#TeachersFollowTeachers: Using Social Media to Connect and Grow

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We all know that social media is a very powerful communication tool. It’s one that is often abused by children and adults alike because they don’t know how to use it safely and productively. Social media can be a great instrument for teachers to learn, grow, and share. It’s like professional development right at your fingertips. I’ve been using both Twitter and Instagram to follow and connect with teachers all over the world. I share ideas and moments from my own classroom all the while finding so many new ones.

But where’s the time?

What’s the benefit?

Why branch out when I have so many great people to learn from right here?

I get it.

We’re all busy people and we work with some incredible people, but five minutes a day is all it takes. Plus, why not spread the love? We’re all in this together. The benefit is this, as teachers we work hard to provide the best education for our students. An education that shows them that they have all of the tools they need to tackle the world and that they can do it. As teachers we work tirelessly to plan, prepare, and execute lessons that engage and impact our kids. As teachers, we hope that all kids get the level of education that we strive to provide, even if they never step foot in our classroom. That’s the benefit, social media can bridge the gap.

I abandoned my personal Twitter account in favor of a teacher Twitter account when I went to a professional development conference a couple of years ago. One of the presenters was mirroring her personal account for the whole room to see and using the “#” created for the conference to tell the world of the great work we were doing. I saw other teachers joining in around me, and that’s when I decided I would join too. Twitter is a great place to go to pull resources to save for later. I find myself scrolling through and “retweeting” links and photos that I know I don’t have time for in the moment, but will want to look at later. I can connect with educational professionals I admire (Troy Hicks just followed me a few days ago!), and gather a following of my own because this platform allows me to believe I do have something worthy of sharing.

Because Twitter only allows us to communicate in so many words, it’s an easy resource to spend as little or as much time as you want on. I haven’t mastered the art of the Twitter chat yet, but I appreciate the idea, and one of these nights I’m going to get the time right and join in. The Literary Maven hosts a chat each Tuesday and posts the topics ahead of time for planning purposes. Even if you’re unable to join in on the chat, just by clicking on the hashtag #2ndaryELA, you’ll learn so much! Just now, while getting the links to include here, I found a cool infographic of 6 desk configurations, perfect for going back to school in a week. *Retweet!* The Literary Maven is one of my favorite chats, but a group like @EdChatMe is a little closer to home, so some of you Mainers might enjoy that one! The live chat is Mondays at 8:30, but as I mentioned, the nice thing about Twitter is the learning doesn’t go away once the “class” is over. I’m by no means an expert of the Twittersphere, on the contrary actually, but I’m certainly enjoying what I’m getting out of it now, and hope to continue to grow my teaching through the use of this powerful tool.

To sum it up:

Twitter Pros

Twitter Cons

  • Accessible
  • Short bursts of PD
  • A single place to refer back to (personal feed)
  • Organized information using #s
  • Planned weekly chats
  • Connections with educational professionals
  • Easily connected to other sites (Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, etc.)
  • Lots of ads
  • Hard to maneuver until you understand #s
  • Limit to characters can make it hard to express ideas
  • Sharing photos from other services (like Instagram) appear as links on feed

 

I made a teacher Instagram account for three reasons: 1. I learned that you can have more than one account connected to a single device, 2. I wanted to keep my personal account and teaching account separate, to maintain privacy while also opening up my teaching account to be followed by other teachers all over, and 3. I had so many things I wanted to share! I love taking pictures in my classroom. If you don’t take pictures in your classroom, start now. Even if you do nothing with them but look at them later, it’s a great way to reflect and honestly, it’s a great classroom management tool. I don’t post every picture I take, but I do post the ones I think will inspire other teachers to try something new. I also use the application Over to create little inspirational (and sometimes funny) memes. I’ve shared resources with teachers across the United States, I’ve followed teachers from as far away as Australia, and I’ve even connected with a few teachers from around Maine.

