Google “Liz Sandals Twitter” and you’ll notice two things. First, the Ontario Minister of Education isn’t on Twitter. Second, one of the top search results is a blog post I wrote about Liz Sandals not being on Twitter. The minister has provided the perfect illustration of one reason educators can no longer ignore social media.

The Minister’s decision to not use Twitter has significant consequences: she’s lost control of her digital footprint. If an Ontarian wants to connect with the minister on Twitter and “Googles” her, they wont find information about her latest initiative, her “talking points” or even pictures of her at a press conference but instead a vaguely critical blog post by me.

Minister Sandals, like many educators who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with social media, assumes the safest strategy is to simply ignore it. If they don’t use social media they won’t have a digital footprint and so it won’t affect them. The opposite is in fact true.

I first noticed students Googling me about seven years ago. I’ve always tried to integrate technology into my classroom learning, but at that time I didn’t have much of an ‘online presence’. My students weren’t impressed by this. The lack of information wasn’t reassuring to them, in fact quite the opposite. Anyone they knew of worth had an online presence. If I didn’t, what did that say about me? I decided then that I needed to do take control of my digital footprint before someone else did.

What’s online is increasingly what matters. When someone wants to learn about us (students, parents, colleagues, principals, etc.) they will, more often than not, start with an online search. And just as with my students, a lack of information will not be reassuring. This is just as true for school boards, schools and other educational organizations.

The Second Reason:

A principal I know sent a letter to parents about behavior which was then posted on social media. The letter attracted some negative attention and comments from parents and the community (e.g. “when I was kid we didn’t have so many rules”). Rather than addressing the matter online the principal chose to ignore it and missed an opportunity to engage with the community about  the issue. They thought that if ignored the problem would go away. It didn’t. The discussion continued without the school’s involvement and resulted in negative comments, damaged the school’s reputation in the community and brought questions from other parents.

This small example is writ large many times every day. There are thousands of conversations about education, children, teachers and learning every hour and they increasingly happen on social media. Educators have an opportunity to enter these discussions, express their unique points of view and influence public discussion about education. If they choose not to these discussions don’t go away, they simply continue with a vital voice missing.

Over the last ten days I’ve twice been cautioned not to blog or tweet about something. When I get over my amusement that someone thinks a tweet or a blog post matter so much that someone thinks they need to “censor” me, I have to shake my head. Those asking just don’t get it.

The online world is growing exponentially, with or without educators. Choosing to ignore it doesn’t protect us, it merely ensure that our perspective won’t be heard. Educators owe it to themselves and their students to engage in the online world. Pretending it doesn’t exist only makes things worse.