Social Justice Pedagogy in a Digital Age

According to the Lexico website (a collaboration between dictionary.com and Oxford University Press), the definition for social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”  Often a misunderstood and ambiguous term for most, this succinct definition of social justice provides a foundation for basing social justice education efforts in the classroom.  Social justice is about closing opportunity gaps in regard to education, wealth, and societal privileges.  Still, how does one define Social justice as a pedagogy?  The 2020 Innovative Pedagogy Reports provides the following description, “Social justice pedagogy is founded on the idea that education can be liberating and can help people address injustices in their own lives and in society. It aims to educate and enable students to become active citizens who understand social inequalities and can contribute to making society more democratic and egalitarian.”  Student are not powerless, and through empowerment they become powerful change agents across their various communities.  Technology in education provides a powerful medium and platform that magnifies student voice in the world.  By modeling personalized support for educators, we can support them in providing individualized learning opportunities that empower students.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 3

3) Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches:

3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

3b. Partner with educators to identify digital learning content that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.

3c. Partner with educators to evaluate the efficacy of digital learning content and tools to inform procurement decisions and adoption.

3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

Essential Question

How can educator support be personalized and modeled in such a manner that effective use of technology improves student learning to the point of individualized empowerment?

The What of Technology to Improve Student Learning

There’s so much out there in terms of technological options that we, as educators, need to be really careful and focused in terms of the tools that we utilize.  There are too many relevant technology tools to list ad nauseam, so general function in terms of general concepts is a better focus in lieu of an attempt at a comprehensive list.  From there, educators should focus on tools that facilitate the desired functionality and that are available and supported within the current educational context.  This is the type of individualization needed to support teachers with implementation.

Tool functionality should scaffold student communication, ease student management for the teacher, and safely facilitate communication with an authentic audience.  Student communication benefits from software that assists students in typing via word prediction, voice to text software, audio/video recording, etc; a few select examples include co:writer, Dragon Speak (most modern word processing applications support this feature), and FlipGrid.  Student management software should allow teachers to easily set up, manage, and provide feedback for students among other classroom management features; a couple of platform-specific examples include Google Classroom and Microsoft OneNote.  Publication software should prioritize student privacy above all else and provide a mechanism for students to share their work with an authentic audience of some kind; for this, classroom management apps like Class Dojo that allow private communication with parents work well, postings on the school website without identifying information can work, FlipGrid can also work in this setting, social media with careful permissions and guidelines can accomplish sharing, as can limited access student blogging sites, among others.

Skipping Straight to the Why with Social Justice

Social Justice provides students with a “why” for their learning and work.  Providing students with purpose dramatically increases engagement in their learning.  Without a “why”, the only thing that students have to go on is “because I told you so” from the authority figure.  This approach primarily teaches compliance and most schools depend upon a compliance-based model.  Compliance requires constant monitoring and an external behavior incentive system that is often complicated, extensive, and time-consuming to enforce.  Providing students with meaning to their work moves students toward intrinsic motivation.  Ideally, social justice pedagogy can even move students to a level of empowerment where they see the positive impact that they can have on their community.  One of the challenges in modern society is that too many educated citizens think that they alone cannot effect positive change in their community.  This is because this was not taught or modeled for them.  Instead, compliance to the system was instilled, and this perpetuates the system’s status quo at the expense of the individual while also at the expense of missed opportunities to improve the system by effecting positive change.  Ironically, social justice themes were more prominent in early education and became diminished with the advent of the industrial revolution, as cited in Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework, “While social purpose education was intended to help citizens live and participate in a democratic society, the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries fueled a focus on education for skills training and citizenship programs for immigrants (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007)”. Historical anecdotes of education being a threat to a monarchy or dictatorship are good examples because the “dangerous ideas” taught encouraged people to think for themselves and to seek change in the freedom for their own betterment as well as others. While we wouldn’t dream of burning books today, we still have modern-day versions of these systemic issues.

Since schools can function as microcosms of society at large, it is important to teach social justice concepts that empower students to positively effect change within their community and the various systems around them.  Not least of which to consider is the school system.  Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Frameworkprovides another research citation that speaks to this is, “Social justice education is a ‘praxis’ that includes a theoretical account of oppression and privilege, as well as practical strategies for changing social institutions. Schools are primary sites for this critical transformation since they reproduce inequality. Educating students to overcome internalized forms of oppression – such as racism, sexism, classism and homophobia, offering them a framework for understanding the external structures that are the source of these different oppressions, and empowering students to become agents of change, are all important goals of social justice education.” (Kohli, 2005, p. 100).