Some teachers blend their personal and teaching accounts into one, some keep them completely separate, and in fact, some I’ve never seen the face of the person behind the account because they only post resources. I have my own hashtag #mainelymiddleschool that I use on all my posts, but I also stack up the educational hashtags I find in hopes of attracting new followers and people I want to follow. Now, I want to further comment on that, my goal is not to get as many followers as I can. My goal is to attract new followers that share similar teaching ideals to me so that once I get notified they’re following me, I can follow in return and we can bounce ideas off one another, literally or through the feed! One of my favorite Instagram accounts I’m currently following is @kelseynhayesblog. Kelsey is so inspiring. She does a great job balancing her own blog and other social media accounts while paying tribute to teachers everywhere. On top of all of that, she has a pretty cool name — just saying. Another account that I enjoy following is @miss5th. While I don’t steal as many resources from her because she teaches fifth grade, I can’t help but admire her passion for the job, and her handwriting makes me envious. Check out her “Keep the Quote” roll! I would say Instagram is a little more time consuming than Twitter, but so worth it. It’s more personal and it’s like your own little board of success in your classroom. A little feel good for a rainy day. We all need that sometimes!

 

To sum it up:

Instagram Pros

Instagram Cons

  • Personal and personalized
  • Short bursts of PD
  • Pictures are engaging and informative
  • Uplifting to have others recognize your good work
  • Organized information using #s
  • Easily connected to other sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Lots of teacher giveaways (who doesn’t love free stuff?!)
  • Spam
  • A little more time consuming (but still manageable, I promise!)
  • The interface makes it hard to find things sometimes (not always in chronological order)
  • Ideas not easily saved (without downloading a secondary app or screenshot)

Social media is meant to be used to easily connect people of similar interests. For some, that interest is family oriented, that’s the reason I still keep my Facebook page. But I’ve found the best use of social media, for me, is to connect to other teachers all over the world. Now, I’m not saying you have to connect in every way possible, but try out Twitter or Instagram and see what you can get out of it. Once you realize the professional development you have at your fingertips, you’ll forget that you didn’t have time, because there’s always time for growth.

Reverse Poetry: Tackling Both Sides of Tough Topics

Convoluted

The truth can be devastating

It is completely false thatimages

Deception is terrible

I am convinced that

Lies keep the world spinning

I refuse to believe that

The truth comes with benefits

When it really comes down to it

The truth is quite scary

Read forward, this poem seems dark, extreme, like the speaker has been told so many lies that he believes there is no hope left in this world. But, read it backward and you’ll find the writer crafted a poem that reads quite the opposite, that he’s convinced if only we could always tell the truth we’d be in a much better place.

I recently finished Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher, and I was inspired by the many different writing prompts. One of Gallagher’s prompts is called Reverse Poems, the idea that the poem has one meaning read forward and the opposite (and I mean, polar opposite) meaning read backwards. These are sometimes known as palindrome poems.

The example above was written by an 8th grade student in my class.

An 8th grader.

I was inspired by Gallagher’s prompt, so I went through the process of creating my own reverse poems, and since I was already teaching poetry to my 8th graders, I brought it to them about a week after I learned it myself. 

Reverse poetry is not only a challenge because it expects students to create in a very specific way, but it also requires that students form opinions about sometimes controversial ideas and topics while still staying true to the other side by creating a piece that could support both.

Here is my favorite example given in Write Like This written by a twelfth grade student (page 43):

Framing My Future

By Rebecca Bauzan

My future is in ruins

Therefore I will discard the impression that

I will be able to achieve what others could not

This may be surprising to some but

Education is overrated

I will not accept the concept that

I can make a difference through my education

So I will let others know that

It is not worth it.

Many say

Hard work pays off but

I see things differently.

For some, this perception is the reality and this student has clear ideas regarding her education and the beliefs of others. I like to think that her view is actually the reading from the bottom up, but as I don’t know this student, so who am I to say? I guess that’s the optimist in me.

Here’s the process I went through to create my own poetry and deliver it to my students:

 

For my first try, I picked out the phrases I could mimic…

Therefore I will discard the impression that

 

This may be surprising to some but

 

I will not accept the concept that

 

So I will let others know that

 

Many say

 

I see things differently.

 

Then, I thought about ideas I have an opinion about, hopefully ideas with two sides….

All students can learn…

Reading is an adventure…

Police officers should be treated with respect…

To get respect you must give it…

Hard work pays off…

Change is necessary…

 

Finally, I inserted lines in the empty spaces…

 

His badge defines him.

