If you pick a word for 2017 and don’t blog about it, did you really choose a word?
As I was driving back from Minnesota to St. Louis on January 1st, I was passing the time in the passenger seat by scrolling through my Twitter feed on my phone. Since I use Twitter predominantly for interacting with fellow educators, it wasn’t surprising exactly to see tweet after tweet about choosing one word to focus on for 2017.
While I don’t mind the sentiment of committing to something publicly, truthfully, I dislike New Year’s resolutions. I believe you can reinvent yourself on any old day of the year if you truly want to. Aspirations don’t always neatly line up with a Gregorian calendar in my opinion, but I understand that the new year is often a time for people to start fresh. I can appreciate that.
Despite my reticence to make a New Year’s resolution, seeing so many “one word” posts (coupled with the fact that I was stuck in a car for the next six hours) got me wondering what my word would be. I glanced back at my Twitter feed, and I started thinking about the role it has played in my educational growth over the past year.
This is my 7th year of teaching, but it’s the first school year that I’ve really started using Twitter professionally. After blowing the dust off of my long-latent teacher account at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, I dove headfirst into the eduTwitter world. I participated in chats, followed the “literacy rockstars” whose books I kept behind my desk, started a blog and even made some very real friendships. Twitter was the place I could go when I wanted to find someone else who “got it.”
Indeed, part of what makes Twitter so great for those in education is that you’re surrounded by like-minded people. If you’re a teacher on Twitter, you’re probably someone who cares a lot about kids and about getting better at your craft. But at the same time, this poses a problem: if educators aren’t mindful about the content that they post and promote, eduTwitter will become an echo chamber full of teachers retweeting the same frothy quote about being there for kids overlaid on a peaceful forest scene over and over again.
Is there anything inherently wrong with this? No. But is this what pushes us forward as educators? No.
2016 was the year where "fake news" became a real concern. People believed articles from The Onion were in earnest and used Facebook as their “news source” of choice. As I considered my one word, I thought of this “fake news” phenomenon and what I see every day in my Twitter feed. I couldn’t help but wonder if we are starting to see somewhat of the same problem in education, albeit on a less dramatic level--people spreading news that isn’t really news...or even worse, sharing information just based on the amount of likes and retweets it has received, without being mindful of whether it is helping you grow as an educator.
It’s understandable why this is happening. I’m guilty of it too. It’s easy to click the retweet button on a cool graphic with a catchy quote that makes you nod your head and say, “Yes! This person gets it!” It’s easy to mindlessly retweet posts from someone who has thousands of followers and uses the right buzzwords without clicking through to read the attached article (if it has PBL in it, it must be good, right?). It’s REALLY easy to write clickbait tweets that are just a few words away from claiming to show you “that one weird trick that will change your teaching practice” just so people will press the ‘like’ button. When a tweet that says “retweet if you believe all students can achieve!” (um, who doesn’t believe that?) gets more interaction than a thoughtful blog post with actionable takeaways, we’ve got a problem.
I know what you might be thinking. “Katie, just follow better people!” And sure, that might be part of my issue, but it still has me wondering: are our online interactions with our fellow professionals becoming more about the social and less about the media? Are we mindlessly pressing the retweet button in hopes of winning the social media game? Will eduTwitter just become one endless feed of Bitmojis advertising blog posts that no one actually clicks on to read but everyone retweets? What’s the point, then?
I’ve heard Twitter described numerous times as the “best free PD for teachers.” To keep it that way, educators need to keep pushing each other forward. How? Participate in chats that are filled with actionable ideas and conversation. Connect with people in your content area and go beyond the tweets to actually do something that translates to “in real life” education. Blog about your thoughts and ideas without applying the “will this track well on Twitter?” filter to what you write. Retweet that quote you really love, but follow it up with real conversation.
So, my word for 2017? Question.
I’m going to be on the lookout for the “fake news” on eduTwitter and do my best to keep it real and actionable on my end. I’m going to seek out those who have a vision that isn’t driven by retweets and likes. In my experience, the social media affirmation naturally comes with the territory of having something worth saying. I’m going to click through, think critically about what I read and ask myself what I think before sharing. I’m not going to assume something is automatically true and right for me as a teacher just based on popularity.
Am I a skeptic? You bet I am. But I believe it’s healthy to question things, even things as seemingly innocuous as my Twitter feed. As George Jean Nathan said, “the path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism.”
Now that’s a quote overlaid on a peaceful forest scene that I can get behind.