Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Challenge to Teachers: Mentor Young Teachers in Social Tech

There is something wrong here.

This picture (and please, if you are viewing this on a feed where the pic isn't showing up, please visit the main TeachPaperless page to see this) is unacceptable.

It is unacceptable on so many levels. But let me give some context.

This is a screen capture of a Tweet that reads: "I am scared of twitter". It was not written by a 35 year veteran fearing that social media is undermining his or her career. It was not written by an overburdened administrator fearing another lawsuit. It was not written by an overworked IT guy or gal nervous about whether the local network will be able to withstand the pounding social media has the potential to dish out.

This Tweet was written by a twenty-something new teacher in an ed school classroom.

My ed school classroom.

This is unacceptable.

What have we done? How have we allowed social media to become so seemingly monolithic that a young teacher would write this as his or her ONLY tweet?

We have to do better. This one's on us.

This is the result of scaring our kids into thinking predators were the de facto users of MySpace. This is the result of banning mobile devices in our classrooms. This is the result of teachers being threatened with termination for using social media and kids being blocked from using email at school.

This one's on us. We have to take responsibility for this. We have to turn this around.

Now, maybe I'm just overestimating this. After all, I'm sure it was just a joke, right?

Well, I would think that, and I'd appreciate the joke, if it weren't for the fact that in this first week of building our PLNs, this particular student had a total of four followers and one Tweet.

That's unacceptable.

But it's not just the student's fault for being unwilling to try out the network; it's also our fault for letting it come to this. Because the way most ed school programs are currently set up, there's no reason WHY any young teacher would think they'd be expected to have a professional working knowledge of social technology.

We've got to change that.

So here's what I'm calling on my fellow PLN members and ed school teachers to do: find three young teachers in your building, in your ed school, or through your PLN. Mentor those teachers. Teach them WHY they should build a PLN. Teach them what it means to participate as a professional. Don't worry about teaching them every little gimmick and gadget that comes down the pike; just teach them what it means to be part of a network, what it means to be connected, how to use a PLN to grow professionally as a teacher.

Furthermore, contact your local ed schools. Contact your alma mater. Tell those schools that as a teaching professional, you demand they include mandatory courses teaching and modeling the integration of social technology into classroom instruction; tell them that facility with social media should be a qualification for earning a degree.

We can't afford to let young teachers slip through ed school without a working knowledge of social technology and a foundational PLN. This begins with us. Serious or not, this is no joking matter.


  1. As always, I can count on you to stir it up a bit---and I couldn't agree with you more! We need to stop blocking and scaring, and start teaching to discern, and learn.

  2. Glad to find this site! Looks like some great stuff here. You should consider doing a guest post over at TEFL Earth on TEFL.net.

  3. Yes. Everything will be a total and complete disaster if people don't use Twitter. It's amazing we lived without it for so long.

    Seriously...while it's unfortunate that some people really are afraid of social media, let's not act like it's the end-all be-all.

  4. @Anonymous,

    If you want to be engaged in real discussion on this issue in the blogosphere, the least you will want to do is use a Web handle rather than a generic 'anonymous' tag.

    I say this not to try to discourage you or to find out more information about you, but rather I say this because you will find that in these sorts of conversations folks who tag themselves as anonymous tend to mark themselves as folks with little experience in the issues (i.e. it's a typical sign either of being a newb or not really wanting to take part in the debate in any serious way).

    Have the guts to put a digital profile to your comments; you will be taken much more seriously and likely will get much more out of the experience.

    Very best,

  5. Aside from generally taking this too seriously, I feel like you're being a little less confident about the future of social media than you should be. That is, there is no rush, because this stuff isn't going away. If you're getting ready to retire, you'd better figure out Twitter now, because it would be a shame to wait until you're in the nursing home to do it. But if you're in a nursing home in 10 years, you'll be twittering (or the equivalent). All these new teachers will be too. There is no rush. This stuff isn't going anywhere. Let people get comfortable.

  6. Well, I can understand why he/she is scared: of being embarrassed, saying the wrong thing, looking foolish... Been there: but with your encouragement, s/he will do fine! You told me to immerse myself and it's still something to fit in and not totally incorporated in my work life... but we're all a work in progress!

  7. I'm currently trying to change my PLN behaviour.

    For years I've been a lurker. I've read edublogs, been on Ning and been following my twitter feed. Now I'm attempting to be apart of the voice out there and I think what you're saying here is a big part of that but in reverse.

    I've been following others but not giving of myself and is that fair either, no. I have something to contribute to help the network work better. Also, by doing so the network is making more of an impact on me.

