Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Teachers using social media.

Once upon a time this was the world of media socially...

But things change.

Social media has exploded in the last ten years. 

My first foray into social media was Bebo back in 2007.  You set up a profile and.... yeah, I think I only really mucked around with making it look pretty.  Then there was Tagged.  That was a waste of space, and emails from this site still clog up my email account because it is such a mission to delete your Tagged account.

At some point in 2008 I was asked to join Facebook by someone (I forget who).  Here started a relationship with social media that lasts to this day.  Facebook has kept me connected with so many people and reconnected me with many others.  I am in contact with old school friends, university friends, old workmates and friends I have made along the way, extended "extended" family, politicians and with professionals I know.

In 2011 I joined Twitter.  I mostly use this for professional education purposes as well as union and political postings.  Occasionally I tweet jokes, irrelevant rubbish and a personal rant, but it has opened up a whole new world of people to interact with.  I blogged about this in a post called Twitter as a Personal Learning Network for Teachers back in July.

I also began this blog back in 2011, the same day as I joined Twitter at the end of ULearn11.  I had been to a couple of breakouts that focused on using Blogger and Wikispaces as social media in schools and classes.

Some time ago, I came across this blog post called Responding to Teachers' Questions: A Social Media Recipe for Educators?  This blog includes a YouTube video by the author, Julian Vasquez Heilig aka @ProfessorJVH, who is a professor at an American university.

The Professor opens his blog with this statement and the following questions:

Is there a recipe for social media? What are the secrets? Should I blog? I was recently asked to respond to a series of questions submitted by a group of teachers. I recorded my responses to them on YouTube. See the questions and responses below.
  • How (and why) did you develop an interest in social media?
  • How did you start? Blog, Twitter, Forums?
  • What have been your main challenges? How do you keep it up?
  • What kind of responses do you get? Could you share an example?
  • How do you navigate the personal/professional line with students and your social media presence?
  • Why do you think it is important for educators to use social media?
  • What would be your advice to other teachers who are getting started, or who would like to grow online?
These are a lot of important question that we need to consider as educators in our professional lives and how we approach these questions with students.  And no doubt many of you are also thinking about how this applies to your personal life and, if you have children, to them.

How did you start?  Blog, Twitter, Forums?  What have been your main challenges?  How do you keep it up?
I've already described my introduction to social media above and how I got into Facebook, Twitter and Blogging.  Everyone would now say I'm a bit of an addict.  I shall own that.  And that in itself is a challenge, because social media can sometimes be hard to keep up with.

There are days when I will turn off all devices and step away.  I think that is healthy and important to do that, because quiet can be nice.  There are days when I am too busy and flat out to look at a device - a normal day at school, a family event, the day the house must be cleaned from top to bottom.  This is called having a life and going to work - these are very important things.  Social media, like wine, good cheese and chocolate, is something to keep in balance with the rest of your life.

Some days social media is crazy.  I can accidentally get immersed in a chat on an issue to do with education or politics (I am a political junkie too) or a current event and find that hours have dispersed as I kept up with ideas, opinions and discussions.

But there are always times you have to put the device down because the cat needs feeding or you are doing school reports.  It is about priorities and self management and face to face relationships when it comes to keeping balance between the real and virtual worlds.

What kind of responses do you get?
Who does not get a bit of a buzz when their Facebook post gets a "Like" or their tweet is retweeted or when they see the views on their blog post growing.  It does make you feel noticed.

I started my blog in October 2011.  I was convinced that no one would be interested in what I had to say or share.  I would get pretty happy if say 50 people had looked at a post.  I would post it, email the link to a few people, and tweet it about four times on Twitter.  Occasionally I would get a comment submitted.  Comments are nice.  It's another form of engagement.

A few weeks ago I spent about a week working on a blog explaining my spelling programme and I posted it at about 5:00am on a Saturday morning (I wanted it finished and worked through the night).  It had had a thousand views by just after lunch.  By the end of the weekend it was over 3,000 views.  Four weeks later it currently has just short of 5,500 views.

Now that is heart warming, but it also goes to show how crazy teachers are about how to effectively get their students learning spelling. 

But how did that many people know about that post?  Yes, I did tweet it out on Twitter, and according to my statistics many people came into the post from that source.  But in January, two teachers decided to start a Facebook page called NZ Teachers (Primary), and my friend Tanya was invited to join by someone.  She invited me to join.  At that stage in mid January there were about 300 or so members.  Today there are over 9,300 members.  I credit the sharing that the teachers who have become a member of this group do to the increase in traffic to my blog.  Share a post here in a couple of different threads and it gets noticed.

How do you navigate the personal/professional line with students and your social media presence?
I do not friend students.  I learnt that the hard way when Bebo first came into existence.  I originally joined Bebo because a friend who was still in England sent the friend request.  Some kids in the Year 7/8 class I was teaching at the time were talking about Bebo and I said to them that I was on there.  I then got several friend requests, which I accepted. 

