Middle School Teachers’ Social Media Tips

It’s easy to dismiss social media as a repository for silly cat videos, posts about what’s for dinner or political rants. And there’s certainly a fair bit of that out there, but there’s also a trove of useful information for middle school educators.

But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what the Department of Education said in its 2010 National Education Technology Plan: “Social networks can be used to provide educators with career-long personal learning tools and resources that make professional learning timely and relevant as well as an ongoing activity that continually improves practice and evolves their skills over time.”

That may explain why social network participation is growing among teachers. The Survey of K–12 Educators on Social Networking, Online Communities, & Web 2.0 Tools by edWeb.net found that more than 82 percent of educators surveyed participated in one or more social media channels, up 32 percent from the previous year. According to the survey, teachers are using social media for more than online professional development support. They’re going online to share information and resources, connect with professional colleagues and build a personal learning network.

“These technologies have the potential to accelerate the learning process to such a degree that the gap between someone who doesn’t engage in social media and one who does is going to be huge,” warns Lisa Schmucki, founder of edWeb.net. “As more states move toward performance-based assessment, you want to be one of the top-performing educators.”

Here’s a quick run-down of the most popular social media for teachers and how you can use them.

Blogs

Jennifer Wilson is a math teacher at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, MS, and a blogger who gleans lots of insights from following other edu-bloggers. “Reading blogs provides me with in-depth looks at how certain lessons play out in other teachers’ classrooms, and it gives me insight into how other teachers are planning and creating curriculum to provide learning opportunities for students.”

Education-Specific Online Communities

Another popular social media option for teachers are online communities like the English Teachers Companion Ning, EdModo, The Educator’s PLN, Classroom 2.0, edWeb.net and Discovery Educator Network. These membership groups are like online teachers’ lounges where you can connect with other professionals to share ideas, collaborate, network, solve problems and learn.

Facebook

According to the edWeb survey, 68 percent of educators surveyed are on Facebook. Teachers say it’s great for fundraising and for connecting more informally with other educators. (Learn more about Facebook for educators.)

LinkedIn

LinkedIn isn’t just for business. There are many educators and education consultants among its members and several discussion groups — some sponsored by professional organizations and others by teachers or consultants — specifically for educators. It may be the best way to connect with high-level consultants, academics and other experts you couldn’t meet otherwise.

Pinterest

Mindy Stephenson, a seventh grade teacher at St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Fort Lauderdale, FL, likes this online bulletin board that lets you search for ideas by content area or grade level and then share and “pin” your favorites. “Pinterest is an excellent tool for finding the best resources online, sharing those resources with your colleagues and remembering where you found them later on.” (Learn more about Pinterest for teachers.)

Twitter

“Teachers can use Twitter to connect with like-minded peers and subject matter experts. It’s a great way to start or expand their personal learning network,” says Kim Moldofsky, the Chicago-based creator and host of #STEMchat, a popular monthly Twitter discussion for educators, parents and STEM professionals to share ideas and resources. Other education chats/hashtags to follow include #EdWebChat, #TLchat and #EdTechChat. “Maybe there’s an education conference you had hoped to attend. Follow the conference hashtag on Twitter to hear news from the conference and possibly even get links to the presentations.” (Learn more about Twitter for teachers.)

Webinars

Webinars are a great way to get additional professional development, and many are free or very low-cost compared to conferences and seminars. “Webinars are really easy even if you’re not ready to join a network,” Schmucki says. “To some degree they don’t feel like social media.” Look for Web-based sessions that are interactive (so you can ask questions and share insights) and offer CE credits.

Your Assignments

Are you ready to try integrating more social media into your teaching plans? Here’s how to get started:

  • Do Your Homework: Before you jump into the social media sea, ask teachers you trust and admire which sites they use most and for what purposes. This creates some context for evaluating what’s out there.
  • Have a Purpose: “The most important thing is to know what you want out of it,” Moldofsky says. Contacts? Maybe LinkedIn is best. PD? Webinars and communities could be the most helpful. Ideas and insights? Blogs, Facebook and Twitter are easy wins.
  • Start Small: Try one channel first. As you get more comfortable, it’s easy to add on, Wilson notes. “I now have about 159 blogs in my reader, but I started out a few years ago by following two or three bloggers by email because I knew I would never remember to go back to their sites to see if they had a new post.”
  • Learn and Share: Just like in any classroom, you can get a lot from social media by merely paying attention to what’s being said. But you can get more if you participate — posting your own information, tips and resources.

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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