Ignore the party poopers

You're invited to a party. This get-together is open to anyone, regardless of status, wealth or beauty. You could meet some exciting people. You might have fun. You can make this party exactly the night you want it to be.

You arrive. In the front room there's a small crowd having a slanging match over a comment that was made some time ago. No one can quite remember the exact comment or the context in which it was communicated. You steer clear.

You have a peep in the downstairs toilet. There's a group in there who will only discuss The Artist Formerly Known As Cheryl Cole. You don't feel like talking to them either.

You move to the kitchen. Here you find your people. You bond with them over shared passions and twinkling repartee.

By the end of the night you've made loads of mates and some important contacts. You're all going to meet regularly, continue the conversation and keep the party going. What an amazing night.

And yet there are still those who would prefer you not to attend the party. Someone at work makes you worry that it is too dangerous; they talk of sinister figures lurking. Others simply insist that it is a waste of time.

In some colleges, the annual social media talk for FE professionals scares people into legging it as fast as possible from any online interaction. Not me.

There's only one question I ask myself if I am nervous about publishing a tweet or a Facebook post: would I feel comfortable if what I had written was published on the front page of every newspaper?

Would I want my bosses to read my moans about them or the college? No. Would I want individual students to read my thoughts about them? No. Would I want to see news of my whippet's cystitis or my inability to leave a trifle uneaten as a headline? Well, it wouldn't hurt anyone and I have a really low embarrassment threshold so publish, publish, publish!

Of course conversations on social media can be trivial but that's because they are taking place between multifaceted individuals communicating with a range of emotions. Being silly in one conversation does not remove the option of being serious in the next.

There was a time when I felt isolated in my job. My team was suffering a crisis in morale and I felt like the school swot for being interested in practice beyond that team and that college. Twitter gave me an opportunity to be part of the wider FE community. If I need advice about tackling behaviour or navigating a curriculum, someone is there to give it.

Social media (especially Twitter) has allowed me to access the widest-ranging, most useful CPD on offer. It's a hugely valuable tool that colleges can use not just to broaden their marketing reach, but by encouraging staff to discover their own professional networks, take charge of their CPD, share good practice and learn collaboratively.

The party is free to attend. Just turning up can help to make you better at what you do. Why on earth would anyone decline?

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands. Find her on Twitter @MrsSarahSimons

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