A teacher’s guide to social media

In order to be effective as teachers we have to be both ahead of our students yet also able to connect with them in ways that they understand. This perhaps goes some way to explaining our ambivalence towards social media. Our students are digital natives and are way ahead of us in their abilities in this new form of communication. Many of us have approached these new forms of communication with some trepidation having heard horror stories of stalked or sacked teachers. Nevertheless we have seen its potential and we have attempted to learn this new language. Yet like the language student, we are not natives and we can be caught out by the ‘grammar’ of social media.

Seize the Opportunity
Social Media offers us as individual teachers, and institutions such as schools and colleges, some tremendous opportunities
1. Through Twitter and facebook communication is instant. Departments can get messages to students, schools can react to rumours or comments instantly rather than having to wait for a passing journalist or 3 days whilst the postman delivers our letters.
2. Hence Social Media enables marketing – we can directly control the message we send out. We can be proactive in making sure that the good news is published – we get to write it
3. We are able to celebrate our successes publicly – it is also a tool of collaborative learning. Photos of student posters or the summary of a discussion on the whiteboard put on Twitter for all to see adds an extra dimension.
4. It enables development. By following key people on Twitter – who post links to articles etc. CPD can take place anytime, anywhere. I can connect to the brightest and best in my profession and share their ideas. My students can do likewise with direction and social media can become part of their independent learning.

Beware the pitfalls (HMV and juries)
Any new opportunity brings with it risks that the naïve and unsuspecting may fall prey to :
1. Organisations need to have a grip on the social media activity on their organisation, particularly on official accounts, remember the HMV employee who had control of the Twitter account during the last days of the organisation.
2. Individuals need to consider what they post or tweet very carefully – remember the juror who tweeted about a trial and an infinite number of other cases involving celebrities no one can be bothered to remember. In short – things posted on social media are permanent and can be public and viral. Things we type, often without thinking, can in theory be read by anyone in the world at any time. We may have secured our settings but what if someone else reposts or retweets the comments?

The Key Lesson: The principle of separation
One of the difficulties with social media is knowing where our work life begins/ends and the rest of our lives begin and end. Hence it is important to separate ‘personal’ and ‘official’ accounts. Whether it be facebook or twitter there is a difference between you – the person, and you – the teacher or manager who represents the department. Your students may be interested to know what you did at the weekend but it is none of their business. Your friends could also do without 5 or 6 class announcements or messages on facebook each day. Separate your accounts!

Your Personal Account
On your personal accounts – check settings but remember that anything you type can ultimately become visible. As a general rule it is not wise to befriend students on facebook. Twitter is slightly different as a student may follow you (but you can block them!) but you don’t have to follow them and see their tweets – probably best that you don’t!
Think very carefully about what you post or tweet. We all let off steam from time to time but be careful about things that may bring your school or college into disrepute – if it is a negative comment about your day at work be a little vague. Remember that future employers may also do a social media trawl.
Do not name or imply the name of any individual – staff or student – in a negative light. Firstly it is disrespectful and secondly there could be legal or safeguarding issues.

Official Accounts
If you are the keeper of an official college or school account for your department
1. Be accountable – the account is the school or colleges’ account – Make sure that your superiors have the password and can see what you’re doing
2. Don’t follow back – do you really want to know what your students are tweeting – think about it . . .
3. Be Regular – where social media works it works because it is regular. An account that doesn’t tweet or post for days on end is effectively dead as far as the digital generation is concerned
4. Values – Be conscious of the values of your department and your institution. Before you post or tweet – read it again and ask if what you are communicating reflects those values.
5. Modelling good habits – we complain about our lack of work-life balance. Think about the timing of tweets and posts. You may be working on Saturday night but your students are probably trying to relax. They will not keep following if they think they are being nagged.

As a final thought – STOP and think before you hit the button and if in any doubt delete. Social media is really powerful tool but so is an electric drill – and we’d be sure to be careful with that!

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Teacher New Year Resolutions

I have read with interest some of the comments in response to the TES’ seemingly harmless question, what are your teacher new year resolutions? (or #teachernyresolutions for my fellow tweeters.) Despite having written quite a bit on teachers work-life balance, stress and the like, I am conscious of not having it all sorted. We are all on a journey as it were with this one and the Christmas break together with its almost obligatory flu like virus gives an opportunity to rest, reflect and resolve to be different in 2013.

So here are my 3 ‘I’s for the year ahead – perhaps you may share some of them.

1. I will be Intentional in focusing on those things that actually matter and will persist in doing the things that get results. I will not get distracted by the urgent or seduced by the pursuit of whatever is trendy because that will change by the week. I will set my agenda by purpose and values not by systems and methods. I will remember that ‘Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”Seth Godin

2. I will focus on my Identity and remember that the job I do, as important as it is, is only part of who I am. I will work hard this year but I will also spend time with my family, get involved in things at church, read books and perhaps even play the guitar occasionally. I know that doing these things makes me a more rounded human being and ultimately a better teacher.