Therefore I will discard the impression that

He is a good person.

This may be surprising to some but

Equality is not on his mind

I will not accept the concept that

He is not the product of others mistakes.

So I will let others know that

We’ll rise against.

Many say

They only aim to protect and serve but

I see things differently.

So reading from top to bottom is the interpretation I actually don’t agree with, but it’s one that I’ve seen become increasingly more apparent. If you read my poem from the bottom up, you’ll see it more closely resembles my perspective.

Second time around, I switched up the anchor lines…

 

Change is necessary

Don’t assume that

You will not grow from this experience

And this may come as a shock but

Your remarks and attitude impact others

Many feel

Change is just another hoop to jump through but

It’s not just that.

So reading from top to bottom is the interpretation I do agree with. Change is necessary and we grow from change. Reading from the bottom up is the attitude that change is bad and the person that promotes the change should have a target on their backs. A little extreme, but very real in some instances. 

From here, I created a lesson to share with my students in which we explored the poems I wrote, some examples from Write Like This (including the one above), and watched a few videos in which students took their reverse poems and narrated them, put them to music, and included images to provoke high intensity feelings about the topics discussed (example link here).

Students want to have a voice. We want them to use their voices to promote their ideas in an impactful way. Reverse poetry can do this. It’s not just about the style of the writing and the satisfaction of getting it just right. It’s about delving deep into those topics that are sometimes hard to talk about, and writing about them from both sides of the track with lyrical precision.

Here’s another 8th grader leaving you with something to think about (don’t forget to read it both ways)…

 

 

Life

Living in a hole

Is easier then

Living

I say

Why still play this game called life?

There’s no point.

Many say

I’m crazy.

It’s true.

What does it mean to be a hero?

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What does it mean to be a hero? That’s the question we’re exploring in my middle school classroom right now, and the answers reside somewhere in a grey area.

People can be influential, but not necessarily role models. 

People can be role models, but they aren’t necessarily heroes.

People that are heroes are typically thought to be influential role models that play an important role in a person’s life. 

Heroes don’t have to wear capes, they don’t have to be the best at something, and some say a hero resides in all of us.

Not all heroes wear badges, but mine does, and today I got to show all of my students why.

“Why do people think I’m a hero? People look at my badge and my profession and see me as a hero, but I’m a person, just like you.” 

It was fifteen years ago that Scotty first came into my classroom. It was actually Mrs. Mullen’s fifth grade class and he was invited to read a book to us as part of an initiative to connect kids to first responders in our community. Our school was filled with uniformed men and women that day, firefighters, EMTs, military servicemen and women, and law enforcement, but my class was the best because we had my deputy, and I was on cloud nine. He read a book with interesting facts about former United States presidents, and I can’t say I remember much except for the picture of President Taft stuck in the White House bathtub.

What I do remember, though, is walking Scotty up to my classroom from the office, watching him interact with my classmates, his smile, and the warmth in my heart — my pride.

Today the flood of feelings returned, but in a new way. I walked him up to my classroom from the office. The classroom where I work endlessly, day after day, to inspire and mold the minds of my students. The one where I celebrate their successes and hear stories that break my heart. While I learned to teach English in college, I learned to teach life, in large part, from Scotty.

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I watched him interact with my students. Kids from all different walks of life. He laughed with them, fooled around a little, and looked at them all with the same eyes that I see them through. Eyes that contain no judgment, that yearn to help, that need to protect and see the best in each and every one of them. I meet each student in my class individually based on their academic abilities, I have to, that’s good teaching. But I see them individually based on who I know they are, can be, and will be if I can push them to get there.

To see him smile with them, laugh, and humor the student in the front row that was so engaged she asked twenty-questions (no, really) reminded me of his kind heart, his patient soul, and his love for me, his daughter, who asked him to talk to twenty-five seventh graders right before lunch.

“Who do you want to inspire?” 

“Ask her [nodding to me in the back of the room], my kids. There are things I do and qualities I represent that I can only hope to instill in my kids. I hope to inspire them.”

