How should educators act on social media?
New discussions focus on how school leaders conduct themselves on social media
A Georgia Education Department leader was fired recently for implying on Facebook that students in his state can’t perform as well as their peers in Finland because of their skin color. Incidents like this across the country have sparked a conversation about how education leaders should conduct themselves on social media.
“Social media has just brought to the forefront what people were able to keep secret in their homes until now,” said Todd Nesloney, principal at Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas.
Words on social media expose who people really are, for better or for worse. At some level, this exposure can turn into a positive for the communities they serve because their bosses can take corrective action and others can see the consequences of posting unprofessional comments online.
“If people out themselves as intolerant, ignorant people on social media, I think it’s a good thing, and they shouldn’t be in those positions to begin with,” said Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent for Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts.
Whether they realize it or not, educators set an example for students, who are watching what educators say on social media and elsewhere — which is why it’s important for education leaders to model positive interactions.
Remembering that everything is public
And that starts with realizing that everything posted electronically is public. While private Instagram accounts, Twitter profiles and Facebook pages provide some level of privacy, anyone can take a screenshot of what you post and share it outside of those walls — not to mention letting someone look over their shoulder while they read. Even if educators create separate personal and professional accounts, anyone can find the information they post on both.
“Just pretend you’re talking in front of a football stadium’s worth of people, because if you say the wrong thing, that’s how many people are going to hear about it,” Larkin said.
With the mindset that everything is public, it’s critical to be professional in both personal and professional contexts, and use common sense. That said, what’s common sense to one person may not be for someone else.
School district policies can help lay out expectations and spell out interpretation of common sense. Each community will probably have different standards of what’s appropriate based on their values, but no matter what the standards are, educating students and school employees on digital citizenship is important.
With various education leaders getting fired for their comments online, some educators may not want anything to do with social media. But that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid online platforms and give up their benefits.
For example, education leaders can share the great things that happen in their schools every day, communicate with parents, and learn from their peers by trading ideas and resources.
“It can be leveraged in very positive and powerful ways, or it can be used very badly,” said Susan Bearden, director of information technology at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Fla. “And I think it’s incumbent upon educators to learn how to leverage the power of social media while managing to avoid the downsides.”
5 leadership requirements essential for change
How does your school’s leadership readiness stack up when it comes to preparing for change?
Most educators want the classroom to change; to improve teaching and learning by leveraging technology. The terms blended learning and its subset, flipped learning, are touted extensively as useful educational goals.
However, to increase the probability of long term success and to reduce teacher/instructor frustration, organizations need to ensure that the broader fundamentals are in place before asking teachers to change. Fundamentals fall into a number of categories. I will consider one (leadership) in this article. Other areas, such as infrastructure, are discussed in related articles in this series.
There are some leadership requirements for change in the classroom to begin. This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains some major points. While reading these points, rate your organization on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent). You can use this graph.
- Commitment from the leadership (head of the university, principal of the school, school board, district superintendent, etc.)
- This has to be tangible commitment. It needs to be more that an email or two, or a few documents on an organizations web site. It shows in areas that are obvious to staff, areas such as providing specialist staff to develop skills in teachers.
- Many people intuitively “know” what the level of commitment is from the leadership of the organization regardless of what is publicly stated.
- Long term commitment
- The program of change needs to occur over years, not months. For example, the organization I am in has been focused on enhancing learning via technology for almost eight years. During that time, the goals and messages haven’t changed. They have evolved, but there have never been mixed messages or the idea that suddenly the direction that was being followed wasn’t important.
- Thinking that we can get this “technology in education thing” done in 12 months and then move on to something else is wrong. This is a long term journey that will continue to evolve. Organizations need to demonstrate to staff that they understand this and are in for the long haul.
- Sustained focus
- This is different to “long term commitment” discussed in the previous point. There may be long term commitment to enhancing technology in education but the method of achieving this may change regularly. It may be as obvious as the organization changing its LMS every couple of years, or as subtle as changing from one area of curriculum focus to another on a regular basis.
- The message has to be consistent. How many teachers have been involved in an “innovation” or change of practice that was heralded as being vital…yet it quietly faded a year or two later (and sometimes more quickly), to be replaced by the next new “innovation” that was vital and ground breaking. We cannot afford this strategy any longer.
- Teachers get change fatigue when they think that the time they invest in a change will be wasted when it is likely to disappear in the near future.
- Professional development
- This needs to be regular and well planned. It is not the occasional workshop. It is more than that. Workshops need to happen often, they need to happen for sustained periods of time (years, not weeks) and they need to be appropriate. They need to be focused on changing classroom practice.
- eLearning — note that this is different to IT and traditional teaching.
- eLearning focuses on the how, when, and why of implementing technology in an appropriate way in the classroom. It may focus on how to use a particular piece of software, but this is only in the context of how this will enhance the teaching and learning.
- This area must be led by eLearning specialists or teachers with significant experience and/or training; it should not be managed by IT staff or teachers with little experience in the field. Significantly, eLearning and IT are two different things.
An organization with everything in place, ready to support change in the classroom, would score 5 in each of these areas. The resulting graph would look like this.
However, an organization that wasn’t prepared as well may have a graph that looks like this. This organization is not ready to implement technology enhanced learning.
The leadership of the organization needs to work to get the scores closer to a 5, making the graph larger and smoother. This will result in a greater possibility of success.
What does the graph for your organization look like?
Making it possible
Is it easy to achieve the situation where all of these areas are in place? No…but it is worth the effort, and any organization can reach this point if they are really committed to enhancing learning and teaching through leveraging technology.
Teachers generally work hard, are committed to their students and are time poor. They are willing to change if the benefits flow through to their students. They will take on new skills provided they improve learning and teaching.
Leaders of organizations need to show that they are committed to successful change, and that they will do what is needed to build the foundations for success.
It is only then that we should ask teachers to invest their time and energy to move into new areas of teaching and learning. Our students deserve nothing less.