper Eblen Center

College of Engineering Student Ambassadors

TTU School of Agriculture

TTU Music Department

Some Photos from Last Year’s Visit:

JWES/ELP Ag Lab

Last academic year, we set out to develop a space adjacent to our campus which we learned belonged to our school system as a venue for our students to explore, observe, and engage in agriculture education. Through generous contributions of various local partnerships, the Ag Lab now features various raised beds, a small greenhouse/shed, several weather measurement instruments, and a demonstration space for students to gather and record their observations. Our long-term goals for the Ag Lab range from exploring horticultural concepts and actively participating in planting and harvesting to the study of renewable resources and studying small animal life. With our official ribbon cutting scheduled for next Tuesday morning, we are excited about the potential of this great experiential venue for learning.

 

The only thing you won’t find in these photographs are students seated in conventional desks, prepping diligently for standardized assessments. What you will find are students engaged in the work and appreciation of the world in which they live, a world enriched by the arts, agriculture, and college and career possibilities. Though our aim is to increasingly make this possible throughout the academic year, we find it freeing to pursue these opportunities when we find that the confines of testing are lifted. Every day at Jere Whitson Elementary, we proclaim together, “Let’s prove we care,” and what better way is there to do so than to immerse our students in rich and relevant experiences that remind them that academics are important beyond grades and tests and are the basis for the application to various venues they may encounter, both today and tomorrow.

So this ends the series of BLOGs on “Testing is Over . . . What Now?” but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation or opportunities for mutual inspiration. Make sure to check out the BLOGs/VLOG by my Twitter-connected PLN friends who participated earlier in the week, and engage with us on Twitter, especially on #TNEdchat and a variety of other Twitter conversations:

@mickshuran

@juliedavisEDU

@kingsterchris

@JacobDunn

@tfuhrman

Also, check out the earlier posts, if you missed them:

Monday (May 1): Mick Shuran! His focus was on changing the mindset or culture of how it seems testing determines the end of school. No Alice Cooper, School’s Not Out for Summer…yet! http://mickshuran.com

Tuesday (May 2): The illustrious Julie Davis, “ed-tech extraordinaire” and my closest connection to Julie Darling Donuts, shared her insight and tips on trying new things during this gray area of non-testing. http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/

Wednesday (May 3): Tullahoma City Guru (and LTL Podcaster), Google great Christopher King shared his thoughts and ideas about ending the year by running stright through first base in a different format, a VLOG for all you visual and audial learners http://firesidechats.blog/

Thursday (May 4): Social studies expert Jacob Dunn brought a current “in the classroom” perspective towards what we as educators can do after testing.  https://cultivateedu.com/

And, finally, whether you decided to celebrate this week or will celebrate next week as Teacher Appreciation Week 2017, I hope that you will join with fellow educators by providing sincere appreciation for what they do and how they touch the lives of students, families, and each of us as we persevere in our journey as educators.

Masters of Pedagogy BLOG Jog NEXT WEEK (when the graphite pencil dust begins to settle).

MastersofthePedagogy

Join some of my edu-expert friends and me as we explore life after testing in the world of K-12 education, the time when our schools come to life in a way that allows for extended engagement without a laser focus on the speculated content of the standardized assessments. We don’t give up the fun and love of learning; we simply get to enhance what we have done during the year without the need to reveal the products of such learning within the confines of standardized measures.