Teaching tolerance and, beyond that, acceptance are basic concepts that are accessible by K12 students.  The more nuanced and advanced concepts involves around race, religion, language, gender, and socio-economic status among other demographic categories need to be carefully considered based on what’s grade-level appropriate.  That being said, the basic idea that you are different but I should still accept and respect you can start with something as simple as animal caricatures that include a different animal being included even though it’s different.  From there, building into more advanced concepts around acceptance and inclusion regardless of the type of difference can be developed.  Beyond the need for the individual to practice this, there is the concept that we must advocate for others to be treated equitably as well.  When students realize they can effect change for the better treatment of others then they can be empowered through practicing basic advocacy within a safe environment.  As student understanding develops, then more complex concepts like systemic bias can begin to be addressed as well as the need for every individual to work toward equitable systemic change.  Students can eventually understand their own individual circumstances through the lens of bias, opportunity, and privilege relative to others and what that means in terms of their responsibility to work with, through, and against adverse contexts that they or others may face.

As we look to find space in an overcrowded curriculum and schedules, it’s also worth noting that social justice pedagogy overlaps with and ties into social emotional learning and service-based learning and can be integrated via PBL units.  SEL is a newly established and fast growing focus and area of student education.  The latter, service-based learning, is still nascent but so important in terms of providing students with a positive means to impact their environment.

How Do We Become Change Agents for Empowering Students?

One key to empowering students is identifying technology already supported within our teaching context and with which we have some experience.  We, as educators, can then adapt the technology to meet the needs of fellow educators and students.  Using ISTE standards to help guide this implementation can play a critical role in meeting multiple needs at the same time.  For example, we can look to ISTE Coaching Standard component 3d, “Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.”  Personalized support that meets educators where they’re at can help them in the process of empowering their students.

In addition to finding technology that empowers students, providing opportunities for students to address social justice issues within their local context is important.  Starting small with simple and accessible lessons then building from there.  Lessons can be geared around historical social justice efforts such as the women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement.  Providing opportunities for anti-bullying and inclusion lessons can help make the concepts more concrete and accessible for students.  Additionally, projects that advocate for accessibility or cleaning up litter at the local park or playground can empower students to make a difference within their relevant world of experience.  These examples barely begin to scratch the proverbial surface of what is possible, as the possibilities for making change, no matter how small, in the local community are endless and create a positive ripple effect that grows over time and beyond the community itself.

Beyond identifying technologies and potential lesson examples, standards can help facilitate and guide efforts toward effective implementation within education settings by providing carefully researched and written educational targets.  One such set of potential standards has been crafted by a national organization called Teaching Tolerance. Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to social just education.  Finding social justice teacher resources is key in order to provide teachers the ability to teach social justice concepts effectively, given how limited teachers’ time is and how thin their bandwidth is stretched.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Careless, J.E. (2015). Social Media for Social Justice in Adult Education: A Critical Framework. JOURNAL OF TEACHING AND LEARNING, VOL.10 (NO. 1), pp. 13-26.
  3. Kukulska-Hulme, A., Beirne, E., Conole, G., Costello, E., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Holmes, W., Lochlainn, C.M., Mhichíl, M.N.G., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Whitelock, D. (2020). Innovative Pedagogy 2020. National Institute for Digital Learning. Retrieved from https://iet.open.ac.uk/file/innovating-pedagogy-2020.pdf
  4. Miller, A. (May, 2015). Avoiding Learned Helplessness. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller
  5. LEXICO. (2020). LEXICO Powered by OXFORD. Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/social_justice
  6. Teaching Tolerance. (2016). A Framework for Anti-bias Education. The Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/social-justice-standards

Linking In to Professional Networks for Educators

Social media flowchart care of Henry Copeland via Twitter (@HC)

LinkedIn for Teachers?

“LinkedIn is for business people, right?”  That was my first thought as a classroom teacher when considering whether or not to explore the platform. “I guess it’s also for getting a job and I’ll eventually need to change schools,” was my second thought. So, I went ahead and created a LinkedIn account, got it all set up, and proceeded not to check it much for quite a while. I was happily teaching at my current school after all, right?  Plus, per the title image flowchart, LinkedIn does get kind of a bad rap among younger professionals.

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to LinkedIn than just networking for business people and finding jobs. The first step, in the first place, is plugging in as mentioned. You can of course proceed to treat your LinkedIn account like I did, as a virtual professional piggy bank to be broken open on a rainy career day when looking for a new job, or you can invest in the platform far earlier than that and reap professional dividends much sooner.  This means moving beyond plugging in to getting connecting, learning, leveraging professional opportunities, and more.

I have a hunch that I’m still under-utilizing LinkedIn as a networking platform and overall professional resource.  One of my goals, for example, is to post content on a more regular basis as I grow from a consumer into more of a producer on the platform.  In the meantime, I can also share with others what I’ve learned over the years from gradually utilizing LinkedIn more and more often throughout my professional journey as an educator and work across the ed tech spectrum.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Educator Standard 1

ISTE Educator Standard 1: Learner: Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. 

  1. Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness?
  2. Pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks?
  3. Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences?

The International Society for Technology Education provides educator standards that can help guide teachers and educational professionals in their teaching craft as well as their overall professional development. ISTE Educator Standard 1 addresses setting professional learning goals, actively participating in learning networks, and staying current with research.  All three of those components can be addressed successfully via LinkedIn.

