Provocative posts by Rebecca Thompson regularly make it onto Amplify Top Ten lists. An inclusion support professional, Rebecca has a wealth of experience in the sector and an active presence on social media both personally and with her business, Stone and Sprocket.
Today she shares something a little different to her previous posts, with a reflection on where social media fits into early and middle years educators’ lives. Does it help or hinder professional development? Do you follow or do you lead online? How could you – and your colleagues – get more of the benefits of the vast communities of practice and thought, while also protecting yourselves from trolls, faux pas, and fake news?
Who liked you today?
How many likes did your post get today? Nobody liked you? Everybody liked you? How do you feel?
Around 15 million Australians over the age of 13 have an active Facebook account – that’s around 60% of all Australians and if we remove children from the count, close to 80% of Australians regularly use Facebook.
Not you? Maybe you’re happier sharing your bushwalk pics on Instagram, or your political comments on Twitter, or keeping up with your older kids on Snapchat or Tumblr?
Or maybe you don’t post anything much anywhere, but you like, comment and share messages to keep in touch with your friends, your family and your profession.
Let’s Face(book) the facts
We can’t ignore the impact social media in general, and Facebook in particular, has on our communities and our profession. I have had a Facebook account since its inception and while at first I had no idea how to drive it, I do remember the feeling of connectedness at the beginning.
When I clicked on a friend, they had mutual friends who then had friends that I had that were mutual … and the web went on. Most humans share a deep need to feel connected and Facebook does exactly that: very clever Zuckerberg, very clever.
These days it’s hard to remember Facebook was once the home for young people. Fewer than one million Australian 13-17 year olds currently have Facebook, however 1.2 million Australians aged 65 or more are active in the platform.
Facebook has continually added to its services too, so now it’s possible to read all your news, check on most of your friends and family, engage in professional and personal special interest groups, store years’ worth of photos and videos in unlimited online albums, and run a complete online business with a store or bookings service and payments.
A few years ago I came across the early childhood realm within the world of Facebook. Public forums, private groups, secret groups and business pages. All of them full of people wanting to be inspired about early childhood practice and people wanting to inform and inspire.
There was another wonderful feeling of belonging and connectedness to group of people who loved the same things and challenged my thoughts. Many of the groups have their own social rules that members must follow, just like any face-to-face network of people.
Within groups are a diversity of educators, consultants and professionals from other disciplines that contribute. The contributions of pedagogues and other leaders is regular, firm and persistent. But is it helpful? Do people want ‘help’? What is it about social media groups and forums that you like to read or contribute to?
Mentoring via Facebook
I know that as a self-identified mentor I enjoy seeing where other teachers are at and I will post provocations and share my own position – or lack of position – to help push them just outside their comfort zone. When we are in that uncomfortable zone, we learn, and I include myself in that learning.
What I see often, though, are contributions or responses that that insist on being the only truth can often leave teachers feeling deflated and with no action plan to move to the next step or critically reflect.
So can Facebook be a valuable professional activity?
Some the benefits of making or reading contributions are:
- see how others do things
- hear another person’s perspective on a topic
- find out information about policies
Some of the negatives of the contributions are;
- see how others do things (and feel like you’re failing)
- hear another person’s perspective on a topic (and feel attacked)
- find out information about policies (and fall for the fake news version of regulations and legislation!)
Another phenomenon that I have coined is Pinstafacing. This is where educators take information suited to one of the social media platforms – like Pinterest – and try to apply it their context in another platform – like Facebook – where it may not work so well.
A classic example of this is when educators proudly post a picture-perfect room set up – often accompanied by a call to Show me your room!.
This kind of image, without a lot of description about how and why the set up was created (Bought these amazing pillows at Kmart!) can cause the OP (Original Poster) unexpected consequences when Facebook users don’t follow the brief but instead do what they do: comment, critique, and show how their set up is better or worse and why.
We know those times where an awesome set up for a craft experiences or a comfy corner is created for the children, but five minutes later it’s trashed. Facebook is more about sharing stories, so if you aren’t going to show your after pic too, it might be better posted to Pinterest or Instagram where visual perfection is more appreciated!
