Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Why #Educators Should Use Social Media

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Social media in education is a touchy issue, for some good reasons. In utilizing social media, schools, educators and students take certain risks. Consider the consequences when bullying on sites like Facebook creates a distraction at school – or is conducted on school-owned equipment. And think about the (extremely rare) cases in which a social media site contributes to an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student (the state of Missouri is so concerned about this potential it has enacted a law that says contact between these parties must be in the public, not private, sphere – in other words, “teachers can set up public Facebook pages or Twitter accounts but can’t reach out to their students as friends or followers, or vice versa”).

There are educational consequences, too. For example, recent research suggests that middle school, high school and college students who are active on Facebook get lower grades, display more narcissistic tendencies, and are more prone to anxiety and depression than students that aren’t.

So why would we promote the use of social media in education?

Last week I attended the first #140edu event, a conference that allowed stakeholders from students to teachers to company owners share their thoughts on “The State of Education NOW” – specifically, the effects of the real-time web on education. And I heard a number of great reasons why social media should be incorporated into a school culture.

Conference co-host Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann, for those of you on Twitter), principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, pointed out that social media gives students the power to be “in and of their world,” – for example, the ability to interact with those in the field doing the work they are learning about. #EdChat founders Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom) and Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) shared how educators can use social media to collaborate on topics of concern. And Erik Endress (@erikendress) of the New Jersey School Boards Association discussed how social media could be used in crisis management and resolution.

New Milford High School Principal Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) did a great job laying out the main reasons why a school should use social media. According to him, they are:

  • Communications. Often, schools communicate with stakeholders via either snail mail or the school website (which how many people actually visit?). New Milford uses Twitter and Facebook as the primary means to reach stakeholders, sharing the “Principal’s Report,” event information, schedule changes and more.
  • Public relations. Given so much negative media about public education, Sheninger believes we can no longer leave public relations to chance. He now considers it part of his job. Twitter, Facebook and blogs help him do it, letting him redirect followers to newspapers and TV segments featuring positive information on public schools. He also uses social media to highlight the hard work of his students and staff, and his school's accomplishments.
  • Branding. Whenever someone sees the golden arches, they know they’ve found McDonald’s. Sheninger's goal, achievable through social media? Whenever someone sees his school logo, they think innovation.
  • Professional growth and development. Educators can use social media spaces for knowledge acquisition. These professional learning networks attract passionate educators who share one goal – to do better for kids.
  • Student engagement. At New Milford, students use technology to connect what they are learning with the real world. For example, they skype with Holocaust survivors. They blog on issues of interest. Teachers use cell phones to poll them on what they are learning.
  • Opportunity. Sheninger considers himself an opportunist: His job is to find opportunities for his kids. And thanks in part to social media, his kids (and staff) get great opportunities. For example, he got free document cameras that he piloted with his math teachers (and they worked so well he is purchasing them for chemistry and physics teachers, too). One organization read a blog entry he wrote on his students Skyping with students in Israel and was so impressed it flew a teacher to Israel, and then Israeli educators to them. Now the school has a partnership with a school in Israel that wouldn’t have existed without social media.

Something else Sheninger addressed well: Whether social media takes time away from his job. He believes that it does not – it is embedded into his responsibilities as a principal. Instead of spending time writing lengthy updates, he tweets. And it doesn’t cost him anything.

What’s stopping other schools from doing the same thing?