Connecting with students in a shared space

A few years back, it was taboo to friend your students on social media. I never bought into that. And here’s why:

I am a role model on social media, and I don’t even try. The way I conduct myself on Facebook and Twitter – if only I could get to using my Instagram with an regularity – is the way I’d like to see students conduct themselves. I don’t use bad language, usually. And if I do, it carries the impact desired because I rarely use it. That might be a turn off for some, but I’m still being true to myself, something teens understand.

A devil’s advocate approach often gets things going in a civil debate with folks. A good debate is a healthy thing. Not that I participate in debate for the sole purpose of teaching students how to offer up evidence and use sound reasoning for arguments, but when I am in a back-and-forth with someone on Facebook, I am aware that a large part of my potential audience is students.

I sometimes get into discussions regarding policy issues that I’m not always completely knowledgeable on, but I take part if I want to learn or if I have a strong opinion. It’s always educational, and I have a list of people I enjoy “verbal fencing matches” with, as one friend put it just the other day.

One of the most important reasons for being friends with students on social media is hearing what they have to say, getting a point of view you might not get in the classroom. Now, if students have requested friending me, they have to realize I’m going to see what they post. I’ve been known to private message them to call them on something I saw that was inappropriate, but by and large that hasn’t happened much. I’ve messaged students to suggest other ways to go about whatever it was they were trying to get across in their posts so they didn’t come off so negatively. And even to check on someone who seemed particularly down in the dumps. Being able to communicate with your students in this other atmosphere is just another way to “teach” and connect.

I was a little distressed last night, and similar situations have happened in the past, to hear a student stressing out over school. She was specific in how school is affecting her, how she struggles just to be able to accomplish her goals, which are the goals we would want for most students.

It made me realize – AGAIN – that we teachers often are not paying attention to students’ points of view. These kids have seven classes with teachers who all think their curriculum is the most important. Most of their seven teachers probably give homework. Most of their seven teachers know their own content so well they take it for granted and it seems so freaking simple, but to the kid who just came from science and had new material crammed into probably less than 30 minutes because of interruptions and is now seated in the algebra class where the teacher is cranky because the previous class did not behave well, it’s a little rough when she starts with a quiz over yesterday’s material, while this student is still trying to process what she just got in science and remember what her homework is. She is stressed because the short classes follow one another quickly, content is crammed in, some classes are chaotic because many students’ behavior is less than model – school is a place to be dreaded but gotten through so one can proceed to the next level, instead of a place to learn.

We have to fix this.

We can start by hearing what they are saying. One place to do this, besides while they are conveniently sitting in our classrooms, is on social medial.

Listen to these kids.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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