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.

33 Comments on “Becoming an Unplugged Educator — Why I Said Goodbye to Social Media as a Professional

  1. I hope to get to this point in my career someday. I totally see what you’re saying and have limited my social media time myself and have more often reaped the rewards of being present in the moment. I think that the quote “Being connected on social media DOES NOT make you a better professional”, could include “in and of itself”, because being connected on Twitter has helped me tremendously as a “not so young, but early in my learning” professional.

    • Hi Kale,

      I totally get what you are saying–I think my intent is that there has been a perception with the push to “connect” that you aren’t as professional if you are not active on social media in the PE and Health community. I remember #pechats about teacher evaluation where we talked about this. I am not denying SM’s benefits. I too, am a better educator because of Twitter and social media. For me though, I have realized I am a happier person without that social media presence in my professional life.

  2. Thanks for this insightful post Adam. I agree with you on several points, including the misnomer “being connected.” We are in the business of communication; of encouraging our students to have and support face-to face interactions, to work and play together.

    For me, a stark example of this lack of “connectivity” is seeing a group of individuals sitting in close proximity to each other without making eye contact- Simply fixated on the object in their hand.
    There is something simply not right about that.

    • I think what you are describing hit me hardest when I attend music concerts and I see more people watching the concert through the video on their phone then actually watching it live. Thanks for reading.

  3. Adam – I agree with your assessment for you and the comment from Kale. By itself social media does not make you a better educator. What you do in your classroom for your students is the measure of success. I was a new PE teacher in a tough situation, and social media helped me. It opened up my horizons to some amazing teachers and now friends. It did help me when I needed it. With that said, good for you, and I appreciate the time and energy you gave to us. Enjoy the time off-line.

    • Hey Rex, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I definitely am not on a crusade to get people off social media. For some people, it’s a really great tool. My hope is that we can rethink what it means to be a great professional educator in 2019 and that active on social media does not need to be a requirement. My hope is that the influence of my opinion will carry some weight in the matter.

      I think I’ll still be active online and I hope so with this website–I’m just eliminating some white noise.

  4. I this the end of the website?? A bit confused here. I hope it can continue in some way. Much appreciate your thoughts!

    • Hey Greg,

      There are definitely no plans to end the website even though we haven’t been active recently. The website is a safe space online for me professionally–and I still am and want to be very active in the community.

      I still use social media too–but, for other aspects of my life that give me fulfillment and not professional purposes.

  5. Adam, firstly, I appreciate your genuine honesty and for sharing your thoughts here. In knowing you over the past several years, I know how seriously you have taken your own professional growth. It was great to connect with you all those years ago and to connect with so many other passionate educators who are striving to make a difference and impact young people through their work. Although being a connected educator has allowed us to form friendships to last a lifetime and to deepen our own learning related to how we teach and why we teach the way we do, you are spot on when you say that you want to “reject the idea that we need to be “connected” as an educator.”

    Nobody needs to be a socially connected educator to be the best that they can be. Great teaching is about the decisions we make for our students on a daily basis. They are the ones that matter most. Being great for them requires a steadfast commitment to planning the very best learning experiences that we can for our students. Although we might gain ideas, strategies, and approaches from other good practitioners on social media that we can apply to our teaching, the time and energy we put into adapting these ideas in order to meet the unique needs of our students is what matters most.

    Simply being a socially connected educator is nowhere near enough and I’ve seen all too Twitter cluttered with mindless tweets about what is perceived to be excellent pedagogical practice. Having critical conversations about why we do what we do is not shared enough on social media in my opinion. As the number of teachers on social media continues to increase at an incredible rate, we need to be very careful of what we deem to be quality pedagogical practice. The number of followers someone has does not equate to great pedagogical practice being shared. We need to evaluate the focus of every tweet and ask ourselves…..Is this tweet about the teacher or is it about student learning? Are the tweets that are being posted by physical educators teacher-directed, do as I say, or do the tweets promote deep pedagogical practices and strategies that go well beyond a superficial, activity-based focus? and lastly, How am I going to apply this to my own teaching based on my own students’ needs?