Know your platform
So how can we nail it from a service’s perspective?
Here are some recommendations (not rules!) for early childhood teachers who are serious about using Facebook, and other platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn as a way to stay connected, share information and be inspired.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to hunt down the benefits and create boundaries around the negatives:
- Talk with your staff about what you believe the purpose of participating in social media is. This might include marketing, professional resources, policy information, connectedness, inspiration, and wellbeing via supportive groups.
- Find out what your colleagues are already using and if it aligns with your service’s current beliefs, values and policy systems. Maybe your activities need to be brought in line with policy, or maybe your policy needs to be brought in line with current practices in social media. Either way, make amendments that are current and valid. This might include allowing staff to set up private groups for communication with families, or it might be time to disallow any social media connections with families based on your service and staff needs.
- Create boundaries about how accessible you are to each other via social media for work discussions. Some people find Facebook easier as it is all in the one place, others prefer not to be contacted via this medium for work, even by Facebook Messenger.
- Discuss the ethics around having parents and families as personal Facebook friends. Sometimes it can work well, other times it can’t. Often when we start banning or creating rules the grey areas get left to sort themselves out, much like when working with children focus on respect and responsibility.
- When you are contributing in a group think before you post. I don’t know how many times I rushed a response due to the passion behind it (or simply because I was in a hurry with two young boys) and found that my message was not clear or upset someone and even misspelt which is not a great way to conduct our selves as education professionals. Passion is often irrational (and don’t be afraid to use the delete button in hindsight).
- Reflect on the marketing images and text you use to promote yourself or your service. Is it ethical? Is it inclusive? Or is it just horribly 2007? Consider if promoting your service as the ‘best on the block’ is best done by showing images of children on iPads or cartoon animals dressed up in nappies: is this how we want the community to see our profession?
- Be careful about tagging others in posts by a third party. By naming them yes, you draw their attention to the post, but you might also drag them into an unwanted conversation or leave them feeling thrown in front of a bus. You can share the post privately by message just as easily as by commenting with your colleague’s name.
- Sitting behind a screen doesn’t waive your responsibilities as a professional. Remember if we want the community and governing bodies to acknowledge our profession we need to act like professionals.
- Avoid taking everything the internet says for gospel. Challenge the ideas of others respectfully by doing your own research and offering another perspective if you think it’s valuable. Likes can go like wild fire on some posts but are you liking because everyone else is? Are you liking because that person is popular? Do you really believe in what’s being said or are you following the herd to say the post is ‘so inspiring’?
- Keep an eye out for trolls as you are trip-trapping over the bridge. Sometimes you don’t even notice that a person is persistent and that you are in fact ‘trolled’. This is where anything you comment on or write will always have a response that is challenging you. When you ask the person to stop or ignore them, they keep going. This is where the block and delete features are essential and will make your social media life much more enjoyable! This is a feature worth talking about in your staff meetings.
- Carefully select images of children and educators alike to share and celebrate the joy of this profession and the joy or childhood. We are best placed to advocate for children to have the best chance and rich experiences. If you are a leader, consider allowing one of your team to create beautiful stories specifically to share online. Avoid seeing it as a waste of time and look at how you can re-purpose the images and activities you are already creating in your service to connect even more with families and the wider community.
Got an ache to take a break from social media?
I’ll leave you with a final recommendation, one that’s even more important than learning how to use the block button.
Social media can be overwhelming at times. Maybe you’ve had a bad run with a comment being taken the wrong way, or you’ve see one too many posts asking the same question and you despair for the future of your profession. It’s absolutely normal to be ‘over it’ from time to time, so do what I do, take a Facebreak!
Some Australian early childhood groups on Facebook
CELA’s Rattler Magazine, Issue 123, pp15-16 Facts feed professional conversations
Statistics compiled by SocialMediaNews.com.au for May 2018. Source: Vivid Social – Social Media Agency. Figures correct as of 31/05/18.