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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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Pernille Ripp July 24, 2010 - 7:39 pm

This has to be one of my favorite posts I have read this week. This is great advice that i will definitely try to live by. Thank you for creating and putting yourself out there to be judged.

Angela July 24, 2010 - 7:54 pm

Thanks, friend for this post. And, for reminding us of how lucky we are to be in this space, to meet and connect to amazing people, and to most importantly to keep a clear perspective of what matters most. Powerful words of wisdom, indeed!

Dr. Frank Buck July 24, 2010 - 10:57 pm

This post could not have come at a better time. I have a close friend whose college-age daughter has a passion for writing and has written some amazing stuff on her own blog. In her most recent post, she openly asks those who had been reading her blog to give her the sort of input that may help her improve her game. I was about to compose my response to her when your post came rolling off my GoogleReader. My suggestions to her will include the url to this post.

BTW, on my own blog, I recently referenced a post you did a year ago regarding cell phone usage in your classroom and have told many people between that time and this that reading your post is an absolute must in any debate about whether or not we allow cell phones in the classroom.

Imelda Judge July 25, 2010 - 2:04 am

I was so passionately moved by your blog that I almost cried! As a mum of four and a fulltime teacher who is trying to balance it all, incorporate new technology in the classroom, offer my students an awesome experience beyond the classroom through various extra curricular activities and reignite my blog as well as keep up with PLN’s you have reminded me that it is ok to go OTG to regain my sanity! Great points that we often fail to remember in the business of our lives!

Sarah Adley Irish July 25, 2010 - 12:15 am

This is one of the best postings I have read in awhile! The tips are great, they are practical, and they all hit home! I will be doing a link back soon for sure to your fabulous tips!

Mirtschin July 25, 2010 - 8:02 am

Thank you, Vicki for sharing your experience so willingly and reminding us of so many things. First, I loved reading of your history. Having worked so closely on many of your Flat Classroom Projects, I found it fascinating to see how you started. Being online, is time hungry and the reminder that family is important is vital for a balance of networking. Your advice re commenting and linking on eg blog posts, and encouraging those who are new to this is also vital, as a digital divide is becoming evident already between those who do adopt web2.0 technology and those who havent yet.
I wish that I would have come on board when you did. Sometimes I think that I am such a ‘learner’ but I guess, as you have reminded us that makes us humble, and open to the needs of others. Thanks for sharing and may you enjoy your holidays and precious time with your family.

Michael Fletcher July 25, 2010 - 8:18 am

Thanks for a very informative post. Have just started tweeting and looking at how I can grow my online presence so seeing your blog (linked via twitter) was perfect timing.
I’d also add that teaching is an amazing job but also hugely challenging so building opportunities to share and discuss ideas/challenges is crucial.
Twitter @michaeljfletch

gwynethjones July 25, 2010 - 3:48 pm

This is just brilliant!
Thank you so much for writing with such humour and eloquence! I found myself nodding and saying “yes!” several times. Esp when it comes to fighting negativity – some of my collegues find that lunch before a conference or PD session is a ripe opportunity to complain and stir up angst & woe for how “bad we have it” rather than celebrating the positive aspects of our career – or our celebrating our successes. i’ve since just faded away from such lunches because they would get me so down and my attempts to look on the bright side was sometimes met with “Oh hush up Pollyanna!” kind of teasing. Besides, my Mom says “life is too short to spend it with toxic people”

Would you mind terribly if I re-posted the Healthy Habits (with link back & credit of course) on my blog? I saw your offer to share – but it’s always nice to get permission!
I’ve got my first keynote preso at my state MASL conference this fall and your tips couldn’t come at a better time! Thank you again and cheers!
~Gwyneth Jones

markbarnes19 July 25, 2010 - 6:05 pm

Vicki, this is one of the most insightful and gracefully-written posts I’ve seen in some time (not just saying that because you recommend commenting). These are powerful tips that anyone new or old to social networking should consider. I especially appreciate tip #10. It’s healthy and critical to a good life.

Thanks for this inspiring post.

Lisaschaa July 25, 2010 - 7:24 pm

Unbelieveable. You hit the mark on this one……I have presented and also been the receiver at presentations..I can tell that you have been in education awhile as you are in the “mellow” stage that I am in, you don’t get “your undies in a wad” over too much…You are an amazing, “cool” person. I hope I am able to work with you in the future with this elementary flat classroom project. I “link” you when I send my teachers emails and in my blog!