Here’s the lineup for the week:

Monday (May 1): Mick Shuran! His focus will be on changing the mindset or culture of how it seems testing determines the end of school. No Alice Cooper, School’s Not Out for Summer…yet! http://mickshuran.com

Tuesday (May 2): The illustrious Julie Davis, “ed-tech extraordinaire” and my closest connection to Julie Darling Donuts, will share her insight and tips on trying new things during this gray area of non-testing. http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/

Wednesday (May 3): Tullahoma City Guru (and LTL Podcaster), Google great Christopher King will share his thoughts and ideas in a different format, a VLOG for all you visual and audial learners http://firesidechats.blog/

Thursday (May 4): Social studies expert Jacob Dunn will bring a current “in the classroom” perspective towards what we as educators can do after testing.  https://cultivateedu.com/

Friday (Cinco de Mayo):  I, Thomas Fuhrman, will share the ways that we are moving to the outer reaches of our campus (and beyond) in the month of May to become more college- and career-excited and aware through opportunities to work in our Ag Lab, participate with a variety of local partners for our school-wide career day, and our fourth graders visit Tennessee Technological University.  https://tfuhrman.wordpress.com/

Please join us, provide your comments and feedback, and most importantly, SHARE IT!

See you Monday!

By the way, please vote for Jere Whitson Elementary in this contest for us to win a classroom set of @MergeVR virtual reality headsets. We are one of ten finalists: 

Don’t Let Your Milestones Become Millstones

It is important to mark the achievements and moments in our life that have had a significant impact, but we have to be careful not to hang our hats on our merits without allowing for movement to other significant possibilities in our future. 

I have found myself to be guilty of this on different levels, sometimes reminiscing through extensively listed details when revising my résumé to find those areas in which I have demonstrated some competency or unique experience that I feel will help to set me apart from a crowd as a capable and interesting individual. Other times, I recollect personal experiences that I feel have helped to shape me as a person who continually strives to pursue diverse endeavors in search of excellence and development of character. I even find myself trying to vicariously live through some of the exceptional achievements of my children as if I somehow have some claim to their accomplishments as my own. 

What I have found in all of these and other informal milestone surveys is something that I must refuse to accept with any permanency, which is the idea that I am somehow fixed by these relatively brief experiences. I can sometimes allow the milestones to define me and, in essence, become millstones that prevent me from taking courageous risks to accomplish more. 

My challenge to others and to myself is to not expect milestones to mark the entirety of a path but to reveal only pieces of the greater puzzle which may extend in a variety of patterns and paths to places not yet entirely known. If we are too content to look only at the milestones, as amazing and wondrous as they may appear for ourselves and others, we may very well become burdened by the millstones of upholding a steady but unaspiring reputation that fits the previous predictable path but limits us from moving to unrealized potential. Such millstones may also overwhelm us as we try to explore new adventures.

What are the implications for educators and education leaders? We can’t allow our successes or mistakes to set up our identities, nor can we allow our colleagues and students to fall into this trap. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset digs deeply into the importance of not allowing our past failures and misgivings to contribute to a sense of meager means to accomplish present and future tasks. They can inform them, but ultimately, meaning is derived from far more than milestones, and some millstones can be set free if we don’t allow them to solidify as markers of a fixed fate.  

21 Twitter Follower Types and How to Address Them

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Though the Twitter “follower” types I present here can be extrapolated to a greater context than Twitter, especially within other social media venues, my use of Twitter has helped me to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of those who follow, mention, list, like, retweet, or reference you and your Twitter account and content in some other way.

For those who are just embarking upon Twitter, it may not occur to you to consider that who you follow, like, or retweet is only a small part of the larger context that Twitter presents for its users. Unless you “protect your tweets,” you and your account are subject to the positive and potentially negative aftermath. Even after protecting your tweets, certain activity can open your shared content to possible criticism or public distribution.

This goal of this blog post is not to intimidate users but to better reveal some of the possible underlying reasons that people or institutions follow one another. With each brief follower description, I present a possible means for identifying and addressing these particular followers. Remember that these are my independent means of profiling follower categories, not specific, well-known or widely accepted types.

Before presenting the types, however, I want to explain briefly how I came to make my informal analyses and make everyone aware that there are some specific, simple ways to manage followers the moment that you become aware that they are following you:

My analyses are based entirely in my own experience and do not reflect the views of others. Having been using Twitter since 2009, I feel independently qualified to respond with descriptions based on my experience without further research; ratings are based on my interpretation of benefits and possible drawbacks of people following me as I have already encountered.

