Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Three Social Media Starter Tips


Note: This post was recently published on the St. John's Prep GOOD to Go blog.
Chad Konecky interviewed me and wrote the post based on our discussion.

Demonstrating and reinforcing common-sense social media engagement is important, especially when it comes to adolescents and teens. Kerry Gallagher, St. John’s assistant principal for teaching and learning, is leading the Prep’s emphasis on developing best practices when using social media.

“Mentoring healthy guidelines like ‘Think before you post,’ ‘be kind and respectful’ and ‘be mindful of who you friend’ are key, but we need to foster—and the boys need to hone—an even keener sense of their life online.”

Interestingly, the challenges of building an online identity can become even more difficult if students and their parents choose not to use social media, explains Gallagher. Alternatively, when students do create an online presence, it can become an opportunity to learn how to act appropriately and with accountability.

Gallagher offers three “startup” principles for students and their parents as young people reach the age of 13 and wade into the wellspring of social networking. These principles revolve around being authentic online, understanding that anything you post should be considered permanent, and learning to discern the accuracy of what you read online.

Be you, for you

“Ideally, whenever they engage with social media, the boys should be asking themselves: ‘How am I helping my future?”, advises Gallagher, who is also chair of the EdTech Committee at St. John’s. “In other words: ‘Think of social media as an online resume of your interests and activities.” She notes that students’ online identity should be one of kindness, respect and an authenticity.

“Showing yourself as a whole person is important. It’s also important to be real,” says Gallagher. “Don’t try to make yourself look like you’re something you’re not. It’s not just disingenuous, it’s a disservice to yourself in the long run, and at some point, people will see through it.”

Remember: it’s a permanent record

“Middle school is a time when there are many teaching moments available to us in the digital age,” says Gallagher. “At some point during our boys’ grade 7 year, certain federal rules and requirements for online services regarding adolescents no longer apply to them because they’ve turned 13. So, grade 6 is about preparing them for that transition. Once they’re legally permitted to access social media across all platforms, we want them to be able and accountable as they manage their own reputation.”

St. John’s goal is to reinforce that message at every available opportunity, particularly when it comes to communicating that anything you post is permanent. An array of tools, tips and classroom examples underscore the notion that online activity is indelible.

“We stay consistent with that and other healthy messages,” says Gallagher. “Once they grasp the basic concepts, they are better informed as they access all the resources that we provide them along the way.”

Separate fact from fiction

In addition to taking ownership and responsibility for what they post online, users should always carefully assess the content and context of what they share, avoid posting on the fly, and remain sensitive to any perceptions or misperceptions that might result. But there’s a deeper layer.

“Urban myths, meaning ‘facts’ or stories that aren’t true, can spread easily on social media when users don’t verify the details,” says Gallagher, who has partnered with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to create strategies for building fact-checking skills into the classroom experience at the Prep. “Research consistently shows that when we see a ‘fact,’ we tend to believe it if it supports how we’re feeling at the time. That’s our emotional intelligence as opposed to logical, critical thinking.

“This is a challenging concept to teach adolescents because at that stage of development, they’re not always able to distinguish between the two, but it’s very important,” she continues. “To help students learn, we present scenarios that allow them to see how they’re making decisions in real-time and whether their conclusions are based on an emotional response or logical thinking, or, ideally, a healthy mix. We are actively walking students through how to research, evaluate and parse the information they’re absorbing.”

The overall teaching and learning goal is to educate our students about developing and evolving an online reputation that showcases who they really are, while chronicling some of the great work they do throughout four years here as students. “That doesn’t necessarily occur to everyone right off the bat,” notes Gallagher. “We encourage students to recognize those opportunities and take advantage of them.”

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