Sidebar Pages 28-29
Allaying Our Parents’ Fears
BY BUDDY BERRY
Buddy Berry (right), superintendent in Eminence, Ky., leads a workshop for parents and teachers on how to personalize instruction through technology.
I know those two words tend to simplify even the most complex of questions, but it does seem to be at the center of helping parents disarm their fears of students using social media for school-related purposes.
Parents can rattle off the downsides and dangers they believe lurk on the other side of the computer screen. School communities pick up on those anxieties over the use of social media in education. They see a lack of self-control by many teens and pre-teens over inappropriate postings, access to noneducational web content and increasing time off task. These concerns deserve educators’ consideration, but our schools shouldn’t allow them to stop us from moving forward with the use of promising new tools for advancing student learning.
In our school district of 700 students in central Kentucky, that simple question, “Why not?” launched us on the path of exponentially increased student voice, student empowerment, student engagement and digital citizenry.
Early on, we realized our students were digital natives and that limiting their preferred use of communication in their school experiences was futile. Students were going to use social media, so it was up to us to harness its power for productive purposes.
Our students are hyper-connected to the world around them, but we in education must help them make the best use of that connectivity. Whether we like it or not, how students access and share information today has changed dramatically. It no longer matters just what you know, but how you can access all the information you need for the task at hand.
Our school district has focused primarily on creating a “yes, and” culture. We use every obstacle as a chance for refining and advancing our instructional process. When parents and others raise questions about students using social media at school, we acknowledge those concerns but immediately share the many benefits we see from its inclusion in our curriculum. The examples are varied and run from kindergarten through senior year.
Every grade level and every class in Eminence, Ky., Independent Schools is expected to have a class Twitter account. At the end of every day, students reflect on their learning in 140 characters or less, and teachers send a Tweet that best represents that day from the student perspective.
Students in all grades also use social media to investigate content, follow experts, and connect to national and international discussions on topics related to their curriculum. Students and staff participating in these virtual discussions are able to extend their conversations far beyond the boundaries of our district. Other student use involves researching information in real time from various experts, talking with astronauts, participating in online Twitter discussions such as #-KyEdChat, leading social media awareness campaigns and fact-checking the points of guest speakers during school assemblies. They are becoming partners with teachers in their own learning through these authentic assignments and experiences.
Several months ago, an impoverished man in our community was banned by our city council from collecting aluminum cans for recycling within the city limits, his only source of income. Within eight hours of the first student learning of the city’s decision, our student body started a social media campaign, leading to thousands of tweets and web postings in support of the man’s plight and an immediate reversal of the restrictive action.
Even more dramatic is the increased student engagement. Students no longer complete their school assignments simply for their teachers. They now post them on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for a global audience. For example, we have elementary through high school students with blogs or tutorials whose content has attracted thousands of hits from use by a worldwide audience.
Our students are constantly connected with each other and their educational landscape. We even equipped our school buses with Wi-Fi, the first district in Kentucky to do so. This innovation enabled students to interact with their instructors to and from school, ball games, and early college and field trips.
We also created a social media course elective at the high school level as a venture into design thinking. The class is guided by the prompt of “breaking a Guinness World Record by generating as much national attention and money as possible for a philanthropic cause.” The first rendition of that class integrated aspects of business, marketing, English, mathematics, multi-media skills and health science. Social media was the common thread that wove the content, audience and purpose together.
All in all, each of these successes has allowed Eminence students and staff to further push the envelope on how to best use the benefits of social media, leaving our toughest of critical parents asking, “Why not?”
Buddy Berry is superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Ky. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BuddyBerry