5 Ways to Use Twitter to Develop a Professional Network

I have been using Twitter for over 9 years now (@Klind2013) and while I originally used it similarly to how I used Facebook, I now use it almost entirely to speak with professional colleagues. I still somewhat begrudgingly use FB to communicate with relatives, friends, old schoolmates, and some colleagues, but Twitter has become my professional go to.

At this point, I have just over 2600 followers. Not many in the great scheme of things, but it is a robust professional network that I thoroughly enjoy. When I have questions about my teaching, like I did in one tweet from summer 2018, I get great responses.

The tweet at left received enough likes and retweets to make it onto almost 10,000 Twitter followers’ feeds and resulted in 44 really helpful replies. Here’s a list of the suggestions I got.

I also follow over 3500 other people, and from those I follow, I get some great information. I find Twitter to be a wonderful source of:

  • National and local news about teaching
  • Links to blogs about teaching reading and writing
  • Interesting opinions from informed experts
  • suggestions for books and articles to read
  • professional camaraderie

So, how does one develop a good Twitter professional network? I’ve got 5 suggestions.

1: Follow Authors You Like

Many authors of literature, nonfiction, and professional work are on Twitter. Just look them up on the search bar at the top of the platform and open up their handle, just to be sure it’s really them–or their official Twitter handle, if they are very popular authors. Then hit “follow.” Now your feed will include anything those authors tweet. Just to get you started, below are the handles of some authors of professional work in English and literacy instruction that I get a lot of good information from. Follow them and then look at their feeds and followers to get more suggestions of people to follow.

2: Tweet About People’s Work

Once you have a Twitter handle of your own, you can start tweeting. To gain a professional following, tweet quotes or suggestions from professional work, and include the handle of the author and the author’s publisher in that tweet. This is a great way to keep track of your own reading, take notes of major points, and to simultaneously suggest reading to your professional colleagues. Recently I read Carol Jago’s latest book, and I tweeted some quotes from them. Here’s one:

Carol Jago retweeted some of my tweets, and guess what? Her 23,000 followers saw it. Many of them followed me, and I then I followed many of them. Her publisher also retweeted these posts to their 36,000 followers. What’s nice about this, is that the followers of Heinemann and Jago are mostly teachers. So my tweet isn’t just scattering to the four winds: it’s most likely going in to the feeds of those who would be most interested in it–and thus most likely to be valuable to my professional network.

3: Follow Professional Organizations: International, National, and Local

Many professional organizations and publishers now have Twitter feeds. Look them up and follow them. Some are obvious, such as @ncte. But there are also dozens of NCTE state affiliates, and I follow many of them, not just my home state affiliate. Journals also have twitter handles, so look them up, too. Again, be sure to check the lists of followers on these handles, too, and you’ll find even more interesting colleagues to follow.

4: Like, Retweet, and Reply

It’s absolutely, entirely fine if you never tweet at all. Lurkers on Twitter are completely welcome, and in fact, no one really knows you are there. But, it’s easier to build a professional network if you also tweet at least once in a while.

It’s good to like tweets for two reasons: 1) It helps to spread that presumably useful tweet to more people; 2) The twitter algorithm will note your likes and use them to suggest others for you to follow. A nice thing to do is to retweet other people’s tweets. Be sure you generally find the tweet useful, so people will come to think of you as someone who curates valuable professional information for them.

5: Look for Twitter Chats

Twitter chats are conversations that occur via Twitter. They take at least two forms. The ordinary twitter chat usually lasts an hour and people all tweet together in answer to specific questions at the same time. “Slow Chats” occur over the course of days or a week, so the participants chat in answer to specific questions over time. Either form of chat is equally useful. You may participate in a chat or watch it unfold as it’s happening, or you may go back and read all the tweets later.

Here are a couple of chats to look at: #NCTEchat, #DisruptTexts. Again, consider following those who participate in the chats, especially those who tweet interesting and provocative things. And look at their followers for more suggestions.