3. I will make an Investment in myself. I will set aside some time each day – perhaps half an hour to develop my skills as a teacher or generally improve myself as a human being. This may be by reading articles on LinkedIn, downloading podcasts from I tunes, following up links from Twitter, or just reading books. I will take responsibility for my own development.

I’m sure there are other things but these 3 will do for starters. . .

Why I am an optimist

Teachers are no different to other people in respect to the fact that some of them will be optimists and some of them some of them will be pessimists. Sometimes when you look around a staffroom or listen in on conversations you could be forgiven for thinking that a higher than average number of pessimists had entered the profession. I’m not convinced that’s the case. I’m sure that most teachers start out as optimists and this optimism is gradually eroded by the comments of government, newspapers etc and sometimes parents, managers and students. It is actually quite easy to become convinced that we’re not doing a good job and that things are slowly getting worse.

Generally I am an optimist. Ok I am human and have my gloomy moments like the rest of us but there are many reasons to be optimistic

1. The students we work with are people. They are not predictable, they may achieve incredible things that we did not expect based on prior performance. We have all taught students who have just clicked in our subject area and made their ‘target grades/predicted performance’ seem ridiculous. Fair enough people also have the potential to majorly mess things up but we won’t dwell on that.

2. We can recall past achievements. Sadly when we do results analysis we spent much of our time explaining those cases when things didn’t go as planned. When we find ourselves gravitating towards pessimism it is worth remembering previous years and the achievements of past students. We have been here before and we can do this.

3. There will always be another day. The future is open. As I write this the sun is shining, the birds are singing in the trees, it’s definitely summer. Who would have thought it as it poured down with rain for much of last week. Situations change in much the same way and very often we have more power to change them than we actually think.

Emotions are strange things and sometimes despite the situation being basically the same as the previous day, we just ‘feel’ differently about it; no reason just a feeling. Of course the next week could be terrible but I’m starting to learn that it is rarely as bad as we fear. Let’s be positive and optimistic, you never know it might be contagious.

Boundaries

Know your limits. . .

Where does your working life as a teacher end and the rest of your life begin? I suppose for many people it begins on Monday morning – let’s say around 7.30am when you pull into the car park. Well actually it may have begun the previous day as you tried to plan a lesson, catch up with marking and show interest in what the kids were doing.  But anyway that day is a work day until you leave the building at around 5 O Clock for the sake of argument. Although actually you may get out some work once the kids have gone to bed and come to think of it whilst you were washing up, your brain was mulling over a few things that happened during the day: what would have improved that lesson that ended badly? How can you support that student who shouldn’t really be doing A Levels but somehow they’re in your class.

The Hours

The truth is that it is incredibly difficult to figure out where work ends and the rest of life begins. We are rarely totally switched off even when we are not working. In surveys that claim to count the hours teachers actually work an average figure is around 53 hours a week in term time. I’m not sure if it is possible to get an accurate figure but for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that this is broadly right. Assuming that the average teacher does no work at all during holidays that would equate to 2,067 hours each year (53 x 39 in case you ask).

So how does that compare to other professions. In an article in the Times, the deputy Editor of the Economist Emma Duncan claimed that the average Britain works 1,700 hours a year. (I’m guessing that’s 37.5 hours a week with around 5-6 weeks holidays) This figure has apparently come down from around 2,200 hours in 1950. So whilst the rest of the workforce have experienced a reduction in the hours spent working, it’s probably fair to say that teacher’s working hours have increased over the years. When I first entered the profession some of the older colleagues I spoke to recalled a day when it was not unusual to see their older colleagues leaving the building 5 minutes after the pupils and carrying absolutely nothing. It was quite a cushy number if you wanted it to be! Unfortunately many of the people who complain about lazy teachers were probably taught by some of these characters

So exactly how many hours should I work? As we know the phrasing in the teachers’ contract is hopelessly open ended. The phrase 1,265 hours and as many extra hours as are needed to fulfil their professional duties is about as vague and as useless as they come.  On the assumption that we are paid to work 1,265 hours teachers are right at the top of the table, along with lawyers, when it comes to the most hours worked ‘unpaid.’

Boundaries

Essentially this is a question about boundaries and it is complicated all the more the age of e-mail and remote access to school and college networks.  Given that it is highly unlikely that anyone is ever going to come up to you and tell you to work less hours it falls upon us as professionals to have the confidence to set our own boundaries. However what is a reasonable limit. Clearly sticking rigidly to 1,265 hours (which would be 32 hours each week in term time) is impossible. In my experience anyone who tries to argue for this probably doesn’t have the best interests of their students at heart. Our students deserve our commitment but so do our families and friends. Hence we recognise that we may need to work long hours but how do we decide the limits?

