School Beat: Academics and Social Media

By Adam Burkholder

Assistant Principal

Rockford High School

In having the opportunity to serve as an Assistant Principal here in Rockford over the past eight years, devices and trends have changed.  However, my overall feeling toward devices has not.  There most certainly are benefits to technology, but from my seat and perspective, the negatives are what consume our time as educators and shape my overall viewpoint as both a professional and as a parent.  To avoid a rant and simply share perspective, my focus in this article will be the balance of academics and social media.  Today, this line is blurred and efforts are being made by staff to ensure academic time is truly academic.

Our teachers at the high school are all very clear on their expectations with phones in their classrooms.  Their perspective is shared the first day of class, and reiterated throughout.  Some staff prefers not to see phones out at all, and others will utilize them as a tool throughout the trimester.  If I were still in front of students teaching on a daily basis, I would heavily favor not allowing students to have their phones out, or even on them.  The reason I would emphasize students not having phones on them during instruction is that when a phone is in a pocket, there is no distinction between what is academic and what is social.

Go back to your favorite high school class in which there was a great balance between learning and being social.  There were probably 25-30 students in that class and when the social aspect went too far, your teacher was able to reel you back in because your social network was only you and the other students in class.  This is classroom management 101 and teachers do this every day.  Fast-forward to today’s classroom where students have their social network in their pocket and now comprised of hundreds of other students and not just the classmates in the room.  The temptation is always there to check and see what is going on.

At our last Developing Healthy Kids presentation, Katey McPherson provided a resource that all parents of adolescent children should watch.  I recommend going to YouTube and look up “Being 13: Anderson Cooper”, and allocate 45 minutes to learn what your children are either part of, or exposed to, on a daily basis.  How often have you heard someone say, “I’m just glad they didn’t have these (smart phones and social media), when I was a kid”?  This video will support the sentiment of these statements, and will provide great insight for you as a parent.  As Katey shared at Developing Healthy Kids three weeks ago, “We are giving our kids access to technology that they are not ready for, but we’ve given it, so now we have to figure out how to keep them safe.”  This article acknowledges the challenge of balancing social time while in an academic environment.

The topic of phone use in classrooms has been an ongoing discussion.  The difference in conversation now is not how we should be using them, but rather should we be using them.  We know the power and what these devices can offer our students, but we also know the challenges they present as well.  Social time is needed and vital for the development of our students and children.  Technology within personal devices can most certainly be part of this, but it needs to be balanced and monitored by us as professionals and you as parents.