Enjoy Your Crowd

The benefits of a good professional network are inestimable. We get great information; we get a head’s up on new programs and initiatives; we can look over the shoulders of truly innovative teachers; and, we have colleagues who get our in-jokes and don’t need us to explain our frustrations. Finally, it’s a blast to go to conferences and see–in living, breathing, walking flesh–someone you’ve gotten to know on Twitter.


2018: A Year of Edukention

The Stats on Readers

One of the most fun things about blogging are the statstics you get from the blogging program. I use WordPress, and get lots of data. Here are some interesting points from 2018.

CaptureMy blog received 2802 views from 2028 different people. (Some look more than once on the same day, I think.) Of those views, almost 2400 of them were from the United States. But the others were from 68 other countries. Most of the other countries only represented one, lone view on my blog, but a few countries showed more interest.


This international reach is very cool and only something that has become possible recently.

Also, 29% of my readers read my posts on Sundays, and many of them read it at about 11 am–which is good because they’ve probably already had coffee.

Top Blog Posts

The most popular post I wrote last year was about a new rubric criterion I discovered to help improve my students’ writing and my reading experiences. That received 898 views and it got some buzz on Twitter.

Other popular posts included one on counting students’ effort in grades (206), maintaining humility as a grader of student work (147), my reflections on the 2018 NCTE Convention (145), “Teaching After Tragedy” (125), and managing the grading grind (110). Notably, only one of these posts was actually written in 2018. That’s probably a combination of my not having written many posts this year and having peaked early. That’s it. I’m done!! =:O

Thoughts for 2019

Now that 2019 has begun, I am hoping to write more posts. I’m off to a good start, having published a handful of posts in the last month. I also hope to make my posts shorter. They gone up by an average of 150 words. Better to keep the posts around 500-600, rather than 850 and up.

It seems the teaching profession has enjoyed a bit of a comeback this year, both in numbers of students entering the field and the general reputation of teachers among the public. Let’s hope those trends continue. Issues of social justice in education, particularly regarding students and teachers of color and their histories, cultures, and well-being, seem to have taken a very positive step in prominence. And, the need for students to effectively learn how to read, write, speak, and listen remains as important as ever–if not more so. More teachers seem to get that some of the old chestnuts (content and method) don’t really work anymore in our technology-rich, rapid-paced economy and diversifying culture. And, more topics of social importance (fiscal inequity, environmental responsibility, sexual consent, white privilege, sexual identity, activism, and more) seem to be receiving far more attention by the profession. Great!

Now a couple of years over 50, I am also sensing that while I remain somewhat of an educational leader and influencer, there are younger professionals whose innovative, new voices are making great strides for our field. I can help amplify those voices in my work, and I hope to increase my ability to do that as I continue to develop my own voice and ideas.

Finally, some advice for you: Twitter. Teacher twitter has become an amazing space for ideas, challenging questions, and fantastic advice. If you’re not there, get there. Follow me at @Klind2013, and then look at the educators I follow. They are terrific. Far too many to mention here. Once you’re on Twitter, check out ; the four women who founded this conversation have really started something.

Happy New Year!

By most measures, 2019 is going to be a very, very interesting year–politically, financially, socially, judicially. Good luck and happy days to you all. If we keep our students’ learning at the center of our work, we’ll never step wrong!

Teachers, What’s Your Social Media Policy?

Two years ago I taught a course for first-year college students that was focused on social media. It was called, “The Language of Social Justice,” and we looked at how social justice was fought for and against on social media. I required all the students to sign up for some social media, including Twitter, which they could do anonymously. Social-Media-Blue-Bird-IconsSocial media is becoming an extremely dominant mode of communication, and I firmly believe that English teachers have a responsibility to teach their students how to engage in it productively and responsibly.