    Your decision to step away and unplug, as you say, was obviously a decision that you had to make for yourself as you know yourself best. The fact that you feel your creativity is back on track and you that feel extremely fulfilled as an educator, and continue to focus on things that make you happy in your personal life is awesome. Emotional wellness is critically important in both our personal and professional lives.

    I’ve no doubt that you will continue to challenge yourself to be the very best that you can be for your students.

    I hope that, as you have stepped away from Physedagogy and from social media, you can at least celebrate the successes you’ve had in helping others to understand that constant improvement, as a teacher, is incredibly important. You and your team at Physedagogy have done so many great things and I sincerely hope you are proud of this.

    Although you are no longer connected, please drop me a line from time to time to let me know how you are doing my friend (andy@nexuseducation.org).

    All the best bud.

    Andy Vasily

    • Hey Andy,

      I am never surprised at the depth of thought you always have and that I am reading in your reply. Your 2nd and 3rd paragraph actually seems like an incredible topic to investigate further within a blog. Particularly, the troubling trend of more and more educators being on social media and more of what is being shared not being pedagogically sound. I see this in Facebook groups where it’s just bickering about dodgeball or crappy games that have no learning value.

      I think you hit the nail on the head that this is really about emotional wellness for me. I spend 9.5 hours a day at school being a professional. I sleep at least 8. That leaves me 6.5 other hours in a day. I don’t want anything in my life to consume more time. There were days years ago–when I first found social media that I am sure that 14-15 hours of my day were consumed with something professionally related. I HATE making the conversation about balance–but, if that’s what we are going to talk about–the 9.5 I spend grinding every day is enough of a balance for me.

      I’m not stepping away from Physedagogy–I don’t think my work is done here–and I’m very involved as president of Oregon SHAPE. I just think how I contribute to the online PE community is going to look different for me. Definitely proud of what we have accomplished and there are still many years to come.

  6. Mr. Howell, I appreciate your bold move to present another way for PE teachers to look at our teaching. The “twitter” world has often baffled this old dog as I learn new ways to keep curriculum fresh in my class and I understand completely. I have not read further your comments and paper but I feel your research is important to consider. I made a personal step in my life to be off of FB for over a year now and it has changed my life in very positive ways. I felt almost like a hypocrite though as I follow tweets from all over in the PE world making sure not turn it into a social comparison game that I had done on FB. I have never posted a tweet and will consider its value as I read your research. Thank you for relieving the pressure that I do not need to post tweets to be a good PE teacher. That has meant a lot to me. I appreciate your opinion and hope that you do not take it personally as others will probably not feel as you do about this part of being connected. Best Wishes in you endeavors and however you do it “keep loving and teaching those kids” . PDC

    • Thanks for the kind words PDC. I’m glad that what I said had an impact on you if you were feeling pressure to have to post tweets to be a good PE teacher. I know that feeling and have been there.

  7. Thank you for you sharing this insight. I have been struggling with social media as a person vs a professional and you have given me some direction to further my search and reflection.
    I am so glad you found your peace. Tools are made for helping and growth but can become a crutch if we are not careful.

    • Amen, Kymm! Yeah–it was like a weight off my shoulders when I decided to quietly give it up in January–and I was very much at peace when I wrote this blog at the airport. I thought I might have trouble putting my thoughts into concrete words, but it flowed right out of my fingertips.

  8. Thank you for your heartfelt message. I think you are right to follow your heart and your mind. Connecting through social media can be a “god-send” and great PD opportunity for some, but not critical to being an effective teacher. I personally believe there is a competition evolving within our teaching community right now that is potentially toxic. I worry that pressure to belong or achieve status within certain groups is not unifying us but driving us into different factions.

    • I concur with Maureen – there are some worrying trends appearing and I really hope we don’t lose sight of who this is really all for: Our students. I have also gone backwards and forwards on this one – should I have a blog like everyone else, should I have a webpage, I am not putting enough content out etc. Then I realised I didn’t need to do anything I didn’t want to or have time to. I blog when I feel like it, I do share when I feel like it but I don’t feel like I need to anymore. I love how Twitter has opened my world up but it is simply a doorway, it doesn’t do anything for you by itself. You have to be willing to examine your own teaching, set up, needs etc and then determine what the best direction is for your students and program.Whether it’s Twitter or anything else, if you feel it is becoming toxic for you, step away. We all need to stay mindful of what something is doing for us or to us and take note. Thanks for posting this – I am sure there are many people who have been wrestling with this.

