Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lessons from Teapots

On Monday morning two of our teaching staff were discussing the media beat up of the phenomena known as ‘planking’. The two psychology teachers were musing that planking in itself wasn’t a problem, rather the unsafe behaviour of the unfortunate young man who tragically died while performing the stunt on his balcony, was. They decided in fact that planking itself was no more or less dangerous or interesting than ‘teapotting’, the act of standing with one hand on your hip and one extended as a spout.

During the luncheon after our special Education Week assembly that morning, they mentioned the teapotting idea to our student leadership team and for a bit of a laugh, took a photo of the group ‘teapotting’ and created a facebook group.

So begin a very interesting ‘living’ social experiment conducted by the teachers with their students on a social network. How many people would be happy to ‘like’ and repost teapotting? The goal was 100 in a night. By midnight the tally had reached 200. The next day it topped the 1000 mark. One of the national TV networks heard about it, lifted some of the photos from the site and claimed the idea as their own. Likewise the Herald Sun newspaper. Suddenly there were over 2000 followers on facebook and the thread had picked up it’s own hash tag on Twitter.

For awhile, the thread looked like it might be sabotaged by a few naysayers who used the urban dictionary to portray a nasty side to teapotting or who encouraged or predicted gloomily that teapotters would become planking risk takers. But the group was undeterred. The teachers monitored the site continuously and reminded visitors to the page that it was a digitally ‘safe’ space where profanity and disagreeability would be swiftly removed. Teapotting, by it’s definition on their page, is only authentic if conducted in a safe and sensible manner.

Today the media coverage intensified and then an awesome iteration occurred. Someone on Twitter suggested the connection between teapotting and the Cancer Council’s Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea fundraising event on May 26th. Now the idea had wings and a cause. An idea born in jest and then nurtured in educational philosophy had suddenly become a random act of kindness!

Next Thursday our school will host Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and the media are coming to cover it. We will have our 15 minutes of fame and more importantly, the Cancer Council will get a boost for their research.

Since my current Master’s research is based on the positive influence of adults on social networks this incident is like a data gift for my project. As a school leader however, my glee is tinged with terror that someone will railroad the group and turn it into a negative for our kids and the ‘social media in education’ cause.

Most of all though I am excited by Liv & Alison's 'big think' and overwhelmed by the rich learning opportunities offered by such a simple idea. Thanks to everyone who has come on board to support the concept and helped point out the teaching points along the way.
So what have we and might we learn from teapotting?

• Social networking is a powerful medium for spreading information. If you post a photograph online it can end up on national TV without your permission in less than 24 hrs. The need to examine privacy settings and check our digital footprints is suddenly very real.

• Teachers & students can have fun learning together through social media

• The world is a closely connected place. From our tiny town, teapotters around the world have appeared and to some extent we can trace and draw their connections to the source. Great for studying the transmission of epidemics!

• Social Identity theory is alive and well. It’s important to be part of a group. It feels good to have a common purpose. People who don’t feel part of the community will try to devalue it.

• Generally, people are good and they respond appropriately. They like to make connections with people they don’t know, in a positive way.

• Role modelling on facebook works. Generally speaking, kids don’t like swearing on social networks. Everytime one of the teachers removes a post or reminds posters of the need to be digitally responsible, they get lots of ‘likes’.

• We do care about copyright and we don’t like it when other people fail to acknowledge our ideas. Our classrooms will be much more careful with creative commons and source acknowledgement now that we feel something of ours has been ‘stolen’.

• However, we’ve also learnt that it doesn’t really matter whose idea it was in the first place if it achieves something worthwhile and for the common good. Social networking groups can collaborate to modify and expand small ideas into giant ones.


  1. Thank's for explaining the sport of "planking" and "teapotting". Your facebook adventure turned into a rich experience for your students, school and everyone else involved. Is it OK if I share your story with other educators in the FacingIT Group on Facebook?

  2. Please do share Penny. I was just wary of posting the link in too many places myself because I don't like to 'spam' my own contact list's newsfeeds by posting the same thing to different groups.I love other people doing it for me though!
    Interestingly, the kids have learnt more lessons today following the piece in the Herald Sun. We have learnt not to believe everything you read in the paper and that the media can easily transform good into bad and vice versa just by what they choose to print!

  3. I was going to ask permission to repost your blog on my blog and facebook too if that is ok? I don't know if anyone reads my blog, but I think this is a very interesting commentary on the power of social media and the repercussions of it. I am a little disappointed the media lifted the photos without permission though, how hard is it to ask? Also, I was surprised with the negativity comments (that appear everywhere) I have found once they start they are hard to extinguish, but I was glad to see your experience differed.

  4. Thanks for your comment and of course you can repost. That's what blogs are for!
    I have to say that my experience hasn't differed yet about the negativity. I'm pretty sure the negative comments for teapotting will increase over the next few days. The interesting (and hopeful) thing is whether enough people are brave, strong, bold or care enough to keep refuting the negativity and pushing the positivity.

  5. That is an awesome journey and it has reached all the way around the world to a little town in Kansas, USA.
    I have liked this blog on facebook so more of my friends can ride the wave of Teapotting.

  6. Thanks for letting us know Teapotting has reached Kansas Gypsy! Next Thursday the teapotters in Mortlake will be hosting a morning tea to raise funds for cancer research. Maybe your friends in Kansas could donate the cost of a cup of tea to the cancer foundation in your area?

  7. I'm sorry I missed your last post, have been very busy lately, that would have been an awesome idea.