I decided it was time for me to create a specific social media policy, so students would know where I stand. I do not wish to “friend” students on Facebook at least until after they are no longer students in my school, nor do I wish to get photos of them enjoying their weekends on their Instagram feed–or read their comments on any photos of me on mine. But, I would be delighted to have my students follow my Twitter feed, as long as they understand I’m not posting as a teacher, and I’d be happy for my students to read my blog. I’m also perfectly willing to connect with students at any age on LinkedIn, as that is a professional social media outlet and it’s actually good for them to interact with adults there.

My Social Media Policy

My policy is still evolving, but here is the one I included on my undergraduate syllabi in Fall 2018.

Dr. Lindblom’s Social Media Policy: Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, a social media site specifically intended for professional communication. If you invite me to “Connect” with you on LinkedIn, I will happily do so. You are welcome to follow me on Twitter, but please understand that I tweet from my own perspective, and my Tweets do not represent Stony Brook University or any unit within it. I will NOT knowingly follow on Twitter or friend on Facebook students who are not graduates. (But try me once you’re an alumnus!) I also blog about teacher education and English education online; if you’re interested, search for “Edukention.”

What Do You Think?

Are you a teacher with a social media policy? Social-Media-TreeDo you have one that you just don’t publish? Do you have any suggested changed for mine?



Fairness in the Classroom: It May Not Be What You Think

It is my job as a teacher to create the conditions such that each student learns all they can from the English language arts to survive and thrive in the future. That mandate, which is entirely about student learning, is the only thing that does or should guide me as a teacher. Within reason, of course. (I’m not suggesting breaking laws or justifying clearly unethical behavior.)

What Does Fairness Mean for Teaching?

All students are different. They have different backgrounds, abilities, motivations, moods, coping mechanisms, support structures, habits, responses to stress of different kinds, knowledge, and so on. Making things even more complicated, each student is a different student at different times. Students have changing schedules, feel different kinds of stress at different times, having various degrees of sleep, are well or sick, and so on. Just as one can’t step in the same river twice, we can’t teach the same student twice.

adventure amusement park carnival enjoyment

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As a result of all these changes, our methods for achieving our goal as teachers–providing the maximum possible learning for each student–also must change. There is no one-methods-works-for-all in teaching. This means, fairness isn’t the same as fairness in other places.

What is Fair is Different for Each Student and at Different Times

Some students will learn more if they are under the stress of a strict deadline. Others learn more if they are given more flexibility. Some students learn a great deal when they revise an assignment they’ve already received feedback or a grade on. Other students learn much more when their first grade is pretty low and they must work harder on later assignments to get their average up. Some students learn better when they are required to speak in class; others learn better when they are encouraged but not required to speak.

All this means students are treated differently. Some may point out that this is the very definition of unfairness. And in many places it is. But not in the classroom.

Fairness is in the Eye of the Teacher and Is Evidenced by the Learners’ Learning

What this all boils down to is that teaching is an extremely difficult job. Every teacher must figure out what is most likely to result in the maximum learning for each student and then make that happen. rulerThat teacher must also be able to explain those decisions to the students, to their parents, and to their administrators. And, teachers’ decisions must be borne out by the evidence, which can be extremely tricky and is often

not conclusive.

How Can Teachers Fairly Negotiate Such Flexible Notions of Fairness?

In a way, my description of fairness requires teachers to make big decisions. In a way, I suppose it makes teachers behave as benevolent dictators (within a larger set of legal and ethical rules). There are ways around that:

  • Teachers should ask students what would be best for their learning? Ask your students at the beginning of class about how they learn/grow best. When students are struggling with grades or assignments, ask them what will help them, and offer some suggestions: Would it help if I gave you two more days? Would it help if I required you to show me drafts next time? Would you learn better if you worked with someone else in the class? Would an alternative assignment be appropriate? I have great success with this when I work with college students. It is extremely rare for a student to ask for more than an accommodation or two during a semester. And I swear they work harder because they don’t want to have to ask me for help, even though they know I’ll help them.

    close up court courthouse hammer

    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

  • Teachers can give students choices about various forms of accommodation: more time, more help, some hints, advice from other students, the ability to complete the assignment in an alternate genre or medium.
  • Teachers should be honest and open about their methods–but not too much. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give a student something extra and ask the student not to say anything to others. If others find out and complain, the teacher should ask them, “What kind of accommodation would help you learn more?” That is, turn the conversation to the student who’s questioning.
  • Teachers must be ready to explain all their decisions to students, parents, and administrators as appropriate. As long as the students really are all learning as well and as much as possible, that should be the ultimate protection for a teacher. Tenure, a strong union, and a longstanding professional reputation also helps.

