Learning from Our Elders–About Using Social Media

I chuckle when I see yet another tweet or blog comment disparaging veteran teachers as technophobes resisting the use of social media in the classroom. What would these stereotypical thinkers make of the grand dame of educational use of social media: Dixie Goswami?

In 1984, along with people like Ken Macrorie, Nancy Martin, and others who transformed the teaching of writing in classrooms around the world, Dixie co-founded the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN). On the pastoral campus of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Vermont’s Green Mountains, they launched what would become one of the pioneering and longest running educational social media networks.

Dixie, who is still active in the network herself notes, ““We like to think that the core of teachers who are members of the BLTN now are among the country’s foremost experts on what  it means to use social media in an educational context in ethical and responsible ways, and certainly in ways that are linked to rigorous academic programs.” Many of the teachers who were introduced to using social media through Bread Loaf, have remained active in BLTN over the decades, and are playing teacher leadership roles at local and national levels.

I became part of BLTN in 1994, when I entered grad school at Bread Loaf. From its inception, the core of BLTN was teachers and their students collaborating through the use of online tools for meaningful, and usually community-based literacy learning. I’ve written about my first BL collaboration that included several classrooms in Mississippi and one in Soweto, South Africa. The effect it had on my students and all or our learning, convinced me of the potential power of what this then “new” approach.

We did that first with project with one computer, no printer, and a dial-up connection from my house, but it was and has never been about the technology–it has always been about the students at the center of the learning. That’s what keeps those of us in BLTN active and learning, and what really is the draw for today’s teachers (novice and veteran) to embrace use of social media in our work.

Dixie, as always, says it best:

                “If we [BLTN] had a motto, it would be: Children are resources to be developed, not problems to be solved. The BLTN teachers view young people and children as their allies and partners when it comes to school change, social change, and classroom practice….We are banking on the collective involvement of large numbers of children in improving their own education and communities; to really change things in a big way…..not to be clients that are served.  And it is the most powerful, engaging idea on earth.”



Image credit: Christian Patrick Clarke, at Minilessons with CPC (watch his interview with Dixie about BLTN or this one posted by Tom McKenna).

  • Glenda Funk

    Social Networks


    This is a wonderful tribute to Dixie Goswami, but it’s that first line about disparaging of veteran teachers that pulled me into your post. I don’t smile or chuckle about the attitude toward veteran teachers. I find it upsetting for many reasons, one being that I know I spend much more time and energy keeping up-to-date w/ the educational trends and cutting-edge research than do my young colleagues. But what bothers me most is the “I have arrived and I am the expert” mentality I see among many new teachers. That was unheard of in my first ten years in education. We had more of a Plato at the feet of Socrates attitude about our relationship to veteran teachers. 

    • ReneeMoore

      Age Divisions in Teaching Profession

      I understand your frustration, Glenda.  I was being somewhat sarcastic in that opening line because I too remember having a much more respectful attitude towards the veteran teachers who mentored me when I entered teaching. It has also been my experience that more experienced teachers are often the first to embrace and truly use technology and other innovations in meaningful ways for their students, often showing their younger colleagues how to do so. 

       I don’t want to overgeneralize towards our less experienced colleagues; not all of them come arrogant. However, some do, and they are helped by a very conscious campaign led by enemies of public education who have alterior motives for wanting veteran teachers pushed aside.  That anti-veteran agenda has its own ugly, racist history behind it, and I’m not sure some of the younger teachers who buy into it understand its sordid ancestry. But, as my friend Susan Graham always reminds us, I’m going to assume good intentions, and deal with this as a matter of ignorance rather than malice. Hence, my attempt to share the stories of people like Dixie and the BLTN, or Ted Nellen of CyberEnglish who was running a paperless high school English class since the early 80’s.   

  • ErnieRambo

    All Kinds and All Generations

    Much like Glenda, the title of your post caught my eye. While I’m not the most advanced social media user, I try to incorporate all that I can in my classroom each year. It’s delightful to learn about the BLTN — it seems that within every generation of teachers, there are some who keep on learning and those who, once they start teaching, don’t seem to want to learn anything every again.

    Regardless, your post reminds me that even though I still can’t see the point of tweeting, that I need to try it yet again…..maybe I’ll find a younger teacher who can hlep me understand why I need to add one more social task to my daily routine!

    • ReneeMoore

      Resist Tech Overload!

      Don’t know why you should feel guilty about not using Twitter; I flatly refuse to use Facebook–because for me it would be a huge waste of time. We have an abundance of tech riches to mine and explore, but I think we should be purposeful in our use of them, especially in our classrooms (I’m channeling Bill Ferriter here). Just because something is new and all the rage, does not make it mandatory or urgent for me to add it to my To Do list.  I do use Twitter, and I have very specific reasons for doing so.  Some people have a greater capacity/tolerance for multiple tech tools, but that’s no badge of honor.

  • AnneJolly

    Just a note

    Just a note to say that your post gives me great hope!  First, it reminds me that age has nothing to do with learning. Digital technology isn’t instinctive to veteran teachers at first, but, hey, we’re right good with it when we get the hang of it!  Who knows – we probably have more words of wisdom to offer than less experienced teachers. 

  • maryannfarrugia

    Today almost all people use

    Today almost all people use social media and every person owns a personal social media account. It’s easy to use so i think elders can also use them and i know some elders are now using some of the social media sites such as facebook, twitter etc.

    Maryann Farrugia CEO

    Google Plus: Here