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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Social Media Helps Teachers & Students Flatten the Schoolhouse Walls’

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 02, 2018 12 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What are the best ways teachers can have students use social media for learning, and the best ways teachers can use it best for their own professional development?

Part One’s contributors were Lorena German, Shaeley Santiago, Jeremy Hyler, Dr. Troy Hicks and Dr. Mary Howard. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Lorena, Shaeley and Jeremy on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.

Today’s guests are Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski, Steve Wyborney, and Brandon C. Waite.

Response From Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski is a 3rd grade teacher in Farmingdale, NY. She previously taught 6th grade and kindergarten. Kathleen is one of the co-authors of the Two Writing Teachers and the co-director of the Long Island Writing Project. She blogs at Courage Doesn’t Always Roar:

I will admit it: I’m a tweet-a-holic! Twitter is a way for me to stay current in my practice, to learn from other professionals, to share my ideas, to participate in discussions and to grow. Social media has amazing potential for learning, and teachers can use it to reach students, parents, and develop as a professional. Of course, Twitter is just one way of participating in social media. Facebook, Instagram and other sites offer teachers and students the opportunity to share learning in real time with a wide, global audience.

Twitter is my go-to social media learning tool. Through Twitter, I have found online communities to be part of such as The Two Writing Teachers and their Slice of Life Story Challenge (#SOL). I’ve also taken part in #cyberPD each summer for the last 3 years, reading professional books and discussing them with colleagues around the world. I love to participate in #PB10for10 where educators share lists of pictures books around a theme. #TitleTalk is a monthly chat where I can talk with other educators who love reading and discover new book titles. Twitter has opened so many doors for me as a teacher. Educators I’ve met through Twitter have become treasured friends.

With Twitter, you are in the driver’s seat for your professional learning. You decide who you follow, the ideas you try out, and the amount of time you have to devote to your learning. Instead of sitting in a meeting after school on a topic you already understand, you might spend time on Twitter while you have your cup of coffee in the morning, reading about the areas of education you are most interested in developing. It’s often called “personalized PD” because you tailor what you are learning to meet your own needs and you do it when the time is right for you!

For students, Twitter can be very helpful in the learning process. As a class, my third graders sent tweets to authors when we wanted to share something we were wondering. Often, the authors would tweet back to the delight of the students! One of our class jobs was the “Class Tweeter” who would compose a tweet, sharing something we learned that day. Parents and other community members could follow what we were learning and experiencing in school. Our class also participated in the Global Read Aloud Project (#GRA) using Twitter to connect with other classes who were reading the same book we were. This year, I plan to use #classroombookaday, posting pictures of the books we read aloud as a class on Twitter and seeing what other students are reading as well.

Learning is social! Social media helps teachers and students flatten the schoolhouse walls and learn from people all over the globe. Being a “tweet-a-holic” has transformed my practice, helping me find kindred spirits who love to talk about teaching and learning innovative ideas. My students have benefited from all I’ve learned via Twitter, and they grow in their digital citizenship by responsibly using social media with their teacher’s guidance.

Response From Steve Wyborney

Steve Wyborney is an award-winning teacher and instructional coach. He is well known for his use of instructional technology and his passion for mathematics. In 2005, Steve was named the Oregon Teacher of the Year. He is also the author of 12 Scholastic books including Week-by-Week Math Review for the Digital Classroom for grades 1-6, and 25 Common Core Math Lessons for the Interactive Whiteboard series for grades 1-6:

Professional development, at its best, is relevant, engaging and interactive. So is social media. It’s not surprising that professional development and social media are a natural fit. However, the connection is still new to many educators.

The advantages of using social media for professional development are numerous, especially if you approach it with intentionality.

Create Your Own Professional Development

Professional Development is frequently thought of as something that we receive, rather than something that we create. It suggests that professional development can be transferred in only one direction. In worst-case scenarios, some professional development is structured so participants listen to instruction on how to teach. This style of PD may actually push teachers backward in their practice. Why? Because professional development that relies on a PD provider speaking, and teachers listening, can send the message that in effective teaching, teachers do all of the talking and students do all of the listening.

An effective PD experience includes interaction among the participants, in which learners actively participate in creating their own learning experience. Highly effective professional development may include elements of receiving ideas, but will also include opportunities to personalize, communicate about, and interact with those ideas. This is what happens with professional development on social media.

Collect and Interact with Questions

During a Twitter education chat, you engage with both the concepts and the other educators participating in the chat. You may find yourself learning at a deeper, richer level.

Several important actions take place during this experience:

  1. You interact with both ideas and other educators
  2. You reflect on the question
  3. You create content in relation to the question.

