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Teaching in the First 100 Days of the Trump Presidency

Education policy takes u-turn exposing next-steps for educators to put into classroom practice.

By Howard Pitler, Ed.D.

As I am writing this, Donald J. Trump is being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Based on what we saw during the election cycle, I think it fair to assume a similar pattern of social media behavior in the first 100 days of a Trump presidency.

Regardless of your politics, if you are an educator there are some important discussions that should occur in classrooms across the United States, especially in K–8. I am not talking about policy or cabinet confirmations, I am talking about lessons in social media and civility. This will likely be the first presidency where Twitter will play a prominent role in policy-making and foreign relations as opposed to being used primarily as a campaign and communication tool.  Twitter will likely be used to make news in this new administration instead of just reporting it.

There were times during the election campaign that reminded me of my days as a middle school principal. Frequently, after lunch recess, I would be asked to moderate conflicts that took place on the playground. The conflicts often centered around one student saying or doing something and another hearing about it and commenting to a friend. Word spread quickly, as it always does in a middle school, and soon turned into yelling or worse. As the adult in the room, my job as principal was to calm the waters and find a way to get the facts on the table. Most often, once the truth was determined the conflict turned out to be very minor and easy to resolve.

Educators need to reinforce proper use of social media, be it Twitter with older students or Google blogs and other more contained social media with young students. Students need to know that it is OK to criticize an idea, as long as there are facts to support the criticism. It is NOT OK to criticize the person with the idea. As an example, it is very appropriate to say, “I don’t agree with your idea because . . .” It is not appropriate to say, “That is a stupid idea and you are stupid.” Personal attacks are not OK and educators need to make that message clear – regardless of what students might hear or see on the media. This message is no different than the conversations that occur, or should occur, regarding bullying.

While this is a message that needs to be taught and reinforced in schools, some districts have policies that don’t allow teachers to use social media in class. Even though Twitter may be blocked in your district, you can still use forms of social media without breaking the rules. It is easy to create a classroom feed to teach students social media norms with sites like Today’s Meet, Edmoto, and Google Groups. These sites are specifically designed to only allow people with the specific link you create to access the site. They are not publicly searchable and should not violate any district policies. Of course, it is always a good idea to share your intent with your building principal.

We will likely hear much about social media during President Trump’s first 100 days. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach our students proper use of social media.

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