The culture of learning and work is permeated by social media for our children.

How do we tackle it in an ever-growing digital world?

English Consultant/Founder of School Should Be

Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and now the up and coming Clubhouse are social media apps rife with millions of people who have ‘influence’. Instagram alone boasts 909.8 million users this year…and is growing even as I write this post. Being or becoming a Social Media Influencer is a job; for some, it is a career. There are now courses and coaching programmes to teach people how to become Influencers. In fact, in his book ‘One Million Followers: how I built a massive social following in 30 days’, Growth Strategist, Brendan Kane, who has worked with the likes of Paramount Pictures and Taylor Swift, recalls the story of a good actress who loses out on a top acting job due to her ‘follower count’. 

As educators, we can think of this what we will, but the future of teaching, schools, university, the world of work and beyond will in many ways be permeated by social media. Although there are several educational establishments using social media in a positive and constructive way, it is not necessarily a central feature in mainstream learning. And, if we want to maintain close relationships and relevance with future generations, it really needs to be. 

To students social media was exciting, fresh, a new world of possibilities. To their teachers, it was a world of online bullying

Facebook came about in my first year at university. It was fun, social. In less than a decade I had ex-students using Instagram as a place of ‘work’. As someone who has always used social media for purely social purposes, I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe my students were ‘make up influencers’ and ‘fashion influencers’. Whilst answering the most mundane questions on metaphors, similes and the purpose of the Porter in Macbeth in my classroom (for the sake of the ‘all important’ GCSE), they were receiving ‘DMs’, follow requests, likes and ‘reposts’ in the outside world. To them social media was exciting, fresh, a new world of possibilities. To their teachers, it was a world of online bullying, unsolicited exposure and danger. So, how do we find the middle ground? How do we ensure as teachers, parents and educators we are learning about the online world our children are inheriting, not to just warn and protect them against it, but to enable what can be a very progressive and exciting future, with effective social media management? 

When I first came up with the idea of School Should Be it was in conversation with my students about the online world. By engaging in what they see, hear and read, I was learning with them – I went from being their ‘teacher’ to someone helping them navigate a world no one knows enough about yet. And the discussions went from ‘Miss, what’s your favourite Instagram filter?’ to ‘Miss, did you see what Kim posted? What did you think?’ It encouraged a healthy, safe space for discussion. No preaching, warnings or safety filled assemblies. A central part of my time with students in the classroom was to help them navigate this online world, which is fast becoming their normal. 

Navigating the noise

Social media exposes young minds to a whole lot of noise. It is sad that we need a Children’s Mental Health Week, and in schools (or maybe in general) we attribute much of the blame for poor mental health on social media, which is also a necessary tool in the world of education and work. I’m no psychologist and this blog is purely based on my experience in education and work social media. From my experience, we need to stop focusing on the blame culture and start finding direction within the world of social media (may I add, the blame game has also created toxic workplace cultures in schools – a different blog entry, maybe). We need to explore ways of engaging in social media the same way our students do. How can we guide their thinking inward? How can we show them to be selective in what they let themselves be exposed to? How can we encourage them not to become polarised by trending tweets, but develop a level of maturity in thinking to dispel fake news? 

Digital resilience

recently, I have been leading sessions on digital literacy and resilience. It’s fascinating discussing language and jargon with students so far removed from the curriculum, yet so relevant to the classroom. Apple, Android and Mark Zuckerberg have created a marketing mastermind – their products appeal to the most marketable age groups, yet those age groups are not equipped with the skills to use them. Scrolling isn’t a skill. Questioning, muting and ‘unfollowing’ is.

My question at the end of the session: ‘did you guys learn something? Was it helpful?’ 

Students after a period of awkward silence: ‘Miss, really interesting, never heard of SEO before, but it’s not relevant, it’s not on the GCSE’. 

I’m not sure I’ve answered my own question or even asked the right one. I’m not sure I can do it alone. But it’s safe to say, we have A LOT of work to do. 

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