No More Rock Stars

My brain is still basking in the afterglow of so many great conversations and connections from ISTE13 in San Antonio. I love that we can continue them via blogs, Twitter, and other social media. The post I’m writing today is one that I’ve tried to finish for more than 6 months.


cc photo by Rev Stan

When I first started meeting face-to-face those people that I had admired, respected, and learned from in virtual spaces, I will admit that I was a little in awe. ย After meeting more and more really incredible educators, I realized that I was putting them up on pedestals… but they had never asked me to do that. It was awkward for them. I may have called some of them “rocks stars” at some point even.

That term has been bandied about quite often in our education circles lately – in blogs and comments, as well as on Twitter. Do we really want to identify some people as “edu-rock-stars?” I’m not certain I want to associate with anyone who considers him/herself as a rock star.

If you think about the term “rock star,” these are things that come to mind (or through a quick search):

  • untouchable/unattainable to the common everyday person
  • elitist/exclusive mindset
  • traveling with an entourage, including bodyguards
  • riders on their contracts for performance venues – think “insisting no one make eye contact with you, everything in the dressing room must be white, Cristal on ice at all times, drinking water at exactly 65 degrees F,” etc. (ever read the Smoking Gun Backstage page? You can’t make this stuff up!)
  • VIP treatment – immediate seating in restaurants, special perks or rewards wherever they stay, closed boutiques for private shopping, private dining away from the little people, etc.
  • bad boy/girl behavior- trashing hotels, punching the paparazzi, etc.
  • arriving obscenely late, regardless of what time you’re expected to perform/appear


I know those are extreme examples, but do we really want any of those types of behaviors, even in the smallest degree, from people who are supposed to have the best interests of children in mind?

Here’s the thing: great people share their stories and learn WITH others who are also sharing their stories. They do not expect adoration, special treatment, or even celebrity status. That’s why they’re great educators… what they do comes from their hearts, not their egos.

So please pardon me when I take offense to hearing someone referring to a person in their educational network as a rock star. I know it’s meant as a compliment, but is it really?

Here’s how it has played out, most recently at ISTE13. These are statements that I overheard more than once throughout the conference:

  • “I almost didn’t introduce myself to you. You’re such a rock star, and I was nervous to say hello.”
  • “Oh, So And So is such a rock star. He couldn’t possibly learn anything from me. I’m just an unknown teacher.”

I know it’s human nature to want to rank and sort ourselves… sadly. I think, however, that most people are uncomfortable being given rock star status. Why can’t we walk up to a person and tell her that she is someone we admire, or that we really enjoyed his session or blog post? ย That starts a conversation. Learning from each other should be about the conversations we can have, not about stroking egos.

On the other hand, if someone you interact with actually welcomes rock star status, he/she probably isn’t worth your time. Learning isn’t going to be a two-way street with rock stars.

Just something to think about. It’s not about how many followers you have on Twitter, how many people know your name, or how many people want to meet you.

  • Are you sharing what you do?
  • Are you including your stories?
  • Are you lifting up and sharing the successes of the people around you?
  • Are you reflecting on what you have learned?

If you can answerย yes to any of those questions, then you are worth someone’s time. I want to meet YOU, not a rock star.


32 thoughts on “No More Rock Stars

  1. Michelle Hiebert

    Michelle, thank you for writing this post. I admit to being “starstruck” when I have met a few of those I follow on twitter, and unfortunately one of the first “rockstars” I met treated me like I wasn’t worth meeting and had nothing of value to share. That meeting tainted my vision of what all other meetings would be like. Thankfully most of the other meetings have gone very differently and I appreciate being able to make connections with anyone who cares to share with me.

    That being said, I am always thrilled to meet anyone in my PLN whether I have learned from them YET or not (notice I said yet?) because once I meet them I will be more consciously looking for what they are sharing and bringing to the twitter conversation.

    There should not be rockstars put on a pedestal, but we all rock the education world in our own ways…no one idea or person better than another…one great big learning community!

    • Michelle Baldwin

      Thanks, Michelle! Yes, there’s a difference between being excited to meet someone and treating him/her like a celebrity. I love that you made the distinction about “more conciously looking for what they share.” LOTS of people rock. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I was super excited to meet you in Calgary because of our connection on Twitter. Was I more excited to meet you than others? Yes, but it was because of our personal connection on top of our professional connection. It doesn’t make either of us rock stars, right?

