By Teachers, For Teachers
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to speak to a small group of new teachers about how I’ve used my social media accounts – namely Twitter – to connect with educators across the globe. While preparing for this conversation, I realized that my approach in talking with new teachers about using technology in the classroom to get connected is different from my previous conversations with more veteran teachers. Newer teachers are, in large part, younger teachers. This means that they’re more likely to already have exposure to technology in the classroom social media platforms and have used their own Twitter, SnapChat, Pinterest, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts for years. As opposed to older teachers, new teachers largely have background experience with the very mediums we promote for getting connected. In fact, the idea of connecting to others through electronic mediums and technology in the classroom is not nearly as foreign to our millennial generation.
It might seem like our newest teachers have got it all together when it comes to using digital platforms to develop their professional connections. However, we cannot assume that simply because they’ve used social media or are comfortable with electronics that they automatically know how to best leverage these tools. It is up to veteran connected educators to train our next generation of teachers.
Here are some thoughts on how you might best approach teaching your newest educators about how they might take advantage of connectedness to improve their impact on students.
They might not know, and we should assume they do. While young professionals might demonstrate proficiency with all-things-electronic and have a more innate comfort with navigating digital tools, they might not know what it means to “Get connected” or know how to develop a professional network.
These digital natives might be more “Connected” in the sense that they have spent most of their lives using the Internet for purchases, entertainment, and relationships. However, leveraging Internet resources in a connected way for professional purposes is something they might not yet have had the opportunity – or even the need – to do. Your new teachers might in fact already be connected; but if we just assume this is the case then we are likely missing an opportunity to coach them in this regard.
Millennials thrive off of relationship and personalized coaching more than data charts and “This is the way you should do it” lectures. Open up to your new teachers about your own experience with social media and connectedness. Be honest with them about how you use social media, its perks and pitfalls, and what it means for your impact on students.
By sharing your story, you’re allowing new teachers to see how an experienced teacher is open to learning new things from others and how a professional can leverage their network for growth. Doing so not only helps set a positive example for other teachers, but it also encourages them to share their own experiences as well.
I’ve often told my students that I don’t use Twitter the same way they do. They look at my tweets, my followers, and my likes and easily identify my account as “A grownup way of using Twitter.” Most young non-professionals use social media for personal interactions with others. And this is OK, but it should not be confused with the digital footprint we want to develop as professionals.
When working with new teachers, it’s important to distinguish what types of interactions online are personal and which are professional. New teachers should be coached on how to develop a professional presence, and how what they say and do are representative of the district they are employed by. These should be contrasted to personal uses of social media, and teachers should be encouraged to separate their professional and personal interactions either through separate accounts, platforms, and so on.
Getting connected and expanding one’s network is not strictly limited to online platforms. Millennials appreciate authenticity over practicality, and they should be encouraged to develop non-tech connections with the educators within their own building. This helps them recognize that connectedness and networking are not just about how many followers or likes they have, but how authentically plugged into the rich resources around them they are.
If being connected is as good as we claim, then we should be able to demonstrate the benefits, right? Instead of just speaking theoretically about connectedness, we want to show our new teachers exactly why we do it. This means pulling up our own feed and showing who we follow and how we use our platforms. This means openly trying and talking about new things we’re learning from our network. This means valuing the relationships we build with our colleagues throughout our building. When new teachers see for themselves what a professional stands to gain from getting connected, they are more likely to follow through themselves.
Part of helping your new teachers get connected involves letting them know that connectedness is not a dream world where anything goes and everything is perfect. When I model the values of connectedness, I also take time to show the limitations of it as well. I don’t pretend like connectedness has suddenly made my life a utopia, like every idea I learn is a good one, or that there are no conflicts or pitfalls. We should be open about these with our next teachers as well.
Additionally, most districts likely have school board policies pertaining to the use of social media and electronic devices as an employee. New teachers should be made aware of this policy and have important rules and recommendations highlighted for them. Don’t do this in a manner that is going to scare them away from using social media entirely, but rather use these policies to help new teachers understand the expectations associated with using their account(s) as a professional and to avoid potential pitfalls from the outset.
While our newest teachers are often more comfortable and familiar with using social media to develop their networks, it’s part of our job to ensure that they are able to properly leverage these opportunities in a meaningful and professional way. I’m certain many of us are grateful for the time veteran teachers spend acquainting us with ways to improve our practice. Now, as we get acquainted with our next generation of teachers, it’s important to speak to them in their language and help them recognize the importance and opportunities or developing their own connectedness.
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.