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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Social Media Is Better Than You Think

By Peter DeWitt — March 11, 2014 4 min read
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When using social media, you’re 100% responsible for your 50% of a two-way conversation

Many educators still have preconceived notions about social media. They’re afraid of it, or don’t get it. They see examples of Tweets and mis-Tweets by celebrities on the morning news. Hopefully, Ellen DeGeneres’s “selfie” with celebrities at the Oscars may have appeased some of those preconceived notions.

Those same morning news programs have social media lounges, and tout how many followers each celebrity has. Ellen was Retweeted over 3 million times. It makes those people who haven’t joined worry that they would never get followers, and those with a few followers question why they are on at all.

The reality is that most of us will not have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter or Facebook. Fortunately, collecting hundreds of thousands of followers should not be the ultimate goal. The goal is to connect with others. My friend, a frequent guest blogger for Finding Common Ground, Tony Sinanis said it best in his blog when he wrote,

Twitter is about the human connections you establish. The connections that lead to an exchange of ideas; the connections that lead to deliberations from different points of view that help us broaden our lens; the connections that give us a boost or a push when we need it most; the connections that inspire us and ground us at the same time. Twitter is about the people we get to know, respect and value... much like what happens in a well-functioning classroom or school."

The Downside...and Upside of Social Media

I won’t deny, that sometimes it gets too personal, and there are groups that can have a pack mentality. Sinanis has some great thoughts there as well. He wrote,

Groupthink could totally rear its ugly head and I feel like I have seen it happen already. My take on groupthink is when within a group (usually like-minded people) the desire for conformity and acceptance impact the decisions that are made by those within the group. Instead of critically evaluating and deliberating the ideas and points of view of others, we just accept others' ideas as our own to fit in or gain followers or be accepted or whatever!"

Canadian school leader, and connected learning aficionado, George Couros had a different perspective than Tony, so he posted a comment on Tony’s blog. George wrote,

There are a lot of people that come on here and need to feel that they are part of that "groupthink", as you refer to it, because they are the outcast in their own school. Maybe they want some validation in what they are doing when they are not getting it in their own community. I think it is valuable for people to push back on ideas, but I have a very supportive organization that is doing some great things. Not all people are as blessed."

That brief and respectful back-and-forth is a great example of the power of social media. Different people have different perspectives on why connected learning through social media is so important. Articles in journals, as good as they may be, do not offer the instant connections that social media offers. A misunderstood idea in an article may go on forever, but a misunderstood idea in social media may be resolved quickly.

Perhaps you don’t know how you would use it at all, and that’s ok too. You want a break from your profession. There is too much noise already, and social media would just add to it. This isn’t just about Twitter. It’s about Facebook, Instagram, Google Communities, and numerous other ventures to share your story. Negative people were negative before social media. Social media just enhances their message.

To shift your thinking though, what if that noise that comes from those social media outlets could be used for good, instead of bad reasons? What if social media is better than you think? What if, you could use it to connect with others, and find a silver lining in a cloud of doubt?

Professional or Personal Learning Networks (PLN)

Over the past weekend I attended, and spoke, at the Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference in Austin, Texas. The conference focused on the Common Core, standardized testing, corporate reform, leadership during a time of accountability, and many other facets of education. For many of us who speak out, it was exactly what we needed.

It gets lonely out there when you’re speaking out...

It was my third experience where I met up with people I connect with through social media giants like Twitter, Google and Facebook. I used to find the conference experience so lonely. I know that sounds pathetic, but when I spoke or attended a conference I did not reach out to others. Sure, I had polite conversations with attendees and other presenters, but I’m a bit of a wallflower. I never went the extra mile to meet with people. Social media changed that.

In the past six months, I attended and presented at the National Association of Elementary School Principal (NAESP) conference, School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS) conference, and the NPE conference. At each conference I met up with people whom I knew through Twitter and Facebook, and it took away the awkwardness of first introductions. It has changed the way I approach conferences.

I no longer worry about how I will spend my time at these events. I meet up with friends, attend sessions with them, and even share rides to the airport. In essence, social media and connectedness has made my conference experiences better...more authentic. Perhaps it’s even better for those who attend my sessions.

Social media takes work. It takes an effort that will bring you on to it every day or close to every day, but if you go on with authentic reasons, with a goal to engage with others, than it will be time well spent.

In these days of high accountability, and high burnout, we need to find new avenues to breathe new life into our individual professions. We also may feel as though we have enough friends, but over the past few years that I have engaged in social media, I have come out of my shell, and found some new friends who have had a profound impact on the way I learn and lead.

Things to consider:

  • Social media can unite voices - As I stated above, it gets lonely out there if you go it alone in your school community.
  • Pack mentality has both positive benefits and negative implications. It depends on who is involved, and what each individual is saying.
  • Control your dialogue - You can control what you say, but can’t control how others respond. You’re 100% responsible for your 50%.
  • Be prepared - you will connect with people who will support your cause or stretch your thinking. If it’s the latter, read the Tweet twice and ask for clarification. The Tweet may not be as offensive as you think.
  • Be Professional and Personal - Use it to engage other educators, but don’t be afraid to use your sense of humor and connect with people in appropriate personal ways as well.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.