      • Michelle Hiebert

        Exactly! I was thrilled to meet you because of the relationship we had built online. You were REAL even though we had never met in person. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I get very uncomfortable when people talk of rock stars (I know I have used the term myself…and will be careful not to again) because of the connotation that they are somehow better than others. Some MAY have bigger venues and audiences with which to share, but that does not make their ideas more important or valuable.

  2. This is the first blog post I’ve commented on in awhile. The title of your post convinced me to jump in, and it’s an interesting topic that I’ve watched roll around online for some time.

    I think it’s human nature to figure out the hierarchy of a group – human nature in it’s most biological sense. We are biological beings, and there’s a lot of chemical/biological happenings that we often try to ignore or push aside as humans, thinking somehow that we can live aside from those basic urges. Which we can’t sometimes. I think there’s a bit of that in the edurockstar thing.

    I also think that it’s the age-old class system, now often perpetuated by media, that encourage, or have taught, people, to rank one another. I don’t agree with it, at all, yet as social beings people tend to group based on certain rankings. If and when there’s ranking, there is a top-ranked person or group of people. I think there’s some of that in the edurockstar idea too.

    The problem with both of those explanations is that they leave out the most important piece, and a piece that you ‘get’, but many don’t. We are all human. We are all a part of the human experience and we are all, in a sense, perfectly equal. If people treat one another in that way, there is no ranking, no pedestals – there is simply a mutual respect.

    The tricky thing is that for mutual respect to happen, people must put aside ego, swallow pride and show, if not live, humility – all things which, I hate to say, I don’t see in a lot of people. The people that do show it usually turn out to be the most brilliant, interesting people I’ve met, and it’s always a neat surprise, because the more you get to know them, the more brilliant they become. And yet there is no rock star bearing in them at all. It’s a certain type of self-awareness that I really appreciate and enjoy being around. It’s too bad that it’s not as common as it should be.

    Just my two cents worth! Thanks for motivating me to get started on my goal to comment on blogs regularly this summer!

    • Michelle Baldwin

      That comment is a blog post of its own. I LOVE everything you said there! Mutual respect and humility go such a very long way. Thank you SO much for your response. Hope everyone reads it!

  3. In my head right now I hear the slow clap starting and then the room erupts with applause. You are right on with this one. I was getting so sick of all the people tweeting out who they saw or met up with at ISTE13…who cares! Tweet about what you are learning so that we can all benefit. A colleague and I have often discussed what it says about someone when they have more followers than they follow. To me it says that they don’t value everyone and what they have to offer.

    • Michelle Baldwin

      Thanks, Erin.

      As I mentioned to Michelle above, I was definitely excited to meet certain people at ISTE13 because of previous connections on Twitter, blogs, etc… NOT because I consider them rock stars, but because of the types of connections we made. I’m equally as excited to connect online with people I met for the first time at ISTE. I’m more aware of who they are, what they’re sharing online, etc. because of that connection in person.

      One note about followers- if you follow over 2000 people, Twitter sometimes doesn’t let you follow more for a while. I don’t know why that is, but I know it prevents some from following more than that.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  4. Well said, Michelle! If we could get past the nervousness of it all, I think we’d find most of the so called “rock stars” never used that term for themselves. Others have applied it to them.

    Crowning educators who are active online as “rock stars” often says more about the admirer than the admired, I think. People who are newer to online networking or who haven’t built a large network for whatever reason see others as more capable or knowledgeable than themselves.

    You are right when you say “Learning from each other should be about the conversations we can have, not about stroking egos”. If we all participate because we want to learn from and with each other, and realize EVERYONE including ourselves has something to add to the conversation, “rock star” status should never come close to being in play. In the end, labels only serve to set people apart instead of building connections and strengthening the learning community.

  5. Rafranz Davis

    For me, I have following the NAISTE feeds since they started years ago. Then I started following people and joining conversations. Beth Still put it into perspective for me. So many have been connecting for years until their networks are large. The “I’m a Star” mentality isn’t even resonating from all of the edu twitter vets, well not all of them. It’s coming from people who are clamoring for that notoriety. That really bothers me. When I met you, I was hesitant only because of my own shyness. You were approachable. In that moment, at that time, I just didn’t speak…I look forward to changing that!

  6. Hi Michelle,
    Great post and thanks for continuing this discussion that I don’t think will be going away any time soon. It feels good to flesh it out, but it always seems to linger. It makes me uncomfortable when I hear people talk about “Rock Stars,” especially when they include me as one of them. On the other hand, I know they mean to be complimentary, so I don’t take it personally. As for certain people being worth your time… There are definitely people who are more comfortable being outgoing online and then when you meet them in RL, they seem “cold” or “aloof.” I’m not sure that’s an ego thing as much as it might be characteristic of being an introvert. Some people are the “life of the party” online, but don’t know how to interact in real life. I try to remember this when confronted with what appears to be “Rock Star” status… that it may in fact be someone who is truly just human like the rest of us.

