140+: In the Moment


Does Social Media Open Doors or Distract Early Childhood Educators?


I’ve always marveled at early educators’ ability to focus so intently on the children, families, and staff in their programs. To me, it’s a huge blessing. It’s also a curse.  We are so mission-focused that we often don’t have the time or inclination to step back, look at the bigger picture, and decide how our work fits in to the overall scheme of where we’re going. Don’t get me wrong, I know from firsthand experience that operating programs that offer high-quality early learning experiences takes 100% of our energy, focus and passion. By the end of the day, there’s often little energy left over for much else. But, is our laser focus on our programs a help or a hindrance? And, does engagement through social media distract us or help us do more?

Laser Focus: Help or Hindrance?

Think about a laser for a moment: It shines a very intense light on a small area.  Lasers do a great job shining through a swath, but leave other areas untouched. Are we so focused on our missions to make a difference for the children in our care that we fail to make important conceptual, political, and professional connections that can have more impact? I know when I operated programs, I often thought, “leave the political and networking stuff up to other people. I have my hands full, and I am doing important work.”  Once I left the  my programs for other related early education jobs, I saw that I missed incredible  opportunities that would have benefited the children in my program and the direction of the field in general.

Why is it taking so long for us to engage?

Why am I writing about this now? I’m lamenting the void of engagement and sources of timely, relevant information in early care and education. I’m frustrated by how long it is taking for program practitioners to look up from guiding our lasers to see that there is a country and a world in which we operate, and it’s full of opportunities and insight. I’m also surprised to see how slow our community leaders are to add blogs and other social media as strategies to engage their members, supporters, and advocates.

But, I know I am  preaching to the choir. Given that you are reading this post, you probably  read other blogs, and engage on social media sites. YOU are probably NOT one of the hundreds of thousands of early childhood practitioners who are don’t  purposely set aside time to learn more, network, advocate, or exchange ideas related to their work. (And, I ask you, what are you doing to encourage your colleagues to test social media?)

There is a dearth of social media interactivity and engagement in our field. Stop to think about the size of our field. It’s hard for me to fathom (and harder to find the real data) about how many early childhood educators there are in the US. (Statisticians, if you can wrap your head around this one, give me a shout!)  I do know that there are only a handful of  commonly read reliable and credible blogs and journals in our field to serve (conservatively) hundreds of thousands of educators.  And, having been actively searching for early educators on social networking sites and listservs for many years now, I can estimate that less than 1% of us are engaging online. Contrast those (admittedly rough) stats with those related to business, and you can see how technically and engagement-challenged we are as a field.

We need to connect to learn from and partner with others in our field. That is not a new concept. We all connect through community or committee meeting every once in a while. We take a workshop or go to a conference a couple of times a year. We already read Young Children, Child Care Information Exchange, or one of the few journals for early childhood education. Awesome!  Those IRL (techno-speak for “in real life”) experiences and activities are absolutely vital.  Adding social media to those activities widens the circle of influence by allowing you to connect with others exponentially. The folks at CommonCraft illustrate the point so well. If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look at Social Networking in Plain English. Do you see how using social networking before or after meetings and conferences can extend the benefits well beyond the walls? This is just one example of the power the Internet has to help us influence and educate one another.

So, is social media a distraction for early childhood educators or an accelerant?

I assert that we need more to do more. We need more blogs. We need more interconnectedness.  What do you think? There’s a lively conversation about just this issue going on in the Internet4ECE group on LinkedIn. Of course, you need to be a member of LinkedIn and a member of the group to read it. (Oh, am I secretly trying to illustrate engagement on the Internet? I would never be so sneaky.)

Resources:

I have a nice list of ECE blogs on slide 22 of my presentation from NAEYC’s Professional Development Institute: Supercharge Your ECE Program With Web 2.0. There’s a lot of additional information about social media in our field in that presentation, and you will find other resources on the Social Media for ECE on my website.

I’m dying to convince you. I’m dying for you to convince others, Check out some of my other presentations, resources, and the Social Media in ECE Directory I am compiling*, and share them if you find them helpful. Let me help you convince others that social media is a professional development, advocacy, and outreach accelerant, and an isolation-buster, bar none.

