Image courtesy of Josch13

In the fable The Vain Jackdaw, Aesop tells the story of a jackdaw who is determined to make himself look better by attaching the feathers of other birds to his body. Initially this works as Jupiter chooses the jackdaw to be the “sovereign over the birds” due to “the beauty of his plummage”. The other birds, seeing through the jackdaw’s colourful facade, remove the false feathers, exposing him for who he truly is.

Social media is full of jackdaws, strutting around trying desperately to gain the attention of others. While this may seem a bit harsh, in reality it happens far too much for my liking. In the story of the jackdaw, the feathers he used to improve his stature were bits and pieces taken from other birds. For the jackdaws  of social media, there are a number of people who don’t really add much to the conversation, instead they choose to take from others, often without giving proper credit. Sadly, this isn’t any better with those who choose to call themselves education leaders. Their plumage is nothing more than an assortment of feathers taken from others who deserve the attention.

The main problem lies with this need to ‘sell ourselves’. I want to clear something up here first. I understand I live in a world where we need to convince others that we should be hired or should buy our products or services in order to survive. My problem lies with the way that we do that. I also recognize that there are many out there who are exemplary in the way they conduct themselves online. The problem is that their work or image is diminished or pushed aside by the internet jackdaws who want to steal their feathers.

Here are some examples of where I see things going terribly wrong:

The content thief: This is the person who tweets or posts multiple times per day using material taken from other sources without properly attribution. No, I’m not saying that we need to use full citations, but a simple RT or quoted RT to show the source or a ‘hat tip’ (h/t) with the person’s Twitter handle would do. My main problem is with those who take the content of a tweet and then post it as their own. Why not give credit to the original person?* Also, especially as educators, we need to be careful what we are sharing is legally permitted. Many of the images being shared online are copyrighted or are CC but not properly attributed to the source. As teachers and administrators, we need to be more vigilant in making sure this is properly done. If you want to use images without needing to give attribution, use your own or find public domain images to share.

The know-it-all: This is the person who says a lot all of the time, but doesn’t want to listen to others. They hope that their voice will be the only one heard over all of the others. My dealings with these people usually start off as a conversation with someone else only to have the know-it-all join in and start dominating the conversation as ‘the expert’. They make a lot of assumption, especially on how much you (don’t) know about a subject. I tend to just walk away, but many people try to engage in a discussion with this person only to find themselves in an argument along the way.

The champion of students and destroyer of teachers: This is the person who says all the right things about how to treat our students (and most likely follows them in the classroom), but doesn’t give the same respect to their colleagues. I’m not actually sure why these people feel it is necessary to treat their fellow teachers so horribly, but it is likely seen as a competition in the marketplace. They need to appear that they are a great teacher and that others are bad. This one bothers me so much. I have such a hard time dealing with these people. I have to bite my tongue (or, in this case, walk away from the keyboard) when dealing with these people. I often unfollow them since it only ruffles my feathers.

The salesperson: This is the one who only promotes themself. Period. They only share their own material, their own name, their own everything. You get the feeling you are never going to meet the real person behind the persona. This makes me sad more than anything. I love interacting with the real person, even if they make mistakes or aren’t perfect (since no one is). The lack of risk-taking by the salesperson makes me concerned that they are hiding something and that makes me not trust them as much as I probably should.

The grump: This person is impossible to please. No matter who says what, this person can only see the negative. Every so often, they accidentally wander over to the nice side, but find themselves unamused and head back to their comfort zone. I think they feel that this edgy side gives them credibility, but instead it turns people off and the message, which likely has merit, is lost.

As someone who is actively pursuing work for the fall, I understand that need to make yourself look good to potential employees. I think the biggest problem I have with this ‘online sales’ of yourself is that we think we need to come across as perfect or better than everyone else. Don’t lose sight of the real goal. We need to be teachers first and salespeople second. We accomplish that together.

This post is far more negative than I had anticipated, but I think I’ll leave it there for now. If I haven’t lost you to this point, I hope that you will feel inclined to post a comment, no matter how you feel about me or what I have said.

*I have changed the wording in this section to clarify what I meant. This comes after a discussion with Hada and Rose on Twitter about what this means. My thanks to them for adding their voices.

11 thoughts on “Selling

  1. Great post, perception of negativity aside. It’s an incredibly challenging balancing act online between marketing yourself in such a way that isn’t irritating, but not completely ignoring your product in this favour. I’m sure one time or another I’ve not managed this balance effectively. It is, however, what you can live with and be proud of in terms of your effort and your interactions (I feel) that fosters this balance best. You do it well.

    1. You nailed it, Tyson. It is a delicate balance that changes from person to person. I know I have not always been the best example, but I hope in the long run, people see me for who I really am.

      To me, you have no reason to be worried, Tyson. You are an excellent example of how you should conduct yourself online.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. A great post, Nathan. I’d say that the way you described online communication is similar (if not identical) to what happens in real life. Personally, I can’t stand a combination of the *grump* and the *know-it-all* types. These people often say something along these lines: ‘When I did it, it all went well, but if you try to do it, you will undoubtedly face a lot of difficulties. So if I were you, I’d … ‘ Grrrr. Anyway, thanks for a useful post reminding me that I should be careful about my online presence and constantly ask questions like ‘Am I true to myself?’ If the answer is positive, then everything’s ok, I guess.

    1. Thank you very much, Hana. You are absolutely correct about the connection to “real-life” as well. And just because I wrote it, doesn’t mean I always live it. It is a reminder to myself as well.

  3. Hi Nathan!
    I really enjoyed reading your post. It did get me thinking about my Twitter behavior though. I need to be a bit more careful with how I retweet stuff!!
    As for the online characters you mentioned, I am always scared of the grumpy ones :p
    Great post.

  4. Oh my….are you talking about me? You posted this ages ago but saw a link to it now… I think of you often Nathan and really want your support some times… take care

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