  7. Miguel Guhlin

    Who can disagree with the points you’ve raised? The rockstar label stems from the old “A-listers,” a web site that categorized blogs into A, B, C blogs based on how many other blogs linked to them in Technorati.

    Fortunately for most, those rankings fell by the wayside. Then, we started to see top 10 lists in magazines (yes, I was in one of them but who cares), and then on web sites by folks run by the Edublogs folks. Again, the desire to make a list of people to learn from.

    In the end, these folks who are A-listers–whose blog posts are shared, linked to, “must-reads,” and whose tweets see a zillion RTs–are simply those who have put in writing or video ideas that many of us hearken to.

    In regards to ISTE and rockstars, well, I find the whole idea foolish. I have trouble warming up to complete strangers no matter how brilliant they are. I admire their ideas, their willingness to share, their transparency (when it’s their), but in truth, I’m no longer in awe. After all, haven’t I been a rockstar too ( ) and now I enjoy being washed up, a relative unknown.

    Simply, that’s not what PLNs are about…we’re about learning from each other regardless of location so we can transform where we live and work. All else is vanity and we should learn to ignore and/or enjoy it for what it is…fluffy fun.


    With appreciation,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the

  8. Thank you for writing this.
    It’s often frustrating to be sharing so freely with colleagues (rock stars or not) and not have that reciprocated (worse still, your effort and products may be passed off as someone else’s).
    The questions you shared are ones we should always ask ourselves- professional development will be exponentially improved as a result.
    And, happily, for every self-proclaimed rock star, there are legions of humbler, thoughtful stars who are more than willing to share and mentor.

  9. Michelle, I realize many have been writing along this same topic and it resonates with me very much. I went to Educon 2 and stood off in a corner just dumbstruck because of the people I was seeing. These were all people I had been reading wither their books or their blogs or had heard them referenced in other people’s blogs or post and I truly felt in awe. I do think some is due to the introverted aspect many of us have in us and the other part is not feelign like I have much to contribute. But we all do in so many ways shape and forms. We all have so much to offer.
    Keep up the good work and thank you for all you do.

  10. Yolanda Galvez

    Very well said… although that’s how I felt at ISTE meeting all these wonderful teachers…

  11. This struck such a chord that I had to respond in my own blog.

  12. Thanks for your thoughtful and timely post, Michelle. You are right about so many things. And the comments above are right on the money, too. This is definitely a conversation the education community needs to be having. People on both sides of the rock star coin (those who are starstruck and those who act untouchable) need to read and consider what you’ve shared. Thanks for getting the conversation going!

  13. Karen Lirenman

    I have been on twitter for almost two years now, and have built many meaningful relationships. I have also gone out of my way to meet many from my twitter PLN in person whenever I can. However, I am still over whelmed when I meet people face-to-face. Itโ€™s not so much that I have built them up as rockstars in my mind, but more so that they have had a positive influence on me, and my learning. I am grateful for that. To be honest Iโ€™m not sure if that awe or gratefulness will ever really go away. Almost two weeks later I smile when I think about the some of the people I โ€œhung outโ€ with at ISTE. They believed in me, listened to me, made me laugh, pushed my thinking, and inspired me to be a better educator.


    This has been on my mind since returning home from ISTE.
    It was my very first ISTE, and it was an amazing experience, except for the times when I met some self-proclaimed (Twitter) rock stars. It really did feel like middle school again, and that was so disappointing. I really did feel like I couldn’t “sit with the cool kids,” because they didn’t engage in conversation, despite my attempts.
    Even after meeting some of them, I’d tweet about it and thank them, but got zero response. I don’t understand.
    I know I shouldn’t assume they are all that snobby, because they’re not; however, my experiences with “rock stars” were not positive at all.

    Thank you, again, for speaking for so many of us!!