*If you would like to be included in the Social Media for ECE Directory, register! It only takes a couple of minutes!
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8 Responses to 'Does Social Media Open Doors or Distract Early Childhood Educators?'

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  1. Ryan said,

    I found this article on Twitter so you know that I am an advocate for educators using social media for Professional Development. I have built my PLN (Personal Learning Network) army this Summer and I have learned and shared so many resources this summer! I am a Kindergarten teacher and I also have my Masters degree in Instructional Technology. I love using both expertise in my classroom and combining them to make one super teaching power! I wish that more teachers were using Social Networks and those that don’t probably dont see the benefits in them. I am on a misssion this year to get every Kindergarten teacher in my district to jump on board the information highway and use social networks to learn and become more informed educators.

    • Fran Simon said,

      Rock on with your bad self, Ryan, and welcome to my blog! I’m so happy you commented. I love your enthusiasm. I hope you joined Internet4ECE on LinkedIn, so you can share your journey. I’ve love to take a look at your PLN. And, join the conversation at #earlyed #ece #ecetech on Twitter.

  2. Deborah said,

    Hi Fran,

    First of all I want you to know that I love slide numbers 20 and 2?? on your presentation. LOL!

    I couldn’t decide whether to respond here to your blog on on Linkedin so I have decided to start here then copy and paste to Linkedin because the audience may be different.

    I have my own perceptions as to why it is so difficult to engage ece folks into social networking in an active and responsive manner. I think about this often as I work hard to build my blog, facebook, and twitter account so that ece folks will find if valuable to them. Although I have many more readers than I anticipated having, I find that getting engaged and active readers to be the greatest challenge of them all.

    Here are my personal views on the issues you raised here and on Linked-in…

    1. ECE Leaders (Directors and such) do not advocate social networking as a valued tool for their teachers to use as a part of professional development. Take the ECE webinars for example. You are presenting valuable content that classroom teachers and leaders can take right into their own schools to help promote professional development and yet when I tell directors about this, they just don’t get it. They are still in the mind set that the only way to provide credible training or information is to send teachers to conferences or to sit them down in a teacher meeting. As a society there is still the mindset that online learning isn’t real learning and yet our new young teachers are all about being online. We have to meet them where they are.

    2. Teachers view online social networking sites and blogs as simply a resource, kind of like an online magazine rather than a place to engage in conversation. They view social networking more as what you should do with friends – not as a way to engage in conversation with others about the early childhood field.

    3. ECE is still a field that lacks respect as a general rule so teachers do not value their own worth and sometimes their own profession.

    2. Teachers are afraid to voice their view or ideas publicly.
    – They do not want to be told that their idea is bad or dumb or inappropriate.
    – They do not want their peers or leaders to see what they have to say for fear they will be criticized.
    – They do not think they have anything fresh or new to add to the conversation so they just sit in the background rather than understanding that if they will speak up and even repeat an idea, they will help reinforce something that is important to them.
    – They fear that if they say something a leader doesn’t agree with or like and the leader sees this online, that it can be used against them and their job would be at risk.
    – They don’t feel like they can talk about anything that really matters to them accept common knowledge type issues. For example, they can’t discuss parent concerns, student concerns, or administrative concerns unless it is done anonymously or in a private group type setting where members only can see and participate but even then they will error on the side of caution.
    – If they share an idea or view that is contradictory to what is considered “appropriate ece practices”, they are beat up or quickly shut down by others in the discussion in a not so friendly manner rather than being gently guided into new understanding through patient and consistent messages of appropriate ece practices.

    3. Effective online communication is a skill. Simple things like ALL CAPS SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING… and “writn N txt is dificult 2 read can appears as if u cant spell!” And they lack more advanced communication skills such as – “instead of telling someone they have had a bad idea or that you disagree, try just sharing your own idea and give others the space to learn from you.”

    I am always observing and learning from the online blogging and FB and Twitter ece community. I am still tweaking my efforts on a daily basis to find ways to get teachers engaged. What I find works better than anything on FB is to ask questions in such a way that everyone can answer without feeling they are exposed in a negative way.

