I realize there is a skepticism among some about using social media in education, but the truth is that there are more pros than cons for engaging in social media from an educational perspective. I will not let the misuse of these mediums limit my use of them for the good of our school and community. I've heard the stories of cyber bullying on Facebook; I've heard of students hacking into Instagram accounts and putting up rude and hurtful comments about another person; I have seen some of the disgusting tweets put out there for people to read. But in the end, I want to use these mediums for good, because they really are powerful tools that can spread a message of hope and bring about positive outcomes. We just need to know how to use them. That being said, I have 5 reasons why every teacher should have a digital presence.
1) Control the message about your classroom success
One of the most important tasks a teacher needs to do is let parents know what is happening in the classroom. It really is about relationship building. It's not any different than the relationship building that needs to happen in the classroom, as well. With the access we have to technology, whether it is email, texting, using Remind 101, connecting with home shouldn't be the challenge it was 20 years ago anymore. So with a tool like Facebook, I encourage teachers to create a Facebook page and invite all the parents to LIKE it so only they have access to see the student work that is being posted, the pictures of students working on activities, or just to send out announcements or homework.
I think one of the best examples I have seen of a teacher controlling the message is Kathy Cassidy, Gr One Teacher from Moose Jaw, SK. Here's a couple of her links for her blog, Primary Preoccupation that she posts weekly with video, pictures of students and her Twitter account, where she promotes her blog, and her classroom activities. She's an excellent example of getting the message out there for parents to connect to the school. I would want my children in her classroom by what I have seen her doing with students. Check it out.
2) Network with peers for ideas and support
Matt Davis wrote a blog, Social Media for Teachers, a few years ago that is worthwhile linking here that highlights how teachers can use Social Media effectively. Over the years, I have tried a number of different tools. I've had an About.me page, which I eventually deleted because I didn't see the value of it for networking purposes. I've used Linkedin to expand my network, but I'm not sure I felt more support or gained more ideas because I used it. I've created my boards on Pinterest, and pinned lots educational ideas that I shared with others, and I've gained a lot of good ideas too, but I don't feel connected to the people that follow my boards or vice versa. So before I open up a bunch of accounts and getting caught up in the novelty of a new fad app or tool, I've started asking myself the question, why am I opening another account, and what do I hope to achieve with it.
The more I work with social media, the more I find the need to network with peers about ideas. For that, I use Twitter. I'm getting more selective about who I accept to follow back, as well, because I want it to have value for my learning. I can pose questions for discussion and get the feedback from other teachers and administrators. I receive immense value from tweeting. Those that I follow and who follow me back provide valuable insights to issues and ideas that either give me validation or correction.
3) Manage your professional development
In addition to the networking, one of the greatest values I receive is the professional development. I engage regularly in #satchat, #sunchat, #sblchat, #TN2T, #skedchat, and more. They have become my greatest source of professional development. I am in contact with people all over the world who share their enthusiasm for learning as I do. The ideas I learn are invaluable. It forces me to keep up my reading, which I access through Flipboard, Zite, or Feedly. I have subscribed to feeds, blogs, and news articles that register with my interests. By linking them to Google+, Linkedin, Twitter, and Scoopit, I can share the articles I read with others and give my feedback as well. As a principal, I feel it my duty to take the lead for my learning and set the example for my teachers. As more teachers from my school connect to Twitter, I make sure that I include @BassanoSchool to Tweets for my teachers to be able to see, where I retweet for our parents and students, who follow our school Twitter as well. It's all part of the bigger plan to spread the word so we are all learning together.
4) Promote yourself and your accomplishments
One of the things that many of us educators struggle with is promoting what we do. Maybe part of this challenge is that we are trained to be too modest. Whatever the case, teachers need to promote their achievements and accomplishments where they are experiencing success with students. Why should others have to experience more challenges in their classroom, because we don't want to share what's working and what's not. Blogging has become that tool for me. I find myself, with more practice, sharing what I've learned, what I am learning, and some of my greatest successes. I encourage teachers to blog. It's surprising the reach my blog has had. It's been read around the world with over 33,000 pageviews by complete strangers. Many of the comments I have received are that my insights have been helpful.
5) Be a Changemaker
Finally, if we are going to change the world of education, we need to engage in the mediums our students are using and use them for good. Recently, I took some pictures of some of our boys enrolled in a mentorship program at the school. They were mentoring younger students by taking them to the hockey arena and teaching them how to skate and play hockey. This experience was a game changer for the kids, but I put the pictures up on Instagram and shared them out to Twitter. Three different online newspapers retweeted the images, which was later retweeted by a national morning show TV host. The boys were thrilled, and they felt great about the volunteering they were doing. Parents and teachers were excited about the work these boys did, but more importantly, it produced change in a few boys lives that needed to hear something positive about themselves. Teachers have the power to be changemakers, not only for themselves, but for their students. Having digital presence makes that more than possible. It's time to get connected, and make a difference in people's lives.