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How Social Media May Keep Special Education Teachers in the Classroom

Author: Michelle Patterson

Special education teacher shortages continue to impact the millions of students with disabilities, with 98% of schools in 2019 reporting special education or related service shortages.  Researchers found that new special education teachers are more likely to leave positions when they do not have the skills to meet demands placed upon them. What can special education teacher preparation programs do to support teacher candidates to persevere in an environment that may include inadequate support and professional isolation? The answer may be found in the phone in your hand.  In our previous Research & Practice Brief “Preparing Preservice Teachers To Address Ableism through Social Media“, we focused on how social media facilitates learning and reflection in regards to ableism and teacher attitudes about disabilities.

Social media applications, such as Teachergram, provide a source of both capacity building and community for teacher candidates and related service providers as they enter their careers. In this blog, let’s look at six benefits social media brings to your teacher preparation program.

• First Person Perspectives

Social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter provide teacher educators an opportunity to teach about specific disabilities by hearing first-person perspectives by people with those disabilities.  Teacher educators can assign specific social media accounts to follow or have students self-select by using specific hashtags (e.g. #neurodiverse, #CerebralPalsy, #Blind) in connection with course content.

• Self-Guided Discovery and Learning

When interacting with social media, teacher candidates have an opportunity to experience content in a way that differs from hearing a lecture.  Students make their own meaning which they can share with others in their programs.

• Ethical Reflections

Social media provides teacher candidates an opportunity to reflect on ethics regarding teaching practices by highlighting issues in special education discussed online. For example, teacher candidates can consider perspectives related to ableism and identity-first language.

• Accessibility Features

Special education teachers and related service providers must be prepared to create accessible instructional materials.  Social media posts provide both examples and non-examples of accessibility features such as alternate text, captioning, camel case, and meaningful links.

• Connections to Affinity Groups and Interdisciplinary Learning

Newton and Williams discuss the importance of the community of teachers within Instagram. Teachers self-select communities based on their own identified needs rather than limited to offerings at their school site.  New teachers and related services professionals can locate mentors and reduce the sense of isolation pervasive in some schools where they may be the only person in that role. Additionally, they can also create interdisciplinary partnerships by following other personnel such as speech/language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and behavior analysts.

• Nano and Micro-learning

Short videos, also known as reels, provide teacher candidates a just-in-time way to learn small chunks of content to address one specific learning objective.  This concept, referred to as nano or micro-learning, supports skill acquisition through its focus on a single skill.

• Critical Thinking Opportunities

Teacher educators and teacher candidates should engage in critical discussions regarding social media content, understanding that some content may be problematic and potentially ableist.  These opportunities to discuss and reflect are crucial to their developing skill set.

Social media can provide special education teachers and related service providers with a community and a source of continued learning. To support your teacher candidates, consider how you would use the recommendations above to effectively use social media in your program. What other ways can social media help you prepare your teacher candidates to be prepared for a successful career in special education?  Join the CIDDL Community to further the conversation.