When fear extinguishes innovation – new teachers and social media

Image from the connected educators

Since I started my journey to be a teacher I keep hearing the same words of ‘advice’ given to student and beginning teachers about social media.

  • Be careful what you do online, university officials are watching and you might get in trouble.
  • Be careful what you do online, principals might be watching and you won’t get job.
  • Be careful what you do online, ANYBODY might be watching and your teaching career could be over.

This fear-based social media advice is becoming old and as I’ve found out really, really wrong.

  • Far from being a barrier to study, my social media presence has been a place to learn from educators around the planet.
  • Far from hindering my job search, my PLN helped land me a teaching job.
  • Far from my blog being something to be ashamed of people finding, I hope that my work on the Graduating Teacher Standards might be used as a model for someone somewhere.

We desperately need to change the conversation we’re having with students whether they be tertiary students through to primary about online activity.

Social media in and of itself isn’t bad, in fact when used effectively it is one of the most powerful forms of learning out there. Yet we spend so much time worrying about all the potential threats that we lose sight of all the awesome learning opportunities out there not just for would-be teachers but for kids around the planet.

Every day my twitter feed has a teacher asking for people to comment on their students blogs. I try to comment as much as I can but I could spend pretty much all day commenting on student blogs. I do so for two reasons. One as a pay it forward for my students so that when we start blogging there’s already an online community in place to support our efforts. But more importantly the kids already blogging need to know that their voices are heard and the way that can happen is through comments.

As a blogger I love getting comments. I know I have written more because there is an audience who reads this blog. If people weren’t commenting or retweeting my posts would I write as often, if at all? Probably not.

Now imagine you are a eight year old kid who might not have even left your own town getting a comment from someone half way around the world about something you’ve written. Those comments are going to have a far greater impact on their learning and motivation to write.

So why don’t we get an army of student teachers out there commenting on class blogs, individual blogs, finding out about the world outside our institution? It will help give the kids who need an audience for their writing a massive signal boost but more importantly it opens new teachers up to a world of ideas to implement in their classroom. A simple search of #comments4kids will  immediately bring up a list of kids blogs looking for comments. It’s so easy to do yet the fear-driven ‘don’t do that’ limits our conceptions of what possibilities social media has for learning.

I realize I’m probably shouting into the wind on this. Every time a story about inappropriate online comment or picture  gets a teacher in trouble it makes bureaucrats squirm and wish for a simpler day where the place for most youthful hijinks was in the archives of student magazines. These days doing silly things has the potential to be beamed around the world in a series of quick clicks. So our institutions respond through scaremongering students about the dangers of online activity and think they have done their job.

I don’t think they have.

Last week sat through a lecture where amongst other things hundreds of new teachers were given a talking to about the dangers of social media. What was amazing was in the next five minutes the speaker talked about the importance of collaboration and weekly journaling as a way for new teachers to develop professional competency. But there was no connection made between using social media inappropriately and using social media to enhance new teachers’ professional practice.

It was during the speaker’s spiel about the importance of backing up your professional evidence files that I had a sudden light bulb moment. This person probably doesn’t use social media for professional learning purposes. In fact this person probably doesn’t use social media at all. So how can they seek to give advice on a medium they don’t use?

Because if the speaker did use social media they’d know that blogs are great as a way to journal your thoughts. They’d know that twitter opens up a world of learning to teachers. And they’d know that cloud computing is a great way to avoid losing content if your device is stolen or destroyed.

No wonder all the speaker could see is the pitfalls of social media. If you don’t use it, then you don’t see all the potential for learning and collaboration when the medium is used wisely. You just see the pitfalls of bad decisions.

The problem with the powers that be who keep giving these dire warnings of an online life being the death knell of a teaching career is that they are driving new teachers, the very people who need a supportive community, behind digital gates where they can’t interact with a world of educators with ideas and support to help them with their learning.

But more importantly by failing to engage with the medium the powers that be in effect have relinquished their responsibility to model what effective online engagement for professional purposes might look. And then they wonder why students of all ages are getting into trouble for their online presence.

Because it isn’t just the kids who need to learn about cyber citizenship.

31 thoughts on “When fear extinguishes innovation – new teachers and social media

Add yours

  1. Could not agree more with your frustration regarding the common call to stay out of the social media arena – I recently provided a workshop to pre-service teachers and referred to this as Digital Footprint 2.0. I then urged students to move to Digital Footprint 3.0, seeing the value of getting online and creating a professional presence there. My presentation for this group of aspiring teachers can be accessed at my blog – kurtishewson.wordrpress.com. Great to see you serve as a model for other future teachers, demonstrating the power of connecting with other educators online. Thanks for your post!


    1. Hi Kurtis
      Thanks so much for your comment. I will definitely take a look at your workshop. I’ve tried to say again and again that I think wise use is we need to head. Not just zomg put everything online or zomg don’t put everything online people are watching. You need to use judgement.

      Thanks again for stopping by



  2. Hi -Your not posting to the wind. I can’t get over how much social media has helped me, and actually it might be in my favour if more people of power understood the positive power of social networking. I believe the positive far outweighs the negative. I agree we need to start educating the about social media, in particular facebook. I cringe at some of the posts on my daughters page(16 and not by her) I want to tell these young girls of the dangers and how they can use social media for good use- but as their school bans facebook how can they educate.?? It is so frustrating to see such a worthwhile tool being abused and because of this, banned and all through lack of education and understanding.