Inspiration is an understatement. You’ve given me everything I need to guide, support, teach, and learn from the kids that I am fortunate enough to stand in front of each and every day. Now they know where that comes from. Now that they’ve met you.

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So what does it mean to be a hero? Well let me just leave this right here…

“I don’t think of myself as a hero, I think of myself as somebody that’s out there helping people, trying to do the right thing for them, trying to help them in a time of need when they need the help and they can’t do that on their own. So, I don’t consider myself a hero, I consider myself somebody that loves people, that wants to help people in their time of need.” 

 

No hero ever considers himself a hero.

But you’re mine.

 

Keep them confident, keep them writing.

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As I’ve begun my journey with the Maine Writing Project, I’ve taken up consistently journaling. The below post is something that has been on my mind recently and so I wrote about it furiously in my journal yesterday while the snow was piling up outside. With the many methods to teaching writing, no one can (with absolute conviction backed up by evidence) point to one that is 100% effective. The truth is, it all depends on the individual writer and what his/her needs are to go through his/her process. With that being said, this is a look into my process of teaching writing, and I do believe it works well in my classroom. As always, thank you for reading.   

When I started teaching, I worked to find methods and styles that fit me and my philosophies around different aspects of education. I blended practices from mentors, books, and even from those teachers I experienced as a student. I also vowed not to repeat some of the methods I had endured as a student. Many of those practices, good and not so good, revolved around the teaching of writing.

Some teachers teach writing by repeatedly identifying and correcting the mistakes of writers. They hand back stories and essays scarred, marked undesirable. Does it work? Well, it depends on what one is looking for as an end result.

Will it produce final drafts that are polished and complete? Yes.

Will it leave students feeling accomplished, proud? Maybe… some.

Will it leave students with enduring understandings regarding the craft of writing? I don’t think so.

To build an effective writing community in the classroom, teachers must work from students strengths to get to their struggles. To constantly criticize is to tear down. Even the strongest students in this situation will eventually begin to see their strengths as weaknesses and stop performing completely.

They will stop writing.

So how do teachers teach good writing and still maintain student confidence? Tread lightly. Give feedback, but do so only after asking students what they want feedback on. Not only that, but ask students what they feel they’ve done well… and leave that alone! Off limits. It’s their source of feel good. Then, find something else to make them feel good. Something you personally noticed. Only after you’ve done that should you give constructive feedback. Feedback from which an attainable goal can be created and accomplished if not right away, soon.
This process may have to be repeated. For some students, many times. The final product may not be error free. With that being said, going through the writing process in this way encourages students to be reflective of their work. Being cognizant will more than likely cause them to commit the process to memory. Remembering the process in a positive way will, in turn, encourage students to keep writing. Isn’t that what we all want? For them to keep practicing writing? I know that’s what I want.

17 things to try in 2017.

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In 2016, I set a personal goal to read more. Now, don’t get me wrong, as an English teacher reading is part of the routine. Short stories, poems, novels, essays, professional development, the occasional conversation between two students in your class that think you don’t know they’re messaging each other when you really do. Yeah, I read an immense amount on a daily basis. Naturally, with all of the required reading, I lose motivation for the reading I want to do for me. It turns out that, much like with any goal, putting your mind to it and setting aside any amount of extra time to accomplish it will, well, help you reach your destination. I read 38 books in 2016. I hoped to reach 40, though I never fully committed to a set number. Now, it’s 2017 and I have resolved to read and write more. A rather loose goal, I understand, but I’ve never been too keen on quantifying something that doesn’t need to be. It’s far too stressful. So, as my first of hopefully many more blog posts in 2017, I’d like to share 17 things you should try in 2017.

1. Invite a student to recommend a book.

There are many perks to this so try it soon and try it often. The most rewarding is the discussion that comes afterward. I just finished Watchmen by Alan Moore at the request of one of my students. Tuesday, I’m sure, when we have returned from winter break, we’ll have a lengthy discussion on Rorschach’s ultimate, yet uninspired, demise. If you’re not a teacher, I’m sure there’s a child in your life that reads. Maybe this is an opportunity to visit your local library or bookstore to pick out a book together. Even better yet, try out a 2017 book challenge together. You won’t be sorry.