      • I hope so Jo. I know I’m not the only one and I really do hope that my words put some peoples feelings in context for them.

        I hope that the people still active on social media professionally do something about what we all see as trending. Otherwise, it’s going to destroy us before we realize it.

    • Maureen–I started to see this long ago when I was still very active on Twitter. I’ve commented to people I trust numerous times that I was frustrated with the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that I was seeing develop. With that, I have seen a decrease in innovation and some of the same things just recycled over and over again on social media because it’s impossible to continue to create something new all the time. I have had a few encounters with other colleagues as early as 2015-16 where I was treated like a celebrity or put up on a pedestal in person because of what I posted on social media and it was a very uncomfortable experience for me. I’ve never had people ever intimidated to approach me in real life before–it’s usually always the other way around for me.

  9. Well said. I used to feel that because I wasn’t posting on social media I wasn’t a distinguished educator. But then I told myself, my whole life does not revolve around teaching. I do not spend hours on my phone or computer. I always wondered how some of the “gurus “ on twitter and other social media have time to do all they do. Unplug and get outside! 🙂

    • Wendy,

      That’s exactly one of the reasons I posted this–and we have done this to ourselves–by the early adopters (myself included) coming on so strongly and with such subtle arrogance that social media was the way of the future as a professional educator. This was probably because it was so easy for us on the technology side. Despite this, several years ago there was a purity to it that still existed. It didn’t seem like that still existed last I was really active.

  10. A fantastic and insightful post!! This has been my biggest struggle professionally by far- a pull to stay connected to consume and contribute, while needing the benefits from what comes when you disconnect and unplug. Thank you for this post and for being a leader in your actions!

    • Melanie–you should try letting go on a temporary basis just to see how it makes it feel. Do it for a week. There used to be a pull for me–but, it went away…probably like all things.

      To be frank, it has been exhilarating to go to a conference and see something that I have never seen before! This happened a few times lately. When I was more active on Twitter, I usually always saw it there first.

  11. Love this post! Best wishes for peace and joy in your work and personal life 🙂

  12. I understand where you are right now with aspects of social media. I think over the last year I have found it difficult to connect on line with discussions and making connections. When I first started properly it was about making connections and meeting with like minded people. It was about having those discussions about different ideas and thoughts. Social media has helped me evolve as an educator. It has allowed me to create a network actually meet up with people who I’ve met on-line.

    Sometimes though, there are times in life when you have to get on with what you are doing and concentrate on that. It is not always about finding the ‘new’ and trying to incorporate that into your teaching. It is about maybe when you feel stuck, reaching out and gaining inspiration or ideas. I think, at this moment in time, I am at the point of over saturation and can not continually include new ideas in my teaching. You have to try some of those ideas and see how they work. Then reflect and maybe then reconnect and tell people about your experiences. This takes time though. Before, I felt I had to immediately try something and then reach out again.

    I am glad I am connected on Twitter and Facebook. I will continue to reach out and connect but I think at a slower pace and make sure I am taking time to reflect on my teaching and my own learning within education. I’m glad you wrote this post.

    • Over saturation is a great way to put it….The white noise on Twitter always has given me a bit of anxiety. There is always that feeling that you might be missing the next great thing.

      Social media helped me evolve too–the only thing is, I kept evolving–which is why I arrived at where I am today.

  13. I love what you wrote! As much as I love sharing things my students do, I feel that it has become in many ways competitive to post – almost part of a professional eval. I love sharing and getting ideas from fellow teachers, but it can also be overwhelming….I don’t feel that I need that to have a great PE program!

