In mid-December I chatted with a few colleagues, my Prairie Land Peeps, in an on-line space. We chatted about what we’d been up to in our classes. Mostly we reflected about just finishing up student-lead conferences.
After the on-line meeting, I received an email from my colleague, Toni, “I want to steal your idea that you did with the student that was going travelling with Facebook. What did you do?”
Although I teach mostly senior students, one of the courses I teach is Middle-Years Arts Education. Since these kids aren’t my homeroom kids, I don’t have them for student-lead conferences. A brother and sister in my middle-years class were about to leave for four months. Their parents scheduled a meeting – which happened to fall during some down time during conferences – to chat about their kids. I think they wanted to talk about what the kids would be missing in terms of assignments. But the kids and I knew we wanted to chat about ways to keep the kids connected to our amazing classroom family – so that’s what we did. And J, my grade eight student, took the lead. With his Iphone in hand, he flipped through apps while the adults chatted about the nearly impossible availability of computer access during the upcoming trekking trip. Hence, using our class blog would become a cumbersome task – asking his parents to deliberately stop so the kids could post, and thus the blog might soon offer no excitement for J or for his sister, C.
Then J and I started to chat about what we really wanted his family’s trekking to offer our class. We agreed that we wanted to learn and experience alongside J and C. And we wanted the connection to be as seamless as possible. J, who was still flipping through his apps, found one that uploaded video to Facebook easily and for free. We agreed on a family page created by the kids where J and his sister could bring us along with them. The space offered one where the kids could still lead their own learning, and a space where the kids could teach their peers. J’s parents loved the idea.
Now some people have asked if I was worried about using Facebook in the classroom, the big bad FB. Really, what do we think the kids are doing anyway? But just because they are doing it doesn’t provide justification for its use in our classroom. The truth is, I never had a moment of pause with my students and FB, with this family, or with J, and I couldn’t wait to share this project with the members of our School Community Council either. Why? So they could follow one of our families that we all love and respect on their amazing journey. As you’re reading this, don’t you want to know what the family is up to?
See, I talk to my kids and to my kids’ parents about their connections – because really, it’s the parents who should be talking with their kids about FB, but until the world agrees, I talk. And talk, and talk and show and talk, all the time. And, too, I listen. Positive connections are the norm in our classroom, they see me network, they see me chat, they see me share, with others, with them, and most importantly, in a responsible way. And I share about how I am connected and involved in my daughter’s social networks – the on-line ones, the soccer field ones, the mom-daughter ones and the daughter-friend ones too. I try not to separate. I heard a long time ago about striving for transparency and though they don’t all know my deepest secrets, they do all know my age.
So really, when J got really excited about that free app and making a FB page and looked up at me, he knew he would be supported in taking a new step; he knows I trust him. And he knows he is expected to model responsibly to his sister and to his friends. More than the rest of us, this family has traveled the world and opened connections for their children in every way. Their children are true global citizens. J messaged the other day about his adventure diving for neon crabs along the beaches of Penang with his family; he messaged his classmates, family and community members; he is connected.
That last class period before he left, J and I sat together and set up his official trip FB account. But make no mistake; the account is under his name. “And I’ll connect to you as soon as I get home,” J said. I replied, “And post from the airport tonight too.” He almost seemed overwhelmed with the freedom to use the tool, and with leaving his classroom family. But post and connect he continues to do.
And yes, he has connected to me too. Yup. Connect. Post photos. No separation. What you see, is what you see and what you know. That’s transparency. So three days into his trek when J messaged me asking if he could connect to his extended family, I replied, “Connect, connect, connect!” And before I wrote this blog, I messaged him and asked his permission, “J, can I share your FB page?”
Sharing J and C’s FB story with others has raised a few eyebrows. And it’s true, paradigm shifts can be tricky. Shifts can often require listening, much resilience and much more care. Recently I listened to a radio broadcast entitled “To Friend or Not to Friend [our students on Facebook].” Mostly, the show was a typical pro-con FB discussion. However, this gem popped out, “I care and work with kids, and I need to be where they are.”
Me too. Oh me too! In the same way I hang out after-school every day, and coach b-ball, and edit poems messaged to me at 10 pm on a Saturday night or in the wee hours on Christmas day. I care and work with kids, and I need to be where they are. And maybe, my kids and their families and their community might just need us (teacher-and-other folk) to be there too.
So why not follow along? I mean, at the start of class sure enough, someone fires up the interactive-white board, grabs my lap-top, logs into Facebook and finds J and C. Sometimes only a few students (known as LinKX) are involved; sometimes we all compose a note, or watch a video, or post.
The thing is that it’s just so good, so very good being together, being family.