How can we teach ‘sharing’?

Without a doubt one of the most powerful learning and growth experience of my life has come from sharing my thoughts, reflections and lessons on my blog (pretty infrequently these days), on Twitter and in various Online Professional Social Networks.  The value of doing this seems so obvious to me that I am always taken aback by how hard it is to entice my colleagues to join me in these online spaces.  I feel that there must be a missing piece to the puzzle.

Last summer I had the experience of trying to launch a new Ning Social Network for Independent School Educators in BC.  I was keen.  We launched the network in conjunction with an Alan November workshop and as a result managed to entice a large number of educators to join.  I figured this meant we had the critical mass needed to build something sustainable.  I was wrong; after the workshop interest petered out.

I’ve also had the same thing happen when I manage to entice a new teacher to try Twitter.  They are keen for a week or so and then they forget about it.

My thinking lately is that the missing piece I’m looking for has to do with sharing.  I read somewhere recently (I can’t remember the reference) that human beings have an innate need to share.  I agree, but I think that the professional environment that teachers work in can kill this innate tendency.  We are all so busy and are generally so focused on our subject, our students and our classroom that our default is all about finding resources and fixing our lessons; we don’t have time to think about sharing.  When I reflect back on the social network I tried to build I think our mistake was in encouraging everyone to TAKE from the network (ask questions, find resources) and our assumption was that they would naturally see the value of also giving back to the network by sharing; but that didn’t happen.  Instead most of the participants took what they could and then moved on.

When I reflect on my approach to online social networking tools it always starts with the question ‘what can I share?’ and when I share others share back with me in spades.  Witness this recent Twitter conversation where I shared a resource for finding free sound effects and was in turn directed to another resource with lots of other free sound effect sites that were new to me:


This slide show and blog post called “Six Steps to Making Sharing a Part of How You Work” has got me thinking that maybe the place to start is with developing a culture of sharing at your school or institution before introducing the idea of sharing online.  I’m not going to rehash the blog post here but it occur to me that this was a pretty good model that could be used in schools to scaffold the teaching of sharing.

Six Steps to Sharing

View more presentations from Sacha Chua.

7 thoughts on “How can we teach ‘sharing’?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How can we teach ’sharing’? | Tech Ed-dy --

  2. An excellent post. Over the years, our school (like many others, I am sure) has spent a great deal of money bringing in experts to talk about a variety of different subjects. This certainly has value, because there often is the “prophet from a different” land cachet that can spark the attention with their different voice. However, we are moving in a different direction: we are really starting to try to leverage the enormous talents of our staff. I am particularly excited about our upcoming ProD day that is utilizing 21st Century Learning Skills and technology to have our large staff collaborate on our School Improvement document–all done by staff members in our own building!

    You are right, the culture of sharing is somthing that we need to emphasize within our buildings. However, there is so much out there that is being shared that I want to do my part in giving a little bit back.

    Balance, I think!

  3. Thanks for leaving a comment Cale.

    I feel like you that there is so much being shared out there that I want to try and give some back. But I think maybe we are in the minority. Not that all teachers wouldn’t want to contribute something back, but I think a lot of teachers don’t think they have anything to contribute.

    Your upcoming staff pro-d day sounds really interesting. I would love to know more about how it will be structured. We had a highly paid expert come and present to us at the start of this year and while they really knew their stuff they were trying to meet the needs of an entire k-12 staff using the lecture format. The whole time I kept wondering how we could have spent that money nurturing all the talent we already have on staff.

    You have got me wondering what would happen if a staff pro-d day was structured on the unconference model. The school would just provide space and time for teachers to present on anything they are passionate about, and everyone gets to choose where they go and who they listen to. This would a) get people sharing and hopefully b) get everyone to realise that they all have something to share.

