'Embrace social media – but don’t be a slave to it'

This teacher says that schools should not open the door too far for social media - but cannot afford to pretend it doesn’t exist

'Embrace social media – but don’t be a slave to it'

The latest iPhone update has made it easier than ever to see how long we are spending using our phones and devices. For most of us, it doesn’t make for very comfortable reading. Even moderate users take a sharp intake of breath upon seeing the hours of scrolling and swiping that swiftly tot up.

And for most of our young people, the figures are even higher. For them, a whole other world can exist online, complete with its own language, rules, in-jokes and time zones. A well-framed meme can go viral before the adults in the room have even understood the punchline.

Up against this torrent of pop culture and totes obvs abbreviations, teachers often go with one of two options in a bid to get their clued up youngsters onside and ready for learning.

Behind door number one is the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” brigade. In a bid to be down with the kids, some teachers go all out and bring text talk into the classroom. More Yolo (you only live once) than Fomo (fear of missing out), these teachers are determined to learn the lingo and hook their audience. Their walls are a mash up of Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat themed displays, urging students to post on these offline versions of their online faves. In this classroom, social media is king.

But what message does that really send to learners? How are we challenging their thinking when we simply lead them back to their online habits, even when they are offline? And what about those few students who do not use social media? How do they access a classroom built around an online world they know nothing about?

Behind door number two, we find the “if I close my eyes then it doesn’t exist” gang. Social media is not the king here and all the learning is decidedly unplugged. Students moan about boring lessons and their pleas to “just google it” are met with a wry smile and the handing over of a very large and dusty dictionary. This is the classroom where memes go to die.

There is a middle ground, though. As educators we can’t and shouldn’t ignore what influences our young people online. But we don’t need to turn our classrooms into offerings to the social media gods either. We can model a different way.

Talk together about the best ways to share learning; consider the online options and post thoughtfully and with care; be clear about the message the post will convey. And get consent for every post, every time.

We also have to help our young people see that they have ownership over their own images, over the version of themselves they choose to portray online. Help them to understand that all you ever see is what the poster wants you to see.

Social media is not reality any more than a photo album is – it's just a series of edited snapshots that never tell the whole story. Helping students understand that is the only message that teachers should want to go viral.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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