Guess What. This Actually Is a Form of Fairness

In the end, of course, this is a form of fairness. It’s just not absolute consistency. Each student gets what they need to survive and thrive in the future. Yes, they need to learn that part of surviving in the future is learning to cope with firm deadlines and minimal support. But, they experience plenty of that without us treating classrooms like factories producing widgets. In the meantime, we can help students learn the most, mature into more rigid structures as appropriate, and help them learn to build the skills they will need to meet those rigid structures.

To be excellent educators, teachers need autonomy, authority, evidence, and time to think and talk with colleagues. Negotiating fairness is just another reason why that is so.

rain of snow in town painting

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Three Successes and Three Areas to Improve: Reflections on Teaching My First Online Course to Undergraduates

In Fall 2018, I designed a new course I called “Reading Social Media,” which is intended to explore the ways in which social media shapes and reshapes public discourse and those who engage in it.

alphabet class conceptual cube

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The course was taught

in a fully-online environment, meaning that the students and I never met in person. We functioned entirely through the internet. This post is my attempt to reflect on the experience of teaching this course online to undergraduates; I have taught online graduate courses before—to working adults—but never to full-time undergraduates. It is different. I will not be addressing the content, but rather the structure of the course and the students’ reactions to it. I’ll be teaching the course in Spring 19 and then again in Fall 19, so this is a good opportunity for me to think through how things went. I have not yet had access to the student evaluations of the course, so this is all just my own thinking for now.

What Went Well

  1. The general structure of the course worked well. Each week, I posted an assignment due by the end of the week. The assignment included several components, each with its own deadline: usually a set of readings or viewings, then a written response to those, and then responses to other students’ responses.

    two person watching video on laptop

    Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

    The students got the structure very quickly, and it gave a nice rhythm to the course. Rhythm, or pace, is crucial in a good online course, probably doubly so with younger students who are not used to being so independent with their own course activity.

  2. I varied the genres we read and wrote. I assigned traditional academic articles, in-depth articles from popular sources (such as The Atlantic), Ted Talks, Oral Podcasts, graphic novel excerpts, and more. I also assigned students to write in many different formats: traditional academic writing, discussion board forums (a staple in online courses), social media posts, Twitter chats, blog posts, mind maps, letters to administrators (in a psuedo-authentic rhetorical situation), video chats, and more. Using these multiple genres also helped bring a more personal, social environment to the class, something some students and instructors find lacking in some online courses. This variation in genres was quite successful, I think. I am willing to bet the readings engaged the students more than in a traditional course, and because we were “meeting” online, it freed me up to use anything available on the internet. Also, a nice bonus: there was no charge at all for books in the course.
  3. The course was definitely rigorous. Because the students must produce work every week, work that is assessed each week, there is no getting out of it. In a face-to-face course, students need only get through 3 hours per week. Often students can do so by saying one comment in class or just keeping their head down. This structure also allowed me to more quickly catch students who were falling behind. When I say “catch,” I don’t mean I found them not working; rather, I mean catch as in they fell into a net more quickly, so I could help them get back on the path. Several students missed one week’s assignment and I would contact them immediately, find out if they were OK, and go from there. In most cases, this was the end of the issue. There was also a lot of reading (broadly defined) and writing (also broadly defined) throughout the class. So it was a rigorous and hopefully worthwhile experience from day one.

