In January of last year, members of my PLC did a Skype interview with George Couros in which he helped us out with our WordPress portfolios. In the course of our conversation, George challenged us to put our portfolios live for all to see and read, which he does at his Principal of Change site.
For months now, we’ve discussed and debated the merits of putting these things onto our sites, and hosting them live for all to see. There are many who suggest this is dangerous, usually those who advocate for increased privacy in an increasingly public world. Do we really want everyone to have access to personal information about us? How would it benefit us personally and professionally to have this information live on our site? What are the costs associated with this kind of public exposure? Is it just opening a window for identity thieves to gather information about us and threaten our security?
For one member of my PLC, it was an easy decision not to host live. It was important to her that her blog, resume, learning goals and other personal information remain firewalled for an exclusive audience, shielding it from prying eyes and unwanted attention. For her, there were not enough reasons to put this information live, and far too many reasons to keep it private. I respect and admire her decision; in follow-up conversations I’ve seen how she’s constantly weighed the value of this kind of sharing, and at what cost we post online. This is not a decision she’s taken lightly, nor have I. Views and ideas change, what’s most important is to engage in dialogue and explore your own beliefs as the way to decide what’s right for you.
For me, I’ve thought about this from many angles. Certainly there are reasons to be cautious about your digital footprint, and its for these reasons we teach this as an important topic in our schools. Once our footprint is made, it’s out there forever and can never be removed.
But at the same time, there’s good learning here and effective modeling which we can do. One of the things we’re trying to model and lead is the idea of Networked Intelligence, that many brains are better than one and community is critical. These things require us to have a net presence, and therefore a footprint which shows who we are and what we believe. So, if this is something we believe and encourage, shouldn’t we as leaders do it ourselves and show the way? If it’s important, shouldn’t we be out front exploring the frontiers, searching the pitfalls, and coming back to share our learning with everyone? If experience is the best teacher, then it would seem to me that all leaders need to be creating and managing a digital footprint, which includes sharing information about their beliefs, goals, plans and directions. And if we have a Growth Mindset where we’re not afraid to “fail”, then this is fertile ground for learning and a place where we might learn a valuable lesson or two.
It’s taken 8 months, but I’ve finally started to open up some of my portfolio to the public, and it’s been an interesting process. For sure, what I’ve learned is to carefully consider your audience, how they might interpret what you write, and how it connects you to them. If for no other reason, posting live shows everyone you believe in the power of networking, and you’re willing to stretch the boundaries of your digital footprint to make it happen. My first step was to update my learning goals for the coming year, and remove the passwords so they’re live for all to see. That means students, staff, parents, and the broader community, something I’d never have done even one short year ago.
I’ll always remember a comment from Norm Bradley at last summer’s Short Course for Principals at UBC when he said “Don’t be afraid to lead”. It seemed so simple and obvious, but it’s so true. Leadership takes courage and the willingness to stretch boundaries, both personally and professionally. I hope by opening up my portfolio, I’ve demonstrated part of that, and encouraged others to join the network of learners which deepens learning for all of us.