Yesterday I was extremely annoyed by a comment President Dolezal of ATEK made about my post on communication issues and problems ATEK has been having since the beginning of 2010.

I’ll very briefly recap what sparked me up . . .

On the ATEK Open Discussion forum where Breanna Horn (National Council Hogwan Rep) started a thread titled, “A different Take 0n ATEK” she said,

“A post I found about ATEK’s online visibility at Kimchi Icecream and ease of access for teachers. Any thoughts on the post? Is there anything about this we can/should/have already addressed?”

President Dolezal responded with this,

“Well, part of it is that we haven’t had a comms officer in a few months.  Rob is in now so I expect great things.  Also, this guy didn’t do any research before writing his story. We have access to almost 2,000 teachers on Facebook now – twice our membership.  And, the bloggers write stories – however misinformed.  I think the NEW newsletter, a new comms officer, and some really big success stories from us in the near future will turn the current PR picture around.  I should mention that the perception of ATEK is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was a year ago at this time” (my bold and italics).

I was astounded, and annoyed, that the comment appeared to misunderstand what I was trying to say in, If ATEK falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Musings on why ATEK isn’t communicating with the expat community . . .

This morning I decided to see if any more comments had been made on the thread, “A different Take 0n ATEK”, and saw that President Dolezal had written more about this issue.

Quote:  “I’ve been following Kimchi Ice Cream’s blog as I follow all of the Korea blogs.  Over the months I’ve been reading he’s given an often harsh but fair critique of us, although I think his recent posts go too far.  The punishment does not fit the crime.”

My response: Mr. Dolezal, my primary motivation for writing, If ATEK falls in the forest, does it make a sound? . . ., was to evoke a response and discussion about the perceived (and remember, perception is ‘reality’ and there can be multiple ‘realities of ATEK’) lack of two-way communication, and in particular the lack of information being sent out of ATEK to the general teaching community in Korea.   My next ATEK post, ATEK gets a new national communication’s officer – also known as – Roboseyo, was (in my mind anyways) very ‘pro-ATEK’–yet this seemed to be ‘cancelled out’ somehow because I gave voice to a dissenting and critical opinion.

Last night before I went to sleep I decided to Google “ATEK Korea” and selected “the last 24 hours” in my search parameters to see if anyone Rob had emailed his press release to had blogged or reposted the news about ATEK selecting a new communications officer–based on the first three pages of results I didn’t see a single Kblogger or website that had written about ATEK’s most recent, and very positive, actions . . .

So when I see President Dolezal writing on the ATEK Discussion forums’ “A different Take 0n ATEK” a very flippant and off the cuff dismissal of my initial blog trying to generate more open communication between ATEK and the teaching community . . . and no acknowledgement of the fact that I had just posted a very positive blog about Rob’s selection as national communication’s officer–the big picture of why I was extremely annoyed with President Dolezal’s flippant dismissal of my blogging begins to make sense.

I’m not sure if “The punishment does not fit the crime” is some sort of convoluted apology and confession that he made a mistake, but in regards to the “punishment” aspect I kind of disagree with the manner in which the communication between myself and President Dolezal is being framed; I wrote my “punishment” post (as it is characterized), The road to hell is apparently paved with my intentions to help ATEK out . . ., as a rebuttal of how Mr. Dolezal had referred to my If ATEK falls in the forest, does it make a sound? . . . post, and as a criticism of the comment.  This was not about being punished, but about engaging with the issues I had raised in a more “professional” manner–which is something that I keep hearing directed at myself, and my blog, but doesn’t seem to be directed at the finger-pointers themselves.

Quote:   “In his defense, he has corrected the bit about us having no Facebok presence.  Actually, since my last comment, due to some recent mergers, I have increased the total number of people we reach to 5,000.  I will not use the bully pulpit to defame Jason or any other blogger personally or professionally no matter how much they come after me.  Will any of them give me or ATEK the same respect?  I remain hopeful.”

My response: I would appreciate it if members of ATEK, President Dolezal, Vice-President Bean, and National Communications Officer Ouwehand (though with Rob not so much), would change the reactive and overly defensive cognitive filters they’re using to interpret ‘fair and objective’ Internet writing about ATEK, and in particular, blogging (notice I didn’t use the term ‘news’ here) from ‘unfair, toxic, attacking, and immature’ Internet content about ATEK.  A distinction needs to be made between criticizing specific speech acts and specific isolated issues that teachers might disagree with, or constructively criticize, versus the generalized attacks that go after the person through character assassination and outright deliberate distortion of facts and all of the other negative methods used over the past several months.

