Becoming an Unplugged Educator — Why I Said Goodbye to Social Media as a Professional
As I currently sit at my gate at the Tampa International Airport waiting for my flight back to Oregon, I find myself finally committing the time to a post that has been a long time coming. I think the transformational nature of the SHAPE America National Convention and how inclusive it felt (kudos to Judy LoBianco for her leadership and the work that SHAPE America put in for pulling it off) finally is giving me the moral courage to publish after discussing this blog post for what has seemed like months with a small group of people that I trust.
I want to talk about something that I am sure is somewhat controversial. For years, the rhetoric within the #physed profession (and in the greater education community as well) was to, “get connected.” At its peak, it was even insinuated that if you were not on Twitter…well, what the heck were you doing? Being on social media had become a box to check off on what it means to be a professional. I even wrote my action research project for my Master’s degree on social media as a professional!
I want to dispute…no, I want to reject the idea that we need to be “connected” as an educator. I have made a clear decision to unplug, if you will, and I have regained a sense of happiness and fulfillment as a physical educator that I had lost.
Before I continue, I want to be explicitly clear–this post is NOT about work/life balance. This post is NOT about burnout. While important, I feel these concepts sell short what I am trying to communicate.
This post is about evolution. Specifically, this post is about eliminating what doesn’t help you evolve.
There was a time in 2012 when I found social media as a professional and it meant the world to me. We have all felt it. The energy, breaking down walls of isolation, meeting like minded people who you never would have been able to meet without the ability to connect. It was a moment in time and it was incredible. It was exactly what I needed during that time. It has allowed me to form friendships that will last for the rest of my life (with the other members of team PHYSEDagogy and with other physical and health educators from around the country). It has allowed me to reach a pinnacle in our profession by being able to keynote the National PE Institute (thanks Artie) and to help create and watch the #PhysEdSummit explode. These are things that I will cherish forever and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I never did it out of ambition or to get famous–but, in a way, it happened and I guess we became PE celebrities (whether that’s perception or reality, I’m not sure). Regardless, it was never something I was ever seeking or comfortable with. Naturally, I’m kind of an introvert as a person so social media was great because it allowed me to do things that typically make me uncomfortable in person sometimes–which was to have conversations with people I didn’t know. I cherish alone time in my personal life and things like books, music, and art matter to me as a human. I didn’t originally call myself @TheDumbJockMyth on Twitter for nothing.
With this newfound status I had because of social media there was certainly a shift in expectations (fair or not). I always felt an immense amount of pressure to create and share new things, to continue to innovate to push the profession forward, and to give back to the greater PE and Health community. These are values that I still hold, but the magnification that social media (and Twitter specifically) provided, I found it difficult to maintain any motivation and found my creativity stifled.
This is not something new as I think I had slowly been trending this way for a long time and had not engaged as much on Twitter with the exception of periodic bursts here or there. But, letting go completely would have filled me with too much guilt because it had become an obligation by this point.
In January of this year (2019), I quietly changed my Twitter bio announcing that my account was no longer active and deleted Twitter from all of my devices. I have been quietly living this way and it has been everything I thought it would be and more. My creativity is back, I feel extremely fulfilled as an educator, and I continue to focus on things that make me happy in my personal life.
This is the part where some people might mistakenly think that this post is just about a healthy work/life balance. You’d be wrong.
For me, social media as a professional no longer made me a happy person. I had evolved as a human and so had social media. It no longer met my needs. This is about eliminating things in your life that do not help you in your evolution.
It is about living your truth and being authentic. Being connected on social media DOES NOT make you a better professional. What you do every single day when you are working with students and colleagues is what makes you a better professional. How you engage with your state and national organization is what makes you a better professional. Social media can break down walls and barriers and be a pathway to achieving this, but it is NOT a badge or a stamp of approval.
I attended Will Potter’s session at SHAPE this week where he was using hero analogies with Superman. It resonated with me. I try to be Superman every single day from 7 AM – 4:30 PM–but, outside of that I just want to be Clark Kent with the rest of my time. With the challenges we face as educators with students who have different and more dramatic needs than in prior generations and with trauma being at the front and center of many of our conversations, our jobs are more difficult than ever. Many great superheroes have an alter ego or secret identity–because nobody can be Superman all of the time and the same is true for us. Being a physical educator does not define me, I am more. We don’t need to be Superman on social media too.
Of the three national conventions I have attended, this one has been by far the most explicit about inclusion with a focus on social and emotional learning. This is such an important shift and as I mentioned earlier it has given me the moral courage to share my journey. I don’t want to become so connected to my device and screen that I become completely disconnected from living life how I want to.
My gut tells me that I’m not the only physical or health educator who feels this way. Empowering myself to make the decision to unplug is one of the best self care things I have done for myself in ages. By sharing, my hope is that it can give someone else the courage to follow this path and to also normalize the idea of “becoming unplugged”, thus shifting the paradigm of what it means to be a be a professional in 2019 and beyond.