In addition, Twitter presents three different ways to deal with followers who you want to prevent from acting maliciously with respect to your account.

1. Block user: If you do not want a user to follow your account, you can block the user as soon as you become aware of the follower. Keep in mind that followers can track who has blocked them and possibly create other accounts if they are persistent in wanting to access or follow your account.

2. Mute user: You can prevent content from the user from appearing in your timelines and interactions by selecting this for your followers.

3. Report user: You may report users who you feel are in violation of Twitter’s policies by selecting this option.

Twitter has produced this video to briefly explain these three options:


Following are 21 types of Twitter followers to consider as you develop a new Twitter account or review those who currently follow you, as well as general respective levels of threat to your account (on a scale of 1 as beneficial and 5 as detrimental), and ways to identify the type and address it:

1. “Faux-lowers”

Rating: 4

“Faux-lowers” are fake accounts. This means that they do not actually represent the person or organization name used as the handle or identity, so they have a higher possible threat rating because it is difficult to determine whether they are maliciously or whimsically created to misrepresent the entity by which they are named. One can typically identify these by their profiles which have photographs or pictures that are not likely those which would be presented by the authentic individuals or organizations and by particular trends or randomness in the users they follow. The tweets, themselves, also might reveal some likelihood that they do not accurately represent the views of those named as their owners.

If the intent appears to be malicious with these accounts, use one of the previously listed responses in hopes of protecting your account.

2. “Foul-lowers”

Rating: 3-5

Some individuals use Twitter as a venue for expressing vulgar language and ideas or for transmission of inappropriate images. These, which I have dubbed “foul-lowers” may carry different levels of danger dependent on your ethical values in using Twitter; however, they are often professionally detrimental and can often put young and ethically conservative participants in less than desirable situations as they encounter them. Sadly, these users often pollute the Twittersphere for those interested in engaging in professional and educational discourse without the threat of what would typically be considered inappropriate, even by legal descriptions, for those under 18 years of age. They are easy to identify by their posted content.

Though I choose to block these users, they do not always carry a particularly malicious intent and may be unaware of the offense taken by some of their posts.

3. “Fool-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

These users are often rather benign but may post foolish and nonsensical tweets. The cat videos and memes that are rather amusing and carry little to no offensive content are among these users. Some present philosophical quips that are simply ridiculous. They do not necessarily add anything positive except perhaps a humorous or light approach to a topic, but they are very infrequently negative.

Typically these followers pose little threat to your account unless they intend to sabotage your tweets by replying with oddities or by misrepresenting your content, so there is typically no reason to react to their choice to follow you unless you are trying to maintain that only positive and beneficial accounts follow yours.

4. “Fill-lowers”

Rating: 1/2

These users are generally following you to fill a role on their following list. Sometimes it is not so much to even watch your tweeted content as it is to be connected to you or to publicly reveal their interest in what you might present online. Sometimes, in education, especially, these users are very positive and are looking for your account and content to present to others or to inform their own practice. Many times, they do not have a lot of their own original content and may use Twitter primarily to aggregate and organize resources and thoughts related to their interests.

A typical response to these followers might be to generically thank them for following and express an interest in continued collaboration, either in an auto-response or mention publicly.

5. “Fan-lowers”

Rating: 1/2

These followers either met you once or twice in some context and realized that they would be interested in what you had to tweet or discovered your Twitter content through someone and now find what you tweet interesting. These can be very beneficial in spreading or applying the content that you share, especially if you are one of the few whom they follow.

It is good to encourage these “fans” and try to identify the content that you have provided that contributes to learning and growing as a result of your interactions.

6. “Fellowers”

Rating: 1

These are the followers who have elected to follow you because of a fellow interest, as identified in your profile or tweet content. These are usually the most beneficial followers to have and typically result in the development of great relationships that may even manifest in face-to-face interactions and collaboration.

