Social Media in Catholic Schools
Since the beginning of time, communicating and interacting have been important parts of human nature. Never before in history, however, have we been able to reach out to so many as quickly as we now can through social media. In a matter of seconds, we can share updates and then watch as they travel around the world!
It is essential that schools effectively harness today’s dynamic social media. Through it we can learn collaboratively, grow in global understanding, and make rich connections for furthering the mission of our Catholic schools.
Of course, the need for enriching communication is not a new concept. When I first started as a teacher in Catholic schools, I was the only one teaching technology in my school. Alone with a varied selection of computers, I needed to figure out how to use them meaningfully with my students. New to teaching and to educational technology, I quickly realized that I needed to find a way to connect with teachers in other schools in order to learn and to find support.
At local archdiocesan meetings, I quickly sought out the technology teachers. I heard about ways in which they were implementing innovative ideas, facing new challenges, and educating the minds and hearts of children in our schools. I came back from those meetings refreshed and invigorated with a renewed sense of purpose – empowered by support and collaboration. I had found a community of like-minded individuals. We shared a common mission and vision and willingness to learn and to help one another. This was all before the inception of social media.
Later, as an archdiocesan director of technology, K-12 in Philadelphia, I took every available opportunity to get educators together for professional development, collaboration and sharing of resources. By then social media had arrived and I was ready to embrace it.
Building Community with Social Media
Many things have changed since 1997. We have gone from a Web 1.0 world where we simply read content from Web sites to a Web 2.0 world where we can also produce our own Web content.
According to the Pew Internet Research Project’s Social Networking Fact Sheet, as of September 2013: 71% of online adults use Facebook; 18% of online adults use Twitter; 17% use Instagram; 21% use Pinterest; and 22% use LinkedIn (Pew 2013).
Technology has enabled us to amplify our messages. We have fast Internet from desktop to tablet to mobile device. It shows no sign of slowing down. Using these new tools well is critically important to Catholic educators.
As Pope Francis Tweets
We see daily examples of how Pope Francis is spreading God’s word through digital and social media. In his recent message for World Youth Day 2014, “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter,” he says, “The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God” (Pope Francis, 2014).
In his references to social media he speaks of it as a means for uniting others and reducing gaps between the rich and the poor. Keeping the focus on the human person, Pope Francis reminds us in the same message that “communication is a human rather than a technological achievement.”
A Positive Tool
Truly, social media is a positive tool to be used by Catholic schools and organizations. With it we can engage others, connect with great ideas, and enrich the lives of those we serve. There are many free tools that are easy to use to support us in the process. School leaders, teachers, and school advancement personnel can all be involved in beneficial ways.
So how does one know where to start? There are a variety of ways, but the important thing is to begin to enlarge your circle of supportive professionals with whom you can learn. Here are a few ways to begin:
Join a Twitter Chat
#CatholicEdChat is an online Twitter chat originated in 2012 by teachers Barb Gilman from Omaha, Nebraska; Nick Senger from Spokane, Washington; and me, from my home in Philadelphia. It meets every Saturday morning for an hour at 9 a.m. in the Eastern time zone. The topic varies each week. Recent topics included a visit by author Kerry Weber with a discussion of her book, Mercy in the City, classroom resources for Lent, and favorite apps for classroom learning. No matter the topic, you will always find generous and enthusiastic Catholic educators conversing, sharing, and working for the betterment of Catholic education. All sessions are archived for later viewing on the #CatholicEdChat website. A variety of Catholic school leaders from across the country moderate or facilitate the discussion and Catholic education is enriched because of these engaged educators. New people join each week, thereby enriching the ideas shared. Today, #CatholicEdChat continues to grow and thrive.
Many other education chats can be easily found on Twitter, at different times and on different days. Find a chat and read what people are saying. You will generally find committed educators discussing important issues in education.
Create a Twitter Handle for Your Class
Sometimes teachers are hesitant about having a Twitter account for their class. Don’t worry! Teachers can use Twitter in a variety of safe ways. Some teachers have students write tweets summarizing what they have learned on a topic or a book they have read. Then the students evaluate each other’s tweets and pick one for the teacher to post on Twitter (tweet). Sometimes, the teacher controls all content. Many classes follow Pope Francis (@pontifex) and reflect on his Twitter message for the day. Once a class is on Twitter, parents review the tweets to monitor what is happening in their child’s classroom. Often they use that information for discussion material with their child at home.
Some parents and teachers allow students to create their own Twitter accounts for classroom use. Privacy settings need to be fully utilized so that only parents and other trusted adults can contact students or read what students tweet. Used well, Twitter enhances education.