What I Need to Improve

  1. Some students simply never engaged. Out of 29 students, 4 or 5 simply never got involved with the class. They may have done one or two weeks of assignments, but they never did more than that. In face-to-face classes, this is extremely rare. Even after emailing the students with suggestions to officially withdraw from the class, they never responded. I found this odd, and I’m wondering if it’s going to be some kind of trend. There were other students who wanted to get into the class, so it was a shame these students held the seats and yet did nothing but receive Fs at the end of the course. I can’t remember the last time I assigned 5 Fs in one course.
  2. I would like to add more interactive/collaborative assignments next time. I had many creative and unusual assignments within this class, but I never really created assignments that created community or required (or even encouraged) high levels of collaboration among students.

    photograph of men having conversation seating on chair

    Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

    This is very rare for me, because in face-to-face classes I almost always have the students presenting to the whole class in informal groups from the very first day of a course. So while the individual work was good in this first iteration of the course, I need to step up the collaboration quite a bit.

  3. I only composed one assignment that required students to meet with me via videochat. I used the program Zoom, which I think is excellent. I had the students sign up for one of six slots and we had 30-minute, small-group conversations about the readings for that week. The chats were great, and it was very nice to see the students and interact with them in real time. Once I could put an animated face with a name, the students became so much more real to me. It’s not the same looking at a still photo. A few students couldn’t make any of the six times I offered for video-chats, so I gave them alternate assignments, which worked out fine. Next time I teach this course, I definitely want to create more video-chat opportunities. I held weekly online office hours, but during the entire semester, only one student took me up on them! I think if I had broken the ice with video-chats earlier in the semester, more of the students would have been likely to pop in during my virtual office hours.

Semester Overview: It Worked!

Overall, I think the students and I found the course worked well. I’ll have to see what the evals reveal before I can be more sure of the students’ reactions. But I think it worked. The students received good information, engaged in rigorous reading, writing, and thinking. And, I believe the students found they were given ample feedback and fair assessment on at least most of their assignments. But there is definitely much improvement that can be made, primarily in the area of class community development. Especially for a course on social media, I should be able to do a better job with that.

I look forward to revamping the course for next semester and seeing how it goes. In my 30th year of teaching, it’s certainly a lot of fun to still find such challenges in my work. Teaching is hard, but truly it never gets dull.

person s hand on computer keyboard

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My 6 Take-Aways from NCTE 2018 in Houston, Texas



Young students who have made a difference with their writing and speaking were invited to speak before the entire NCTE crowd!

I always enjoy the annual conventions of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’ve been attending them since 1991, give or take a couple I may have missed. This year’s NCTE Convention was especially meaningful for a few reasons. I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve observed and learned.


My Six Take-Aways

1: Is there a larger number of colleagues of color at NCTE?

I *think* the profession is finally beginning to see more people of color involved. The number of presenters and attendees of color seems to have increased, and the amount of discussion about confronting racism and being anti-racist seems to have increased as well. There is much more work to be done to ensure the profession is a better reflection of the ethnic make up of the nation, but I think we are seeing some progress. I say this as a white man, who sees through the lens of a white man. I am not in a place to make a judgment beyond my personal impressions about these movements, what’s needed and what is considered real progress.

This is a photo of a "lazy river" pool that is outlining the shape of the state of Texas.

Texas-shaped lazy river in Houston. It was too cold even for this New Yorker to swim outside! Photo by Tiffany Rehbein, via Twitter.

We need to hear from people of color and follow their leads. I am only sharing my impression that we are making some progress. I hope I’m right. Let’s keep going.  If you are a white reader interested in learning more about anti-racism, check out this post: Two Books All (White) English Teachers Should Read. And think about reading these books, too: White Fragility and How to Be Less Stupid about Race.

2: Are we hearing more from African American Colleagues at NCTE?

