One of the first lessons taught to new teachers is this: "You must meet the students where they are." It is a sacred truth offered as a key to successfully unlocking the hearts and minds of even the most reluctant learners. I know exactly where to find my students: on Facebook.
If it takes a village to raise and teach a child, the billion-dollar social media mecca is the online village square where our children and young adults gather every single day. Sure, they're sharing weird YouTube video clips, goofy photos and writing "I'm sooooo bored" as their status updates. I would argue they are also doing the hard work of growing up: they are opening up, finding their voices, pushing and testing boundaries, searching for identity, seeking knowledge, guidance and approval.
As a parent and as a teacher, I see social media - especially Facebook - as a key tool. I use my Facebook page as an extension of my parenting and my classroom. As a freakishly enthusiastic adopter of the power of social media in the classroom, I have found that students are far, far more likely to click on a link and read and comment on an article/study/story/poem that I post on my Facebook page than they are to read either a hard copy I hand out in class or an online copy I post on the school-sanctioned online educational delivery system.
See link, click link, learn something
Our students have trained themselves in a deeply Pavlovian way to see a link, assess it in milliseconds and click before their brains even register genuine interest. This means as teachers and parents, we have a whole new world of magical teaching opportunities, teachable moments, to educate in a whole new way (without students even realizing we're doing it! ....Think of how Jerry Seinfeld's wife sneaks pureed yams into her homemade brownies for her kids.)
I post a wide range of articles, studies, video clips, lectures and more on my page for students to "discover." It's amazing how many of them read or view what's posted and then offer public comments on my page or send me private messages asking additional questions or asking for more information.
Facebook as a classroom
Not only are social media great ways to introduce resources and ideas to students, they are an extraordinary meeting space for students to connect with a diverse group of incredible people. The students who gather on my Facebook page include high school students from rural mill towns in Oregon and from Chicago's most under-resourced urban neighborhoods; college students from majority-white state universities out West and from elite, private institutions on the East Coast.
Great minds and ideas made accessible only through social media
On Facebook, those students can interact directly with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists, poets, professors, playwrights, investigative reporters, sociologists, attorneys, artists, media executives, social critics, historians, social justice activists, writers from The New Yorker, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, etc....
The students who "friend" me on Facebook gain access to more than 1,400 of my "friends" - some of whom I have never met in real time, but who are extraordinarily generous with their work, ideas and time on social media. Great minds who would never be accessible to me or my students in real time are answering their messages, offering writing and editing tips, generously sharing how their powerful minds work. This level of access to some of our nation's greatest thought leaders is unprecedented and offers a kind of inspiration and education to our students once unimaginable. Authors I have read, admired and adored for decades share their writing rituals, antidotes to writer's block, anecdotes of failure and inspiration in real time, right there, for my students and I to learn from. Priceless.
Should teachers be banned from using Facebook?
At the same time technology is offering us these connections beyond the classroom, school districts and universities are placing bans on teachers and students becoming Facebook "friends," hoping to protect both. Teachers are getting fired for what they write on social media sites. In some cases, unfortunately, both teachers and students have abused or misused the boundaries. Of course, that is unacceptable and there must clear and consistent rules to protect our students from any dangerous adults, and from their own unsafe impulses.
The New York Times reported in: Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher From Getting Too Social Online:
"Faced with scandals and complaints involving teachers who misuse social media, school districts across the country are imposing strict new guidelines that ban private conversations between teachers and their students on cellphones and online platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The policies come as educators deal with a wide range of new problems. Some teachers have set poor examples by posting lurid comments or photographs involving sex or alcohol on social media sites. Some have had inappropriate contact with students that blur the teacher-student boundary."
The Wall Street Journal reported that In May, "New York City issued its first guidelines for the use of social media in schools, stopping short of an outright ban but warning teachers to keep a bright line between personal and professional accounts." In my next post I will share ways for parents and teachers to protect and educate ourselves and our children about social media. A great resource offering sanity, clarity and excellent guidelines is Facebook for Educators by Linda Fogg Phillips, Derek Baird, M.A., & BJ Fogg, Ph.D.
Real dangers exist on social media
There are real and compelling dangers online. And as in every field, there are teachers who should not be teaching - online or in a classroom. I believe those are a small percentage and that the policies hurriedly being created for all of us should not be based on the criminal actions of a few. Of course teachers who use these new modes of communication to engage our students must do so in the smartest, safest and most responsible way possible.
We are all relatively new at negotiating this intersection of social media and teaching and learning. Rather than be fearful or shy away from the challenges, I urge educators using these technologies successfully to share experiences, to contribute to the emerging conversation and rule-making, and to help guide our professionals and parents with eyes wide open, into the brave - and blurry—new world of teaching and learning.
Want to know more about the secrets lives of college students?
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