2. Institute a “weekend share.”

I started this my first year of a teaching after seeing how much it meant to the kids during my time student teaching (thanks, Karyn!). I’ll admit, Monday’s classes lose a chunk of time that could be dedicated to something more academic, but I will defend it always. I learn so much about my students and they learn about each other and me as I’ll often insert little anecdotes of my own when something they say resonates with a past memory I have. Not a teacher? It’s okay, start a Sunday night share. It’s the perfect opportunity to also see what’s in store for the week ahead for the kids in your house, and once it becomes routine, they’ll really like it. I promise.

3. Include more choice. 

One of the books I read in 2016, Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn by Mike Anderson, empowered me to offer more choice in my classroom this school year. Anderson reaffirmed what I already knew, that student choice coupled with student engagement leads to student success. Needless to say change is a process and there have been many “Now we’ll work through this together because I haven’t done it this way before” moments, but I’m seeing results that make giving up some of the control totally worth it. On top of that, the learning that goes with decision making incredibly valuable. Choice isn’t just important in the classroom. Choice in the home asks students to take responsibility and to be considerate. Ask your child you plan out a family outing on a Saturday or make a dinner menu for a busy week night. Knowing that you want their input, and consistently asking for it, will help them recognize how much you value what they have to say.

4. Take your own advice. 

I’m notorious for offering advice or feedback to my students and yet not taking it myself. What’s that, the pot calling the kettle black? Oh, you’re tired? Did you go to bed late? You spent all of Saturday binge-watching Netflix and now you’re upset that you didn’t finish your homework? Go to bed early, sometimes it’s necessary to binge-watch, don’t put things off until the last minute, read, read, read. It’s easier said than done, but if you’re going to say it, start acting upon it. I’m working on it, so should you.

5. Celebrate successes big and small. 

Success comes in big and small packages. An A+ test, scoring in the big game, reading 10 more pages this week than last. In my classroom I have a bulletin board for successes. Success can be defined not only by me as the teacher, but by my students as well. I think it’s important that students recognize their triumphs and it’s my duty to provide an outlet for them to do so. Being present is one of the best ways to witness and recognize success. This is true be it a teacher, coach, parent, grandparent, friend, etc. As a field hockey coach I learned very quickly that it’s important to be present. At the end of our last season, one of my players wrote me a note thanking me for always being there. In this case, always being there meant making eye contact and nodding my head when things went right or wrong. Celebrating and encouraging, no matter what. Being present. Nothing beats the smile on a kids face when they look up and know that you believe in them.

6. Snap photos daily. 

This school year I’ve really enjoyed taking pictures of small moments in and around my classroom. Students all lined up in a row on the floor during independent reading time, stuffing stockings for children in our community whose families can’t afford them, participating in a holiday book exchange, writing analysis of craft in novels, adventures at our local theater. The myriad of photos I’ve collected this year allow us all to reflect on our memories in the short time that we spend learning from each other.

7. Incorporate technology in meaningful ways. 

Blogging, assessment, feedback, practice, studying, technology has an abundance of purposes. In general, asking students to express themselves using technology has a very beneficial purpose. Creating products using Weebly, iMovie, Scratch, ArtStudio, GarageBand not only allows students to express themselves, but teaches them valuable skills as well.

8. Take a class or workshop. 

Teachers are inevitably lifelong learners. I began to pursue my master’s degree about a year ago and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Not only have I learned a lot, but I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned immediately into my classroom. I’ve been able to relate to my students more. I have homework. I have assessments. I have syllabi and deadlines. I talk about my successes and my struggles alongside my students and they appreciate them and respect me.

9.Play more games. 

Kahoot, Edpuzzle, Jeopardy, my special hit the right answer on the whiteboard with the ruler game. Sometimes we need some good educational fun.

 

10. Cut yourself some slack. 

You can only be in one place at once. You can’t stop the copier from jamming. The line at Dunkin’ will be worth it in the end. Sometimes it’s okay to skirt around the question, Google the answer, and come back to it later. The kid slouching in the back throughout your lesson isn’t really that bored. It’s okay to take Saturday to sit on the couch with the dogs and binge watch Gilmore Girls. Cut yourself some slack.