Teachers of color, particularly African American teachers, appear to be speaking more often and with more impact. There seemed to be far more critical truths spoken at this year’s NCTE. It seems like groups such as Cultivating New Voices, the Black Caucus, the powerful women behind , and other anti-racist, pro-teachers of color activists may be helping people of color to be more empowered and encouraging more white teachers to hear them. I think there are more teachers of color showing leadership in sessions, as presenters, in official leadership positions, and on social media. This is


Dr. Valerie Kinloch, Dean of Education at the University of Pittsburgh describes the actions she took in response to the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, as Dr. Anna Roseboro, session co-chair,  looks on. This was part of the annual “Nuts and Bolts” session for new ELA teachers at NCTE.

something our profession–and the nation’s students–need. Challenging statements are made, ill-informed statements are confronted, and eyes & ears are opened. When teachers of color are empowered, they raise important problems and suggest valuable solutions. For example, a pair of teachers (also two co-founders of #DisruptTexts) even led a successful effort to fund day passes to NCTE for Houston teachers who were not able to afford them; thank you, Lorena Germán (@nenagerman)and Julia Torres (@juliaerin80)! Thanks to their creativity and leadership, this initiative will likely be systematized for future conferences and will remain an important part of NCTE activism. What empowers teachers of color actually and ultimately empowers all teachers and students.


I hope I am correct about this positive trend and that it continues. I know there is much more work to be done.

3: Get on Twitter!

If you are not on Twitter, you are missing a great deal of what goes on at NCTE. Take a look at the hashtags and to see all kinds of important reflections, responses, enhancements, and actions related to NCTE events.

For example, I learned on Twitter that there was a panel of authors in which one author went off on a homophobic and racist rant and another author and some audience members reacted powerfully to that author. A very useful and significant conversation


Tweet from Teaching Tolerance at the NCTE Annual Convention 2018.

developed on Twitter, including a statement from NCTE and some reactions to that statement by NCTE groups. This is an important conversation. In other examples, audience members tweet information from presenters, and people at (or not at) the session can respond to those tweets with support, relevant links and other information, or with useful critique. Whether you attend the NCTE Convention or not, get on Twitter. It’s become an incredibly valuable medium for communication among active English teachers.


4: Cultural Appropriation is not tolerated

Cultural appropriation will be called out–and should be. Colleagues, be aware that when you present on a topic, if it’s not a topic for which you are an “authentic” speaker, you should be prepared for public critique. It’s not enough for people to present on a topic that hasn’t been represented fully; people who are “authentic” representatives of that perspective (and other NCTE members) will expect to be a significant part of that presentation. If you are someone who cares about a culture that you are not a member of and you want to participate on a panel about it, be sure to invite very significant “authentic” voices to be the main speakers of the panel; even better, agree to chair a panel and put in the work to propose the panel, but let the “authentic” voices be the presenters. This is a way to use power to create space for the underrepresented topic and members of that culture.

I’m aware that the idea of an “authentic” voice or perspective is complicated. That’s why I have the word in scare quotes. That said, sometimes it’s not so complicated. Don’t speak for others. Instead, create space for them to speak to us themselves.  

5: Getting Promoted from Associate Professor to Professor

Right before the NCTE Convention, I was promoted from associate professor to professor (sometimes called “full professor”) after being an associate professor for probably an unusually long time (15 years). Quite a few peer college teachers came up to me at NCTE to mention that they feel or felt “stuck” at the associate rank and were happy to see me move out of it. There are


Leila Christenbury and I enjoyed a signing for our newest volume in the Continuing the Journey series for veteran ELA teachers. Each book features the voices of over a dozen teachers in our Ideal Teachers Lounge.

many reasons some people are long-time associate professors, and often it has nothing to do with how productive they are as scholars and teachers. It has more to do with institutional politics or policies, or even personal situations. Sometimes promotion policies can change very suddenly and very dramatically, rendering someone who would easily have been promoted last year now far from eligible. Also, promotion requirements differ vastly from one institution to the next.


It would be a valuable service to some NCTE members to have some conversations about this situation. Perhaps there could be some mentoring of associate professors. Even just providing a space for associate professors to gather to share information and stories about these situations would be helpful.

