Educational Leadership: Taking a Page from Social Media

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May 19, 2012

The popularity of social media continues to expand as technological improvements make it possible to connect with people in whole new ways and this has not only caught the attention of marketing departments. Those creating educational policy and attending educational leadership graduate programs have begun to pay very close attention to the development of some of these tools. While many K-12 districts place restrictions on social media use within schools, many others have found ways to take advantage of these services and tools. Oftentimes, this integration is controlled and monitored, but it still engages students in a way that traditional measures do not.

Recent defenders of educational social media use point out that 73% of teenagers and 61% of adults who regularly go online are part of one or more social networking websites. The average Facebook user spends 55 minutes per day on the site and 600 new messages are posted on Twitter every second. Users spend a significant amount of time on social media sites, and educators who know how to cautiously tap into this resource have noted benefits.

Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey, maintains a Twitter and Facebook page for his school. The pages provide the community with news about school functions, athletic victories, and student work. Moreover, these tools allow parents and teachers to quickly share congratulations, questions, and opinions. Students, who already spend a great deal of time on Facebook, can also feel more engaged in their learning experience. These tools reach students on a level they feel comfortable and familiar with, which encourages greater involvement.

Other schools have used social media platforms for similar purposes. Brian Kievit, a middle school science teacher in Tucson, Arizona, encouraged his students to create an educational Facebook page about an imported weed known as Buffelgrass. The students learned about Buffelgrass in class and wanted to spread awareness about it. They created a Facebook page, soon followed by a rap song that they posted on YouTube. Under other circumstances, the lesson may have ended as soon as students closed their textbooks. Due to the popularity and appeal of social media, though, Kievit’s students gained a greater sense of awareness. They furthered their education on the subject by becoming actively engaged with it.

Many school administrators still have concerns about social media, however. For starters, encouraging students to use social media sites may open the door for higher levels of cyberbullying and problems with Internet security. Anthony Orsini, the principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, emailed parents requesting that they ban their children from using social networking sites to prevent cyberbullying. Likewise, the school district in Granite, Utah, barred its teachers and students from “friending” each other on Facebook in an effort to prevent potential problems that could arise should students and teachers develop inappropriate, overly-personal relationships. With all the potential threats and risks posed by social media tools, many educators do not find the potential benefits worth it.

Even so, educators and administrators who promote social media believe they can do so safely if they exercise a little common sense and caution. Sheninger, for instance, is careful about only sharing messages connected to learning and school events. He also requires students and parents to complete a new media release form before any videos or pictures featuring the students can be posted online. This limits privacy concerns and provides families who feel uncomfortable with the chance to opt out.

Integrating social media into instruction is a risky jump, and many are understandably hesitant to take it. Those who have made the leap often witness positive results because of it, however. As long as educators do not promote social media recklessly, and do put precautions in place to protect students, the benefits may continue proving worthwhile.

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