  4. Great post, Phil. You did get me thinking, not only about sharing but also about not getting the response we expect when we share tools, open spaces, etc with colleagues. I have just finished a 4 meeting course on integrating technology and developing 21st Century skills with a group of secondary school teachers and wonder how much will these teachers change their daily practices. During the last meeting I was helping out one of them and I had a very interesting exchange, she told me though all the material we had shown was very appealing and interesting she couldn’t think how to use it in her classes, I asked her to tell me any topic she was working on and she answered “Liberty”. The first thing that came to my mind was giving her students the task of finding out what the concept meant today and how it differed from the times of the French Revolution, exposing them to works of art which had pictured it and reflecting on the artists’ historical moment… I was going to continue giving her ideas when she interrupted and said “I think I need to change my whole approach to my subject in order to do this”. I was glad she had realized that the change we are proposing has more to do with developing strategies and not so much with teaching content, all the same I wonder how much is she going to take and how can we help more teachers go through the process. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear and not making a mess of all this rambling. I will try to continue working on this in my blog and see if I can come up with something worth sharing too 😉

  5. Thanks for the response Gladys. This blog post is turning out to be a good example of what I am talking about. These comments have already pushed my thinking further than I had expected.

    It sounds like what happened in your case is that you exposed the teacher in question to some new tools and she eventually came to the realisation that in order to use them properly she would have to re-evaluate the way she teaches. Well Done! What I like about this example is that the teacher you were talking to came to the realisation herself.

    I think we’ve pretty much reached consensus at this point that just telling a student something is not the same as teaching them. So it also makes sense to me that just telling a teacher that they should be trying to shift towards a more inquiry focused, project based model of teaching will also not result in much meaningful change. They need to come to this understanding themselves and in a way that they are comfortable with; otherwise they will never commit to really changing their practice.

    This is why I am starting to wonder whether sharing is the place to start. I truly believe that every teacher has something to contribute to the conversation. I can’t help wondering whether I could create more momentum if I approach staff pro-d at my school more as ‘let’s all share what we know’ rather than ‘let me tell you what I know’. In this process of sharing I anticipate everyone will be exposed to the idea of shifting pedagogy towards inquiry and project based learning, but have the space to absorb it in a way and at a pace that they are comfortable with.

    I’m starting to ramble a little as well, so I’ll finish with this thought (it’s a bit of a generalisation). I think one of the barriers to teacher’s sharing is that we are all in a Summative Assessment mindset. We all spend so much time grading work as a finished product I think that we all feel we should be only sharing ‘finished products’, when in fact the value of sharing is in sharing ‘works in progress’ or hunches. Kelly Tenkley does a great job describing this process in her post ‘When Hunches Collide’:

  6. Hi Phil – thanks for this post. So much of what you’ve said resonates with those of us who aim to teach without walls, in a collaborative manner more than an isolated one. It reminds me of two things. The first is an experience I had when I was a student teacher doing my practicuum in Richmond, just outside of Vancouver. I had attended an English department meeting and part of that meeting involved discussing what we were doing with poetry at each grade level. One teacher gave us copies of a handout she was using to teach poetry in a grade 11 class. Being (obviously?) naive, I re-purposed and scaled down some of the content on the handout for use in my own class, a grade 8 class. Somehow, she discovered this and I received a very stern talking-to about “stealing teaching materials” and “copyright law.” It even went on my practicum report, if you can believe it. She was obviously very unhappy and not a sharer. I was — and continue to be — flabbergasted.

    The second thing it reminds me of is Dean Shareski’s K12 Online Conference PreConference Keynote — have you seen it? Dean feels so strongly about sharing that he calls it a “moral imperative” for educators. If you’ve not yet seen it, I can say it’s highly worth the 23 minute time investment!

    Thanks again for posting – I look forward to more!

  7. Hi Adrienne,

    Many thanks for the comment.

    And a big thanks for reminding me about the Dean Shareski keynote. I had started it a while back but never finished it. After reading your comment I took the time to have another look and really enjoyed it; especially the examples he weaves into his narrative. The thing is though, the teachers he highlights are natural sharers. I would love to figure out how to get teachers that don’t share as naturally turned on to the idea. I do like his idea of using social bookmarking as a low level, non-threatening way to get started. I think I might just have to try it.

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