November 18, 2015 3.15 pm This story is over 73 months old

The importance of getting connected

Getting connected: Events this week have taught Dr Rona Mackenzie the values and risks of social media.

This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Lincolnshire Women’s Enterprise Day at Belton Woods Hotel. The conference was superbly organised by Fiona White, Community Lincs CEO and Jenny Reynolds, Project Manager, and they arranged a wide range of interesting and impressive workshops, stands, activities and speakers to inspire the attendees.

The audience was a wonderful mix of age, experience and knowledge but each attendee shared the same high levels of passion for their work. I met some very impressive women whom I look forward to welcoming in to the UTC to inspire our students.

During our day we were encouraged to use Twitter to raise awareness of the event. I have been an active user of Twitter for about five years now and it has been an invaluable, free form of professional development and networking.

I have found: impressive professionals, from whom I develop my knowledge and understanding; critical voices, who lead me to challenge my thinking and reflect on my opinions and decisions; some inspiring teachers, who sit at the heart of every school, and whose passion for teaching and exquisite skills leave me wishing I was a school student again.

When I go to meetings and conferences with Twitter colleagues I always find myself sat wondering who looks like their profile picture… some are very easy to spot and it is great to meet them in the flesh and learn more about their work. Some, with cartoon caricatures or silly snaps, are much harder to identify.

I once sat in a conference, tweeting away to a Twitter ‘pal’, only for me to suddenly twig that he was sat next to me!

Much amusement followed as I posted cryptic tweets, leading him to suddenly realise, much to his surprise, that I was his neighbor in the lecture! Whilst the character limitation is sometimes a little frustrating, I continue to find that the support I receive from other school leaders via social media is second to none.

Today I bumped into some new acquaintances and enjoyed hearing their stories and experiences. I’m looking forward to hooking up with them on Twitter to learn more about their work.

Last Friday evening, as I was heading to bed, my use of Twitter brought a whole different series of tweets to my timeline. As the news of the Paris tragedy unfolded before our eyes, I witnessed friends panicking about the whereabouts of their loved ones, school trips worrying about the safety of students and us all watching in shock as the terrible events unfolded.

Social media has the capacity to bring us closer in so many ways.

On a positive note, people were being warned to stay away from the affected locations as the tragic news spread, potentially saving further bloodshed.

On the other hand, I witnessed crass, thoughtless comments and sweeping generalisations made by media outlets, which helped no one. It was a tragic event and one that we will never forget, nor understand.

As a school leader I am well aware of my responsibility to educate our young people in the events of the world. On Twitter that evening a fellow leader in a London school spoke candidly on twitter about the impact this is having on Muslim people.

He wrote: “Let ME be that person you know, that is a Muslim, that isn’t a terrorist and believes in love, tolerance and acceptance. Say you know me”.

My response: “I know you”.

I am aware that, in our predominantly white British college, my students may not fully understand other cultures and religions.

Our staff spent time this week discussing the tragedy with students, helping them to put into context how this has happened and to appreciate that this is led by a group of people and not by a religion.

I have registered with an online community called #FaithBoxED who will be linking the UTC to a multi-cultural school elsewhere in the world. My intention is for us to bring our worlds together.

Our students need to know the world outside their world, to understand other religions and faiths, so that they are knowledgeable, caring and supportive young people who live with a shared understanding and a desire to make the world a better place for the generations that follow them: as did our parents and grandparents who we commemorated just last week as part of Poppy Day. May their legacy live on in our children as they join together to rise above this abhorrence through understanding, tolerance and compassion.

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Dr. Rona Mackenzie is Principal of Lincoln University Technical College (UTC). She has a strong background in education, having worked in six local authorities during her career, and is passionate about providing an education that meet the needs of young people and their community industries. She is a keen sportswoman and mountaineer, recently trekking to Everest Base Camp, and has an interest in photography.