Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Skeptics Guide To Social Media: 5 Reasons Every Educator Should Plug In


Like many educators, I have always felt a bit skeptical of utilizing social media as an educational tool.  To me, it has always seemed to be, at best, a distraction for my students.  At its worst, it reminds me of the terrifying prophecies of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, in which futuristic societies are brainwashed by an omnipresent technology that monopolizes their time, kills their creativity, and destroys their human relationships.  With time, the unfortunate souls in those disutopian novels lose touch with reality, growing more and more dependent upon technology for survival, happiness, and connection.

Recently, though, I’ve been having a change of heart.  For a number of reasons, I am beginning to see the tremendous power of technology to connect, to share, and to reach people who normally aren’t interested in what is happening in education.  While I don’t ever intend to have a prolific online presence, I do hope to extend my influence beyond the walls of my classroom and of my school.  Social media, it seems, may be one way to do just that.

So, here it is, the “Skeptics Guide to Social Media: 5 Reasons Every Teacher Should Plug In”

1.  Go where your students are.
If even one of my students doesn’t have an online presence, I would be surprised.  Students these days are increasingly ‘plugged in’ and spend more and more time each year online.  By resisting the use of social media, we are essentially turning our back on the values of the generation we are trying to reach.  We are dating ourselves, as well as showing them through our actions, that we don’t care about the things that they think are important.  This is a great way to destroy relationships with our students before we even give them the chance to know us.
           
Now, I’m not saying to be Facebook friends with your students, or to adjust your days to make sure that you stay connected.  I am suggesting that teachers find a way to have an online presence through their classroom.  This might include YouTube channels, classroom Tweets, or a class blog.  While these may seem subtle, they will keep you up to speed with the world of our students, and the shift will bring immediacy and relevance to the lessons you are preparing.

2.  Tear down the walls of your classroom and share what you are doing with the world.
As educators, we are almost always on the defensive.  We are constantly being attacked by media, by the public, even by one another.  We know the value of what we are doing for a living, but we shrink away from the inevitable confrontation that comes with standing up for what we do and how we teach. 

Often, my colleagues and I are frustrated by the lack of awareness of what is happening in our schools.  We feel unjustly criticized, yet we don’t do anything to combat these criticisms.  By taking the initiative to share what we do with our communities, we give them a first-hand experience of the good work happening in our classrooms.  In doing so, they are more informed and less able to be critical of something that they don’t understand.

3.  Your students’ work will improve.
 I am amazed at the quality of work that my students produce when they know that they aren’t just writing an essay or making a video for me.  Once they become aware of the fact that their work will be posted for all of the world to see, they immediately put more energy and effort into their products.  Not only that, but they also take a lot more pride in what they do produce.

Even though the readership of my program’s blog is relatively small (but growing), my students are amazed that people are following what we do in all 50 states and several foreign countries.  It’s hard for them to grasp that people are really interested in what they are doing in school, but they take tremendous pride in the impact that they are having.

4.  It is a great way to connect with colleagues, to share resources, and to stay informed about changes in education around the nation.
 Fantastic educators around the globe are utilizing social media as an avenue to share their practices, spread quality resources, and network with other likeminded individuals.  I often look to social media to inform my teaching and collaboration.  I use Facebook and Edmodo to connect with other groups of educators and to bounce ideas around.  I use Twitter as a means for finding interesting articles that I can share with colleagues in my school to promote progressive education.  My personal and class blogs serve the purpose of expressing my teaching philosophies and sharing examples of my curriculum with the greater teaching community.
            
While this arena of social media doesn’t have a direct impact on my teaching, it does heavily influence the professional responsibilities of being a teacher.  I am more informed about what is happening in education around the globe, which helps me to have a broader perspective when thinking about challenges and issues in my school.  I get ideas on topics ranging from colleagueship and collaboration to community outreach and education policy.  My understanding of the teaching profession has grown tremendously with my exposure to resources I’ve encountered using social
media.

5.  If we don’t use social media, our critics will.
The reality is that they already do.  Many of education’s biggest critics actively use social media to attack our profession and to try to persuade the masses why they shouldn’t have trust in our education system.  So far, their voices are louder.  You only need to look as far as a Google Search of the word “teacher” to see how we are portrayed to the public.  It isn’t pretty!
           
Often teachers complain that we aren’t treated as the professionals that we perceive ourselves to be.  This is true, but it is also partially our fault.  It is time that we shift the conversation about education away from the failings and shortcomings.  We need to create a dialogue about all of the good things that are happening in our schools.  The more that we can share the positives, the more that public opinion of education will shift to reflect this.  If we don’t engage our critics on social media platforms, then we will simply surrender our message.

As someone who specializes in outdoor and  experiential education, the last thing I want is for my students to spend more time “plugged in”, becoming more disconnected from their peers, their families, their communities, and the natural world.  However, I do see the value in why we, as educators, need to embrace social media as a means for progressing our profession.  It is a tool, becoming ever the more popular with the world around us.  If we choose to ignore it, then we also choose to turn our backs on the generations, and the society, we are hoping to shape.

Luke Foley is the 2014 Vermont State Teacher of the Year.  He teaches at the STAR Program, Northfield Middle High School’s alternative program.  You can read more on his personal blog at http://lukefoleyvt.blogspot.com/ or about his program at http://nhsstarfrontiers.blogspot.com/.  You can also follow him on Twitter @LukeFoleyVT.

1 comment:

  1. People should really not hesitate on seizing the opportunities presented to them by social media. The platform is all there, ready for anyone's taking. Never in history has there been a level-playing field of this extent, wherein the tools of marketing and selling presence is virtually up for grabs, with no agents and no pay. So it's best to take note of pointers like these, and to hopefully branch off with pointers of our own.

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