11. Step out of your comfort zone. 

This is self-explanatory. Take everything comfortable and set it aside.

13. Ask for feedback. 

This one is hard for many. It’s never easy to be told something that you think is working well isn’t working for everyone. You’ve worked so hard on creating a project that assesses four standards perfectly just to find it’s a big flop for everyone involved. It’s common to see the negative, but there’s so much positive to be had. Some suggestions come in the form of ideas that you already had but weren’t sure about. Some aren’t suggestions at all, but praises of a job well done. End of unit surveys and reflections are great places for feedback. We all deserve a pat on the back and we sometimes need a slice of humble pie and I promise that kids are brutally honest.

14. Don’t be afraid to scrap the lesson plan. 

Things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes, things aren’t going to plan for a reason. It’s important to recognize that sometimes salvaging things isn’t the best course of action. In fact, some of the best lessons come from 30 seconds of plan time after checking to see how many students did the pre-work for the lesson you were planning to give. Sometimes, in conversation, you’ll realize that what you taught the day before didn’t stick and you’ve got 2.5 minutes to figure out how to reteach in a way that reaches and enriches at the same time. You’ve got this, give it your all.

15. Steal and share. 

Take the extra copies left in the teacher’s lounge three days ago. Publish your ideas about teaching and life on a blog, yours or that of an established organization. Offer your resources to your coworkers and ask to see what they’re doing in their classes. It’s true that sharing is caring and stealing isn’t really stealing if it’s for the kids, right?

16. Write things down. 

If I spent more time writing down all of the funny and inspiring things that my students say, I’d publish them in a book and make enough money to buy many more books (among other things — flair pens, post-its, did I mention books?). We teach students to write things down to remember them, as teachers it’s important to write things down to cherish them.

17. Laugh more. 

When the day is done, laugh.

Words: A bargaining chip, a bedtime story, and the punchline of every joke.

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I am always incredibly thankful for the many opportunities and gifts I’ve been given thus far in life. My family is composed of selfless and kind souled individuals that collectively make my heart so full. My job allows me to make a difference in the lives of children who will, in turn, grow up to make a difference too. I have a roof over my head and shoes on my feet, and I have never gone without for even a moment thanks to hard working parents and now a hard working husband. I am truly blessed. So on a day like today, a whole day dedicated to considering all that I am thankful for, I’d like to think a little out of the box and see where this goes.

A pledge.

A promise.

A prayer.

Sentences sewed seamlessly to make a statement.

I am thankful for words.

I feel fortunate that I know how to use words to make a change. In my life, in my being, in the eyes of a stranger, and in the wide open minds of countless children. Words bind agreements, seal fates, teach lessons, and bring out the best in people.

They also bring out the worst in people.

They are a bargaining chip, a bedtime story, and the punchline of every joke. Words allow me to tell my husband I love him before we shut our eyes at night and again when I’m rushing out the door in the morning. They are scribbled across faded construction paper crafts saved for years by my nana and given to me. Words create memories.

We often take our words for granted. Isn’t it true that every good conversation starts and ends with words? Given any good advice lately? Words. Said something you really didn’t mean? Words. Sat down to read a book, an email, a newspaper? Words. History has been passed down from generation to generation, both spoken and written, in words. Our past and our future is determined by words because words unite and divide us, help us and hinder us, and all the while we fail to remember they are a gift to us.

I am a writing teacher. That may create a little bias when it comes to this whole discussion of the impact of our words. I’m also a little stubborn. Even if I’m biased, I’m right. Words are both an ally and a foe. If there’s one thing I aim to teach my kids in the year I have them in my classroom, it’s that they have a voice and they are not too young to use it. It’s possible to make a change with their words so as long as they use them with purpose.

I can’t imagine not being able to say good morning.

What would the world be like without I love you and I’m proud of you?

Would hate be harder to see like love would be harder to feel?

While we all know that words can hurt, maybe if we take a step back to recognize all of the good they can do, we can spread a little kindness today — and everyday — using our gift of words.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours.

