Is Your Social Media Account a Parasite?

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I recently wrote about how to use social media to grow your professional network. Social media has expanded my peer network and improved my teaching practice, but it turns out there can be too much of a good thing. I now feel that Twitter and Facebook are taking over my life. My feed is like a set of conjoined twins; my professional network and personal friends overlap so much that sometimes I’m seeing posts of teaching strategies like how to deconstruct complex text and sometimes I'm seeing prom pictures.

Teachers don't have a lot of extra time on their hands. In fact, if your social media feed includes other teachers, you'll often find posts at night and on weekends about how teachers are working from home on their own time. So, why do I find myself picking up my phone every five minutes to check Facebook or Twitter? I've got assignments to grade and lessons to plan!

I took a moment to dig a little deeper and reflect on WHY I feel addicted to my social media. Here are some of the reasons I identified:

  • To see what others are doing and maybe try it, too
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • To show what I am doing and maybe get others to try it
  • Boredom
  • To ask for help
  • To learn something new

From a biology teacher's perspective, this dichotomy feels a bit like an example of symbiosis, a long-term relationship. If social media is truly benefitting both me and others, then that’s what we call mutualism. But those times when I'm just scrolling out of boredom, that's more like parasitism—social media is just sucking time from my life and distracting me from more meaningful work, like a mosquito constantly buzzing in my ear.

My husband says it's because I am a Facebook addict. And I now grudgingly have to admit it. While I probably don't need a seven-step intervention like the Mayo Clinic describes (yes, I took time to Google that), I've decided to commit to making my social media account work just as hard for me as I do for it.

Right now, I'm starting a journey to transform my relationship with social media from parasitic to mutualistic—maybe you'll join me!

Step One: Gather Information Through Reflection

When I stop to think about social media, my usage actually feels very complicated.

On one hand, I feel I that I truly benefit as an educator when I'm inspired by others' posts—like those from Thomas Martin, who started the Professional Learning Network. In a recent post, Thomas shared a classroom guide to active listening, something I could use in my classroom tomorrow to increase student engagement.

On the other hand, sometimes I'm scrolling too quickly without really taking the time to process what I see. That happens when I'm just looking at the pictures and having an internal monologue about how cute those puppies are.

I don't seem to have a good strategy for how to filter my social media based on why I opened the app or website. (Sometimes I am actually working on my laptop with Facebook open and then I go open the app on my cellphone). I need to make a conscious decision about why I'm opening my social media account and then commit to only that purpose.

Step Two: Make a Plan

So, how do we make social media benefit us as well as others? To help with my own "intervention," I turned to some colleagues whose social media accounts are continuously inspiring to me. I gleaned three guiding ideas from them that I was able to put into play while at a recent conference in Denver, Colo., called Elevating Instructional Advocacy.

Normally, I would find myself torn between paying attention to the speakers and interacting on social media. While at the conference, however, I committed to the following three principles to keep Facebook and Twitter from being a constant buzzing parasite:

  • Post the exceptional, not the mundane. I love following my friend Kathy Bosiak, because her posts often capture the amazing things she does. She is a world traveler on a mission to always learn more about the world and bring it back to her school and students. Kathy's blogs about her travels truly encourage me to expand my own world, albeit in a less ambitious way than going to Buenos Aires!
    Instead of posting 10 times a day on Facebook during the conference, I waited and posted just once after I returned. This gave me time to formulate my thoughts, so I could share about the most meaningful things that I learned and did.

  • Post topics worthy of "giving" to others. To make social media reciprocal, it's much better to share something that others can benefit from. Tamika Walker Kelly, a music teacher in North Carolina, told me she uses her social media to "showcase the importance of teaching the arts by assisting with social media for the N.C. ArtsR4Life Conference." By posting topics that help others engage, we can make our social media use a bit more altruistic.
    During the conference, I chose to post pictures of the most meaningful sessions I attended on Twitter so people could get in touch with me if they wanted. Then I used the body of the Tweet to tell a little more for those interested in that topic.
  • Be sure to really join in the conversation, not just click the "share" button. When Justin Parmenter, a 7th grade literacy teacher, posts on Facebook, his intent is to truly share something worthwhile with the hope that others will engage and reciprocate. Justin says, "I think sharing examples of what you do in your classroom on social media is an important way to share ideas." You can see that his posts are meant to be easy for people to both comment and "steal" his ideas.
    I was best about this on Twitter during my conference. Instead of just retweeting, I made sure to quote the tweet so I could engage in a deeper conversation with the person whose tweet I liked. This helped create more opportunities for back and forth conversation.
  • Step Three: Decide on Consequences

    Uh oh. This step feels really dramatic. Is it really possible to self-police my own social media addiction? I have my new three guiding principles, but how successful will I be at managing the time and energy I spend on social media?

    If this conference was any indicator, the biggest help was just building awareness and reflecting on if I was using my time in a meaningful way. Instead of constantly scrolling through feeds, I was much more engaged in meaningful discussions. While awareness and reflection may seem like small and obvious steps, I truly am more cognizant of my usage since I have now committed to my own three principles of being an "exceptional," "giving," and "sharing" social media user.

    Any further advice or commiseration? Be sure to share your ideas with me on Twitter. … Or maybe you shouldn't?!

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