  15. I want to meet YOU.



  16. Wow Michelle…you really got me thinking about this one ever since I saw your post last night. I have to admit, I’ve used the term “rock star” in the past. I find myself using it less now, and probably because of your post, I’ll not use it again. I think as you get to know people, the term doesn’t work anymore. It’s too superficial and one dimensional. (As teachers we don’t like to label our students, so why would we do it to ourselves?) I love the four questions at the end of your post, especially the one about “…lifting up and sharing the successes of the people around you.” Thanks for the great post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Wow! This blew me away! I wasn’t at ISTE13, but I was at the ETTIPAD summit in Atlanta and felt the same way! But then, I realized, we’re all rocking teachers! We ALL have something to share! I hate when I see a team of teachers and one does their best to outshine everyone else. See, it doesn’t just happen at big conventions, it can happen within schools! I’ve seen teachers almost battle over “who’s the best” and it would make me so angry! Shouldn’t we all be helping one another? Shouldn’t we all be working together so that we ALL succeed? Not for ourselves, but for the students?
    Sadly, some people will always feel like and act like “celebrities”. At ETTIPAD I realized that most of the people I thought were “rock stars” were really just awesome people doing awesome things! They wanted to talk to me, they wanted to learn and teach! I think because of that positive experience I’m able to just go talk to anyone!

    Thanks for this blog post! I enjoyed reading your thoughts and I think I may go blog about this idea too.

    P.S. I’ve always liked to think that we’re all rock stars in the positive sense that we are important and amazing. Maybe instead of rock stars, I should just call us teachers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Laurel Beaton

    Michelle! What a fantastic post. I think that when we are new to twitter and see some people with thousands of followers, we assume that they must be unreachable rock stars…and therefore we put them on pedestals. But as we start to develop relationships and as we open ourselves up to asking questions and being our true selves online, we realize that even the “rockstars” are real people too. Most educators are on twitter to learn from and with each other.

    I think it is also a new phenomenon to feel like you have a relationship with someone when you have never met them face to face before. It takes talking your head out of being shy…that is happened to me when I met you at #connectedca! We had great online conversations prior to meeting face to face and yet I still felt so SHY! It wasn’t a rock star issue (although you do rock) as much as wondering if I was crazy to feel so connected to someone who I had never met before. I think this is a new paradigm in the online world. We know each other online before we meet face to face. I think the more times it happens the more comfortable we will become. I am sorry for being shy around you…next time we meet you are getting a great big hug and a tiara! Thanks for this terrific post. It sounds like we all needed it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. I really appreciate this post, Michelle. You bring up so many important points about not contributing to the separation in our community. I do have people I admire, including you :-), but I remind myself that we all have wisdom to share. I had only 1 negative experience this time at ISTE where someone gave me a cold stare after I introduced myself and thanked her for what she contributes. I didn’t let it get to me ( much) and continued to reach out and connect with those willing to share.
    Thanks again for your post!

  20. Hey Michelle – have had many conversations and thoughts around this…

    Wondering what role things like Edublog Awards, Top Twitter Lists, Bammy Awards, Top Blogger lists, etc play in this? I know the intent of the aforementioned items are positive but do they play a role in creating a gap between educators… creating educelebrities?

    I wrote this post a while back with some concerns on what I was seeing and it lead to some powerful dialogue.

    Thanks for sharing this and putting yourself out there as this is an important topic to discuss as social media in education evolves.

  21. Carol McLaughlin

    Great post, Michelle! I know when I first started my journey on twitter that I was overwhelmed by the quality of teachers that were on it. I barely had conversations at first and just read because I felt like I was watching a lot of experts communicate to each other. BUT then…I started seeing this “experts” asking for help and advice and sometimes it was on something I knew a lot about. It wasn’t until I quit seeing some as perfect, super teacher status that I truly realized the power that a PLN can have. We all need help. YES, I LOVE meeting people I admire from twitter in person. I loved meeting you and Kelly and being able to see you both in your environment. I know you both know things I do not know and I value what you add to my professional and personal journey.

    I know many lurk on twitter just like I did. Maybe your post will help them see that they need to see everyone as learners and experts. We all have things to share and we all have so much to learn. Thanks for this post! ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Carolyn Cameron

    Hi Michelle,
    I LOVED reading this post and all of the comments that followed. You expressed, so well, something I have been thinking about for a long time – the whole celebrity status thing that I, either correctly or incorrectly, have been associating with the world of twitter. What I know for sure about all of this is that I appreciate learning from so many great educators out there, both in person and via twitter; however, for me, it is still the personal face to face connections/relationships that mean the most – which is why I really enjoyed connecting with you, in person, when you came for a visit to Greystone and when we had time together at ConnectedCa. Many thanks for writing this post!

  23. I think DeLyn captured my first ISTE experience well.
    As you said Michelle, it is I who put those I admired online in that place though and therefore only have myself to question.