 

Book Response: It’s Complicated – The Social Lives of Networked Teens

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Where the majority of us born prior to the age of the easily accessible internet met up with friends at the park or the mall, kids and teens growing up now see their social realm primarily revolving around social media. Danah Boyd introduces readers — most, I assume, being nervous parents and cautious educators — to the idea of networked publics. Networked publics are defined as “..the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice” (Boyd 8). It’s interesting as people most likely consider a public to be a place where one can be physically present, but the truth is with access to the internet becoming more and more prevalent, there is a larger, more diverse public always a mere click away. That is the public that teens are most intrigued by. That is the public that adults take away not realizing how important it is to teens’ perception of their social acceptance.

While many adults see the danger in constant connection to social media, teens see it as a “place to call their own” (Boyd 19). Expectations of teens have changed in the last 15-20 years. Academically, they are held to higher standards. There are more opportunities for extracurricular activities, including sports, clubs, and music. With all of this, schedules are busy and the pressure to be perfect is ever increasing. Boyd interviewed Heather, a 16-year-old from Iowa, regarding these issues to which she says, “I’m so busy. I’ve got lots of homework, I’m busy with track, I’ve got a job, and when I’m not working and doing homework I’m hanging out with the good friends I have. But there’s some people I’ve kind of lost contact with and I like keeping connected to them because they’re still friends… Facebook makes it a lot easier for me” (Boyd 20). The comparison is made between Facebook (and other social media) and the drive-in movie theaters of the 1950s. Teens go to where they can socialize comfortably, unrestricted by parents and other adults.

Speaking of adults, when I began reading this book, my assumption was that the book was going to confirm what I’ve been hearing from the media since I was first introduced to social media via MySpace, that is that the internet is an ever dangerous place filled with predators lurking in the shadows. And while there may be instances that this is indeed true, Danah Boyd works to alter the perspective of adults, like me, that fear for children that spend too much time on technology. While I’m not in the situation that I believe technology is the root of all evil, as I get older and see my students constantly connected, I do tend to worry about some of them. Boyd has reassured me that while worry is sometimes warranted, to take away the technology would be more detrimental than helpful, as social media is the place where teens deal with developing their identity. To take it away only convinces them they must do so privately. Doing so privately only encourages them to publish the perception adults have built, that they are not trustworthy, they are rebellious, they are doing what they shouldn’t be. If we work to develop teen understanding of digital citizenship, and show empathy for their need to be connected and developed via the internet, we will see that what they are doing is the social norm, and it is okay.

Unfortunately, though my views have changed, I am not a parent and I am not conservative regarding technology because I grew up understanding the benefits of it. For those adults that see technology and it’s users as a drawback, there is a growing conflict. Parents fret over pictures and conversations that the internet has provided traces of. Teens are asking for increased privacy, yet are publishing these items publically for an incredible population to see. When broken down, the privacy that teens are looking for does not necessarily mean that they block out the unknown, it’s that they distance themselves from parents and naysaying adults as they navigate the path to finding themselves.

As usual, the media does not help alleviate adult worry, only portraying the negative side of social media and the so-called lack of awareness of teens. New York Magazine published the following in an article regarding the willingness of people to express themselves in public internet forums, “Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry — for God’s sake, their dirty photos! — online” (Boyd 56). While I think this is beyond extreme, I know that I’ve heard similar sentiments come up in conversations between teachers, parents, and coaches. Can you imagine if similar views were expressed about kids going to the movies, the mall, the park up the street? Those are public places in which kids display themselves to strangers and friends alike, but because the audience is largely unknown they’re deemed show-offs and worse? I have to admit, I was a little shell-shocked by the verbiage used here. It saddens me that we don’t give our youth a little more credit.  