President Dolezal, I was not ‘coming after you’ with the intent to smear your name, defame your character, or any other extremely negative motivation.  I was, however, criticizing the leadership communication style and content of your comment.  If anything, I’ll own up to the fact that I should have been much more precise and articulate about why what you wrote had annoyed me.

The primary motivation behind why I wrote, The road to hell is apparently paved with my intentions to help ATEK out . . ., was to criticize the specific comments you made on “A different Take 0n ATEK” about my writing “this guy didn’t do any research before writing his story”–to an English major (in particular, ME), referring to a person without naming them while at the same time criticizing their writing (and without checking and doing your own research to see if they’ve updated or retracted what you’re unhappy with–or did you?) is very insulting.  Then, in the same comment, you say “And, the bloggers write stories – however misinformed”–which I found extremely ironic because it again illuminated the failure of getting the points I’ve been trying to make about communication with the native teachers in Korea: if ATEK had been publishing regular updates about the day to day operations, and small things bit by bit that are happening, then I imagine I would never have had cause to write my “harsh but fair critique” . . .

On another note, Julianne and I were talking about how ATEK uses facebook groups.  Julianne pointed out that facebook teachers have to,

1. Actively click on the group’s tab . . .

2. Then click on the specific group they want to look at.

3. Then look to see if there are any updates.

I just spent a couple minutes looking at my account settings, and the “notifications” in particular–from what I can see there are no ways to set up notifications for a facebook group when the moderator, or members, post new information or whatever.

In terms of using facebook groups as a way to communicate with ATEK members, and those who sign up just to stay informed, the onus is on the teachers to regularly remember to take the time, and make the effort to check for updates and news bulletins . . . yes, it’s small, but it takes ‘3 clicks’ and some of us are lazy buggers, and some of us get busy/stressed/forgetful to do things like take the time to check what ATEK has posted regularly, lol.

Also, some teachers who are not members of ATEK also do not want to sign up for the facebook group too.  I don’t think it’s unfair to ask that ATEK make information available to non-members who also don’t want to sign up for an ATEK facebook group.  Consider the fact that if you do provide a website or blog where non-members of ATEK can read about what ATEK is, what it’s doing, what it can offer . . . consider that this might then facilitate these teachers taking the next step and joining ATEK as a member–having to sign up to anything in order to learn about ATEK can be seen as some as a kind of ‘forced’ pseudo-membership which can then be used in ways that the non-member teacher might not like; one example of this might be “We have access to almost 2,000 teachers on Facebook now – twice our membership” or “Actually, since my last comment, due to some recent mergers, I have increased the total number of people we reach to 5,000”–signing up for ATEK’s facebook group is not supposed to be the same as signing up to be a member, and I get that, but when these numbers may be used for recruiting purposes and other reasons then it makes it less likely that non-member teachers will be willing to sign up to learn about ATEK and find out what is going on when ATEK may use the group membership numbers in ways that are not in line with why non-member teachers signed up in the first place.  If teachers sign up to learn more about ATEK, and keep themselves informed, but NOT as a sign of active and consenting support for ATEK–these numbers should not be used out of context and for recruiting and PR purposes.

Quote: “The thing is when I said ‘bloggers’ are misinformed I didn’t single anyone out.  The tone of my message may have obscured the true meaning which is that I know we need to do a better job communicating.  He was right about that.  That’s why I mention that I’m hopeful about the future. Furthermore, I concede that the reason ‘bloggers are misinformed’ is that they aren’t getting enough information from us and have to rely on hear-say.”

My response: THANK YOU! This is the first time I have begun to feel like I’m being heard in terms of what I was trying to say about ATEK and communication and the general teaching community in Korea.

I have to say, though, that while you may not have “single[d] anyone out,” the framework of the single paragraph you wrote has me juxtaposed in extremely close proximity with the “misinformed” comment.  Some readers would associate my blog and its writing with the ‘misinformed’ shot.  Framing and context are often more powerful means of conveying information/ideas/opinions than what is specifically said in the message . . . I kind of expect someone who is a “trained journalist” to know that.

Quote: “If I didn’t spend so much of my time reacting to negative press or conjecture I could instead turn to promoting ATEK and more importantly to helping teachers.  Just today I was deeply involved with a case that turned out well – the hagwon owner even thanked us for helping.  There will be no blog about that.”

My response: Again, I’ll point out that if ATEK was being proactive, and producing and painting the landscape upon which it operates, then one might think there’d be a lot less “negative press and conjecture.”  If you, or Rob (I think he’d be the safer choice as I rarely if ever see him make political and diplomatic gaffes), had tweeted about the hogwan case then there’d be something positive to blog about . . . unfortunately this has not been the case since the end of 2009 (the last press release, before Rob was appointed as comm’s officer, on the ATEK site is dated 2009, December 30th), and I think one of the reasons why you “spend so much of [your] time reacting to negative press or conjecture” is because ATEK hasn’t been producing it’s own media content, and sending out information for teachers to process.

