By Kerry Gallagher
It is no longer uncommon or special for school administrators and teachers to use social media to share the great things their students are doing in classrooms, on sports fields, on stage, or out in the community. They use Facebook to reach parents, Snapchat to reach students, and Instagram and Twitter to bridge the generations. We educators need to remember to consistently and positively talk with and model for our students when it comes to social media. Think about it as an ongoing 3-part cycle. I like to call it the E3 Cycle.
Ask students which platforms they are using when they share videos, images, moments, or funny one-liners online? Are they choosing anonymous apps or are they using their real names? When students start sharing and showing, be sure to listen carefully. We can learn a lot about how they communicate with friends, acquaintances, or even social rivals by listening. Pay special attention to the statements they make about how these posts and communications make them feel. Social media use should be a positive experience for our students.
Pro Tip: Once you find out which platforms your students are using, start doing some research. ConnectSafely guides are a great place to start. The Educator’s Guide to Social Media provides a general overview, but there are also more specific guides to popular services like Snapchat, Instagram, Ask.fm, and Facebook’s brand new Lifestage app.
Once you understand the tools and methods your students are using to engage on social media, start helping them feel empowered to protect themselves and their friends online. Ask: How can you make sure you are sharing enough to help people get to know the real you, but not so much that you are putting yourself at risk? If you are targeted by an online bully or troll, what can you do about it? What if your friend is taking dangerous risks online? How can you help protect your friends, too? When should you get an adult involved?
Pro Tip: There are organizations that provide resources to help start these conversations. Look to the questions and resources gathered for Safer Internet Day 2016. Also, iCanHelp is an organization that has help kick start social media positivity in schools all over the country and their website is full of ideas.
When students and educators are communicating honestly and realistically about how social media is being used, it is time to show students the potential social media has for connecting them with their peers around the globe, experts they can learn from, and places they want to visit. While they know that social media helps them share in a fun way with their friends, they might not know that social media can help them complete a research project for school, or help them get a job, or even help them virtually visit faraway places.
Pro Tip: If you are looking for way to demonstrate these concepts for your students, consider joining the DigCitKids movement to connect your school with others. Mystery Skype is a great way to show your students how learning and online connections with people go hand-in-hand. A few years ago when I was teaching high school history I teamed up with an elementary art teacher from Texas. We came up with daily questions and had our students share their answers with one another via Voxer using voice messages and photos.
We know that our students are using social media at younger and younger ages. If we use these three strategies, and then consistently repeat the E3 Cycle to keep the dialogue open, our students will be using these social media tools in ways that help create a more positive Internet and help themselves feel ready to handle any situation online.
Kerry Gallagher is the Director of K-12 Education for ConnectSafely.org, in addition to her full-time role as Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts.