Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fear is not an option when it comes to social media in schools

Innovative educators know first hand that social media like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Instagram can be a powerful tool for teaching, learning, leading, and strengthening the home-school connection. In many cases though, others may need to be brought on board. Especially when parents are expressing concerns and unsure of how a platform can be used successfully.

It is the job of innovative educators to ensure parents, colleagues, and administrators know how to embrace the power of social media and also how to address their concerns.  

Here are suggestions for parents, teachers, and administrators in schools embracing social media.  
As stated by Tom Whitby in a recent Edutopia article, "Today, educators are doing many things that are not in the education experiences of parents or teachers. We can't expect parents to understand these new dynamics of education if they aren't taught about them." Parents need to ask their child's teacher to help them become smarter about learning in the digital age. Here are some ideas on how to do that. 
  • Your child's new teacher tweets but you’re not familiar with Twitter? No problem. Talk to their teacher. Ask how and why they use it. Then step back and get ready for amazing examples (like this: Twitter with Second Graders) of it's benefits.
  • You may not be familiar with a particular platform or may have heard negative things about it, but remember a platform has no intent. It is all about how it is being used. Talk to your child's teacher. Like first grade teacher Erin Shoening, they are likely to have a wealth of examples of the positive impact.
  • As our world becomes ever more connected using social media is a valuable part of the learning process. You don’t want your child to have to wait for a "better time to learn it." These are resources that can support students in developing a strong learning network today. Teachers like Linda Yollis, who are excited to support a child in communicating and collaborating positively on the global stage, are a powerful resource. Embrace it.
  • Social media can be an essential tool in your child’s curriculum and required by the new Common Core Standards. My students do my tweeting is one such example. Social media is real-world resource that teachers are incorporating in powerful ways. With social media students are connecting with politicians, scientists, astronauts, and historians. If you are lucky enough to have a pioneering teacher who understands how to embrace these tools, your child will become prepared for success in the globally-connected world in which they live.
  • Your child is living in a world where more than 90% of employers use social media for recruiting.  If students are not savvy users of social media, they can kill their chance of getting many jobs. In fact 1 in 3 employers said candidates weren't hired because of something they said online. This is why you want your child to have a teacher who can support students in using social media to shine.
  • Your child's teacher is there to nurture, support, encourage, and protect your child when you are not. Part of that responsibility means guiding them in the digital landscape which is a part of our world. Teachers who are embracing digital media for learning are the most connected educators your children will have. They are ready to ensure your child can safely and responsibly succeed in the digital landscape that is necessary for academic, career, and social success.  

More and more educators are becoming connected. Not only is this a good thing, it is supported by the United States Department of Education. In the aforementioned Edutopia article, Tom Whitby explains that teaching in new ways is scary for teachers, administrators, and parents because they, "were educated by teachers who employed 20th century pedagogy and methodology, which means that the 20th century is the basis of our educational experience. Since we are now almost halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, we need to get everyone up to speed." Ensuring we are employing 21st century tools is not only the right of teachers today, it is a moral obligation that is a part of preparing students for success. Here are some useful tips for teachers who want to ensure they are providing students with an education they deserve. 
  • A parent is concerned? No problem. Talk to them, listen to their concerns. Hear what they have to say. You are the expert. Assuage their fears with real examples of the amazing ways what your are doing enriches their child’s learning.
  • You have been using social media as a resource. Show off the awesome things your students have done. Perhaps it’s reluctant writer who got excited to compose a tweet to share with the world. Show how your students connected with and collaborate with the class halfway around the world, breaking down boundaries and borders.
  • Bring them in, engage them. Show them how they can be an active part of your classroom too. Show them how their child's relatives beyond the home can see their grandchild/niece/nephew/cousin on a regular basis, excelling and excited about school Wonder what this looks like? Check out Why tweet in Kindergarten? Ask @mariacamastro
  • Connect concerned parents with parents from previous years. Who better to tell a concerned parent about the benefits of students connecting than another parent, one who may have themselves had concerns?
  • Remind parents of your commitment to your students, their children. Remind them part of your role is to protect their children when they are in your care. But it is also your job to push them to learn and grow in a way that is relevant to their needs in a globally connected world
  • Be proud of what you have done. You are an expert. Stand by your work. Don't give up on practices you know to be valuable for your students.

It is not acceptable for administrators to deny students the freedom to learn using the tools and resources of their world. It is also not acceptable for an administrator today not to be knowledgeable in the use of these tools. Administrators today can get onboard by incorporating some of the tips below.
  • Lead by example. Become connected. See what all the fuss is about. Don’t know how? Learn. Read Principal Eric Sheninger’s book. Follow and connect with these  men and women who are connected educational leaders. Find a teacher or student who can guide you.
  • Support your teachers. Social media is a valuable resource. Districts like New York City know this and provide teachers, students, and parents with guidelines, professional development, and curriculum resources from partners like Common Sense Media and Everfi. As educational leaders, we must not respond in knee-jerk form if parents don’t like the new math, balanced literacy, or social media resources our teachers are using to effectively support learning.  Instead, it is our job to educate parents as to which resources are best.
  • Talk to parents. Learn with the parents. Set up professional learning opportunities for parents. Not sure what to share? Check out these resources from Common Sense Media.
  • Trust your teachers, especially if they have been doing it for a while. They have a repertoire of awesome instructional moments that can be used to represent your community in a positive light. Embrace it.
  • Make informed decisions. Do not forsake a resource with which you are unfamiliar. Either learn about it or trust your teachers who have to do their job. If you act out of fear, your teachers will know and you will quickly lose their respect and trust.

The internet is the internet. Social media platforms like Facebook, Google Communities or Instagram are just another resource to share information, photos, connect, collaborate, and maybe even make the world a better place. Whether blogs, Twitter, Vine, or Wikispaces, platforms give users the ability to control visibility around who can have access.  Social media however, does much more than provide a web platform. It is a conversation. It is connection. It is citizenship. It is real time. It is powerful. And it is something we need to share with our students to show them the positive power of voice and the digital world. If we don't model the positive for them, who will?

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