Quote: “I’m held to a higher standard than others are in communication because of my position.  I can’t just go and throw out my feelings – so I have to sit and watch it happen in front of me with my hands tied.  I made one small comment here about how I agree with some criticism and made a general dig on the fact that many bloggers shoot first and ask questions later.  I’d like to see the general quality of the debate lifted.  I’d like to see true investigative stories and objective analysis that relies on information directly from the sources and subjects of stories.  I’m a trained journalist, so maybe I’m appyling an antquated idea of newswriting to a new media opinion-based style.”

My response: I totally get that it must suck to have to exercise a high degree of self-control over what you say and how you react–but bemoaning the realities of being the president of a teachers association strikes me as a little . . . I don’t know.  It seems to me that as teachers in the classroom we have to consistently think before we speak, and edit/censor what we say and how we react to what our students say to us.  Now, I’m not saying that there is a teacher-student dynamic between the president and teachers in Korea, but some aspects of this do apply to a leader and how he/she speaks to the general public when they hold a position that is as high profile as president of the first ever teachers association in Korea.

If the “general quality of the debate [is to be] lifted” there will need to be significant changes in ATEK leadership attitudes towards how it communicates with the teaching community.  Raising the quality requires increasing the amount of easy to access information; raising the quality requires regular and consistent communication of plans, goals, small accomplishments, small events, and other things; raising the quality requires a readjustment, and more specifically, a reconstituting of the general attitude in ATEK that expects OTHERS to ask questions, search for information, and actively seek out anything and everything about ATEK: this kind of one-sidedness is the antithesis of two-way communication.

Perhaps one issue here that is not being talked about is the nature of blogs, and the multiple sub-genres (types) of blogs, in Korea.  I think Rob has mentioned this before on his blog (sorry, I’m too tired right now and don’t have the time to go and hunt through his posts for the link), and I’ll say it in my own way.  Blogs are personal diaries, voyeuristic windows into people’s lives, a very different breed of ‘news’ and information.  Bloggers have varying degrees of training in terms of writing, researching, critical thinking and analysis, and so on.  I have to wonder if ATEK’s leaders have asked themselves the following questions: What are blogs, if we perceive them as news and information mediums, capable of? What do we expect blogs to do for ATEK? Are these expectations realistic?  Which specific bloggers are capable, and WILLING, to fulfill our expectations? Have we explicitly told the bloggers what we hope for, and expect from them?

Imposing the expectations and standards of a “trained journalist” on bloggers and the content they produce for consumption by the teaching community in Korea is . . . a little puzzling (the most diplomatic word choice I can come up with right now).  I don’t think it’s a case of “maybe I’m applying an antiquated idea” to blogs in Korea that write about ATEK and teaching issues; I think it’s a case of why are you imposing professional journalism and news media standards on blogs that do not in any way resemble pro journalism and news websites and news blogs that overtly identify themselves as such?  I think a reassessment of some of the expectations and assumptions about what Korean English blogger-teachers are all about might be in order.  Otherwise, the misunderstandings and misinterpretations will continue to abound–at least on the ATEK side of things.

Quote: “So where do people go for news?  The PR from an association?  Opinion blogs?  Anti-foreigner mainstream press?  There are a couple of reliable news sources but they are scarce and fleeting.”

My response: Excellent question!  It’s a shame that it appears like this might be the first time it’s asked in a critical manner.  Where DO native teachers in Korea go for news about ATEK???  Especially, where do teachers go who are not members of ATEK to get information about ATEK and what it is doing, what it needs, and any other things ATEK wants teachers to know?

Perhaps it might be time to do some self-reflexive analysis of what ATEK  has available in terms of ‘communication resources.’

If one takes a look at the “Korean News” tab on the ATEK website you can see that it has blogs mixed in with news websites . . . if ATEK has its own definition of what a ‘news blog’ is, and explicit standards and expectations for bloggers (not that we are in any way obligated to follow these things) . . . Is it the fault of bloggers that some/many/all of us (?) don’t know what ATEK expects?  It might be a good idea to stop the irrational and reactionary complaining about what bloggers are writing about ATEK when the bloggers are doing what bloggers generally do as opposed to actual news media online, and blogs that overtly self-identify as news blogs.

