It’s just Twitter

Without fail, the annual “how should we use Twitter as student affairs professionals” conversation started again yesterday. Call me a curmudgeon, but I am tired of this conversation and here is why:

It’s just Twitter: I have written about this before. Twitter is not the end all be all when it comes to conversations in our field. It is not representative of the field as a whole. I find that much of the conversation lately has been new pros and grads, which I think is fantastic. However, don’t fall into the trap that it is representative of the entire field or indicative of the pulse of the field.

Some of the BEST pros I have worked with are not on Twitter: I bet this is true for you two. This statement speaks for itself. Also, can we stop telling grad and other pros they need to be on Twitter? Show them the value, but let them make their own decisions.

Trolls will be trolls: I elicited a lot of responses when I tweeted this yesterday:

I used the word challenged: not bullied, judged, or trolled. The latter does indeed happen. However, it comes with the territory. I am by no means condoning the behavior. You can try to make Twitter something it isn’t, but it won’t change. It’s like sticking your finger in an electrical outlet: you know what will probably happen. You decide if it is worth the risk. Twitter has its own equivalent to the childproof outlet cover: it’s called the block button.

All of the things I just mentioned happen in other places too: Like in meetings, offices, and conferences. It is easier to see and to talk about on Twitter. Let’s have a conversation about how people feel invisible at conferences or are shamed in meetings. Let’s talk about how many professionals do not have a safe space at work. Let’s talk about this because it starts there. Let’s not mask the issue by trying to make a public social media that space.

Whatever happened to discourse?: The underlying and troublesome tone in parts of the conversation yesterday were about feeling and being supported. Want to support me? Challenge my thoughts and ideas. Cause me to reflect and change my perspective. Don’t ditto everything I say. I am better because people challenge my perspective. Why are so many seemingly afraid of this? The more we challenge perspectives and push each other to think differently, the better off we all will be.

Twitter is a fraction of a piece of your personal/professional reputation: Your work is most important. Tweets won’t get you a job or help you get promoted. Lack of a Twitter presence or voice does not make you a bad professional. Use it how and if you want. You do you.

I often reflect and ask those in my inner circle why I care about this so much. After all, is this very post not hypocritical? I am critiquing the way we talk about Twitter and our expectations of it by saying it is just Twitter, yet I am spending the time to write about it. I want people to feel heard. I want people to feel like they have a safe space. I want people to connect. I want people to share ideas. I want people to feel like they can be their true selves. However, I do not think it is reasonable to expect all of that to happen all the time on Twitter. Use it for what it is; one method of communication (albeit a really good one). Have realistic expectations, be prepared to challenge and be challenged, and know when to disengage because after all, it is just Twitter.


The Trouble with Twitter

Disclaimer: This will not be one of those posts that tells you how I think you should use Twitter or what to tweet. Rather, it is a reflection of my own experience and professional development via Twitter. Take it or leave it.

Last night, I was fortunate to have an amazing conversation with Matt Bloomingdale and Valerie Heruska (to pros whom I tremendously respect and admire) as a guest on their Professional Reputations Aside podcast. After we stopped recording, the conversation continued. I had been lamenting my struggle with the transition on how I use and view Twitter for professional development and it finally clicked for me. Let me explain….

Twitter is not the end all be all of professional development. At one time for me, it was. This past semester, I embarked on an #saroadtrip where I have met with a whole bunch of amazing colleagues from around the world (thanks to my friend Lisa in Canada!). We discussed everything from branding in our field, to disrupting education, to creativity, to graduate preparation and much more. Including several conferences, webinars, and #sachat topics, this was by far the most fruitful learning I had experienced as a professional yet. The best part: it was FREE! While this post may at times seem like an anti-Twitter post, it is not. Rather, it is pointing out the limitations of only focusing on 140 characters and not using the network built on Twitter for even deeper learning and connection.

Twitter is fantastic for helping us to expand our personal learning network. It connects us to people we otherwise perhaps would never meet. The discussions that happen here are great, but very limiting. It is easy for something to be perceived differently than you intended. Dissenting opinions often seem like attacks. Trying to keep up with any given conversation results in a lot of agreeing or retweeting – and not enough actual dialogue. We start a great conversation about something important like mental health in our field or the purpose of higher education, only for it to take a back seat to the next topic a week later. These #sachat discussions are starting points – not a one time topic to be discussed tweet after tweet for two hours on a Thursday.

What I have found to be most helpful is to use Twitter as a stepping stone. It has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and then to further the discussion, connection, and learning in a much deeper way beyond tweets. 140 characters can be so painfully limiting. Twitter is also public. I can’t be completely vulnerable, honest, or authentic knowing my students and colleagues will see it. I need another space to have these honest conversations with colleagues in a way that does not come across the wrong way or harm my relationship with folks on my campus.

In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool. As many have said before, it is but one tool for learning and communicating – not the only one. I think it is important that we remember some amazing professionals who are doing incredible things in this field are not on Twitter and you will never see them on #sachat. The mark of a student affairs professional is much deeper than his or her digital identity. I do not want to be remembered or recognized by my handle or profile picture. Instead, I hope people will connect with what I write here on my blog or appreciate the work I am doing on my campus or professional association.

Twitter helps us to connect, to share articles, and to have some base level conversations. I fear, though, that it has become for many the only place to connect, share articles, converse and learn. I challenge each of you to deepen and broaden your connection to your network you have built on Twitter. It does not have to be the way I did it through Google Plus. Many other people are doing this – chatting and meeting, learning and discussing. Make it your own and know that there are many professionals out there with stories to tell, ideas to share, and encouragement to give. All you have to do is ask.

