Just this past summer I received the most amazing note from a student. The best part? It wasn’t even a student I know or who even goes to the high school where I teach. This student reached out to me on Instagram and wanted to tell me the following…
“Hi Mr. Shaw…. I know this might be weird sorry… I actually don’t go to Pville (Pattonville — where I teach)… I would if I went to public school but I go to private school… I just wanted to say congratulations on the engagement! How exciting! I have heard so many good things about you, considering a lot of my friends have had you as a teacher… but I really wanted to thank you for being such a huge inspiration to me as a gay student… there aren’t too many teachers like you in the school system that are out and open about it… I really wish there were more teachers like you… for you it’s nothing but it means a lot to people like me… it gives me hope for my future… thanks for the inspiration you and your fiancé have given me and I wish you both nothing but the best in the future! Thanks”
I was shocked. I almost cried when I read the message, because it was so unexpected, heartfelt and showed a lot of courage on the part of this student. We teachers don’t often get much feedback from students and can’t even tell the impact we’re having on them until years in the future, if at all. So the fact that this student who didn’t even know me chose to express his gratitude really moved me and reaffirmed for me what I wrote about a few years ago on teachers using social media.
I think it’s incredibly important for teachers to be on social media for a few reasons:
- Teachers should feel excited to share their personal lives with students. I used to be scared that students would find out that I had a boyfriend. Or that I love lip syncing in my car and around my house. Or that I love to cook and bake. But these things that I put on social media are not just posts, they’re who I am. Just like I have to get to know students, I should let the students get to know me. It creates more trust and interest in our relationship.
- Teachers must act as role models. They should demonstrate how to use social media responsibly and effectively. I never thought when I became a teacher that I would be teaching digital citizenship to students, but it’s a critical role that I now take very seriously.
- Social media is how students disseminate and gain access to news around school. If teachers want to stay in the know, they need to understand how to use social media. I can tell that I am more in touch with my students because I follow them and get a media outlet into their lives.
- Teachers should also be excited to learn about their students. I see them tweet their fears, hopes and dreams. Likewise I see the pictures they treasure on instagram. It all tells a story about who they are and I can use that information to my advantage in the classroom.
- Teachers should leverage social media as a tool in the classroom to engage students. I recently had students use Snapchat and Bitmoji to add fun effects and put themselves onto pictures used in iMovie projects. I have had students use Snapchat to record their daily routine in Spanish or go around point out places in the city in German. With so many cool applications, social media has the power to change learning and engage students in your classroom. But like all technology tools, teachers must know how to use them and act as a leader in the learning.
- Students should be wary of what they post. They should always be thinking that there are adults on social media who will see what they post and that their posts will be forever. They know that I will call them out if I see something inappropriate and likewise I will praise them on social media when they post positive things.
I never thought when I made my personal Instagram account public four years ago that I would have the impact that I do. Students see my news and talk to me about it in and outside of class, even students I don’t have as students. In this day and age, it’s important that teachers have a digital presence and exercise it to teach their students.