    I’ve gone to many education meet-ups (Educon, EdCamps, etc.) and will often see the same group of people together from start to finish. I’ve only taken this as a catalyst to sit with others, introduce myself and meet more people (something completely outside my comfort zone). Even if it’s just for the day.

    I do think there needs to be some honesty here that, for some, being recognized is part of maintaining and building their “brand” in their profession.

    I don’t think the term, when said or used, needs to have “Rock of Ages” limitations other than admiration; a verbal thumbs-up if you will. With your larger point aside, if I ever get flown somewhere to speak, then get paid thousands to speak, get put-up in hotel and flown home- I will feel like I’ve reached my personal rockstar status in my own terms of the phrase. Why _can’t_ I answer yes to your questions and be a rockstar? I am a rockstar! I also go to bed by 9:30 Aug-June.

    To me, authentic rock stars are people who are good at their craft, know their industry and have earned their position with, as you said, long earned efforts. Many give to charities, many support global efforts and sciences, and the true ones work with purest of intentions.

    The proactive approach is for readers, the next time you are at an education event, turn to your neighbor and say hello. Sit down at a lunch table filled with strangers and excitingly tweet out that you just met them. If you meet your twitter idol and get snubbed (as some of you commented) turn that energy into two handshakes of new faces at the next session. Don’t let that snub have your day, moment or be your lasting memory of your PLN.

    IMHO we are each rockstars in our own right.We each do amazing things every day. Together we orchestrate an incredible soundtrack. We are each to be applauded and to applaud others.

    Thank you for the post Michelle and the opportunity of reflection.

  24. Elaine MacKenzie (@ecmackenzie)

    Wow! Great post and I’ve really enjoyed reading all the comments. One thing that worries me about terms like “Rock Stars” and “Gurus”, etc is that I think it creates feelings of inferiority and intimidation for a lot of people. This past year, I was involved in an mentorship opportunity where I was one of several mentors working with mentees We were looking at building capacity around using technology effectively in the classroom (through the lens of TPACK). Specifically, we were looking at why some teachers were willing to take risks or put themselves out there. When I mentioned all the various educators (local and global) that would be great resources, I was surprised when I had several colleagues say that they could never approach certain people because they were “out of their league” or “those people don’t have time to deal with me”. It made me feel terrible that I had colleagues who felt that they were not worthy or had nothing to offer to the discussion around learning. Sad to say, but at our board their are some who believe that we have a tech clique that only some can aspire to become part of. Not sure how to combat that thinking?

    I just worry that there are huge numbers of teachers that are being shut down and turned off by this culture of educational celebrity. I know I have certainly felt that way at times.

  25. Stephanie Sandifer


  26. Hmmmm….
    Bit tongue-in-cheek coming up Michelle!
    I’ll be honest, I had no idea who you were when reading this post until I looked up your twitter and saw your face and then totally recognized you.

    And then I saw some of the names that stopped by your blog to comment on this post…geez…most bloggers would be very excited to have even one of them comment…plus 30 comments! And post after post of comments!

    I just wonder if the only reason you can write this is because you are a rock star?? Did you know that? Yep you are…and to psychoanalyze you I think this is the post in which you realized you were one and you wrote it to keep yourself grounded ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have rock stars in my network. There are people who do certain things so much better than me that I am in awe of them. When I see them in the same room as me I light up inside and feel their energy. They are people that I have named rockstars, they might not be rock stars to anyone else.

    I do think we need rock stars (although not really the ones that have been given the title because they are just simply really active on twitter and on the speaking circuit). Teachers have a bit of “everyone has to be equal” issues and well…we are not. There are teachers who are better than others. I wish we would come out and say that some teachers suck, and some are awesome. I have improved my craft by finding the rockstars and watching them work. I have also found the quiet rockstar teachers playing acoustic in a corner that no one knows about and have watched and learned from them as well.

    So you are a rockstar, you have rockstar commenters, and your blog roll on this blog is full of the biggest stars! That’s ok…someday if we are at the same conference i will still walk up to you and say hello…assuming I can get through your paparazzi ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. I love this post Michelle. We are all just people sharing what we love to do. It’s funny that I have felt too intimidated to go up and speak to someone who has presented at a conference or big session. You have reminded me that I don’t need to feel that way.

  28. Julian Barrell

    Maybe not rockstars, however I do think the profession is stifled far more than any other because of the way it is judged and valued:

    ‘The status of a Chef can reach astronomic levels, providing a platform to influence public perceptions well beyond the kitchen walls, something that seems impossible within the world of education.’

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