Musing this issue with a few colleagues from various age brackets it was interesting to note that Social Media was not such a Millennial V Generation X issue as I had thought. There might be more of a penchant for Insta and following celebs amongst our younger colleagues, but the main points of concern and agreement were broadly similar.
Firstly, it was interesting that the older members of the group did not hold rose tinted views of a world before roughly 1995 and when WWW had more to do with wrestling than the new information superhighway. Although, amongst ourselves arranging everything at school and leaving those who were late behind on a night out was seen as ok in 1985 – the beauty of instant messaging has made life easier and safer. It is fascinating how many of our friends who took the derided Computer Science O Level are now retiring and comfortable as they embraced the new technical revolution. Also, how many “Silver Surfers” have embraced technology and used it to empower and enrich their lives. Facebook, connecting families and old friends across the world, Facetime giving persona to relations who were merely names as well as being able to offer an opinion or two on Twitter.
Secondly, the younger members of the group although more savvy in many ways with their phones and tablets and perhaps more au fait with the tech talk were not as obsessed with narcissistic pictures and banal “banter” as the others believed. If anything, the internet was as much a source of information as well as gratification.
This led the conversation onto the use of social media in education. On the plus side the ability for students to surf the web, investigate and gain knowledge is amazing and the biggest transformation in history since the industrial revolution. Schools are now able to promote their virtues and their successes immediately and with a far greater reach. Celebratory events that might have once stayed in the confines of the school can now be shared with parents and the wider community.
Safety wise, social media platforms are excellent for school trips and extracurricular events and fixtures. Staff can connect with members of the profession instantly to share good practice and ideas. Professional associations are only a click away with their access to the wider educational world and the employment advice we might all need at some time.
In this sense, social media is a major asset to educators and as such should be embraced and celebrated. We should look to what EdTech is producing and what some of the media giants in Silicon Valley are producing, however, daunting and concerning this might seem to an essentially conservative profession. On this we all concurred.
The negative side of social media was more of a complex area and a lot depended on your personal experience and in many cases the policies of your school. The main divide seems to be the policy your school adopts not just to social media but to their carrier- the mobile. In schools where mobiles were more readily available to students there were a lot more stories of illicit filming of colleagues, unpleasant posts and basic bullying of individuals. The connectivity of the world and the speed images and videos can travel is bewildering and can be frightening. A classroom incident at 2.00 is a potential disciplinary by 3.00. There was a genuine feeling of concern if not fear about this issue and the safeguarding of adults as well as children. In schools where phone and therefore, social media posting was more restricted staff felt safer and more relaxed about their workplace. The overriding lesson here seemed to be for school leadership to be strong and sometimes brave in the restriction on the use of social media in school.
Confidence has always been an essential element of wellbeing and teachers are in a uniquely privileged but also vulnerable position in the classroom. They must be allowed to apply their professional skills but also to be individuals and make those crucial and positive relationships within the classroom. The bond between learners and educators is unique and can take months to build and moments to destroy. A transient like or comment on social media should not be the yardstick by which careers are measured or broken. Students quite often are not malicious but think in the here and now and what is funny to a Y10 might have far reaching consequences for an adult, especially a teacher.
The world is divided between the pre- internet and the post-internet age and it is a huge challenge for society and governments let alone educators to deal with the avalanche of positive and negative output that pours through social media every day. Teachers are particularly vulnerable yet ideally placed to still be the influencers they always have been, the onus is on their place of work and their leaders both within school and at a higher level to allow them to embrace not reject social media and it’s truly global reach.