Teachers as role models…..digitally

Last term, we had some staff professional learning around the concept of being role models for our students as part of our work with KidsMatter. It’s something we take for granted that we are, but this allowed us to really focus on the specific actions (and potential consequences) that make a difference. It got me thinking about all the ways we are role models and who might be watching and learning from us.

Our students, of all ages, watch us constantly and pick up a lot from both what we say and what we do. That is a given and something teachers are aware off. What might not be so immediately obvious is that colleagues also watch us and pick up just as much, as do parents and those we interact with beyond school boundaries.

Modelling what a responsible digital citizen looks like is so important for our students, our colleagues and our wider community. Part of this is embracing social media trends where appropriate and demonstrating how they can be used in a positive way. I use ‘where appropriate’ to suggest that we should use those that are a good fit for our personal or professional lives, rather than to suggest any are inherently ‘bad’. I’m not suggesting staff should feel compelled to jump into a range of social media tools that have no meaning for them, just that we should not shy away from those we have a purpose for using, for fear of negative incidents. It’s more important to use them and, as any good digital citizen should, consider the most effective and responsible ways to use them.

An example is Facebook which, despite having been around for so long and having such a wide appeal, is still the subject of very varied opinions among teachers. I have been told by colleagues at different times and in different schools that Facebook is evil and, as a teacher, I shouldn’t be on it or I am risking my professional image. To me, Facebook is just another part of my social interactions, like attending events with my friends, chatting on the phone or catching up over coffee. The difference is that it’s digital and permanent. That doesn’t really change how I act, other than to make me consider for one second longer about how something I write or post will be seen and reflect on me. This isn’t something new – I consider this all the time anyway. We don’t stop being role models because it’s 5pm and it’s home time, whether we’re online or not. Students and parents seeing me in the supermarket will still be watching what I do, how I act and what I say, regardless of the time of day. It’s important to remember that social media is inherently social and, as such, it’s a conversation with more than one person. That being the case, it’s important to have a filter which you apply (I know some people who consider ‘Would I say that to my Grandma’ before posting!) but it shouldn’t stop you posting.

The Department of Education has provided a policy and supporting documents to guide staff in their obligations when it comes to social media use, both professionally and personally. It’s a good starting point for discussions however I think it’s interesting in that much of it is worded as ‘DEECD (now DET) recommends’ (italics added). The digital world is moving quickly and the ethics of being involved in it have trouble keeping up, so hard and fast rules are difficult to establish. The discussion is the important part – discussion around incidents and questions keeps the dialogue going and find ways through, rather than putting up further barriers.

Most importantly, consider what you do and how it looks to other people. But think of that from the positive, not the negative. If others (children and adults) see you using social media in a positive way, it shows them that it’s possible. Not everyone posts drunk photos of themselves on Facebook. Not everyone tweets rants about their boss on Twitter. And not everyone posts skimpy bikini clad holiday snapshots on Instagram. It is not only possible but actually quite easy to post things you’re proud of, happy with and which build a positive, well-round digital picture that echoes the offline you.

Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.Seth Godin

social media, bullying & vulnerability – day 2

Day 2 of the NCAB conference was, I’m pleased to say, as rich and thought provoking as the first and I’ve come home with a head full of ideas, questions and things to follow up.

The key message for me from today was around the need build respectful relationships at all levels – with teachers, students, parents and the wider community. Regardless of whether we are talking about online or more traditional forms of bullying, approaching the issue by teaching (and modelling) ethical behaviour provides the foundation for the communication and respect needed.

The keynotes of the day were by Professor Ian Rivers and Nina Funnell and were both filled with relevant information that challenged my ideas and made me consider how some of these issues fit into my school environment.

Professor Rivers speech raised important points about the experiences of bullying for lesbian and gay youth but also about the role of bystanders in the culture of bullying. Building the social skills of the 60% of students who are bystanders and empowering them to take action can have a huge impact on the problem and help change the culture.

Nina Funnell spoke of sexting, although noted early on that this is not a term used by youth themselves when they talk about this activity. The statistics provided were surprising – the biggest group of people participating in sexting are actually gay adult males, not teen girls as the media may have us believe and that teen girls and boys actually participate at similar rates. This wasn’t the only point that challenged my thinking. I’m not sure that I’ve given much time to the topic of sexting prior to this keynote – I teach primary school students and (possibly naively) didn’t think it was something that I needed to give much thought to. I hadn’t thought about sexting education programs and how the ‘just don’t do it’ message was similar to the abstinence programs that are acknowledged not to work nor had I thought about the fact many schools are limiting conversations about sexting to cybersafety programs when they also are needed in broader conversations of relationship, sexual health and wellbeing. A final message that really did resonate was to be careful not to demonise either the technology nor the young people involved and I liked the idea of teaching ethics surrounding the issues rather than just the legal consequences of the action.

I attended a seminar by Associate Professor Marilyn Campbell and Dr Barbara Spears on students’ perceptions of how their schools deal with bullying which had interesting findings to present and made me question how my school’s students might answer the question. In particular, it was disturbing to see how students who were bullied online had a more negative view of how the school was handling it and raised questions about what to do to improve the situation.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson were next with a stimulating discussion on parental involvement in addressing cyberbullying. The message, again, was one of building relationships, this time with parents and providing them with the tools they need to set boundaries for and support their children. Resources such as the Bullying no way site and ‘Take a Stand‘ app were given to help start that conversation. Dr Carr-Gregg reiterated that honesty is the best policy and encouraged schools to be upfront with parents – bullying happens in every school so talk about what you’re doing, what parents should watch for and what they can do to ensure it’s being tackled as a team effort.

The final seminar I attended by Rosalie O’Neal and Dr Matthew Dobson of ACMA spoke of the results of recent research on the current trends in young people’s use of social media before providing a range of resources. If you haven’t come across ACMA’s amazing and comprehensive set of resources for teachers, students and parents before, stop reading and go now!

Day 2 and the conference as a whole ended with a panel of experts including youth representation addressing audience questions and some hot issues. Fantastic to see youth voice but not quite representative as none were users of social media which meant we didn’t really get the insight I had hoped for.

I’m left with lots of great resources, topics to ponder and ideas to help move my school, students, staff and parents forward. However I also made some great connections during the conference which raises another point that was at the back of my mind throughout. During 2 days of tweeting, I caught up with several people I follow on twitter and who, while I know their opinions and ideas shared with the world well, I have not previously met them in person and, really, know nothing about who they are. There was much talk during the conference of the ‘randoms’ that students have on their social media accounts and the dangers that this outer circle of barely acquaintances can bring. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we don’t need to teach students the importance of reigning this in and the potential dangers that unknown people can bring, particularly when starting out in an online world and before developing an appreciation for the whole picture. But I want to make sure we don’t also cut students off from the amazing possibilities of interaction that the online world can bring as a result. If I restricted my own social media use to only people I’d previously met in person, I would have missed these rich opportunities for discussion and networking. So I’ll end by reminding readers, as the conference constantly reminded me – technology and social media has its positives too.