Follow these followers back, and express something sincerely based on their influence on you via Twitter or elsewhere. They will often help you to better connect with other like-minded resources.

7. “Phase-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

“Phase-lowers” are the followers who are in some particular phase of their interests or ideas on Twitter. They are not really beneficial, nor are they detrimental in any long-term sense. They are also not likely to be followers for a very long time. They are interested in something temporarily that is contained in your tweets, but they may shift their focus for their use of Twitter at any time.

It is difficult to identify a “phase-lower” until he or she has un-followed you and possibly re-followed you later. You may follow back or simply wait to see how the interaction unfolds.

8. “Trollowers”

Rating: 5

These are by far some of the most malicious and difficult types of followers. Also known elsewhere as “trolls” on the Internet, they seek to cause problems, often hinging their attacks on misunderstandings, logical fallacies, and manipulation of information to promote discord and confusion to distort the intent of users.

Their malicious purpose is usually very clear in their tweets, and they can be thwarted to some extent by muting and blocking, but if their discourse continues and violates Twitter policies, they should be reported. Often boycotts of these accounts and multiple reports can deter them from having a toxic impact, but these individuals are usually tech-savvy and will find other ways to subvert your efforts, so try to avoid engaging them, when possible.

9. “Fog-lowers”

Rating: 3

“Fog-lowers” have a very unclear intent with respect to their use of Twitter. It may never be clear why exactly they use Twitter. Because of this, they may or may not have an impact on your account.

There is little advantage to investing in these followers unless you eventually identify a reason for their decision to follow you. There is also no reason to necessarily block or mute these users.

10. “Friend-lowers”

Rating: 1-3

These are the followers who are friends in another context and may follow you, not because they have an interest in your Twitter content, but because they want to reinforce your friendship by showing an additional connection to you in the digital world. They can be quite beneficial if they share qualities of some of the other more engaged follower types, but they are not always set to grow or learn as a result of the online relationship as much as they are showing that they will be publicly recognized as those who are connected to you in some way.

Responses to these followers should reflect the same types of responses that are emblematic of your friendship in other contexts.

11. “Fami-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

Unless you have major family tensions, these, too, are not negative and generally support your other existing elements of your relationships, but they allow you to see what your family members are sharing on Twitter and may provide you with something else to say at the next family reunion.

Follow back if you want to preserve your place as a connected family member, but Twitter may or may not have any impact. Consider how your family members would respond to your following back or not; this should best guide your decisions regarding these accounts.

12. “Fear-lowers”

Rating: 2/3

These people usually follow you because they are afraid of repercussions for not following you or of missing out on something you tweeted. Though the motive may seem less than desirable, they are usually little to no threat and may actually turn into positive channels for collaboration once the fear subsides.

Try to reinforce positive interactions and communication with these followers to overcome fears related to not following.

13. “Fame-lowers”

Rating: 3

Some people or organizations follow you in hopes that you will follow them back and build their follower base. You are not obligated to follow them back, and sometimes by doing so, you inadvertently or intentionally provide them with more fame or credibility to those who see following as a sign of support for an account.

Determine whether you want to follow these accounts and whether you want to be identified in relation to their objectives or goals. Many times, if you do not follow back , these will un-follow you in the future.

14. “Phish-lowers”

Rating: 4/5

These followers are trying to lure you into interest in their interests, which are oftentimes negative or malicious. These come in the form of promised followers or other incredible claims that are unlikely to come as the result of a Twitter interaction with them. They use Twitter as a venue for their “phishing” schemes.

It is generally best to block or mute these users in relation to your account. If they engage in the use of malware or spyware in their links of which you become aware, they should be reported.

15. “Foe-lowers”

Rating: 5

“Foe-lowers” are known malicious threats to your account, either because of their interactions with you in another context or because of their track record on Twitter for attacking users and accounts. Do not trust them, and you may want to monitor their interaction as it regards you.