  1. Time not task: Think of a number. What about 50? Why not limit your working week to 50 hours. Often as teachers we think in terms of tasks. We have a list of things to do but the list is endless. A typical day involves crossing three things off, adding 4 more and not getting any further on the remaining 10 because we happening to be teaching most of the day.  When we are task orientated we tend not to notice the time and we only stop work when we have completed a certain number of tasks. If we measured our working day in terms of time would we really get less done?
  2. Autonomy:  One of the beauties of our job is we do have some degree of autonomy, we don’t do fixed shifts. If we were to work 50 hours each week when would those hours be? What works best for you? Some people aim to do all their work at college arriving early and perhaps leaving late. Some people work at home early mornings or evenings and aim to keep the weekends free. Personally I aim to start at around 6am most weekday mornings and try to work 1 or 2 evenings at the most. Usually this keeps my weekends free and the total adds up to around 50.
  3. Time off:  Hopefully having a limit will give you time off to rest, enjoy your family and develop other aspects of your identity. It may sound counterintuitive but for many of us, working less would actually make us a better teacher. Choosing to limit the time spent working is not laziness but shows wisdom, confidence and maturity

Know your limits and stick to them

Identity theft- I am not just a teacher

There’s something I need to come clean about. I am not a teacher! OK, at first glance that might appear to be a lie. I have certificates that indicate otherwise and have wage slips, resources and other assorted stuff that suggest that this is how I have spent my time in the last 15 years. I suppose my main point is this. I am not just a teacher. It is not the whole story. I am a husband, a father, a son, a Christian, a member of various groups, survivor of some difficult experiences, possessor of a thousand wonderful memories. The label ‘teacher’ only describes part of me. It is not the sum total of my identity. Don’t get me wrong I am proud of the job that I do but it is not my life; however sometimes I carry on as though it is, as though there is nothing else to me, as though my whole identity is found in the classroom. Slowly but surely my identity is stolen.
To be fair, stolen is probably the wrong word. We voluntarily give it away. It’s easy to do it, to forget that our work is not us. The job we do matters and it’s important we do it well. We invest so much time into the job (53 hours a week in term time is the average according to surveys) So what can we do to prevent or relieve the problems of identity theft

1. Criticism – If someone criticises an aspect of your performance in the classroom (or more accurately a comment is made that we perceive to be critical) remember it is just that, a comment on how you have done an aspect of your job. You are not perfect nor should anyone expect you to be. One of our problems as teachers is that our identity and how we feel about ourselves is often wrapped up in how well we do our job, or how well we are perceived to be doing our job. This is a particular problem for us blokes who are more prone to measuring our self-esteem by how we’re doing at work. Remember just because someone thinks you should have done something better does not necessarily mean they are right. And even if they are right that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing the rest of the job pretty well.
2. Contentment – Learn to be content in what you’ve done. Teachers seem to have a default setting that drives them to be perfectionists. Aiming for excellence is one thing but drives ourselves mad in the process and wearing ourselves out ultimately achieves nothing for us and does not benefit those that we teach. Sometimes it takes courage to stop and say ‘this isn’t perfect but it’s good enough and besides I need to stop now so that I am fresh for the next day.’
3. Cultivate – Cultivate other aspects of your identity. Deliberately do other things that are not related to work. Plan an evening with the children, have someone round for a meal. Take up a hobby and plan time to do this, learn new skills. It’s easy to protest that we don’t have time for such things but let’s think about that one. Are we really saying that our role as a teacher is so important that everything else has to be put on hold? And if so until when? Our students connect with us as people and if all we are is related to the job we do then slowly but surely we will start to die inside. We will become less interesting and less effective.

So we are not just teachers. This week, try to make sure that you preserve your identity in a demanding but fulfilling job. I am Chris Eyre – I am not just a teacher. What about you?

When Jesus came to school

Dear Headmaster (I know that Headteacher is the politically correct term but I know that you are a man and you would have been called Headmaster in my day)

I am writing to express my concern over my son’s new teacher. I’m not sure of the gentleman’s full name but he is referred to as Jesus by the pupils. I must say I find this a little informal and am unsure as to the wisdom of him allowing students to know him personally in this sense. My concerns about this man’s methods are in 3 main areas

1) Numeracy: I am all for using real items to illustrate abstract Mathematics but the lesson involving loaves and fish has caused my son much confusion. He now believes that 5+2 = several thousand. Likewise the idea that the more you give away, the more you are likely to receive makes no sense.