Barbara Bray July 25, 2010 - 8:44 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I was trying to figure out how to write about balancing your life and you did it much better than I could. It is important to take risks and be okay if people criticize you. That’s how you learn what to do and what you might do different next time. I love that you included “laugh a lot” because sometimes we take ourselves so seriously that we forget to just enjoy what we are doing. This is brilliant! Thank you so much!

njtechteacher July 25, 2010 - 8:47 pm

Vicki: It’s so good to reflect on the journey. Whenever I read your posts, your gracious personality always shines through. I’ve learned from you and many others on my own journey. All twelve tips are great. The idea of latch keying your legacy is something I’ve had in the back of my mind, but haven’t done anything with. It’s also hard, sometimes, to step off line, but so necessary. I’m planning a break in August and look forward to coming back recharged for the new year. I’m very glad to have had you part of my teaching world. Thank you for the post!

gwynethjones July 25, 2010 - 8:47 pm

thanks – we librarians have strong copyright beliefs – so yes, it’s always good to remember to give reflection, quote, & link back to the original rather than cut & paste something in its entirety. I suppose the confusion came from “please feel free to share the healthy habits” [grins] Gotcha…share not take ;-)

njtechteacher July 25, 2010 - 11:06 pm

It was also the first time I traveled to specifically meet up with teachers I had met online. I didn’t realize it was so early into your career of traveling and meeting others. It was such a good experience going to Princeton and realizing that all the chatter online was adding up to some powerful experiences. It’s only gotten better over time.

Smplcv July 27, 2010 - 9:32 am

This great post! I loved it..keep up the good work!

PM July 28, 2010 - 8:50 pm

Love the tips. 8 is so easy to forget. 9 is an awesome idea.

Stephanie July 28, 2010 - 11:31 pm

Hi, Vicki!
I am currently enrolled in a teacher training program and am therefore new to the world of edublogging. I’ve gotten a chance to look through some of your posts, and they have raised a lot of interesting and insightful issues and concerns in modern teaching and technology. It is great that I came across this particular post, though, because it definitely gives me an insight into what edublogging is all about. I can definitely see edublogs as an amazing resource, if used correctly. The edublogging world sounds like a very exciting one. I can’t wait to hopefully become more active in it soon.


Suifaijohnmak August 1, 2010 - 5:19 am

Hi Vicki,
This is my first visit to your blog. Great to learn about your 12 healthy habits. About criticisms: may I share this with you? It is not about us, it is mostly about how people perceived us. So, I agree with your points, and I don’t take it personally. I also mention to my “learners”: there are 3 Cs and 1 Js that are both life savers and killers of life: comments, criticisms, control and judgment in this world, that we may help us to fight or flight, in response to crisis and dangerous situation. In the blogging world, I don’t think we could “escape” from the 3 Cs and 1 Js, and even more when it comes to virtual or face-to-face presentation. Beauty is judged from the audience’s perception, as any beauty contest will reveal the same pattern of judgment, how does it sound?
Finally, I like your 12 habits. I admit that I might be spending more hours in this “healthy” blogging than I used to, and so it gives me excuse not to conduct more researches…
How would you spare your other time: gymnastics, sports, dancing, reading, chatting, fighting?

Dodie Ainslie August 15, 2010 - 10:26 pm

Love #7- I see this as many a downfall… when the ego gets too big and we start thinking we are all that and then some… that is when we lose sight of the reason we are here- for the students. Unfortunately I see this with some teachers and administrators.
Well said- I also love the live online and offline… so true
and last but not least I will add to the ‘take every presentation seriously’ and will add- ‘take every interaction seriously’. When I look back at opportunities that have opened up for me, it is amazing to recognize that many happened because of a simple interaction- a comment on a facebook group, or on a blog, or a chance meeting at a conference or other professional meeting.
Thanks again for the reflection and lessons learned

Lindamcdonald August 20, 2010 - 11:40 am

My favorite line and my new mantra….Show me an arrogant technologist and I’ll show you someone who has stopped listening to people and won’t stay relevant for long.

I will continue to listen!!

Moppyp August 23, 2010 - 7:03 am

Thank you for this post. It has come at a great time for me. Just as I’m considering starting my own blog and wanting to improve my online presence.

Cborlasa007 November 5, 2010 - 8:10 am

hello, really its hard to gain network in the blogging world but once ure really there then basically ur blogs will just be optimized and u will gain more and more network! and tnx to portals like BLOGOOLA!!

Catherine Cronin February 17, 2011 - 10:40 am

Thanks, Vicki, for this wonderful advice, given with warmth, humility and humour. You provide some great suggestions here, and I have a more than a few takeaways, especially #8, #9… and #3! :-) Many thanks.

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