Supporting Healthy Social Media Habits

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This past Saturday at our third annual Parent University, I was fortunate to lead a short session on how parents can help support their kids in the development of healthy social media habits.  During the session, I shared some of the ways I have monitored my 12-year old daughter’s use of her newly acquired iPhone and her subsequent use of various apps and social media tools.

In regards to the monitoring of apps on my daughter’s phone, I love the way Family sharing on iTunes allows parents to approve the addition of apps to their child’s phone. This allows me to have a conversation with my daughter before allowing her to add new apps and ask the following:

  • Why do you want that app?
  • What will you use it for?
  • Will that app make your life easier in some way?
  • How much time do you think you will spend on that app each day?

One example of an app that we decided did not need to be added was Lipsi. When I got the request to add Lipsi, I immediately asked my daughter why she needed it. She informed me that it was an app that many of her friends had that allowed them to comment on Instagram posts.  I have to admit I was confused here because my daughter has a private Instagram account and she is only allowed to follow friends from school and pre-approved celebrities. Therefore, I am not sure why another app would be needed to comment.

Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents

In order to shed some light on this, I turned to Common Sense Media which is a goldmine of information on apps, websites, movies and books.  All you have to do is enter the title of the media source that you want more information on in the search bar and Common Sense Media will provide a review and rating. In the case of Lipsi, here is what I found:

“Buggy, anonymous app invites misuse, bullying.”

In addition, Lipsi is recommended for ages 18-plus.  Also, why would someone need an app that posts anonymous messages on Instagram? I told my daughter that if she had something to say about a friend’s post on Instagram that it should be public and the same should go for her friends commenting on her posts. There are enough stories about teens bullying one another on Instagram out there without this type of app.

Keeping a handle on screen-time is something we all need to do

Finally, we spent some time talking about the need for all of us to be mindful of the time we spend on screens.  While this is a neverending topic for me, one thing that opened my eyes was the Infomagical Bootcamp put out by the Note to Self podcast back in 2016.  One of the things I have done since my Infomagical experience is turn off all of my notifications on my phone and organized all of my apps. I encourage anyone interested in improving the balance in their lives in regards to technology-use to give the Infomagical Bootcamp a shot.

At the very least, you should check out your app usage on your iPhone or iPad and look at how much time you spend on particular apps daily and weekly.  There are also ways to do this for android users.   The latest iOS updates for Apple also include options for parents to set app and screen-time limits for their children.

It’s a new world for parents who grew up without the rapidly-increasing list interconnected tools and resources that are available.  It is important that we have an ongoing dialogue within our communities in order to ensure a healthy balance for ourselves and our kids.

Here’s a Google Doc with everything I discussed in my Parent University 2018 session.



Two Great Social Media Resources for Parents

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Instagram has put together a great resource for parents who would like to learn more about its ultra-popular app and also keep up with what their kids are up to with this social media tool.  Know How To Talk With Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide is available both as a PDF and in a web-based form

The guide does a great job highlighting how parents can support their students in the following areas: 

  • Managing Privacy
  • Managing Interactions
  • Managing Time

A second great resource is a new Common Sense Media Report titled Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences.

A few of the key findings from this report are as follows:

  • Only a very few teens say that using social media has a negative effect on how they feel about themselves; many more say it has a positive effect.
  • Social media has a heightened role— both positive and negative—in the lives of more vulnerable teens.
  • Social media is an important avenue of creative expression for many teens.

As both a parent and an educator, I encourage others to take a little bit of time to read through these two resources.  The Common Sense Media report on teen social media use is extremely valuable because the feedback comes directly from teens. Instead of speculating on the habits and the impact of these habits on our students, we have valuable insights directly from the source. The graphic below is just one example.cs_socialmediasociallife_infographic

The Sometimes Misleading Nature of Social Media

Most of what we see on social media offers only one perspective. 

One topic that continues to resonate with me following ISTE 2017 surrounds the misleading nature of social media feeds.  What we see in the posts of those who we friend or follow are typically the highlights of their lives.  People tend not to share the more mundane aspects of their lives, nevermind the negative moments.  So given the fact that our lives are a series of peaks and valleys, we need to take the time to remind students of this phenomenon.

Think about your old photo album…

George Couros’ great session on Digital Leadership reminded me of the process that used to be followed to produce and organize photos. Many of us have photo albums around the house from when we were younger.  The albums contain only the best pictures from the photos that were taken and developed by our parents. They didn’t throw in all those pictures that weren’t good enough to take a slot in the photo album. What percentage of the pictures taken with a roll of film do you think actually ended up in the album?