What are you doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter?

Through Sadie’s eyes: Life lessons from a dog

Our 3 and 1/2 year old Cavachon, Sadie.

Our 3 and 1/2 year old Cavachon, Sadie.

This morning I posted the picture above with the caption, “I want to live her life for just a day.” From this, I began thinking and reflecting as to what life would be like as a dog. From this, I have come up with the following observations lessons I have learned through observing the way Sadie, and other dogs, go through life.

Wake up every morning with enthusiasm, ready to take on the new day.
I often take for granted how Sadie wakes up every morning.  Each day is the same.  My wife lets her out of her crate and she bursts down the stairs. Sometimes I wonder if her paws even hit the stairs or if she just slides down them. She runs around outside and comes in to eat. She literally bounces around the house, jumps on and off the bed and greets both of us as if she hadn’t seen us in ages. Imagine waking up that way every morning.  What would life be like if we put behind us anything that happened the day before and woke up each day refreshed and excited?

Treat everyone (equally) like they are the most important person
Sadie loves people. Whenever someone comes to the house or we pass them on a walk, she wants to greet them. She wags her tail, jumps up, nestles close, and licks feverishly (if we let her) as if to say “I am SO excited to see you.” She does this with me every day when I get home, like greeting a long lost friend. She does not see gender, race, ethnicity, or any difference at all. She treats each human she sees the same; with love and excitement. What would our world be like if humans did this? Instead of walking through the streets head down, eyes glued on on our phones, what if we smiled and greeted each person we cross paths with? Our world would be a friendlier place if we treated each other like dogs treat us.

You don’t need expensive toys to have fun
It seems like every time we shop, we come home with a new toy for Sadie. While she loves to play, she does not need expensive toys to do so. One of her favorite things to play with, for example, is the cup her ice cream treats come in. She would make anything a toy if we let her. Often, she will play with the new toy only to get bored and go to one she has had forever that we should throw away, but just haven’t brought ourselves to do so. The lesson here is about our dependence on and want for material things to have fun. Like children, dogs have seemingly a wonderful imagination and do not need much to have fun. We, too can do this just by being with other people and learning to use our surroundings in a creative way. We depend too much on expensive “toys” to entertain us.

Love is unselfish
Sadie and I have the same routine when I get home. She greets me as mentioned above, she goes outside to do her business, she gets a treat, I give her plenty of attention, and she rushes downstairs to play with a toy like she had forgotten they were there for her to use all day. This routine drastically changes when Sadie can sense I have had a bad day or am sick. Instead of rushing to play with a toy, she will jump on the couch and sit as close to me as possible and will not move as if to protect or console me. Sadie does this without fail and always seems to know when I need her the most. We can all learn how to be better aware when our loved ones need us the most and to drop our own needs and wants to be there for them. 

Loyalty and forgiveness are the keys to a good relationship
Dogs are extremely loyal animals. There are countless stories and videos to back this up. Sadie is no different. No matter how much I may have neglected her while working or doing something for myself, have been verbally upset with her for barking when she wasn’t supposed to, or have just been a grump, she always forgives. This sort of undying loyalty and forgiveness are something we lack as humans. All to easily, we hold a grudge and lose trust in others. People make mistakes often. Dogs know this and see past this, so why can’t we?

The key to good communication is not words
Dogs can’t understand words. Most people know this. However, they can pick up very keenly on tone and body language. All too often we rely on words as the key focus in communicating. What if we just understood (and had to pay most attention) to tone and body language? We would certainly be better listeners and communicators for it.

Step out of Forget your comfort zone
Sadie can literally sleep anywhere; her crate, a bed, the arm of the couch, the cold kitchen floor, the grass, the car, you name it. She can always find a place to get comfortable. The lesson here is that we need to learn to be more comfortable more often. We are usually anxious and uncomfortable in places we are not used to. If you are comfortable, you are more likely to be genuine and confident which leads to building better relationships. If you learn to get comfortable anywhere, imagine the possibilities.

Learn to value rest
Face it, we all could use some more rest. This was the genesis of my picture and ensuing reflection this morning. Sadie lounges around all day. I am not suggesting we should be like dogs and just move from spot to spot and sleep all day (though we could use that once in a while). What I am suggesting is that we need to be better at listening to what our bodies are telling us and to rest when needed. Let me give a better example. Sadie’s favorite thing to do is to play with her ball. If we mention the word ball or anything that sounds like it, she will go right to the closet where it is kept and whine until we play with her. That being said, as much as she loves to play, she usually tells us when she is done. When her body gets too tired, she will lay down on the floor and stop. Simple as that. We could all be better at doing this. How often do we ignore the signals our body sends us and continue to work or play, when we really should rest?

Of course none of the above is based on any science, rather my observations and reflections from my first three years as a dog owner. When we started puppy training, our trainer told us that the classes were as much for us, if not more, than Sadie. While we have worked hard to train her, she has taught us perhaps even more.

What else can we learn from our pets?

Sadie playing at her favorite spot, the beach. This photo won her Portland's cutest dog, which enabled me to fulfill a lifelong dream of throwing out a first pitch at a professional baseball game (with her by my side)!

Sadie playing at her favorite spot, the beach. This photo won her Portland’s cutest dog, which enabled me to fulfill a lifelong dream of throwing out a first pitch at a professional baseball game (with her by my side)!