I recently found myself in a twit over Twitter. I was not getting along with Twitter because of the way it made me feel. My engagement with other educators on the international social media platform left me discouraged, defeated, and overwhelmed. Why? Because I didn’t have as many replies, hearts, or re-shares as others. I only had 100 followers, while other educators in my web-based professional learning community had 10,000, 15,000, or 50,000 followings. I wasn’t as popular as other educators on the platform, and – channelling my middle-school-age self – my feelings were hurt. Then my adult self kicked in and I decided to feel differently about it; to be discerning and deliberate.
The irony of this entire story is that I first turned to Twitter as a way to keep up with headlines, research articles, and current news, that would impact my work with educators, but in the end, I used the resource to criticize, compare, and crush my own momentum and ideas. I let discernment turn to discouragement, before I knew what was happening.
Perhaps the volume of web-based resources, including social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, that can support your teaching or leadership initiatives has similarly left you feeling overwhelmed. There’s too much to choose from, and deep exploration of one network or resource only makes you realize how much MORE there is to know and explore; adding stress to a full mind and schedule.
The role of an educator is already overwhelming, intense, and crowded with many needs, including student, staff, and stakeholder desires, opinions, and concerns. The web-based resources we use to communicate with these groups, and/or to shape daily practice, should not add to our intensity. Instead, said supports are best embraced if they make our tasks easier and more fluid. To that end, it’s important for personal and professional health, wellness, and success, that we exercise caution and intentionality with Internet supports. Let’s briefly consider how we can do this.
Principle 1: Be intentional about the time for and purpose of selected social media platforms
Social media is helpful when it does not drain us of our time and mental energy. We’re all guilty of wasting far too much time reviewing our friends’ and family’s latest vacation or restaurant pictures, but when it comes to using social media for professional support, we cannot afford to waste time. We must be intentional about the time we commit to and purpose for its use. To do this, consider the following:
- Select the platform of most support to your professional needs.
- Understand the best use of that platform (is it reading quotes, skimming headlines, engaging in web-based, real-time chats, or sharing content with your professional network?)
- Determine when and for how long each week you will elect to spend time on that platform. If you know, for example, that someone you’re following engages in a Tuesday evening chat, that is helpful, then Tuesdays are the days you set aside a few hours to review content, engage in discussion, etc.
- Finally, be intentional about who you follow, and why. If your primary goal with social media is to connect with other teachers of literacy, then don’t waste time following persons who post very cool and inspiring quotes that reveal nothing about teaching literacy well. It is acceptable to be selective and to keep your pool of people small.
Principle 2: Reflect regularly
Each time you learn something new that supports your educational role, write it down and reflect on how you see yourself using that strategy or adopting an idea for your local setting. Also, consider reflecting about the success (or lack thereof) after you have implemented the new idea. Remember, what works for one school does not necessarily work for another school. It is OK to take the ideas and recommendations of others and personalize them to your setting. Reflection serves a dual role in your professional growth. It helps you think critically about knowledge and the application of that knowledge, while simultaneously reminding you that other educators are not perfect. No one can implement new ideas and practices and expect perfection right out of the gate.
Principle 3: Give and Take
The best way to prevent feeling overwhelmed and “less than” all of the “experts” on your selected social media platform is to realize that you have as much to contribute as they do. You may have a different title or location and fewer years of service than the person(s) dishing out social media advice, but that does not negate the knowledge, experience, creativity, and understanding you bring to the platform. Be courageous and respond and react to shared web-based content. If you are using a platform to explore a potential new resource for classroom use, then be honest about its helpfulness, or lack thereof. If you’re engaged in web-based educational chats, let other people know what you think of their words/ideas, and how you might apply selected content. Your thoughts, ideas, and vision are just as important and valuable as the next person, regardless of number of followers, likes, or publications.
Additional Ideas: If social media is not the thing for you, and your primary focus is selecting websites offering resources, tools, books, and other supports for your local classroom, then create a written collection of core sites and check them regularly. Also consider doing a google search, using such terms as “best web-based resources for educators” to identify the best supports for your target age group, grade level, or professional need. Most importantly, ask other educators who they follow, read, listen to via podcasts, or chat with through Facebook Live or Twitter chats. Remember, it’s not important to follow 100 or 500 new educators, vendors, or professional journals each year. Just one site, resource, or platform can spark new ideas for your daily efforts, and focused attention to 1-2 resources is far better for our mental health than opening the laptop to hundreds of tweets, posts, podcasts, or daily headlines.
Final Thought: Your educational and professional value is not determined by who or what you know. Instead, it is determined by your efforts to impact learning. Be intentional and purposeful with web-based supports, and you’ll avoid the stress of being overwhelmed by the web or the shiniest of digital technologies. With intentional Internet habits, you’ll invest in a healthier and happier you.
By: Lori Brown, Ed.D
Dr Lori Brown is the Director of Learning Solutions for Strivven Media’s VirtualJobShadow.com and President of Dawn Star Consulting LLC. She is a former teacher, administrator, and grant writer who continues to support global professional development. She lives in her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.