We need to help our students keep perspective on what they see posted

There are so many articles referring to the links between student depression and social media.  It is no wonder given the fact that students may not realize that social media feeds are typically a highlight reel of a person’s life. Most people share all of their best moments on Facebook while keeping their low-points to themselves.

In her ISTE Keynote, Jennie Magiera highlighted this point while referencing a recent New York Times article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz titled Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable.  In the article, Stephens-Davidowitz discusses his work analyzing Google search data and how the terms people enter into the Google search bar are the polar opposite of what they are posting on Facebook. Here is one example he cites:

On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase “My husband is …” are “the best,” “my best friend,” “amazing,” “the greatest” and “so cute.” On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also “amazing.” So that checks out. The other four: “a jerk,” “annoying,” “gay” and “mean.” 


The excerpt above, which Jennie highlighted in her keynote, also comes from New York Times article and it is something that we need to ensure all of our students understand. I have no doubt that many students look at all of the beautiful pictures that their peers are sharing on various social media platforms and then begin to feel that their own lives are inferior in some way. As educators, we need to ensure that our students have a balanced perspective.

Our Students Can’t Be "Quiet" on Social Media in School

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With summer here, as well as a less hectic schedule, it is a great opportunity to catch up and revisit some of the great education-related books  out there. My first read is a quick revisit of “Quiet” by Susan Cain, a must-read for any educator who has not yet had the chance to pick up this insightful look at introverts. There is so much for educators to consider regarding Cain’s work and how we create learning opportunities that really reach all learners.
A particular aspect of the book that struck me my second time through was a portion discussing the role that social media can play in giving introverts a voice in discussions. With so many schools, classrooms, and educators still dealing with discomfort at the thought of providing and encouraging students to utilize online tools to share their thoughts, I have concerns that we are missing a critical opportunity to engage some of our students in meaningful discourse and connections.
Cain says the following on this topic in the second chapter of her book:
The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships to the real world.”
I know many educators who can identify with this and we owe it to our students to ensure the same opportunity. This does not mean that every student needs to have online interaction for every discussion, but it does mean that we need to provide chances for every student to have experiences with online conversations at some point. Heck, by the time our students hit middle school they are most likely already engaged in some type of online social media interaction. My feeling is that we have to engage the adult learners in our schools in utilizing these resources in order to allow every student access.
As Cain states, “Social media has made new forms of leadership possible for scores of people…”
Hopefully, we can count all of the students in our schools among these scores of people!

Educators Shouldn’t Act Differently On Social Media

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As someone who is a big proponent of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. as tools to communicate, connect, and learn, I often get asked about the downside of social media use for educators.  My honest answer is that I really don’t see a downside for educators in using social media tools for the purposes I mention above.  The two biggest reasons for educators to be using social media are as follows:
  1. Educators need to model the use of these online communication resources in a responsible manner.
  2. Social Media provides an avenue for educators to amplify their voices and share the great work happening in their classrooms at a time where teachers and schools are often viewed with disdain.
I was asked about this topic by Tanya Roscorla from the Center for Digital Education in her recent article How should educators act on social mediaHere is my response:
“If people out themselves as intolerant, ignorant people on social media, I think it’s a good thing, and they shouldn’t be in those positions to begin with.”
I really don’t think the answer to the question about how educators should act on social media should be any different than the answer to the question – How should educators act?  We should not be partaking in illegal behavior period. While the headlines and the negative PR that may come back to school districts due to the inappropriate online behavior of their employees is certainly unfortunate, the unveiling of individuals who seek to do harm to others with their words and/or actions is an unintended benefit.
Finally, let us be clear on the most important part of this topic. Social Media is not the cause of inappropriate behavior, it is a vehicle for communication that can highlight both the positive and the negative actions and comments of inidividuals. All we can really control is our own actions. That is nothing new.

