Mayans, Mystics and Mavens: What I Learned About On-Line Presence

When I was a teacher during the early onset of the availability of the Internet in schools, I took a traditional project and attempted to add a digital component. Students in my 9th grade American Cultures Class at Nazareth High School were required to complete a research project comparing the Aztec, Inca and Mayan cultures. Beyond the ability to present information and develop a comparative essay, students were required to exercise research skills and discern the quality of resources. Being a developing teacher and what  I thought was creative at the time, I designed research “credit cards” that students needed to complete for each online resource they found. Through the process, students were required to identify who created the website from which information was garnered, when the website was created, and how the information compared to traditional print resources. I distinctly remember the jubilation expressed when  students found a flashy website that included what appeared to be deep and accurate depictions of the Mayan culture. I also recall how perplexed the students were  when they discovered  the website was created by a self-proclaimed Mayan mystic. “You can’t trust a psychic,” they proclaimed, “I guess I will have to research further.”

I recalled this experience as I read two important posts this past week by Randy Ziegenfuss and Glenn Robbins. Having just completed my dissertation concerning how school district superintendents use Twitter to lead, learn and leverage within their systems, I am intrigued by how individuals over the past ten years have used social media to connect, learn and share resources. What Randy and Glenn’s posts made me consider is this: How many of those who are engaged in social media are mystics, and how many are true mavens? Mystics are those who create on-line personas in which they retweet, replicate, or simply repurpose research or information that they add to social media streams for their own purposes. The goal appears to position themselves, get the next book deal, or generate more followers who heighten their social influence, but not explore or reveal their own practice within schools or classrooms. They may have influence, but how deep and accurate is it? Mavens, in my experience, are those who are thoughtful about what they share on social media. The posts, tweets, and blogs they share are grounded in reflection upon their own practice and actions exercised within classrooms, schools and districts. Just like when I was a school and a district leader, there is a distinct difference between talking about what should occur and doing the heavy lift of ensuring it happens within schools and classrooms. The latter is much more influential and important.

As I reflect upon my own practices on social media, I will be more critical about what I share, why I share it, and what I consume. Unbeknowst to them, but those 9th grade students 15 years ago taught me a thing or two as I was trying to teach them. I would rather be a maven with a messy, albeit proven record, than a mystic with an impressive looking, yet unsubstantiated, body of work.  Are you a mystic or a maven?