Over the last year or so I have had a number of meetings and conversations with school leaders about using social media. One of my first questions is always “who has a Facebook account?” Invariably I get answers like “I created an account to look at but haven’t used it” or “Not me.” Occasionally I get a person who shyly admits that they have an account. Most of what most administrators know about social media is what they read in the mainstream media. Unfortunately that tends to be bad news – scary tales of things going viral that most administrators would rather no one knows about. Is it any wonder they are afraid of the possibilities more than excited by them?
Educators worry about social media for some very good reasons. People have lost their jobs and reputations by doing stupid things on social media. Or even for doing things that would be acceptable for most others but which are detrimental to educators because of the extra scrutiny people in those roles are subject to. On the other hand there are very good reasons why educators should, arguably must, understand these new communication paths.
Teachers and administrators are role models. We try to set good examples every day at school. We work to exemplify life long learning. We watch carefully how we treat others and how we act in front of students. We try to teach what we know and share our excitement at our subject matter. And yet somehow we often feel content to talk to students about social media without really understanding it ourselves. That is not a recipe for success.
Students today are communicating and learning about the world though social media. Facebook, twitter, snap chat, and many more online tools are part and parcel to the way they interact with the world around them. Can we as educators afford to be ignorant of them? Can we really understand those tools without using them?
Can you imagine a shop teacher who has never used a saw? Or a chemistry teacher who has never mixed chemicals and watched the reaction? Or an English teacher who doesn’t read books? Or a math teacher who reads about calculators but doesn’t use them herself? Of course not. And yet we trust administrators to make rules about social media that they only know about from reading about them. Or teachers to talk about online social behavior who get their information from watching movies like “The Social Network.”
Now I am not suggesting that people start living their whole life on line. Or even that some social media should be required. But it should not be banned either. And people who hope to understand social media should at least use it to some extent. Facebook can be very useful for keeping in touch with friends but it is also a good way to keep informed on the latest social media memes – not all of which are bad. Arguably the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which has seen donations to find a cure for this horrible illness skyrocket is a powerful force for good.
Twitter is an amazing tool for professional development as well as communicating about the good things that happen in a classroom, a school or a school district. It can be hard to see the value without experience however.
Educators need to fearlessly experience the modern online world. Not carelessly or thoughtlessly of course. But knowledge and understanding are vastly improved by hands on learning. The end result is highly likely to be better policies, better communication, and even better understanding of the world our students live in. Most of all perhaps, it is a chance to lead by example.
This post is a contribution to Scott McLeod's Leadership Day 2014 project.