Nuancing the Personal and the Professional in Online Spaces

Debate Topic #4 – Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice.

This debate was the most lively by far this semester. What a great job by both teams! With the rise of social media, educators have been encouraged to be cautious in their online activity. Building and managing a positive digital footprint is essential for new teachers. Your online presence can be seen by hiring teams, parents and students. So the question of this debate is – Should teachers be responsible to use technology and social media to promote social justice?

Let’s have a look at the agree arguments…

First off, the “Teacher Tech Talk” video by Kari, Jessica, and Jenny W. was really well done. I loved the daytime talk show vibe and their coffee mugs!

1. Change doesn’t happen if we stay neutral.

Teachers strive to be change-makers. We model inclusivity with the hope of changing the dominant narratives of our society. We want our students to be “kind, thoughtful, inclusive, and courageous,” so how can we not model it? We teach about social justice issues in the classroom and we should model that outside of the classroom as well. Staying silent, arguably, only continues the oppression of minority groups in our society. Teachers can model positive digital citizenship through online spaces. We can show our students that we are building a positive community online by following people who have different ethnic backgrounds from us, teach different subjects/grades than us and teach in other countries etc. 

2. Fostering Youth Relationships using Social Media

In recent years, social media has led to negative impacts on the mental health of youth. Problems like anxiety, depression and cyber-bullying have increased. Educators can teach about these issues and use all the scare-tactics known to us to combat negative issues, but the reality is, social media is here to stay and our students will engage on social platforms. Thus, we need a different approach. In the article Using Social Media to Engage Youth: Education, Social Justice, & Humanitarianism, the authors share that social media can inspire youth toward fighting social justice issues. Our students have amazing skills that we can leverage to create social communities that help make a difference. Furthermore, the authors argue that we can create online communities that are “growth-fostering” where students feel empowered, engaged, authentic, and effective in their relationships with others. 

3. Social media connects communities

Social media platforms have allowed communities to connect. Small communities can share information and connect those with similar interests. Social justice movements have gained momentum online leading to increased awareness and larger followings. 

Now for the disagree arguments…

Dalton and Brooke’s video parody of a Rick Mercer report was very creative. I was surprised at how well the video suited the debate video and the argument that teachers do not need to promote social justice issues online.

1. Be a professional. Keep your personal life private.

Teachers in Saskatchewan are bound by the STF Code of Professional Ethics and we are required to act as professionals “at all times.” As such, many teachers are reluctant to put themselves out there online. After all, posting online can lead to unwanted comments and attention in one’s community. New teacher’s may be overly cautious about their digital footprints as they don’t want to tarnish their reputation while trying to get hired. After all, recruiters are sure to check them out online before hiring. 

2. Slacktivism

Slacktivism is a term used to describe the actions (or very minimal actions) people take online to protest or advocate for a cause. This can be through the use of hashtags, liking, subscribing, sharing and even signing online petitions, but does little to actually support the cause. I’m sure you have seen friends and family members change their social media profile picture on occasion in support of a cause. Some argue that this isn’t really making a change. In the article Genuine Social Media Activism: A Guide for Going Beyond the Hashtag, the difference between slacktivism and genuine social media activism is explored further. Genuine social media activism is supported by concrete actions, donations, and measurable commitments to change. 

3. Mental Health Matters

One of Dalton’s video comments struck me – he said that teacher’s shouldn’t be required to teach all day only to go home and continue the fight online. Teacher’s are busy already, and being pressured to keep up with issues online, create content and comment will only exacerbate burnout and lead to mental health struggles.

4. Community Context Matters

Another issue discussed in the small group chats and larger group discussion was the fact that some teachers teach in communities where people have different beliefs and/or political views. This can be in rural settings, or in larger centers like private schools. This can lead teachers to keep their views offline as a precaution. Teachers will continue to provide sources and information on topics in the classroom, but may not feel comfortable promoting issues publicly in their communities. In the article, Teachers, Politics and Social Media: A Volatile Mix, Madeline Will notes that educators may not want to jeopardize their relationships with students, parents or even their colleagues by posting about views that are different from theirs. 

Final Thoughts

Photo by Lisa Fotios:

Online platforms are great places to communicate, build relationships and community, and promote awareness for social justice issues. Many teachers feel comfortable promoting and advocating for issues online. Others may not be as comfortable putting themselves out there. Local Regina teacher @steve boots has proven that it is possible to be political online, where he is active on TikTok and Twitter. I think the important thing is for teachers to continue to educate themselves, unlearn and relearn biases and help their students to do the same. We will continue to educate our students and discuss issues in the classroom as we have always done, and continue to teach students to evaluate and critically reflect on information. Educators, let’s continue to do what we do best – teach our kids to be allies, upstanders, volunteers, supporters and most importantly, kind humans, whether that be online and/or offline. 

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