Join a Google+ Group or Start One for Your Own School
Creating a Google+ Group allows teachers to develop a professional learning network where they can ask questions, discuss issues, and share ideas. This can be a strong, positive learning environment for Catholic educational professionals.
Use an online social site such as Edmodo or a private Facebook group for classroom discussions and assignments. This enriches the learning experience and helps teachers to manage assignments and grading. Teachers who create these communities report that students engage more in the learning process. Parents like them too, as it creates an environment that supports parent-child discussions, as well as a format for parents to easily monitor what their child is learning.
Read Classroom Blogs or Create Your Own
Teachers can read other teachers’ blogs to get classroom ideas or to share their own thoughts and ideas. Students can write essays on blog sites and other students can add comments or do peer reviews. Publishing to a global audience is a 21st-century skill for students. Publishing students’ thoughts and ideas invites students to think deeply and write clearly in ways that were not available even 10 years ago. Children tend to do a better job when they understand that someone other than their teacher or parent will read what they wrote.
Start a Google+ Hangout
Through a Google+ Hangout, students can engage with people in a variety of professions. Students can interview others in professional careers and roles such as authors, doctors, NASA scientists and more learning interactively right from their classrooms.
Save and Share Bookmarks and Recommendations
Have you ever wondered what others are reading or asked for book recommendations? Consider using goodreads.com or delicious.com. Participants can follow others and create groups with other teachers or with students. You can easily categorize and annotate links and access them from any device at any time.
Start a YouTube channel
Have you checked out YouTube lately? It’s not just for music anymore. It’s a powerful way to connect with others around the world. There is a plethora of information about how to do things, talks that make you think, as well as people who can entertain you. YouTube allows our students to share in a way that requires excellent oral communication skills. The ways to use it to inform and inspire are seemingly endless.
Make a school Facebook Page
Facebook is the number one social media site. In today’s world, using Facebook to communicate is necessary. Like other social media, Facebook offers a number of opportunities. Schools can share student work and successes and use it as a place to let others know what is happening in their school (e.g., upcoming events).
Who doesn’t like a picture? Curate a school Instagram or Flickr account. Share photos of happenings at your school. Telling a visual story is a compelling way to involve people in your school. Students can take the pictures and write captions for them.
The results of sharing in social media can be very positive. While the dangers of social media are well documented, often less time is spent on the good that happens because of social media. Barb Gilman (@barbinnebraska), a Sister Miriam Joseph Farrell Distinguished Teacher recognized by NCEA states, “Reaching across the world, making connections, and sharing ideas to make my teaching better for my precious charges can all be accomplished through Twitter. Why wouldn’t we use it as a learning tool?”
Jim Meredith: @jdmeredith42 – principal, Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia and AP history teacher believes that Twitter connects his students with each other and the outside world. He says, “They engaged each other in the political process while crafting a digital footprint that was appropriate. School leaders rely on social media to share our story, especially in Catholic schools. By using social media, we leverage these tools to engage our students, our families, and our communities. As Christ-centered schools, sharing our stories with the outside world, we share the Gospel. If Saint Paul walked among us today, he would tweet.”
Anne Schaefer-Salinas: @apannie7, the associate principal of Notre Dame High School in San Mateo, California says that Twitter “is my pocket professional development. I can learn anything, anytime. Teachers are using it. It allows me to see what they are talking about and talk through new ideas objectively.”
The issue of using these tools in enriching ways is an exciting challenge to have. As we work to further Catholic education, we may discover ways to better serve our students, faculty, and school community. Social media matters because it puts us in touch with information. More importantly, it links us with people, too! Through the sharing of information, educators can make connections, hear innovative ideas from respected peers, and gain new global perspectives. Social media can equip us to educate our students in relevant and meaningful ways and share the good news about our schools.
Social Media Beyond the School
All of these social media opportunities allow us to share, pray together and learn from each other. In our universal church, we can truly engage with other Catholics from around the world via the gift of social media. Through social media, we can bring others to Christ and be a part of our church’s new evangelization. We can unite and share the message of God’s saving love. Because of the power of social media our church encourages us to use it well. It is a strong way to share our message of hope and love.
Nancy Caramanico @ncara on Twitter
Nancy Caramanico is an instructional technology specialist and leadership consultant.
Pew 2013 “Pew Internet Research Project’s Social Networking Fact Sheet”
Pope Francis World Youth Day 2014, “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter” Shaefer-Salinas, A.
This post is a repost of an article originally written for Momentum Magazine @nceatalk. It was published in 2015