When the chat ends, I recommend that you take just a moment to collect the questions which most captivated you during the chat.

Write down the questions which propelled you to create content, and those that you would like to wrestle with further. While the chats themselves are highly engaging, it’s likely that the questions have been very carefully selected, and this is an opportunity to continue learning.

Further Connect With Other Educators

Professional development that takes place within the context of social media offers a great opportunity: to build ongoing relationships with other educators. Some conversations have lead me to opportunities such co-teaching in other classrooms or doing quick personalized training sessions through Google Hangouts, or even creating resources for other classrooms, and speaking at conferences.

Remember That You Are Helping Others to Learn

Professional development, at its best, is not about receiving learning, but about creating learning. As you learn through social media, you create learning experiences for yourself. Those learning experiences impact others as well.

Remember that you may be the one that others want to reach out to. You may be the one that someone wants to contact after the chat. You may be the one whose expertise is needed by others. If someone reaches out to you to ask for your expertise, you have a tremendous opportunity to support your peers, and to grow in your work.

And where is a better place to find those educators, than on social media?

Response From Brandon C. Waite

Brandon C. Waite earned his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Tennessee in 2008. He is currently an associate professor of political science at Ball State University. His book (co-authored with Darren A. Wheeler), Understanding and Using Social Media on College Campuses: A Practical Guide for Higher Education Professionals (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), provides education professionals with a framework for approaching social media strategically:

Unfortunately, many educators attempt to harness the power of social media with little forethought. As a result, things can (and often do) go wrong. To make the most out of online technologies in and out of the classroom, I suggest individuals engage in a structured inquiry prior to beginning any social media endeavor. Such an inquiry enables individuals to systematically explore issues related to the following questions:

Audiences and Goals

  • What do you want to achieve by using social media?
  • Whom do you need to communicate with in order to do so?

In most cases, the immediate audience will be current students, often with the goal of increasing engagement and promoting learning outcomes. However, educators can also use social media to recruit new students, keep alumni engaged, draw attention to issues relevant to their discipline, communicate new research, discuss pedagogies with their peers, and promote events.

Appropriate Technologies

  • Which social media platforms are best suited for each goal/audience?

The stunted nature of tweets and the social messaging functions on Twitter lend themselves to rapid, real-time conversations, whereas Facebook’s setup, full of picture albums and static biographical information, lends a sense of timelessness to users’ content. Thus, individuals are likely to find Twitter more appropriate for extending student discussions beyond the classroom and Facebook better suited for documenting and highlighting events for parents and other external audiences.

Similarly, given that LinkedIn is career-focused it is well suited for networking and tracking the achievements of alumni whereas the integration of hashtags and the visual appeal of Instagram make it a terrific tool for recruitment. By connecting the characteristics of the medium to the audiences and goals sought, educators are more likely to use social media strategically, rather than haphazardly.

Policies and Oversight

  • What policies are in place to govern social media use?

Educational institutions often have policies that address account registration and management, branding and marketing guidelines, content and comment guidelines, disclosure guidelines, monitoring and reporting requirements, restrictions on third-party promotion, and best practices that ensure the safety and security of accounts. It is incumbent upon individuals embarking on social media initiatives to be aware of their institution’s policies regarding these matters and apply them appropriately lest they receive student complaints and the ire of administrators, or even place themselves in legal jeopardy.

Organizational Culture and Resources

  • Do you have the necessary resources to be successful, including equipment, technical assistance, and motivation?

An organizational culture that is receptive to Internet technologies can enhance an individual’s skillset, whereas a culture that is not supportive may hinder them. The strength of an organization’s Internet technology culture is reflected in the availability of resources (e.g., laptop computers and tablets, and tech support), the existence of extra time or compensation (i.e., buyouts or stipends), and recognition mechanisms (e.g., merit towards promotion and tenure). Awareness of these cultural elements is important for strategically choosing which social media initiatives to pursue.

Data and Assessment

  • What data is necessary to determine the success of your social media initiative?
  • What data is provided by the platforms you have chosen to use and what needs to be collected independently?

Most social media platforms generate some type of metrics that can help account administrators gather feedback and assess how their audiences are responding to posts. Individuals should also consider collecting additional data by tracking changes in learning outcomes, recruitment, alumni donations, or other measurable outcomes associated with their goals.

Social media can be as daunting as it is promising. By using this framework for thinking systematically about social media initiatives, individuals can make strategic decisions about how to best pursue them.

Thanks to Kathleen, Steve and Brandon for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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Author Interviews

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