It is advisable to block these users, but it may behoove you not to mute them to monitor their Twitter behavior, especially if it concerns you.

16. “Foil-lowers”

Rating: 3-5

“Foil-lowers” seek to find ways to undermine what your goals on Twitter. They will engage in conversation and develop support to try to question and attack your views or ideas. They do not always do so maliciously but in the spirit of challenging ideas, they sometimes offend and deflate Twitter users, especially when they provide scrutiny without support.

It is best to garner support for your ideas rather than to take on this type of follower with rebuttals which will not win over the challenger. These may also be viewed through the lens that seeks to refine ideas and thoughts and may not necessarily be negative.

17. “Flip-lowers”

Rating: 1-3

These followers can be very beneficial as they add value to your original tweets, flipping them like houses, but they can also sometimes distort the ideas as they mention you in responses. It is important that you are still recognized as the source of the original idea or resource in some cases, but other times, it may be just as beneficial to generate conversation as it is to retain intellectual ownership of the original idea.

Keep these followers engaged as they “flip” your ideas, adding to the conversations. Also, try to purse their ideas, perhaps engaging in Twitter chats and extended Twitter discourse.

18. “Fish-lowers”

Rating: 1/2

This type differs from “phish-lowers” dramatically in that it is not trying to pull you in to a nefarious scheme, but is trying to fish for ideas and resources, often without reciprocating with new ideas or resources to share. These are followers who are collectors on Twitter, and the more that their collections lead to positive actions, the more beneficial they are.

It is good to try to follow up with these accounts and to pursue their interests to provide even more tools, prompts, and resources for developing the social media relationship.

19. “Fuel-lowers”

Rating: 1+

These are among my favorite followers. They are the cheerleaders and champions for your Twitter account. They see what they like on your account and share it readily and often with endorsements or affirmations.

Be sure that you follow these followers and mention them frequently on Twitter when you know that the content of your tweets will appeal to them. They can be your biggest advocates in spreading ideas and resources on Twitter.

20. “File-lowers”

Rating: 1-3

“File-lowers” use Twitter as a filing system, one to pull together ideas and resources. They often create multiple lists (some which might include you) and use organizational methods to keep up with their tweets and followers.  They may or may not benefit you, but they are not followers who ware likely to pose any threat or risk to your account.

Allow these to follow you, and consider finding out from them what their motives are by engaging them in Direct Messages to discover how they might help you to promote and organize your own account.

21. “Fun-lowers”

Rating: 3

Finally, “fun-lowers” are simply users who use Twitter as a venue for fun, light-hearted access to a variety of resources and ideas. Their Twitter feeds are usually eclectic collections of fun, inspirational, and largely entertainment tweets.

These followers pose little to no risk of a threat, and they are also unlikely to do much in the way of promoting your Twitter account or tweets. They may be followed if their interests or sense of humor matches yours; you might be surprised to find their value in their whimsical approach to Twitter.


This is not an exhaustive list of Twitter follower types, and it is subject to some exceptions, as are most categorical lists; neither is its intention to provide a definitive approach to using Twitter. Instead, I hope this will serve as a reminder that followers are equal in importance to those whom one chooses to follow. You can manage your followers in a number of ways, and doing so can help you to more effectively leverage your social media network for growth and learning.

Some tips for analyzing Twitter accounts to determine the types of followers you have would  be to review whom they follow, who follows them, who has listed them, the content of their tweets, and their profiles. Though these may not fully reveal their motives for using Twitter or following you, it will help you to determine how to respond.