Social Media Shouldn’t Be an Impediment for Superintendents

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A blog post on Edweek’s District Dossier Blog cited the fact that a recent survey by the American Association of School Administrators (The Superintendent’s Association) found that the majority of superintendents surveyed feel that social media is an impediment to their job. As I thought about these results, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many school district leaders felt this way. I came up with two possible conclusions for this result:

District leaders have failed to embrace social media as a useful tool   

Most superintendents out there are still not utilizing social media tools for communication in their school communities, never mind for their own professional learning. A district Facebook page is a perfect way to get news out to the parents in your community and brag about the latest awards and accomplishments by staff and students. Of course, a Facebook page is also a space to post pictures and videos from happenings around the school district. 
A district Twitter account is another great way to share a steady flow of information from the district office. Beyond basic communication, a district with a Twitter account can create a district hashtag to share news, have discussions with stakeholders, and get a handle on any issues that may be developing in their school community. The days are well past from where we can wait for the local newspaper to tell us what the news is in our schools. Social media allows us to get the news out in real time, and it’s a two-way street. We do not have to be passive recipients of the news. We can also make our own news by sharing a steady flow of the great things that are happening in our districts.  
We have the ability to control the narrative by using social media tools to our advantage. If we sit back and avoid social media then the narrative will be controlled by others. In many cases, those telling the story of our schools will be critics with a different agenda.

District leaders are concerned about inappropriate social media use

I know that there are frequent news stories about school communities dealing with headaches caused by the misuse of social media by students (or sometimes teachers). There’s no foolproof way to solve this problem, but embracing the power of social media is more likely to mitigate problems than avoiding and/or prohibiting the use of social media. School district leaders modeling the power of social media from the top, and leading discussions surrounding digital citizenship, are less likely to find themselves dealing with fallout from misuse of these resources. On the odd chance that these school leaders do find themselves dealing with negative uses of social media within their schools districts, they should have plenty of positive examples to fall back on which will ensure that the negative example is not all that their school community has to talk about.

What Do You Do When You See Inappropriate Social Media Posts By High School Students? (My Top Post from 2015)

This post from January of 2015 was far and away my top post from last year with twice as many views as post #2.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of social media as a tool for learning. In order to stay on top of the various conversations that I like to follow, I have a number of lists that I have created. These various streams sometimes lead me to inappropriate posts by students. These instances concern me as to the amount of guidance that these students are being given in regards to the things that they post online and the possible ramifications.

As an educator, I feel it is the job of all of us to support students and ensure that they are fully aware of the implications of their online activities. Therefore, when I saw the tweet above from a local student-athlete, I decided to send the e-mail below to his Principal. I encourage others to take similar actions when they see this type of behavior. (I have removed the name of the student and the school because the truth of the matter is these things are happening at all of our schools). 

Dear Principal Name,

I wanted to ask you to please have a conversation with Student Name about his use of Twitter. I stumbled across it while looking for some local high school basketball scores last night. While I do not think most student profanity on Twitter or other social media is a school issue, I have a concern for students who say things in this forum who may fail to understand the implications. As a former high school Principal and a current Assistant Superintendent, I am a big advocate of social media use and I continue to push for the constructive use of social media by all members of a school community. 

My concern is that I do not want to see students lose out on opportunities due to comments they make on Twitter or anywhere else on social media. At one point when I was a high school Principal, I pulled all of my juniors and seniors into the auditorium and shared some of the comments that I had seen them using and talked about the ramifications with them in regards to the question on the top of the slide below. I worry that someone would make a judgement about the type of person one of our students is because of a single social media post. However, the fact of the matter is that this might be the only evidence of social interaction from that individual to which a school or employer has access and when there is a pile of other applicants it is easier to move to the next option.

In addition, The New York Times article They Loved Your G.P.A. And Then They Saw Your Tweets highlighted the fact that some college admissions offices check the activity of students Just this week, USA Today had an article titled One Bad Tweet Can Be Costly To A Student Athlete. While I know most student-athletes aren’t concerned about scholarships, they should know that employers and college admissions offices actively check social media accounts of applicants and make decisions based on what they find.

 In most cases, a quick Google search by a students using their name  + Twitter would quickly bring you to their account information.

I was going to tweet to Student Name directly, but I did not want to bring attention to this.  I have little doubt that he is a fine representation of a student-athlete at your school and I hope he will consider cleaning up his social media accounts. While I don’t condone the use of profanity and such, I remember being a high school student and the fact that many of these same conversations and comments were common in the locker room or hanging out with friends or teammates. My concern is that now many of our students are having these conversations online without a full awareness of how public they are.
Anyway, sorry for the long e-mail. I wish you the best during the remainder of the school year and trust that this will not be a disciplinary matter but just a “teachable moment.” Good luck to Student Name and the team for the rest of the year! 