  8. Whether or not social media is the wave of the future (I use Twitter, but have not lost my sense of its absurdity)... I think it's important not to lose sight of the big message here: we've spent a long time, as a society, fretting about how big and scary (and new) the internet and its encumbrances are. And now we have people joining the teaching ranks who have been educated with this mindset. And they're scared of the internet. It ain't a big surprise. Cue South Pacific: you've got to be carefully taught... http://bit.ly/ef4Sv

    I, myself, take heart in (and stand behind) something that Gary Stager said a couple of weeks ago during our faculty technology workshops: "Sure, I've probably not gotten some jobs because of things I've said on the internet. But I'm sure I've also gotten jobs because of those things." I think of the job interview I had a few years ago where I walked into the room to be greeted by a laughing group of administrators who had just finished showing each other http://battis.net/graphics/beard.gif -- and then roundly agreed that I was just the sort of person they needed working with them in technology with students.

    But there's another level to all of this that is worth thinking about: educating teachers to educate their students in public exposes the foibles of the students (directly) and of the teacher (at least indirectly, and sometimes directly) to public scrutiny. It's scary business. It requires some very real confidence in yourself as a person and as a teacher to be able to not know something in public -- or to correct a mistake in public.

    For many teachers faced with social media, I think this is part of the very real threat that they feel: they are turning their classrooms open to (potentially judgmental) strangers -- and ceding centerstage, and ceasing to be the expert, but instead being a learner with their students.

    It's big stuff, and technology is a symptom, and not the disease. In almost every case where we talk about technological issues, what we're getting at are fundamental questions of pedagogy and philosophy. The technology just exposes some of these more-buried issues.

    And, with that, I'm off to finish preparing for my first day of classes tomorrow, where I will point my students to social media (both internal to the school and external), admit that I'm not an expert, and talk about how excited I am to learn with them this year.

  9. This may have actually been MY Tweet in Shelly's Ed classroom.

    I'm not positive, but I can surely say that on that same date, in his classroom at Hopkins, sitting in the back row with a very stressed look on my face (I'm sure), I was feeling the same way.

    Shelly attempted to teach us Twitter, Weebly, Blogger, Diigo, and other Social Techy things that went right over my head.

    Excuse my ignorance, but I still have no idea what PLN means in this context, or how to send a Tweet? Do you send a Tweet? I have no clue.

    I am willing to learn and incorporate this in my classroom somehow (which is a completely different discussion, seeing how my students cannot afford simple school supplies and much less a computer or a cell phone capable of accessing all of this. How do I encourage my students to Tweet and Blog when they simply don't have the means to? Heck, I have colleagues who are lucky enough to get enough chalk for their lesson... I'll stop here)

    I just need time to learn all of this and someone who is willing to understand my apprehension with it all. Two hours is not enough, and to be quite honest Shelly, your constant messages form Twitter in my inbox are making me stress out even more! Your class is great, I just need time and clear, detailed explanations. I want to be a part of "the network," and I want my students to be as well, but I need time to understand.

    With time, careful explanation, and true mentoring from Shelly, I'm sure I'll figure it out and come to appreciate it more.

    I just hope that my apprehension doesn't frustrate any of you enough to give up on me and teachers/people in my same situation. Though I agree with anonymous in that a healthy fear of Social Media is not the end of the world, I would like to learn.

    Alrighty, I said my piece..now I'll return to Tweeting, Weebling, Diigonig, and everything else-ing that I have to figure outin order to be successful in Shelly's course and in life I guess.

    Thanks for your time :)
    -Candice D.

  10. @candinicky

    First of all, thanks for responding. It is fantastic, and I believe a bit eye opening, for many of us teachers who are using social tech on a daily basis to get this perspective from someone starting out in teaching. Your voice is sincere and powerful and we need to hear it.

    As for your concerns and confusion, let me tell you that is exactly what your PLN is here to help with. Your 'personal learning network' is exactly that: a network that you create that will help you grow as a professional teacher. Rather than wait for semi-annual professional development days handed down from on high, it will be you who control your development as a teacher.

    Everyone in the network has been where you are today. None of us were born social tech geniuses; because social tech itself is something fresh off the presses.

    So we are all in this together. And we'll be learning from one another.

    Last thing. You are absolutely right: two hours a week is not enough. Which is why I put several hours this afternoon and this evening into working with folks -- including your classmates -- on building their networks. In fact, I've been doing that ever day.

    I said it in the classroom: the majority of your learning in my class will occur outside of the classroom walls. Be open to it.

    Now get back to building that network. Get back to building a knowledge base and a place for professional growth that will keep giving to you so long as you give to it.



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