Now I have already said that most of my time on there was making it look pretty, but one of the "cool" things about social media is the cyber stalking (not in a dodgy way, thank you) you do to find out about people.  So I was looking at the page of one of my students, and I couldn't help but notice the horrible comments she was making about another student in my class.  It upset me greatly.  So I went to the principal and asked her to put some information in the newsletter for parents and students about cyber bullying and the fact that it had been noticed to be going on in our school community.  This was 2007, and social media was only just gaining traction.  People were more worried about their children being exposed to pornography on the internet at this stage and the full implications of cyber bullying were only just being exposed to the general public.

As a result, I no longer friend current students.  I don't usually friend former students until they leave high school, unless I am related to them or their parents are my Facebook friends.

I also do not friend parents in my current school community, and I am choosey about which staff members I currently work with as my Facebook friends.  When I leave a school, the parents and staff I choose to continue a friendship with become Facebook friends.  We may never see each other in real life, but I do take great pleasure in seeing how my former students are going through the pages of their parents.  And I do have a habit of collecting families from different schools.

I have pondered the future, of what I would do if the school engaged with the parents, students and community through Facebook and Twitter, and I have decided the best avenue is to have an alternative account that will interact in that way.  Parents don't need to see my photos of a seafood festival, political views and black sense of humour flowing through their timelines.

Why do you think it is important for educators to use social media?
In the first place, how do you keep up with people without it nowadays?  I'm so flat out during term time that I would be lucky to text my best friend let alone see her more than once during a term, let alone that hardcase mate from T Coll or that flattie from London, or the kid who lived next door at primary school!!  How would I know what my cousins are doing without Facebook?  And I certainly wouldn't know the news behind the news without Twitter!!

But apart from gossip from old friends and left wing conspirators, I have found Twitter and Facebook have been great places to grow my Personal Learning Network (PLN) as well as other teacher connections.

Firstly, I met people by going to ULearn who encouraged me to come to and Educamp.  As I started using Twitter at that ULearn and then met people I was tweeting with at following Educamps and ULearns.  Through Twitter I started reading their blogs as well.  It has snowballed.

Through some NZEI Facebook groups I had also made connections, met these people in real life at NZEI events and become Facebook friends with them.  It was funny at one Annual Meeting when every time I sat down at a workshop table I got "So you're Melanie!"  I started thinking, "Oh dear, what have I done?" 

Now the NZ Teachers Facebook page really has brought a lot of teachers together, interacting and sharing.  I visited a school a couple of weeks ago to find in their reception area a piece of work which I had done with my students in Term 1 last year, blogged about last year, and shared extensively on NZ Teachers back in January and February.  Warm fuzzies!!!

What would be your advice to other teachers who are getting started, or who would like to grow online?
If you are getting started, pick one platform first, find out about it and join.  It would be good if you had someone you know already using that platform, because they will know other people you know and connect you to them.  Don't expose too much about yourself (such as the school you work for and on Twitter you don't have to put your full or real name) initially, and, particularly on Facebook, lock your account from sharing too much until you are more comfortable with the platform.

Look and tutu with the platform.  That's how you learn, just like children, by exploring.

If you are a NZ primary teacher on Facebook who does not yet belong to NZ Teachers on Facebook, find one of your friends who is to invite you.

If you are on Twitter, I would recommend searching the #edchatnz and looking at the tweets.  From there you can look at people's profiles and choose to follow them or not.  Tweet using the #edchatnz hashtag asking who you should follow, and you will get lots of new followers as well as great suggestions tweeted back at you.

If it is a blog you want to start, talk to some people who already have blogs to get some tips.  I started this one after attending workshops at ULearn that covered blogging and wikispaces.  I experimented with both, but feel very comfortable using Blogger which is good most of the time.  You do not have to make your blog viewable until you are comfortable either.  I now have five blogs, two of which are not searchable, so I have to give the link out to get to them.  So that is perfectly acceptable.

Other considerations....
Last year a number of teachers fell foul of the New Zealand Teachers Council due to their use of social media.  This website set up by the NZTC, Teachers & Social Media, will give you some good advice on keeping yourself safe professionally and even personally.

Below is a selection of articles from the last year of teachers and principals who have been caught out for inappropriate behaviour with social media and phones and have had complaints lodged about them with the Teachers Council.

And this piece of advice is crucial:  any contact you have with students or parents via social media should be ok for your principal or BOT Chair to read without you having to squirm and answer questions about it. 

Think before you press post or send, because everything on the internet can come back to bite you on the bum (just ask Judith Collins).

And under no circumstances do SnapChat or Yik Yak with any students.

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