I found a great post on the Social Media Today blog that applies as much to teachers who build online communities in their classrooms as it does to companies and brands that build these same networks. So here are there tips they have given, with my spin on them for education:
1.) Lead by Example – As a teacher, our jobs are to instruct students, no matter whether they are present in a physical classroom or in an online space. It is an essential part of our jobs to model what we would like to see. This means we need to be present in our networks writing, taking pictures, making videos or doing whatever it is that we expect our students to do. This is especially important in education as we often are beginning new communities each year.
2.) Get Personal – Online communities are unique, privileged spaces in education. They often give us an opportunity to get to know each and everyone of our students in ways that would not have been possible just in a classroom. This is often especially true of those quiet students who want to sit in our classrooms and not share of themselves. These are the students that often blossom the most in these communities. Be willing to share of yourself. Share your stories and your life. This doesn’t mean that you need to share every detail of your life, but be willing to be open.
3.) Be Honest -Honesty goes along with openness. Be willing to share your opinions about things. This doesn’t mean that you need to be openly political or openly controversial, but it does mean that you need to be willing to share your thoughts and opinions about things.
4.) Accept that You’re Human – Teachers work a lot of hours and yet we cannot be everywhere at once. Despite our best efforts, we cannot see everything and be everywhere in our communities. We need to put in our best efforts, but we will do things wrong. Learn for mistakes and move on.
5.) Be Knowledgeable and Share: Think about the content that you actually post on your classroom blog or in your communities. Is it interesting? Is it things that you find online that you think the students in your class might find interesting? Your communities need to be so much more than spaces to simply post homework and assignments for your class. Share the things you find online. Share of yourself and of your passions. Make your presence in a space one that has personality and share what you have.
6.) Maintain Consistency – This is true in all ways. The community discussion standards that you build in your communities need to be enforced for everyone present. Maintaining consistency will allow your students to be comfortable in your space, understanding what happens there and able to concentrate on what they are being asked to do.
7.) Let it Go – Using social media in your classroom is not a magic bullet that will automatically engage every single student all of the time. Some students feel more comfortable with certain tools compared to others. While I believe that students need to experience all of the tools we can give them, I do not believe that they all need to be experts in all of them. Is there a possibility of platform choice being built in to assignments? Is it possible that some students need time off from some types of communication? Be prepared to see cycles between students and even within the contributions of single students.
8.) Don’t Give Up – Building an online community is not easy work. It is probably not something as teachers that we thought we would have to do. The skills are new and emerging and we all have plenty of learning to do. Don’t give up on yourself or your students. If you are having a tough time with students, step back and think about ways to re-engage them in your discussions. Do they need a different tool? A different timeline? More choices? How can we change what we are asking them to do in order for them to grow into their roles.
Photo Credit: Chanakuh on Union Square: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/78394477/