Over the holidays, I had a very interesting conversation with a relative. She shared some thoughts about “why educators should not be using social media to communicate.” These are some of the questions that she raised during our discussion.
- What if messages are misinterpreted?
- What if our tone is misinterpreted?
- What if parents, administrators, or students get angry or upset based on something that we’ve shared?
- What if parents compare their child’s work to another student’s work because of what’s shared?
These questions highlight for me another reason that some educators choose not to blog: the fear of making our thoughts public and the possible repercussions for doing so. But is this fear a good reason to choose not to share or just a good reminder to be careful and think more before choosing what and how we share?
I use social media (particularly Twitter, Instagram, and blogs) to share student thinking and learning with parents, and I guess ultimately, with the world. I try to be careful about how I capture this work.
- I take many headless photographs and videos, and only use student names when agreed to by the students and the parents. I use initials a lot.
- I try to keep the focus on the work and the learning. By not just taking a photograph or video of each child doing each activity, there are fewer opportunities for comparisons.
- I consider my captions carefully. Again, I try to highlight the work and the learning, and also, celebrate student growth.
- I use Storify to not just collect the individual snippets of learning, but provide a context for this learning that helps highlight growth and connections to program expectations.
While much of this documentation makes its way into our daily post on our class blog, I sometimes reflect on this work in other ways on my professional blog. It’s when writing these blog posts that I find myself proofreading more, considering word choice even more carefully, and sometimes, getting an opinion or two before publishing. While it’s largely parents that read our class blog, a more diverse audience reads my professional blog, including parents, administrators, colleagues, and various educators. My professional blog is a way for me to reflect, but also start, and hopefully continue, conversations.
I’m a self-proclaimed “educational troublemaker,” and I’m proud to be one. I appreciate when people comment with their diverse views, so that we can continue the conversations online. Sometimes words do cause strong emotions, and maybe, that’s okay. If we’re professional and open to dialogue, these emotions can be a good thing. Even if people don’t always choose to comment or talk directly to us, our words might get people thinking, and with thinking, often comes change.
I understand why people focus in on the social media horror stories (and cautionary tales) because there are lots of them. It’s these same stories that made me question joining Twitter over seven years ago. Maybe though, instead of focusing on the problems, we need to focus on the positives. (Again, could “perspective” play an important role here?)
- The “thank you’s” from parents and students for capturing the school day online, and knowing how to extend learning at home thanks to what’s shared.
- The parents that years later, still send the occasional tweet with updates on student success.
- My new learning thanks to the conversations I’ve had through Twitter, Instagram, and blog post comments.
- Connections I’ve made thanks to social media that I never would have made without it. Just as one example, over three years ago, I tweeted Stuart Shanker some of my blog post links connected to the Calm, Alert, and Learning Book Club I was involved in. That started a connection that eventually led to my work with The MEHRIT Centre.
I don’t think we should ignore the cautionary tales, but could we reduce future problems, by sharing more examples of how to use social media “for good?” Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs are not going away. Is attempting to put a stop to their use, really the answer? I don’t think so, but what about you?
It’s an interesting premise but I don’t buy into it fully, Aviva. As educators, we should know how to write and express ourselves. I take a look at the excuses in the dark purple above. Could the same logic not apply to report cards and comments?
In the classroom, there really is a push to use digital and social media appropriately. Consequently, why shouldn’t the positive use be demonstrated openly and reap the benefits of reflection and growth with other educators?
As you go on to explain, all that it takes is a few moments to carefully think about what it is that you’re trying to say. That should be a guideline for success.
Thanks for your comment, Doug! I understand what you’re saying and I agree with your logic, but this is not the first time that I’ve heard the concerns expressed that I heard over the holidays. The public nature of social media seems to scare many people. The fact that information can be shared so quickly also scares people. If you write a questionable comment on a report card, it takes a while to share via word of mouth, but with a photograph and a tweet, the news spreads quicker. I don’t think fear should hold us back, and I do think we need to be professional, whether writing, tweeting, blogging, Instagramming, Facebooking, or having a face-to-face conversation with somebody. There’s always room for misinterpretation, and it’s not only social media that creates problems. But do we share the cautionary tales/horror stories too much? The educators that use social media see the positives, but what about the others? How are we sharing this other side with them so that the “fear” doesn’t ovetake the good side of this medium? I wonder if this is something we need to consider more.
You make a very good point, Aviva. The little (or big) slipups are the ones that make the news and go viral. The fact that I might write a blog post that shares an interesting and useful classroom resource is quite boring by comparison. Like it or not, we do seem to live in a world that thrives on the sensational. Look at all the hubbub on now about “fake news”. A year ago and we’d say “Who cares?” and move on.
If only the media would get excited about the fact that you might have reached that one youngster that you’ve spent months working with … Sadly, it’s not about to happen any time soon, methinks.
Thanks for your reply, Doug! Your comment about “fake news” is an important one. The world loves the “sensational,” and it’s these moments that tend to be shared. And maybe it’s always good to be aware of how quickly news can spread: taking that extra minute to re-read a tweet or proofread a blog post before pressing, “publish.” People make mistakes, and that’s true online and in person. Avoiding social media is not going to avoid mistakes, but maybe just the ease in sharing them. I think that we have to get past the fear of what could happen, and instead, be professional, be kind, and be open: including sharing our practices with a much larger audience.
The media, right now, might not be that excited about the fact that I reached that “one youngster I’ve spent months working with,” but would educators care? Would administrators? Would parents? Could my story maybe help someone else figure out how to reach his/her “unreachable child?” Could his/her story help me? This is why we need more of these varied voices in social media because just imagine how much we could learn from each other.
Such an important conversation, I think. I am gradually training my students in what and how we share about our learning. I am thrilled that we have parents who choose to communicate with our class, as well as other professionals we are learning from.
I was really surprised at a recent meeting with other technology contact teachers to discover that a great many teachers are incredibly wary of using social media with classes for all the reasons listed in your post. People really seem to prefer a walled garden environment to a public one. It really caused me to take a step back and do some thinking about why I approach things differently. I think my tendency to extroversion probably helps.
I agree that these tools are not going away, and learning/teaching how to use them in different contexts is the skill we need.
Thanks for your comment, Lisa! Many people I know prefer the walled garden approach. Maybe it comes down to what we’re sharing and why we’re sharing it. I know people that have individual student portfolios. This is an option my teaching partner and I are looking into for the new year through ePortfolio. These would be private and are really focused on individual student growth and self-reflection. That’s different than sharing documentation around a current inquiry or exploring classroom learning with the hope of furthering learning at home. It’s also different than my professional reflections that guide future classroom choices and my own professional development. Sharing publicly, including sharing my uncertainties and failures, also allow me to learn new strategies and different approaches. In a walled garden, I might miss out on a viewpoint that could make a big difference to me and my students. We tell students the importance of taking risks. I think that risk-taking is important for us too, and as long as we’re thoughtful and professional, there’s so much value to sharing these many voices in a public space. Curious to hear what others have to say about this.