By Ben Smith
I am a vigorous advocate of social media as a required form of professional development for teachers. Let me explain.
Years ago, I was tasked with teaching an “Introduction to computers” class to all 9th graders at my school. One of the core skills I hoped to impart was the ability to have each student understand the proper use of research and citation.
Each time I approached that learning objective; I would bring the students into our auditorium and tell them that each seat represented a great thinker, writer, artist, or leader. I posed a simple question:
“Why do we need to know about these great thinkers?”
It didn’t take long for the simple fact to emerge that great people are the foundation of our understanding, our thinking and our innovation. I would then discuss the importance of using the ideas of those who thought before us to help us create our own thoughts.
I was recently reminded of this as I watched a fascinating TEDx Denver talk by educator and author Grant Lichtman provocatively titled ‘Please Stop Saying 21st Century Education’.
He spoke of the need to teach to the future, while respecting the ideas from the past. He quoted John Dewey: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”
Dewey was right, but unfortunately our profession has not reflected this vision. Teaching does not emanate from the vacuum of space, though many educators teach as if it does. Great teaching emanates from the grand auditorium of great educators past and present.
Teachers should no longer function in isolation. We need to embrace the technology and culture of tomorrow if we are going to ever hope to give our students a chance. We need to take a seat with our fellows.
I believe that it is through professional development via social media that we can begin to learn from those who have thought before us, as well as those who wish to think along with us. Among the suggestions I have for teachers to begin this journey back into the world of current educational thought:
- Get a Twitter account and find some great educators to follow. Start with Sir Ken Robinson
- Use Facebook, Google+ and Google Hangouts to collaborate with teachers you admire.
- Use LinkedIn to connect to professional organizations.
- Get an RSS feed for all your content.
- Subscribe to blogs and sites that advocate for what you believe in.
- Collect your ideas – I use Flipboard, Evernote, and Pocket to browse, collect and organize these ideas.
- Investigate the use (or not) of social media at your school or district. Advocate for opening it up for teachers and students.
- Remember the great educational thinkers of the past – they have a lot to tell us.
And now back to that auditorium. If want to try something new in my classroom, I am convinced that someone has already tried it. I need to learn how to search and find that teacher, to collaborate and innovate together. We need to model professional standards and give others credit they deserve, we are all a part of this thinking about teaching and we all deserve a seat in the lexicon of teaching.
Additional resources for this post:
- The New York Times Opinion article by Jal Mehta entitled ‘Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?’
- EdTEchReview – Social Media in Education: Pros and Cons