    • The competition did turn me off. Look, I’m confident in what I do in my classroom and I do right by students. Do I have things I want to get better at? Absolutely–but, I don’t have this desire to have the perfect, greatest PE program. I’m in it for a long game and it’s a marathon that is going to last health willing for me another 20+ years (I’ve been teaching for 11).

      I can remember some comments on Twitter that always rubbed me the wrong way when we started using status on social media as professional eval or as an example on “doing things the right way.” Or even requiring pre-service teachers to have to start a Twitter account. I don’t know….I just think people were maybe over zealous and sucked in by the allure of being able to have consistent PD opportunities.

  14. Pingback: Keep The Fire Burning – #slowchathealth

  15. Adam,
    What a refreshing post! I think you actually said what many educators that have been involved with social media for a long time have been feeling. I know for me personally, Twitter has helped me grow & connect professionally and helped me “up my teaching game” because I get to see other passionate teachers sharing ideas that they use to reach their students effectively. I’ve come to value a core group of educators that I know I can go to if I ever need something from within their area of expertise. I think that is one of the biggest benefits for me…knowing who (in my opinion) are those excellent educators that I look up to and value their opinions when I need help or have questions.

    It is easy to get caught up in all the “noise” that’s out there…trying to keep up with the latest & greatest. But I agree that teaching is more than connecting professionally, it is connecting personally…with our students, colleagues & other professionals. Nothing can replace the experience of human interaction. I’m more of an introvert too and oftentimes it is easy to get sucked into browsing my feeds. Recognizing this as a potential pitfall to me being fully “present” with my family and others around me has caused me to reflect on the amount of time I’m online too. Thanks for taking the time to share your heart. I really appreciate that.

    I also have to say that I’ve ALWAYS enjoyed reading your posts & interacting with you on Twitter. You are a “grounded” professional that I share many core beliefs with. I’ve selfishly wished that I’d see you chime in more online because I really enjoy the perspective you bring to the table. Keep doing what you’re doing and know that it is having an impact far beyond the walls of your gym.

  16. Adam,

    I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write your story. This past February I took a five week break from my “connection” with Twitter to focus all of my extra time and energy away from teaching and family, and putting it toward the completion of my master’s capstone paper. Upon making this decision to disconnect two things occurred. First, I was very proud of the fact that I COULD disconnect, especially for so long. Second, I was astonished to find myself asking “why in the world would making a decision to disconnect from social media be so difficult?” Before making this February disconnection, I was terribly anxious and fearful I would be missing out on something in the Twitter world. I was 100% feeling as though I had to continue to “keep of with the Joneses”. Funny thing though, once I got past the first two days of feeling left out or not as cool as the rest of the #physed world, I found a lot of peace. I couldn’t believe how focused I was on my capstone, on my family and wife, and also my self. My physical, emotional, and mental health was better because of this five-week hiatus.

    Reflecting on that experience, as well as your post, has led me to focus on what the power of being connected to SM should be. Being connected shouldn’t feel like keeping up with the Joneses. Being connected shouldn’t be a competition to be relevant and stay relevant at any cost. Being connected shouldn’t be a pursuit to have the most followers, most likes, or most selfies at a conference. Being connected SHOULD BE about sharing best practices that help other PE programs reflect, re-create, and re-invigorate the quality of physical education our profession is teaching and our students are receiving. This is why I choose to be connected, and stay connected with a PLN that makes me better with every share/post and follow from those that genuinely share something to help others get better, not better their own status.

    Unfortunately, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I get caught up in the noise referenced above. There was a time I had to pick up my phone EVERY TIME I saw a red bubble. It was insane. Thank goodness I read a post once by Mike Graham talking about the need to turn off notifications. It saved myself from, well myself. Suggestions like this led me to focus on starting my day reading a book rather than a feed. Suggestions from others led me to leave my phone in my car when going to church, or even shutting it off completely on Sundays. Thank goodness there are people out their like you that remind me why I got “connected” in the first place. To contribute toward the improvement of a profession I love stepping into each and every day.

    God bless you Adam, I wish you all the best in this new path. You and the Physedagogy team have supported me in so many ways the past three years. I can only hope to do the same for our profession and our young professionals moving into it.

    All the best,

    Randy

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