6: The Privilege of Attending NCTE

Attending the NCTE Convention is an honor and a privilege. For some teachers, it can be a profession-changing experience: teachers meet their favorite authors, get access to tons of new books, meet editors, develop a national professional network and a few very close friends. I wouldn’t miss it. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to attend. High cost, lack of time off, no access to child care, and many other obstacles may prevent teachers from being able to attend NCTE. Those of us lucky enough to attend should work to expand


Imagine getting to meet Toby Emert and Joseph Rodriquez, the new editors of NCTE’s English Journal!

this privilege to our colleagues. We can donate funds, share materials and experiences, become more involved in state and local NCTE events (if we are not already) and we can be activist. We know that attending NCTE can greatly enhance a teacher’s quality. We should encourage local school boards and state and local government agencies to support teachers attending professional conventions in their fields of study. For too long, educational leaders (of many kinds) have been able to attend conferences, but the teachers in the classrooms have not. We all need to work to change that.



NCTE results from a ton of work of hundreds of people. Thanks to all the NCTE leaders, staff, and exhibitors, who put so much preparation work into this great conference. Thank you to all the presenters, tweeters, and participants who make the NCTE Convention such a wonderful experience.  2018 will be always be a stand-out year for me, I think, but 2019 might be even better!


Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick, NCTE President, stops in to meet with the English Language Arts Teacher Educators (ELATE) during the NCTE 2018 Convention.




Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE Executive Director, and NCTE’s Budget guru stop in to discuss ELATE finances and NCTE’s agenda for the year.

Hope to see you in Baltimore! The theme is Spirited Inquiry. How about submitting a proposal?


I’d love to hear responses in the comments to my reflections above, whether they be supportive, enhancing, or challenging. One of the best things about NCTE is the engaged discussions. Thanks to any who take the trouble to contribute.

Don’t Teach against Plagiarism, Teach for Academic Honesty

I asked a first-year college class recently, “What can you tell me about academic honesty?” All the students could talk about was how bad plagiarism is and that they should avoid it or they would get in serious trouble. When I said, “I didn’t ask about plagiarism, I asked about academic honesty,” they were completely stymied. “What is the purpose of academic honesty? Why do we document sources in research?” The students apparently had no idea.

This probably isn’t uncommon, and I think it comes from two roots:

  1. We tend to focus on crime and punishment, especially in schools. Rule enforcement above all justifies some content and some forms of schooling and instruction.


    Avoiding a crime is not the same as achieving a purpose.

    In extreme cases–which are unfortunately not at all rare–this results in a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

  2. We tend to focus on ownership. One documents to give the person who developed the idea the credit for developing the idea; more importantly, we avoid plagiarism, so we don’t claim credit for someone else’s work. Doing so would be cheating.

Surprise! Academic Honesty Has Nothing to Do with Avoiding Plagiarism

Academic honesty is important because it underpins the entire knowledge-building enterprise. In research of any kind, academics document sources for several purposes, including:

  1. To show what other claims their work is based on
  2. To fit their own work into a larger context of knowledge
  3. To ensure that their work extends a larger conversation about a subject that will continue to improve, so the knowledge gets better and better


Good scholarship fits into the larger scholarly conversation about the topic.

Part of how we know someone is an expert is by looking at how they are understanding and including those experts who came before them. That’s part of how we judge the value of their intellectual contribution. This is especially true in the humanities, in which knowledge is based more on informed conversation than on observed experience (such as in an experiment).

Academic honesty is essential to the integrity of academic knowledge. THAT’S why academic honesty matters. It’s not about avoiding stealing someone else’s work. It’s about supporting YOUR work.

Teaching Academic Integrity

Sure, students should be taught to avoid plagiarism. But much more essential is to teach them the importance of academic integrity: that making a strong argument, developing a new theory, solving a difficult academic problem requires understanding the larger intellectual context (other research) and fitting your work into it.


It takes a lot of minds to build knowledge.

We shouldn’t be teaching students to avoid the crime of plagiarism, we should be teaching them to aspire to academic integrity. Teach toward the positive, not away from the negative.