Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Task Seven: Confessions of a reformed tweeter

I have a complex, involved relationship with social media. I've been active on message boards, Facebook and Twitter for over a decade now. I met my husband many years ago at various nights out and events organised by a Brixton-based website and political message board and as an immigrant social media is the best way I've found to stay in touch with family and friends on four continents. I tweet every day (though I closed my old, large account and have started again on a smaller scale), check facebook all the time, and ran a moderately successful blog about politics and education. (links may contain NSFW language)

Professionally though, I have shied away from social media. For a start, my school has blocked Facebook and Twitter for both staff and students, and most blogging sites are unavailable to students through our system. We have a moodle available for staff, students and parents to access and Google classroom is being trialled for possible rollout in 2016, but social media use is not encouraged at present.

I have attended uLearn conferences and know many teachers on Twitter and Facebook, but struggled with the #sciedchat and similar discussions. I touched on this in a previous post about reflective practice, but I found that the teacher discussions on social media can quite confronting. 

The issue for me is that of the danger of over-investment. As teachers, we are expected to give so much of ourselves to this job. We are constantly working. Even when we're doing other things, we never stop being a teacher. Whilst I talk about education on social media, sitting down at 8:30 at night to frantically bat ideas around with other teachers felt like I was actively allowing into my downtime the very reason I needed that downtime in the first place. Furthermore, the teachers who are on Twitter at at bedtime to discuss teaching are, by definition, the teachers who are striving to improve, to be more, to do more. An echo-chamber of teachers all discussing how much more they could do to be better was exhausting and emotionally fraught. 
Racing towards burnout?

As part of this task, I dropped in on #edchatnz, where the questions were all about workload and managing yourself, your family, and your job. It was almost distressing to see the number of teachers, at 9pm on a Thursday, talking about the evenings spent working, the family events missed, the feeling of never being able to say no. As I said on the night, it makes us poor role models to our students if we show them that virtue lies in a poor work-life balance.

Social media that is not so immediate and allows time for consideration and longer posts, seems to me to be more suitable for professional development. Unitec's google group, for example, has been a great way to discuss the course and offer support to others without the immediacy of Twitter. With our school continuing the rollout of Google Classroom I can see increased use of the platform to share ideas and connect students and will be using this next term.

The advantages of Google Classroom over Twitter with students is, as with other teachers, that of being able to remove the barriers to communication whilst not having the demand or expectation of immediate response. Students understanding that teachers are available to help or communicate with them, but that they also have a life outside of their profession, is important. Being able to set times that I'll check the page and answer questions helps me manage my workload, sets parameters for student expectations and also helps students manage their own workloads. It's bad enough that adults are expected to be constantly connected to their work and be available 24/7 without putting that expectation on children as well.

Despite these challenges, I do firmly believe that social media has a place in the classroom. For example, I have had Y7 students use social media to contact and then conduct Skype chats with Geonet scientists, and hope that our school's policies on these platforms will evolve to allow us greater access to this resource.

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