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Social media and my classroom

“Social media has shaped and changed a million aspects of my professional journey, ensuring that my pedagogy, approach and classroom can never be the same again.”

Kimberley Rivett
Point View School

Several years ago I was struggling to find a way to effectively communicate with the families in my class who seldom had time to drop in to check on their children’s learning. In a busy world, many of my parents were working long hours and were infrequent visitors at best to the classroom. They were missing many of the wonderful learning activities that the children were part of and many of their successes were also passing unnoticed.

E-mail was hit and miss, letters/notes in bags were often found glued to old pieces of food a week later, and messages via the students were often lucky to make it home.

Then there was the next issue: how could I engage my students in global classroom activities if they had no way to effectively and easily develop safe online relationships with classes around the globe?

So I got to thinking: Was there an effective communication method that could be used between whanau, school and global friends that already existed? Could I use social media to break the silences?

If what I was doing so far wasn’t working, then the answer lay in the tools of the time.

Enter Facebook, Edmodo, Twitter and Flickr.

Our class started with a 365 challenge – could we manage to take a photo per day that reflected our learning and then post it onto a Flickr account to share with parents? Once we had started this challenge, it became obvious that we needed a platform for sharing this, so I started up a Facebook account with the families in my class. At our ‘meet the teacher’ evening early in the year, I shared the concept for the first time with the parents, explaining that this was not a public account, it was not for their children (although they were welcome to show their children and talk about the news/images shared through it) and that there needed to be some guidelines around how it would work so that home and school could collaborate without impinging on one another’s privacy. I told the parents firmly, but warmly, that I would never send them a friend request out of respect for their private lives, and equally, they were never to be insulted if I refused a friend request from them. Can I assure you, in the past 3 years, the parents have respected this totally as have I.

As blogging developed in my classroom as a huge part of our learning tools, we began to share our blogposts through the Facebook account

and for the first time, parents began to respond. Comments and learning conversations flowed naturally as students shared their learning at home with their parents. If parents missed a trip, they were able to login and see our images/movies of the day hours after they happened so that there was a sense of being part of school life for all.

To follow on from this, as we pushed back the classroom walls and became more globally aware as 21st Century learners, there were countless opportunities through our wikis and blogs for comments and then the building of online community. This presented its own issues – explicit teaching was needed to ensure that we had online safety at the heart of our online connections – becoming tech-sperts meant social responsibility and being cybersafe meant making good choices in the safest settings possible. For my class, it meant lots of teachable moments where they had small incidents, such as having a negative comment left on the blog from another student. This might sound negative but it allowed us to problem-solve this while it was a small issue so that it reduced the chance of it becoming a major issue in the future.

There were lots of analogies that I have used over the years with my classes. I always ask them to think about the fact that when they walk on the beach, their footprints are there and then we can wash them away. But they have still walked there, and somewhere under the sand is the imprint they have left. It’s like the dinosaurs – we only knew that they had walked on the earth because of their fossilized footprints. We leave the same deep impressions with our words and comments online
so we must make sure to leave the impression we would want history to show. This is a huge concept for children, so there are many stories that we grow together about the idea of our digital footprints.

Edmodo has been a wonderful tool for my students – something that looks and feels the same as Facebook is a complete draw-card for children. The fact that they get to connect with others safely, through relationships guided by teachers, means that they get to have a genuine experience of social media with limited problems wrapped up in it. There is always room for them to make inappropriate comments and silly statements, but I have found, again, that explicitly teaching net-iquette and then dealing with the small incidents, have ensured responsible online students. Banning our classes from this sort of tool
is really denying them the tools of their time. We can either allow them to experiment safely with all of the guidance we can give them, with safe boundaries around them, or we can let them leave the classroom and go and do it anyway with none of the guidance around them at all. I know as a teacher and a parent which choice I prefer.

Twitter fed into this picture too, but it was for me professionally to connect with other educators as well as to get traffic through the class blog and my professional blog. It became imperative for me to get as much quick professional guidance around social media as I possibly could, and waiting for PD opportunities to come around was not going to ‘cut the mustard’. I discovered very quickly that un-conferences and #edchats were going to deliver what I needed much more quickly, all in the comfort of my home/office. Questions that are asked, are answered immediately by respected colleagues from all over the world. Educators who have already experienced these issues or tried and tested certain aspects of social media are able to give immediate advice and PD on the spot, connecting me with websites or resources to guide my next steps. Twitter gives my class blog an authentic audience as educators give relevant feedback and pass the blog link onto their class to feedback also. The only issue I have ever had with Twitter is limiting the amount of time I spend on it at night because the content is so rich and inviting! Sometimes I have so many tabs open to links and blogs that I have to simply shut the lid and go back to offline life!

Social media has shaped and changed a million aspects of my professional journey, ensuring that my pedagogy, approach and classroom can never be the same again.

  • Learners

    Teachers have a professional obligation to develop and maintain professional relationships with learners based on the best interests of those learners.

  • Parents/Guardians and Family/Whānau

    Social media provides a great opportunity to collaborate and communicate with parents and whānau.

  • Society

    Teachers who model good social media use will grow learners who apply positive, respectful values in their interactions on social media platforms.

  • The Profession

    As a member of the profession you should seek and respond to opportunities to share knowledge and discuss concerns.