2) PE: I was delighted to learn that my son was to have swimming lessons and perhaps should have been more suspicious when his trunks were dry after the first two weeks. I can assure you that, having friends that are experts in health and safety, the practice of walking across deep water is not something that can ever be justified on a risk assessment. In addition there are equal opportunities issues involved in telling disabled children to get up and join in the 100metres race. The fact that they then did so merely illustrates the deep psychological trauma they must have suffered.

3) Geography: Our atlases at home are ruined! It may well be that faith can move mountains but I’m afraid my son takes things very literally. There is now a huge patch of tippex where the Himalayas used to be. It would seem that Mr Jesus’ own geographical knowledge is woefully out of date. I can only assume that the Kingdom of God that he refers to is the old name for some African country in the same way that Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. The homework task of seeking first the Kingdom of God was all very well but I think that France is much easier to find for the average 7 year old.

I am told that Mr Jesus is held to be quite important by people in the school and I understand that there was some excitement as to his presence in the school. Unfortunately I fail to see the significance myself. Like most of the parents at St Sid’s I am not religious and only attended church a few times prior to the admissions procedure. As far as I can tell, this Jesus was not present in the church and most members did not seem to have heard of him. What is currently happening shows a blatant disregard for the accepted practices of education. My child may well be happier than ever and loving school but I am not sure that this new teacher knows which levels he is working on. I am sure that you will agree with me that this Mr Jesus has no place within a church school.

Yours Sincerely

Major Seymour Wright-Whinger

Every end is also a beginning.

Tuesday  3.15pm and I have become emotional. I finished teaching my last lesson an hour or so ago. A year 7 group visiting the college for the afternoon. Our own students left for the summer last week ands so this was the only teaching in the building today. Then it hit me. We are moving sites in the summer and I’d just taught the last ever lesson at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College’s current site. As I had merrily and with some relief waved the year 7’s away, so had ended 40 years of teaching on the current site. Although I have only been at the college for 7 years I was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of history. It sneaked up on me unexpectedly and so if you’ll excuse I will throw out my thoughts.

It’s very easy at times like this to get nostalgic and remember the good old days. I’m told that the good old days involved 2 hour lunch breaks, playing tennis most of the summer and one member of staff who would set his group work, go for a swim, and return to finish off the lesson. Yet despite these oddities and other things that Ofsted would no doubt deem inadequate, for 40 years many have stood in front of classes in this building and day after day brought learning and inspiration to generations. The horizons of ordinary teenagers in Stoke have been broadened. Students have been set on paths that have taken them to far off places both literally and in a figurative sense. I imagined all those staff who had gone before, both living and dead, sitting in on the last ever lesson at Fenton. What would they have made of this moment?

It would have been quite alien to many of them no doubt. Here a group of 15 or so 12 year olds out of school for an afternoon possibly to give their poor teachers a rest. They fidget and twitch, distract and insult. Yet these are the great multi-taskers. They are also engaged for the most part despite their limited concentration. This is widening participation in action. They love the puzzles on the presentation, the humour, the competitive element of the quizzes, the drinks and biscuits at break time. However none of them have pens and seem aghast that I might actually be trying to teach them something. ‘This lesson is boring’ announces one of them before he enters the room. I am amazed. Does he have a prophetic gift? ‘This is a cheating college’ says a member of one of the quiz teams who narrowly fail to take the prize. In years gone by this might have been an opportunity to use the cane, nowadays we call it the voice of the learner.

Whether we like it or not things are different. As teachers we now have technologies available to us that former colleagues couldn’t dream of. We can select videos clips on anything within seconds. We have more data than we know what to do with. However something of this job is timeless. The key to doing it well is still human interaction. The ability to be in front of a class and hold their attention, give them an enjoyable experience and inspire them on their learning journey. That’s something that technology alone cannot supply. Technology is the icing to the teaching cake. I have worked with some great characters over my career at the college and in school. I hope to continue to work with a new generation of great teachers.  I hope that the Ofsted microchip falls out of some of us and we rediscover the creativity and originality that makes a great teacher. After all it’s the teachers that are different that inspire us.

Anyway enough rambling but as we bring this chapter to an end, we inevitably begin a new one. Every end is also a beginning. To quote one of my pastor’s favourite sayings; “hats off to the past but coats off to the future.” Every end should be marked and celebrated not lamented. It’s easy because we’re busy to rush ahead without pausing to reflect.

There’s much to celebrate and many people’s contributions to remember. They got us here but it is for us to take it further. The baton is passed. Tomorrow’s a new day; there is a new building, with new opportunities and challenges. How will we do?  I look around the staffroom and somehow think we’ll be fine. Now who fancies teaches the first ever lesson in the ne building?