Sometimes, I’ve learned throughout the course of this book, the media and adults against the internet are quick to give social media too much credit. What I mean to say is, they blame technology for wrongdoing they feel would have never occurred otherwise. “In February 2007, a girl in Colorado named Tess killed her mother with the help of her boyfriend, Bryan. When the news was reported on TV, the takeaway was, ‘A girl with MySpace kills her mother.’ The implication was that Tess had become deviant because of her use of MySpace and tis had prompted her to murder her mother” (Boyd 120). Sounds ridiculous reading it now, right? But — this is how the media portrays the internet, like it’s the marionette and teens are the puppets committing heinous crimes. What the media didn’t reveal  in the case of Tess is that her MySpace page produced countless cries for help regarding her mother’s physical and mental abuse toward her that left her full of rage, depressed, and lost. While this doesn’t justify murder, MySpace is not the culprit here, if anything, it was the medium through which Tess let her pleas be heard — to no avail. Saying that MySpace is the murderer is like saying heroin injects itself. It’s important to take responsibility for our actions and to, in general, be responsible with the social tools (like Facebook and now Instagram) that we have. I was struck by Boyd’s conclusion to the chapter entitled Danger. She says, “We need concerned adults and young people to open their eyes on the digital street and reach out to those who are struggling. And we need to address the underlying issues that are at the crux of risky behaviors rather than propagate distracting myths. Fear is not the solution; empathy is” (127). We must teach our youth to navigate safely while refraining from scaring them away. We would rather they use social media with our knowledge than behind our backs. This will allow us to have productive conversations with them about what is going on without delving into their private spaces.

I think adults worry that what is going on is bullying. As a teacher, I educate my students on bullying and we have some really in depth conversations. I’m always surprised that they don’t feel as though bullying is a problem in our school but do recognize it to be a problem nationwide. While I should be grateful that this is the case, I know it is not true. Last year I was privy to a conversation about how some students were using Instagram during school. I was shocked to find that two girls, both in my class and best friends, were calling each other ‘whore’ in comments left on pictures on their respective feeds. We’re talking middle school! I thought back to my class that day and if I had noticed that those two girls were acting differently than usual, and I remembered they worked together on a project that day. I was stunned. I used it as an opportunity to talk about bullying, without letting loose the knowledge that I had about the way these girls talked to one another on Instagram.

Looking back on it after reading this book, I have begun to recognize that teens think of bullying in a much different way than adults. This was perhaps the most surprising thing in the book for me. Teens see gossip, rumors, pranking, and drama as quite different from bullying. Why? “… because when gossip and rumors spread, those who were the initial targets immediately responded by launching their own attacks. In other words, because Chloe and Vicki [teen students] do not see a power differential between those engaged in interpersonal conflict, they do not use the term bullying” (Boyd 137). So, because teens have the opportunity to defend themselves, most of the things which I would infer as bullying, they classify as drama. On top of all that, many teens interviewed in the research behind this book declared that starting drama is a source of entertainment, is often done to relieve boredom, and can help gain attention and increase social standing. Because teens are constantly grappling with how others perceive them, it’s important to them that they get the attention they need, even if that means engaging with conflict. One such conflict was contrived using the app Formspring. While Formspring was intended to be a question and answer forum for working professionals, it quickly turned into a place that kids could anonymously (or not) ask questions to each other. While some of these questions proved to be harmless, others were incredibly harmful including, “Why are you such a [expletive] slut?” (Boyd 141). What’s interesting about this, though, is that the questions never appeared on the social media site of the recipient unless they chose to answer them. Looking further into this, Boyd found that kids intentionally asked themselves questions to attract attention, support, and validation from peers. This is called digital self-harm, and it happens more often than one might think as teens navigate the path to the social status they wish to achieve. This furthers my thoughts that youth need help navigating these deep waters before they drown. Regardless of our wishes as parents and educators, they’re going to have access to these sites in one way or another, so it’s important we teach them to be respectful to themselves and others.

I want to conclude with one of the biggest takeaways that came from this book for me. In 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued, “The internet can serve as a great equalizer,” to which Boyd says, “…just because people have access to the internet does not mean that they have equal access to information. Information literacy is not simply about the structural means of access but also about the experience to know where to look, the skills to interpret what’s available, and the knowledge to put new pieces of information into context” (172). When I purchased this book it was with the intention I’d learn how to help my students safely navigate the dangerous world that is the web. After reading this book I understand that the web is not dangerous as a whole, it becomes a danger to those that are not educated in how to access it for a purpose. That purpose may be to connect with friends, it may be to write for an audience, to pay bills, or to catch up on the daily news. We, as adults, must educate ourselves before blaming social media and the internet for what we can prevent by a good education both on the behalf of ourselves and our youth. The world is ever changing, we need to figure out how to stay connected.