12 Healthy Habits to Grow Your Online Presence and Keep Balance in Your Life

"It's like I'm living someone else's life..."

A Little Reflection before Getting Down to Business
This just came on my Pandora radio station as I'm doing my monthly "file maintenance" and moving pages around. (See my Facebook posts on technology productivity for more on this.)  When I came to my presentations folder, I saw a journey. A journey of people and faces and places.  Those who gave me chances early on and things applied for - not knowing any better, I guess.

So, here's a mini trip that shows you how people network and connect and improve their lives.

Here's my screenshot journey of presentations.

Bringing us to 2010.  So, I have some people to thank. My husband says in many ways I'm like an elephant... (Oh dear, he's not talking about weight!)  I remember.  And I think it is important for all of us to remember those who have helped us on our life journey. Who believed in us when no one else did? Who gave us chances? Who gave us advice?  Remember the people who said "no" - learn from it.  And remember and treasure those who said "yes." And really, the presentations list is only part of the story.

In November 2005 I created my RSS reader and committed to "study" this new Internet at least 15 minutes three times a week during my break. (Now I read about 4-5 hours "in field" mostly on my Kindle.) In November 2005 I started a wiki.

In December 2005, I started blogging here at Cool Cat Teacher. Adam Frey and the people at wikispaces recognized my school wiki as a "Wikispace of the month" in December 2005.  Mike Hetherington (now at http://mhetherington.net/blogs/) was my first commenter and linked to me on his blog and Darren Kuropatwa followed that link and was my second commenter.  But if you look at December 2005, I really didn't get many comments! (Beginners, just write write write!)  However, some early links from uber-bloggers Stephen Downes and David Warlick pointed many of you to this blog in the first place during that December and January.

In early 2006, I was talking to Stewart Mader for his case studies on the uses of wikis but really spent that first year learning, blogging, commenting on other blogs and "getting my feet wet."  In October 2006, I started on an amazing two year journey with Jennifer Wagner, Sharon Peters, and Cheryl Oakes with the Women of Web 2.0 -- which is still going strong as Women of Web 3 under Sharon Peters leadership (though she is moving to Africa!)

Submitted to present at the first K12 online conference and proposed that we do a global collaborative wiki project between those educators who were willing and interested! I was so appreciative that a part of my presentation, we were allowed to do this incredible project which you can still see at http://k12wiki.wikispaces.com. It was amazing and that was where Julie Lindsay and I cross paths. In mid October, Julie Lindsay and I began co-planning and creating the Flat Classroom projects.

I did a wiki workshop to a packed house at my state conference in November 2006 and Anne Davis, someone I admire very much came to the workshop. Meanwhile, my good friend Gwen Solomon brought me up to Chicago to speak at a Tech Forum in 2007 and then it began moving very quickly and ACTEM in Maine (October 2007) was my first state conference. All these presentations represent hours of practicing in hotel mirrors and rehearsing for my husband! (If you want to do something very well -- practice well!) So many friends and readers and others began joining in. Now, my head spins.

I sincerely hope that I've helped as many as have helped me. There are too many to name. For really, the story of so many teachers is like mine -- we joined in and began sharing and those who shared back far exceeded what we gave. So, I thought I would codify some of the lessons I've learned.

Healthy Habits to Grow Your Online Presence and Keep Balance Your Life
What we measured out has been measured back to us ten fold. So, this is the message you to, the teacher from this mini trip down memory lane:

1- Share.
It is OK. There are ways to do it safely and protecting your job and the privacy of students.

2 - Respond.
As much as it kills you check your email and respond. Everyone deserves the dignity of a response EXCEPT spammers and email -bots and even those can sometimes bring good information.

3 - Comment
Don't be stingy with the conversation - it doesn't belong to you and on your blog. Go out there and comment and share and not just for self promotion but to encourage.  Try to find beginners and COMMENT. Try to be that first or second commenter -- many will remember you but don't do it for that reason. Do it because it creates the ultimate teachable moment.

So few people take the time to converse. I read once that only about 20% of people on the Internet comment. When you comment you are "voting" - you're telling the writer - "I like this - I want to read more about it." You're correcting things and teaching the blogger. Converse and share.

4-Link Generously
Links are some of the best, kindest compliments you can give to those you like. If you like them, link them. It brings all of us up and helps education move up in rankings for search engines. There is power in numbers and as we link to one another - we elevate the status of legitimate practitioners who are doing this.

5 - Read (or Listen) Prolifically
I probably read 5 times more than I write.  Have you heard that old saying that you have two ears so you can listen twice as much as you speak. You may not be a reader - if so, listen on your ipod or online. But the point is to listen and learn from others. Few of us are so very brilliant that the world hangs upon our every word. ;-)

6- Distribute yourself
Go where people are -- Facebook, Twitter, Plurk - do whatever suits you. Try to link those accounts by using things like Twitterfeed and Hootsuite to make it simple to manage. But it is OK to have multiple places to share. I do try to have a "vision" for what I'll do in each space just to simplify it.