    I have been writing online forever now and even I dread pushing that “submit comment” button at times for fear that I am going to be told that my views are not okay or bad or off base. It is hard to share your passion without worrying that someone will disagree and in the end, we don’t want to put ourselves in a position to get our feelings hurt or be offended:)

    I am now going to go ahead and push that submit button!
    Deb

    • Fran Simon said,

      Deborah, as usual, you are incredibly insightful! I agree with every single point you’ve made. (I also LOVE slides 20 and 21!)

      I can relate especially to the point about being afraid to speak out because of a fear of being wrong or stupid. That’s such a universal feeling….It harks back to being an adolescent, doesn’t it? But social media is especially intimidating because it is so public. Trust me, every time I try a new tool or a new site, I feel the same sense of dread that I don’t know what I am doing and someone is going to expose me as the poser that I really am! Actually, every time I speak at a conference or hold a webinar, I secretly worry that I will be exposed! Bloging was an especially big step for me. I was sure no one wanted to hear what I had to say, but here we are, engaging in a great conversation. Remember Sally Field on the Oscars whan she said “They like me! They really like me!” (Or something like that?) I feel that way when I get people talking, even when they disagree with me…

      Anyway, enough about me… You are so on target with everything you’ve said, it’s hard to add to your points. I will say that I begin every training I do with “We all started somewhere. Social media is in its infancy, so we are learning together. There are no dumb questions or ideas.” I spend lots of time reassuring people that its safe to make suggestions and ask questions. I think if we all do that, and we all reach out to combat the obstacles, we can help others dip a toe in the water…

      Oh, and congratulations on the award on Teach Preschool!

      Fran

  3. Paige said,

    Hi Fran, thanks for opening up this conversation! I am a huge advocate for social media as a tool for professional development in early childhood-in fact I just wrote a short newsletter blurb about just that! The tools I use the most are twitter, facebook, and blogs but I am also on linkedin and a couple yahoo groups. I get links worth sending out to teachers and families in my program almost daily. The new sit I’ve been playing with is Listography (www.listography.com), although at this point it hasn’t been much of a dialogue but more a way for me to gather, organize, and share all the electronic resources I’ve found.

    Sometimes I find the wealth of information a little overwhelming and hard to keep up with, and I need to do better about contributing to the conversation rather than just benefitting from others’ information.

    When I was preparing for a workshop on social media in early childhood I came across this slideshow http://www.slideshare.net/sachac/smarter-work-why-social-networks-matter –it’s not about ece in particular, but
    I thought it was a great explanation of the power of social media in promoting any type of professional change and growth.

    • Fran Simon said,

      Hi Paige:

      I’m so glad you wrote! First of all, the slide show link you showed is incredible. It should be required reading in all ECE programs. The one point I failed to make in my post is that a lot of ECE peeps tend to resist change. It’s odd because as a rule, we are a creative bunch, but I see a lot of resistance to change.

      I’m so happy to hear from leaders who are actually doing something. Sometimes I feel oddly isolated in my quest to DO something about the lack of technology savvy in our field. But I see now that I’m not alone…not by a long shot!

      All I can say is keep up the good work! Please post links to your organization’s social media presences so we can all enjoy!

      Keep on keepin on!

      Fran


  4. I am SO happy to find something especially for our EC teachers!! Thank you!
    I am principal at an international school (elementary section which includes the EC section) and was 4 years as the EC principal in my previous school. It is always a struggle to get appropriate EC material that is not a watered down and totally unsuitable version of something elementary.
    We are heading into asking teachers to seriously engage with web 2.0 in a way that will enhance their programs (they have a choice about which means they use, as the goal is to engage and reflect). Your blog will give me a good start in getting them equally interested.

    Thanks!!!
    Jeanette Morehouse

    • Fran Simon said,

      Hi Jeanette:

      I am SO happy to find an administrator who is so enthusiastic about social media for early childhood staff members AND developmentally appropriate practice! I guess it’s Mutual Admiration Day!

      I hope you will take advantage of all of the resources mentioned on my site. There is so much information out there for newbies, but it’s hard to know what is good and reliable. You might encourage your teachers to get started with my Social Media Resources for Newbies Page and join Internet4ECE to ask the friendly and savvy group on this LinkedIn group for their ideas and advice.

      If you ever need some advice, please ask the group, or reach out to me and I will be happy to help! Go, Jeanette, go!

      Fran


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