Top Five Reasons to Jump Into a Twitter Chat

This post first appeared on my EdWeek Blog

School leaders are always looking for quality professional learning opportunities for themselves and their teachers. For me, there is still nothing better than participating in an hour Twitter chat.  Dedicating some time to show staff where they can connect with colleagues from around the globe who have similar interests is well worth the time.  
Here are the top five reasons that school leaders should get themselves and their teachers involved in Twitter chats:
  1. Build your network – Educators will find colleagues from all over the globe who are in similar roles, whether it be classroom teachers or support personnel
  2. Solve problems – Educators will learn from others who have already found solutions to problems they are struggling with
  3. Receive affirmation – Educators will receive positive feedback from others who agree with their practices.
  4. Find experts – If there is a new initiative you want to try in your classroom or school then you will certainly find someone who has already tried it on Twitter.
  5. Keep up with current trends – Things are changing inside education at a faster pace than ever and there is no place better to stay on top of these changes.
 I had the chance to take part in a Twitter chat hosted by some colleagues in Massachusetts last week and the final question asked partcipants about their biggest takeaway. Check out a few of the responses below.  If you’re looking for some great background information to share with your colleagues about how to do a Twitter chat and when different chats take place then check out Cybraryman’s detailed page on the topic.

Are You a 21st Century Communicator?

As school and district leaders prepare for the 2015-16 school year, one of the most important things they can do is create a comprehensive communication plan that utilizes various social media tools to keep stakeholders in the loop. Taking advantage of all of the technological tools that can connect your school community with what is happening is a no-brainer at this point. Allowing an ongoing flow of information from school to the community is a wonderful way to build positive energy about all of the news and accomplishments of students and staff.
The creation of a 21st century communication plan is the perfect  way for school and district leaders to model the type of communication that they expect to see from other educators with whom they work. We are well past the point of this type of communication being optional for school leaders. Bill Ferriter, a friend and educator from North Carolina, summed up the matter perfectly in a recent blog post titled Note to Principals: You Can’t Keep Ignoring Social Spaces:

“If you believe that communicating effectively with the people that you serve matters, then you simply CAN’T keep ignoring the tools that the people you serve are using for communication.”

In other words, school and district leaders need to meet their stakeholders where they are. Mailing out newsletters and posting press releases in the newspaper may still work for some families, but there are better ways to get the word out that will reach more families and also save you time. These modern methods of communication allow for two-way conversations between schools and stakeholders that could never occur through newsletters and press releases. 

In Burlington Public Schools, we share news and updates on our district Facebook Page, our district Twitter account, and our district Instagram account. Our superintendent started the first blog in the district when he arrived seven years ago and his modeling has led to the creation of nearly 200 blogs from educators across our school district. Due to the amazing amounts of information and learning being shared daily on these blogs, we created a daily post series on our Burlington Public Schools Blog that highlights a post from a teacher or student. We got this idea from George Couros who started the 184 Days of Learning Blog in his district in Edmonton, Canada. 

Another great way to ensure a regular flow of information is to start school and district hashtags on Twitter where people can both share and receive information and ask questions. In Burlington, our two most widely used hashtags are #BHSChat for Burlington High School and #BPSChat for the entire Burlington Public School District. If you are interested in investigating this for your school or district then check out this great handout that Bill Ferriter created to help school leaders get started. 

Once you decide on which tools you will use to get out information in your school or district be sure to let people know your plan. Here’s a look at how our high school principal does this. You may want to send out a newsletter or postcards with information on new methods that you will use to communicate. It is also important to review these with parents at open houses and parent nights and offer on-site tutorials for those who may be new to the use of using social media tools. 

While one of the ultimate goals is to move away from the time and energy needed to put out mailings and paper newsletters, it is important to make sure that you are not cutting off parents who do not have access to online information. The creation of a brief survey at the beginning of the year that all students need to return is a great way to get the feedback you need on making the digital transition for communication. If you are looking for more ideas on how you can make sure that you are a 21st century communicator, check out the Digital Principal Award Winners from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. These school leaders model these skills daily and they are happy to share their work to help others move forward.

Words of Wisdom For Educators On Social Media And Our Students

I have been a longtime proponent of the use of social media by students and educators and I have written a little bit about this in the last few months with a post titled What Do You Do When You See Inappropriate Social Media Posts By Students?  As I was scanning my Twitter stream tonight, I spotted a few tweets on this same topic from Chris Lehmann and Audrey Watters, two of the most thoughtful educators I know.

This is a conversation that needs to be revisited in many communities where practices and policies are disconnecting students and educators from a resource that can help us create and/or extend connections between adults in students. Thanks to Chris and Audrey for sharing their thoughts on this important topic!