Dr. April Coleman, Assistant Professor of Education
Mississippi University for Women
April is a former elementary gifted specialist who currently teaches in the gifted studies and elementary education programs at MUW. She earned her Ph.D. from The University of Alabama in special/gifted education, with a minor in instructional technology. She is passionate about meaningful student-centered technology usage, differentiated instruction, special schools for gifted students, and service-learning. She enjoys engaging her students in blogging and has recently started her own blog: www.edoutsidethebox.com.
Harnessing the Power of Social Media to Advocate for Gifted Education
“I’ll direct message you.” “Your status update made me LOL (laugh out loud)!” “ I loved the vacation pictures you posted on Facebook!” “Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive a discount on your next purchase.”
Whether or not we like it or have chosen to join the online bandwagon, social media has become an integral part of our lives and culture in the 21st century. While the majority of people use social media strictly for “social” reasons – to connect and communicate with friends and family through – many are using online communities in powerful professional ways. Gaining knowledge, connecting with strangers who share common interests, and promoting causes are some of the many benefits of building an online PLN (professional learning network).
Gifted educators and parents often feel alone in their efforts to learn about and promote optimal services for the unique needs of our gifted and talented learners. Over the past two years, I have seen social media build bridges and move seeming mountains in the field of gifted education. Here are a few ways modern administrators, educators, parents, and advocates can harness the power of social media for the greater good of our gifted students:
- Join a PLN – In basic terms, a PLN is a set of people with shared professional interests who you “follow” on Twitter and/or Facebook. While you may know some members of your PLN personally, many you will only interact with in a virtual environment. Once you are “friends/followers,” you are able to view updates they post, often containing web links to informational articles and videos. If you like what you see, you can choose to “retweet” (Twitter) or “share” (Facebook) this information out to your followers. You can also contribute to the professional knowledge of your PLN by posting updates of your own, although this is not a requirement. You control who you follow and how often you read your newsfeed. Through your account privacy settings, you can also control who follows you. The experience is similar to professional learning that occurs during a conference, although it is ongoing and more personalized. Read more here about building a PLN.
- Participate in Twitter chats – Various groups host weekly online “chats” through Twitter. A chat is an open discussion where anyone online at the time can post “tweets” (messages of 140 or fewer characters) in response to a question posed by a moderator. One of the most popular chats for gifted education is #gtchat, and you can read more about it here.
- Create or join a local/state gifted ed Facebook group – Last year, Audrey Fine, the president of Alabama’s state gifted association, created a Facebook group to serve as a forum for discussions about gifted education services for educators and parents across the state. This online community has had tremendous effects in bringing people together across time and space to advocate for improved services and funding for gifted education services, a formerly unfunded mandate in the state. Mississippi recently created a similar group, and many other states and districts are following suit. Do some searching, and if none exist in your area, create one yourself!
- Tweet your way to the top! Alabama gifted education leaders, teachers, parents, and students utilized social media in creative ways to aid in gaining funding for gifted services. Through a planned Twitter “blitz,” individuals with Twitter accounts sent multiple tweets – and retweeted each others’ tweets – to the attention of the Twitter accounts held by the governor and state legislators and representatives. Among the content shared were testimonials by parents and students, student success stories by teachers, and links to YouTube videos authored by passionate students who shared firsthand the difference their gifted classes made in their lives. Twitter is a quick and easy way to touch base with those in high positions – often our political leaders – in order to convey the importance and urgency of investing in today’s gifted and advanced learners, our leaders of tomorrow.