When fear extinguishes innovation – new teachers and social media
Since I started my journey to be a teacher I keep hearing the same words of ‘advice’ given to student and beginning teachers about social media.
- Be careful what you do online, university officials are watching and you might get in trouble.
- Be careful what you do online, principals might be watching and you won’t get job.
- Be careful what you do online, ANYBODY might be watching and your teaching career could be over.
This fear-based social media advice is becoming old and as I’ve found out really, really wrong.
- Far from being a barrier to study, my social media presence has been a place to learn from educators around the planet.
- Far from hindering my job search, my PLN helped land me a teaching job.
- Far from my blog being something to be ashamed of people finding, I hope that my work on the Graduating Teacher Standards might be used as a model for someone somewhere.
We desperately need to change the conversation we’re having with students whether they be tertiary students through to primary about online activity.
Social media in and of itself isn’t bad, in fact when used effectively it is one of the most powerful forms of learning out there. Yet we spend so much time worrying about all the potential threats that we lose sight of all the awesome learning opportunities out there not just for would-be teachers but for kids around the planet.
Every day my twitter feed has a teacher asking for people to comment on their students blogs. I try to comment as much as I can but I could spend pretty much all day commenting on student blogs. I do so for two reasons. One as a pay it forward for my students so that when we start blogging there’s already an online community in place to support our efforts. But more importantly the kids already blogging need to know that their voices are heard and the way that can happen is through comments.
As a blogger I love getting comments. I know I have written more because there is an audience who reads this blog. If people weren’t commenting or retweeting my posts would I write as often, if at all? Probably not.
Now imagine you are a eight year old kid who might not have even left your own town getting a comment from someone half way around the world about something you’ve written. Those comments are going to have a far greater impact on their learning and motivation to write.
So why don’t we get an army of student teachers out there commenting on class blogs, individual blogs, finding out about the world outside our institution? It will help give the kids who need an audience for their writing a massive signal boost but more importantly it opens new teachers up to a world of ideas to implement in their classroom. A simple search of #comments4kids will immediately bring up a list of kids blogs looking for comments. It’s so easy to do yet the fear-driven ‘don’t do that’ limits our conceptions of what possibilities social media has for learning.
I realize I’m probably shouting into the wind on this. Every time a story about inappropriate online comment or picture gets a teacher in trouble it makes bureaucrats squirm and wish for a simpler day where the place for most youthful hijinks was in the archives of student magazines. These days doing silly things has the potential to be beamed around the world in a series of quick clicks. So our institutions respond through scaremongering students about the dangers of online activity and think they have done their job.
I don’t think they have.
Last week sat through a lecture where amongst other things hundreds of new teachers were given a talking to about the dangers of social media. What was amazing was in the next five minutes the speaker talked about the importance of collaboration and weekly journaling as a way for new teachers to develop professional competency. But there was no connection made between using social media inappropriately and using social media to enhance new teachers’ professional practice.
It was during the speaker’s spiel about the importance of backing up your professional evidence files that I had a sudden light bulb moment. This person probably doesn’t use social media for professional learning purposes. In fact this person probably doesn’t use social media at all. So how can they seek to give advice on a medium they don’t use?
Because if the speaker did use social media they’d know that blogs are great as a way to journal your thoughts. They’d know that twitter opens up a world of learning to teachers. And they’d know that cloud computing is a great way to avoid losing content if your device is stolen or destroyed.
No wonder all the speaker could see is the pitfalls of social media. If you don’t use it, then you don’t see all the potential for learning and collaboration when the medium is used wisely. You just see the pitfalls of bad decisions.
The problem with the powers that be who keep giving these dire warnings of an online life being the death knell of a teaching career is that they are driving new teachers, the very people who need a supportive community, behind digital gates where they can’t interact with a world of educators with ideas and support to help them with their learning.
But more importantly by failing to engage with the medium the powers that be in effect have relinquished their responsibility to model what effective online engagement for professional purposes might look. And then they wonder why students of all ages are getting into trouble for their online presence.
Because it isn’t just the kids who need to learn about cyber citizenship.