Any regular reader of my blog knows that I have NEVER made any claim to being a ‘Korean English news blog for teachers’–imposing pro journalism and news standards on my blog is kind of bizarre in my mind because I am not being paid by ATEK to blog for them, I’m not a member of ATEK, I’m not the ATEK communications officer blogging for them, and nobody at ATEK has asked me to blog about anything ATEK related . . . I choose to do so, and do it in the manner in which I see fit–it’s my blog, after all.

When I like what ATEK is saying and doing, I’ll post positively about it.

When I don’t like what ATEK is saying and doing, I’ll post critical opinions about it.

I generally try to make efforts at blogging “true investigative stories and objective analysis that relies on information directly from the sources and subjects of stories”–but again, I’m writing on a blog, and I don’t perceive blogging to be the same as writing for publication on a news website like the Korean Herald, for example.  I don’t think many other bloggers see the writing they do as professional level news publications either.

There is a small and very select group of bloggers in Korea who have adopted semi-pro to pro level journalism standards, and the blogs they publish do act as sources of information about living and teaching in Korea for native English speakers . . . while my blog might have a lot of information and resources on it I do not profess to be a professional blogger, and I definitely do not have professional journalism education, training, and experience.

My final point is that I blog as best I can based on the energy and motivation I have at the time, the information that is available at the time, and with differing degrees of research and time spent on critical thinking depending on the topic and other factors . . .

But this post is not an apology for how I blog, or what I blog. When I make a mistake I try to correct and update the post immediately, and if someone posts a comment and challenges or criticizes something I’ve posted, I think about it, and if I agree and change my mind, I also update the post . . .

The simple fact of the matter is that the primary issue here is ATEK + COMMUNICATION + TEACHERS and trying to evoke a productive discussion about how things can improve . . .

I think I’ve expressed everything I have to say about this issue.

Good luck, and I hope that my criticisms, suggestions, and ideas for ATEK produce positive results.

J

ARGH! I just finished this post, and decided to see if any more comments had been posted at the “A different Take 0n ATEK” and there have been.  Please go and see what Rob and Dolezal have posted.

Rob, “There’s always going to be some static, and some criticism on blogs, and there will always be opinions, and there will always be blog posts written without sending a fact-checking e-mail to the sources, because that’s how a lot of blogs operate: as a blogger myself, when I have an opinion I’m excited about sharing, I want to publish it RIGHT NOW, not send an e-mail to five people, see if they reply, and then see if I’m still excited about my original idea.  On the other hand, most bloggers are pretty good about printing corrections and updates; that’s common blog etiquette, and that’s the climate in which one operates, when dealing with blogs.”

My response: Excellent points!

Dolezal, “That’s right Rob – blogs can be a great way to disseminate information.  I truly see their potential and I know that there are differences between them.  I’m just asking for fair treatment.  Just as my postion requires that I act in accordance with certain expectations, I think the influence and impact of a blog also comes with responsibilities.”

My response: Please see the above sections where I talk about the need for you to articulate what your “expectations” and “responsibilities” are to bloggers when they talk about ATEK-related issues.  In terms of what is ‘personal’ and what is ‘public’ in regards to what you say and do–the unfortunate truth for leaders in high profile positions is that anything and everything they say and do is open to comment, and criticism, by the public.

Dolezal, “What is the crime I have committed that deserves such raw treatment?  This poistion I’m in is already thankless and isn’t paid, so my reward is a personal feeling of accomplishment.  I don’t mind being judged on what I am doing professionally, but I’d like to see some understanding of how hard this is and to avoid character attacks.

I deeply regret responding to this thread in the first place.  Just as I have regretted responding on any blog.  The lesson I have learned is that I can’t respond at all – I just have to endure or ignore.”

My response: I’ve said this before, I’m going to say it again, and I’ll keep saying it every time I hear someone who chooses to volunteer whinge about the costs and sacrifices they have to give:

“I’m tired of hearing the ‘we’re not paid,’ ‘we’re volunteers,’ ‘we’re new at this,’ and ‘we need time’ excuses.”

You chose to do the work, and come on! Teachers are critical, cranky, cantankerous creatures and if you’re going to be the leader of a teachers association then you’d better get used to this truth, and figure out better communication strategies for asking them to be patient and understanding than simply the same old tired lines of we’re not paid, we’re new and inexperienced, and we’re having problems . . .

I’m going to finish up with some quotes on leadership,

“One of the hardest tasks of leadership is understanding that you are not what you are, but what you’re perceived to be by others.”

Edward L. Flom

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“A leader must be constantly aware of the power of his words . . . and his silences.”

Simon MacDonald

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your inspiration with others.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”

Susan B. Anthony

“The ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership.”

Jim Loe

People who let events and circumstances dictate their lives are living reactively.  That means that they don’t act on life, they only react to it.

Stedman Graham


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