Fuhrmanalogies: 3 Word Pictures to Enhance our Understanding of Important Educational Issues

I have discovered over the course of my 10 years as an educator and three and a half years as a school administrator that my best way of making sense of the issues that perplex us is through the use of analogies. Though I will provide the caveat that many of these extended metaphors or analogies fall short when extended too terribly far, they do help me to better explain what I am thinking and typically help me to connect with others in discussion about educational topics without obfuscating the general ideas too much. Having shared a few of these with colleagues and having been thanked for elucidating some issues, I would like to share a few in this venue, not to necessarily answer questions, but to engage us in richer, more vivid conversation about the issues that trouble or challenge us in education.

1. The wooden spoon of evaluation: wooden spoon.jpgOur current evaluation frameworks are much like a wooden spoon. A wooden spoon is designed to be used as a tool to mix many small and independent ingredients into a more delicious symphony of flavors which prove the beauty of synthesis. We want to use our wooden spoon in this way, to blend the components of excellent teaching pedagogy and practices that support the whole learner for the optimal educational experience; however, two difficulties arise with this wooden spoon. First, each of us applies a different approach to the use of the spoon, thereby generating a slightly different mixture from the next. Surprisingly, two people using the same mixing spoon and ingredients could produce very different textures and qualities of products. Second, some have a different experience of the wooden spoon, one associated with a corporal punishment context. Therefore, when teachers encounter the wooden evaluation spoon as a punitive device, their initial impression negatively limits their receptivity to see the tool as a constructive piece of equipment. We must be very careful to apply the use of our evaluation tool with the intention of generating the best mixture of elements to produce the finest educational experience for our students and work diligently to eradicate the notion that the evaluation tool’s primary purpose is to exact punitive measures in response to less than optimal observational evidence.

 

2. The bullseye of assessment:

bullseye

We are charged with the complex task of developing learners who are capable of meeting the demands of standardized assessments in our schools much like an archer is charged with the task of placing an arrow within a bullseye to reach the intended target. We seek the items to put in our resource quiver and are occasionally provided with some that are designed especially for the target. Sadly, as we reach for our arrows, we have found recurringly that the target has either moved or has become unclear. In fact, one might go so far as to contend that the target which we initially intended to pursue has changed to look like that designed for a different weapon. We are aware that the target is a necessary end for our challenge, but through the confusion of target and appropriate choice of weapon to send in its direction, we are taking multiple risks in aiming anything in the direction of the target. We recognize that there may be danger posed to those in the nearby vicinity, yet we are urged to take aim and release whatever we might have available in the direction of a general target without much clarification about how the location of the landed projectile will even be measured or when a judge will be able to do so. The frustration continues until we can more clearly see a static target and be equipped with or equip ourselves with tools that are designed to reach it effectively. Perhaps the target will no longer remain static in many contexts, but we would be far better prepared if we knew this at the outset. We will also be reassured when we discover that someone will be revealing to us our ability to hit the target in a timely fashion.

3. The two escalators of growth and achievement:

escalatorsEscalators have the purpose of raising their subjects to a higher point. In order to meet both growth and achievement improvement, we must imagine that students on one escalator have essentially moved their way up one escalator while being transported upward by a strong core curriculum. On the other escalator, we want to see students moving upward more quickly as we are pushing them up the moving escalator in order to draw closer to the height where the other students are found, to close the gap. We want both escalators to raise students, representing growth, but we want to close the achievement gap by providing the requisite RTI push up the escalator for those students who previously showed lower achievement. Ideally, we would be pushing the students up both escalators to the point at which there is little room left before reaching the top. How can we do this? We must be very intentional in our approaches to the differentiated needs of individual learners, and we must be willing to meet those needs and provide escalation forces beyond the typical school day, helping to address both academic and socio-emotional needs that require more support than the scheduled school day will allow.

These word pictures, though admittedly imperfect, should give us some hope that we can make some sense of the daunting issues with which we are confronted in education, and perhaps, through such a depiction, we can begin to arrive at solutions by better imagining the picture that we want to paint for our students and teachers. It is important that we make the nebulous more approachable if we are ever to effectively tackle the difficult issues of education reform.