By Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis
Social media has taken on a Shakespearian role in our lives in which we love it and we hate it simultaneously. Sometimes social media gives me life, especially this past year in which I’ve had to redefine what it is to connect to others. And yet, there have also been times, in this emotionally charged period of history, where social media has felt like the bane of my existence. With so many people converging in one (virtual) place during the most stressful period of many people’s lives, it is bound to not be pretty.
As the year 2020 progressed, and I grappled with concepts of life that I had never had to think about on such a large scale, I found that I began to recognize solace in feeling small. Staying home watering my plants tentatively and not being around hundreds of people every day was difficult at first. Eventually, I found a sensation similar to sitting on a beach and staring at a wide-open ocean. In a strange way, social media brought about some of that.
Online, I met people that lived in different districts, states, or even countries, experiencing the same struggles as me. They were also trying to connect with students and attempting to understand how to redefine their roles in education. I felt understood, I felt small, and I felt less alone. Did you feel it too? For all the times that social media played with my emotions, I was surprised to find a therapeutic diamond in the rough.
The seemingly impossible dream is learning how to be in control of how we interact with social media . . . instead of letting it control us. The magical part about meeting other people within the education field is that they get it. They truly get it. It’s hard to understand what it feels like to stand in the middle of the hallway with all of the sounds, the questions, the tears, the laughter, and the movement, unless you’ve actually been there. On social media, I get to meet other people who live further away but also know exactly what it’s like to stand in my shoes in my sacred hallway. And yet, I also have met people right in my backyard who think what we do is trivial.
Social media has undoubtedly given us the ability to continue communicating with and being inspired by each other during a dark time. But of course, there can also be some pitfalls to our technological communications. The vocal debate about whether schools need to be opened or closed and whether or not it is safe for teachers is draining. Everybody has so many opinions online, and those opinions can become so very toxic so very quickly when they are typed into a computer and sent out into wide space.
For a period, comments on social media made me feel disheartened. I would become impassioned about things that weren’t even of value to me or that didn’t really impact my career or relationships in a meaningful way. At the same time, these things would seep in and make me feel triggered. I would feel emotionally destitute at times, reading how people devalued educators with flippant comments about whether teachers have the right to even ask questions about their safety (especially when my friends and coworkers were experiencing some very difficult times with COVID-19).
How do you find the balance of enjoying social media while also remaining restrained from its power? It is easy to say we should simply limit time online, especially this year while some of us are still working from home and others are in taxed schools. At the end of the day, we all just would like to be home watching bad reality TV while scrolling through mindless social media feeds to distract us . . . or maybe that is just me?
Different Flavors for Different Purposes
The first step to finding your social media zen is to simply decide what you want to use it for. I use different social media platforms for different needs. Each platform can provide a different type of escape and defining what needs each one meets can help you decide where to log on.
My LinkedIn is strictly professional. Other educators and people in diverse industries share their powerful work strategies and focus on productivity. There is so much super inspiring work that is being posted on LinkedIn, so when I need to reconnect with my profession, while also disengaging from the controversy, I love this buttoned up connection.
Bonus: You might also be able to expand your network and find some side-work to help fuel your office-supply habit!
Twitter is super fun for me. I love Twitter chats (using a hashtag and Q and A system) and threads because this platform is kind of like the pep squad of all other platforms. Here, people are posting the cool stuff they do all day, and the creative ways they operate their school. My Twitter is half personal and half professional. I post some interesting aspects of my home-life that connect with my profession, and love to send a quick tweet about cool things going on in my hallway or school. Twitter also has a cap on words, which, for someone like me, helps with focus and a concise message.
Bonus: I have heard that in many districts, senior leadership learns about the awesome campaigns and projects in schools from Twitter feeds! Connect and show off your spirit!
Facebook is like conversations around your kitchen table. Mine is pretty personal, and my connections on Facebook are largely made up of people I have connected with in person at some point. My coworkers are on there, but I am getting to learn more about their home lives rather than just their amazing classroom lessons.
Bonus: Facebook adds a humanizing quality to add to rapport building in hallways and staff meetings.
Instagram and Pinterest
I love a good creative outlet such as Instagram or Pinterest to inspire weekend crafty sessions while I unwind. These are places I go to look for ideas for work or home projects. And I always find visually pleasing cool-down images and connect with others who also enjoy writing engaging lessons, making captivating student posters, or learning meditative crafts to stay sane.
Bonus: There are so many freebies on the web, from patterns to Google templates to worksheets!
Who would have ever thought we would be teaching algebra over TikTok?! There are many social media fads that young people are on that have allowed us to connect with our students and learn more about their lives. Exploring them will helps me learn about what is important and popular these days.
Bonus: Find out what your students like on TikTok by searching for widely viewed videos to embed into your class content to get them hooked!
What’s the Big Deal?
What draws educators to social media is that, at the end of the day, we are public relations experts and marketing moguls. First, to be truthful, we have to uphold a certain image that we give to our taxpayers (our funders) and make the controlled chaos seem easy. But more importantly, also we have to know the ins and outs of successful marketing in order to truly reach our students. Engagement and collaboration with students and the community alike happens when our “clients” feel connected.
Social media can provide us with a vessel to collaborate with other educators, develop relationships with our coworkers, gain inspiration, and connect with our students. When old Mrs. Filio the hippy school counselor pulls out some social media tagline, I open a window for students to feel seen (even if it is through their laughter at me).
The best gift you can give yourself with social media is to not go down the rabbit hole of the negativity where social media becomes part of our reality. Online, there are more perspectives presented than our hearts and minds can process and rationalize at once. Find what it is that you want social media to do for you and make the choice to use a critical eye. Maybe that is signing off, or maybe it is searching for new connections, trying a new platform, or using a new hashtag. Fill your feed with things you enjoy, and Marie Kondo those parts that don’t bring you joy right off of your phone or tablet!
Stephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.
Stephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.
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