7 -  Beware of Flattery
Probably the worst period of time for me in all of this was when I began believing my own press.  When you believe your own press you can become arrogant and there is a lot of flattery that runs around. I don't think that we mean to do it to each other, but when we go to conferences and we call each other a "rock star" or "superstar" or whatever we are not painting a picture of reality.  I hate to tell you but none of us in educational blogging are rock stars -- I don't see our CD's at Walmart nor I books (yet) on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Yes, there are some tremendously amazing people that work in educational technology but when we become proud we become useless.  Show me an arrogant technologist and I'll show you someone who has stopped listening to people and won't stay relevant for long.

Some people bemoan the fact "no one knows who I am here," "no one recognizes my work here."  I say "Good, maybe you can do something then."  A huge ego is a boat anchor to overcome. There is a difference between arrogance and self confidence.  I will fight for opportunities to share because I think I can contribute to the conversation, but I will never think I am the conversation.

Beware -- and just take flattery with a grain of salt. Enjoy and laugh and meet with your friends.

8- Life Life Online AND Off-line
Part of my weight gain has been sitting in front of this computer too much. My children need me and they won't be here forever. These children will remember me as long as they live. When I pass on, most people online will never know I was here.

So, yes, it is great to live part of your life online - you can make friends and most of my best friends I have met online.  But never ever let it take you away from your family. Spent time off-line and go totally OTG (off the grid) sometimes!  Even go OTG with your online friends.  Sometimes when I go to conferences and we all huddle up and I see everyone with a laptop on their lap just writing away, I look at the eyes on the screen and wonder --

"What on earth are we missing? We're here with people we've wanted to meet forever and all we can do is tell the other people that we have wanted to meet forever that we're meeting and WE'RE NOT EVEN MEETING!"
If we talk about how great technology can improve your life and we're all fat and friendless then our message isn't going to get further than other people's ear drums.  Use technology (Like couch to 5K) to get fit. Live deeply and drink deep of your online and off-line relationships!

9 - Latch Key Your Legacy
I have a folder locked in the safety deposit box -- "Vicki's Online Identities" - it has my usernames and passwords so that my family can "get in here" when I'm gone. It is handwritten.

Some of us have literally created blogs that may live several generations or more. These are legacies to hand down to our families. Make copies of your work by using online back up programs (see my facebook page again) and backups of your blog. One day your great great grandchild may have a question and may literally be able to read what grandma said at that same phase in her life.  Maybe not.  But maybe. Don't let the bits just evaporate - our bodies may rot, but our digital footprint doesn't have to be washed away in the tides of time if we archive it for posterity.

10 - Laugh (a lot)
Some funny experiences happen on Twitter, in our classrooms and all around us.  Life is too short to be serious all of the time. When I was in my twenties, people used to tell me "you never leave work - we just want to relax sometimes" and I didn't get it. Work has ALWAYS Been my hobby. I can't help it, it is how I'm made. But sometimes people don't want to talk about deep stuff - they want to laugh. It is OK to do that. I like to scan for inspirational and funny videos through youtube sometimes just to crack a grin.

11 - Take Every Presentation Seriously
As important as it is to laugh, every presentation is a doorway to an opportunity. If you have two in the audience (you and them) there is an opportunity for you in the future. Whether it is an online presentation or face to face -- do not, I repeat, do not look at how many people are in the audience. You make your presentation world class and you'll be able to present more (if that is what you want to do.) Hone your slides - make them great (NOT too noisy.) Read Presentation Zen.

Rehearse and practice in the mirror the night before. Rehearse your timings.  Check out the room the day before if possible, if not, be there RIDICULOUSLY early. Know your audience. Take time to get to know the people putting on the conference. Work hard to tell their story as part of your story. It isn't all about you -- sure they've come to you to learn what you have to offer, but at the end of the day, it is about how THEY feel at the end of the presentation.

Do they have simple take-always that will empower them to action? Do they feel respected by you? Honor those you present for with your very best and you'll receive it back.

12 - Expect Criticism
When on vacation or OTG, I don't check email. Why let a stranger ruin my day?  It is a tough world out there right now and negativism and frustration are rampant in education. It is heartbreaking - many great people have had the vine of bitterness choke their heart for teaching and if you're going to work with educators you have to know this.  When I see someone angry, often they aren't really angry with me but at the situation in their life and something I said ticks them off.

Sometimes they DON'T WANT to learn what you have to say and are angry because someone made them come to hear you!  Often it isn't about you.  So, when I read criticisms, I take it, make notes for improving my presentation and if there is anything personal - I just say "duck back" and let it roll off. (Like water off a duck's back.)

My Dad says if you're doing anything worth doing that people will criticize you. The only people that aren't criticized are those who do nothing. Criticism is part of life - don't take it seriously and remember that often it isn't about you at all.

You set the tone for your blog. If you flame and post when you're angry you will use poor word choice. If you attack personally, you will have that reflected back at you.  For me, I want my blog to be a place where we discuss issues openly and up front but that everyone is treated with respect. The only comments that don't make it through are those from spammers. I published a death threat for goodness sakes (which I think was a teenager for teaching his parents how to use parental controls on xbox 360. ;-)

In Conclusion
Many are the lessons I've learned on my own journey. Please share yours!

Well, I didn't mean to blog at such length, but please feel free to share the healthy habits to grow your online presence and keep balance in the comments! Thank you for always teaching me with your quotations and insights. You are indeed a huge part of the story of my own life! Thank you for reading Cool Cat Teacher!

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