Essential Question

How can educators leverage social and career networking platforms to pursue professional goals and interests by actively leveraging local and global learning networks?

Plugging In

First, I started seeking out and connecting with other teachers on LinkedIn.  I learned pretty quickly that classroom teachers tend to create and share more via Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.  In fact, if a fellow educator new to social media had to pick only one platform then I’d probably point them toward Twitter.  LinkedIn has its place, though, and tends to act as more of a professional space for educators to connect, share, make new contacts, and discover professional opportunities.

Once you’ve created your LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/) account, I’d recommend getting all of your details set up then doing some looking around. Setting up basic information means adding work history, accomplishments, and skills. As far your info goes, the most important aspect is keeping content current. As you start to look around then you’ll notice what others list under their respective profiles. Early on, I imagine going back and forth between your information section and others while you’re learning what to add under your own profile. Just be advised that unlike other accounts, LinkedIn notifies individuals when you look at their profiles.

Connecting and Learning

I normally use LinkedIn as a way to connect with others professionally (generally only adding individuals I’ve met outside of LinkedIn), stay in touch, and also stay up to date with what others are doing. Periodically, I’ll check the news feed out of curiosity and see if there’s anything of interest posted. According to Edutopia article “What New Teachers Need to Know About PD” written by Brad Currie, LinkedIn is an oft overlooked online resource for educators. In part, I feel like this contributes to the lack of classroom teacher content on LinkedIn and is probably somewhat of a “chicken and egg” scenario.

As far as learning goes, true confession time, in order to dive deeper I had to open up my LinkedIn account and take a look. This was also a good reminder to me that it’s occasionally a good idea to mix up the platforms from which you access LinkedIn (phone app versus tablet versus computer browser) because different information and links are readily displayed and accessible depending on the type of portal. Articles are posted from a variety of sources including professional connections and colleagues. Information from professional organizations and conferences also provides additional access to learning. I do a fair amount of work in Ed Tech, so ISTE, South by Southwest (SXSW), and the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) are good examples. Groups also provide good learning opportunities and I follow a few such as Hacking STEM Educators and Elementary School Teachers of America. Lastly, LinkedIn Learning is a video library with some free and some premium content but a whole range of professionally-focused educational videos to watch.

So What Then Is a Classroom Teacher to Do?

Well, the first step would be to create a LinkedIn account.  After that, it kind of depends on how you are looking to utilize the platform.  Here’s my top 10 list of things for an educator new to the LinkedIn Platform:

  1. After creating an account, it’s important to fill out the account information to the best of your ability.
  2. It may seem like it goes without saying, but many accounts are only partial so be sure to completely fill out your information sections with engaging, relevant, and current information.
  3. Start to get connected in a safe manner by inviting people that you’d normally invite to connect and that you’re probably already connected to on other social networking platforms.
  4. What impression do you get from other connections account info? Apply those lessons learned when looking back at your own account through this lens and making updates.
  5. Decide who you’re willing to connect with on LinkedIn. People will randomly reach out to you that you don’t know and they may have any number of intentions.  Personally, I only accept invitations from individuals that I’ve met under circumstances outside of a LinkedIn invite.
  6. If you’re utilizing LinkedIn as a means to connect to and stay in touch with other educational professionals then be sure to check in with them occasionally.  Otherwise, over time, you’ll end up with a list of individuals who’ve become virtual strangers.
  7. LinkedIn learning can mean any number of things from reading articles, following professional organizations, and joining educator groups to the actual LinkedIn Learning videos themselves. Decide what interests you, set up your account accordingly, and then learn as appropriate.
  8. Consider publishing content for others to read, reference, and utilize.  This could be as simple as reposting something that someone else has shared, reposting with a comment providing additional insight or input, posting content, or even creating brand new that you’ve authored yourself.
  9. Recalibrate from time-to-time as to how you’d like to utilize LinkedIn and if it is meeting your current needs as a platform. Update your information, edit groups that you’ve followed and joined, and update settings so that the resource remains a tool that you’ll actively use and leverage for professional growth and moving your career along in line with your long-term goals.
  10. Part-time and Full-time work opportunities matched for employees and employers was originally the primary intent of LinkedIn. While the networking platform has grown and expanding beyond this initial focus, it is still a primary vehicle of LinkedIn and so worthwhile to keep in mind over time and usage. You never know, your next teaching job or educational professional move may be only one click away.

Like so many things in life, what you get out of LinkedIn is largely based on what you put into the platform in the first place. So decide what is is that you want out of LinkedIn, prioritize, organize, and implement.

References

  1. Microsoft. (2020).  LinkedIn.  Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/
  2. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Educators. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
  3. Currie, B. (2015, September 24). What New Teachers Need to Know About. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/new-teachers-need-to-know-pd-brad-currie
  4. Young, J.R. (2018, November 9). LinkedIn Learning Opens Its Platform (slightly). Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-11-09-linkedin-learning-opens-its-platform-slightly