    1. Sandy,
      I think that you are right that if it gets banned nobody learns. I read today that an english class created fake profiles of literary figures. That’s a two-fold lesson on both literacy and cyber-satefy. When you engage with the medium as a matter of course you avoid the preachy stuff that turns kids of listening.



    1. Hi Ceila,
      Thanks for stopping by. I think the important thing to acknowledge is that there is risk in everything we do but is about using judgement to avoid the pitfalls. A bit like crossing the street it can be dangerous when you don’t use judgement!



  3. So true

    The fact that I found this blog from a tweet reinforces three things at once.

    One- that the social medium of Twitter is a great place to learn and engage with the thoughts of others.

    Two- that blogging is the perfect way to reflect and share your learning, both as a child and as an adult. By blogging you can hold your thinking up to the mirror and see how it looks. By blogging you put your ideas in order, which in turn helps you think better- or at least that is how it works for me.

    Thirdly I have now found three other people who have commented before me that I can learn from as well.

    On a note about commenting on children’s blog posts. I think the most important person to comment on a child’s blog post is the teacher of that child. It makes me sad when teachers want others to comment on the work of the children in their class but are not willing to put in the time to give their own children feedback. I think the second person to give feedback on a child’s blog post is their peers- other classmates.

    And wouldn’t it be fabulous if blogs were updated regularly enough that parents of children in the class regularly checked in.

    Thanks for putting your reflections on line- teacher trainers need a lot of training themselves and it makes my blood boil to see the last century views still being expressed in the third millenium.


    1. Hi Allanah
      Thanks so much for your comment. You articulated a lot of my hunches about blogging with students, that it needs to be regularly updated and the teacher needs to engage with the students as well. And yes I’m starting to think the tertiary sector is pretty bad when it comes to modernization and I say that as an online student!



  4. Ah yes, you could’ve titled this blogpost ‘Fear Factor Global’! Great points made – we need to change attitudes AND the language around it. My class and I call it ‘net-iquette’ and we have developed codes and almost a whole simple language around it. Much better than driving fear, it is wiser to educate. Hmmm. Sounds familiar…


    1. Hi Kimberley,
      Yep I agree there’s so many areas where fear often ill-founded drives bad practice not just in education.I’ve seen your learners online stuff and its choice.



  5. Great post, I to share your frustration. I find it interesting that when you tell someone especially teenagers that they can’t have something they’ll work ten times harder to get it and you wont know about it. We should be teaching our teachers, parents and child about the responsibilities that. Come with social media, the learning that comes with social media and the opportunities. Yes, the potential consequences are something we need to be aware of but they shouldn’t be our sole focus.


  6. Hi Stephanie
    To some extent I agree with what you are writing. Yes social media is a wonderful way to learn. Yet at the same time because we are educators we should proceed cautiously when working with children and social media. Just because we can does not always mean that we should.
    I also agree with an earlier post regarding teachers giving feedback to their own children.
    I am aware that parental permission is needed when working with children and social media. So one key idea I also look for with educators who use ‘innovative’ tools, that running alongside their practice, is learning how to be safe and respectful online.
    As educators we can practice what we preach. For example: Would our facebook pages and online photos stand up to a future employer’s scrutiny? Are our online postings respectful and mindful of other cultures?
    The more I use social media, the more I practice developing connections and relationships off line because sometimes turning off the wifi can create better conversations.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts


  7. Thanks so much for your insightful comment. I agree that thinking about the why goes hand and hand. That’s why I used terms like wise and effective as I don’t think just going nuts is the right thing to do. But I think especially at tertiary level we need to be doing more to encourage better engagement with online technology. Through blogging as a way to develop a professional profile I’ve learned so much about how I would apply it to a classroom setting yet so many teachers don’t which leads to them either jumping in without considering or not engaging at all.



  8. What a great point you are making. I absolutely agree – the price of fear of the medium is creativity. At the least we need to know the medium in which our students engage in and spend the majority of their time on. If teachers are being limited in using social media, they are being cut off from a major channel of communication with their students. In this day and age, we can’t continue “fearing the unknown” because it’s only unknown to teachers – our students know its boundaries and possibilities very well.

    it’s a bit of a dilemma – educators are always frustrated that they can’t keep up with the fast developing technology, but at the same time they are the ones who don’t effectively emerse into it. They are afraid that it might lead to something “bad”. If you’re afraid of something, then you will have no way of knowing it well. And you continue being afraid and never explore.


  9. Thanks for this great post! I completely agree that teachers should embrace social media, as all the benefits it can provide definitely outweigh the (often avoidable) negatives. I have learnt so much that I consider has help to strengthen my profesional practice since I have started to actively read blogs, blogging and joining twitter! Can’t imagine going without them again!

    And I also agree that you need to be well versed within a medium in order to provide advice on the how to use it! Being familiar with social media also allows you to relate in a real way with your students when dispensing advice about the benefits, dangers and pitfalls associated with using different platforms.


  10. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for stopping by. I heard a great analogy to social media being a bit like learning to cross the street. We don’t tell kids never to cross the street, we scaffold experiences so that they they can learn how to do it by themselves.



  11. Hi Stephanie. Thanks for your post. I’m currently in a teacher education program and the speakers, when talking about a digital footprint, talk to it like it’s a bad thing to have, like a carbon footprint. The overtones of fear create a fear in pre-service teachers who don’t know yet how to use the technology. I fear that this limits the potential innovation that can result from teachers who go out and try to discover what they CAN do.


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