Intruding. In Public.

Earlier today, I sent a link to a student’s Twitter account to a staff member in the school he attends with a request that she share the link with a counselor in the school.  I read some things that caused me to worry for him.  Nothing too extreme, the sorts of things that kids, particularly young adults in the space between adolescence and adult, say and that are important.  I like this particular student; I only met him briefly in a presentation at a school in the district, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know him a bit better from his tweets.  Smart kid.  Needs some attention.  Worth it.

I find much of value in getting to interact with many district students via Twitter, my preferred channel for such interaction. Our students are online, and they are curious about the world, and they have things to teach us, if we are prepared to listen and learn them.

But sometimes, they will say things that may make us uncomfortable.  When that happens, it is up to us to follow up.  That’s the job.

I was reminded today of a counselor that I used to work with some years ago.  I went to her one day during the semester when I really started to wrap my head around social media and the power of the subscribe-able, bring-the-world-to-you Web.  I wanted to show her what I was learning about my students by following their writings on Xanga and MySpace, their public postings coming into my RSS reader.  I saw these students as people engaged in the world.  I laughed sometimes.  Was amazed on occasion.  Worried for them others.  “What an opportunity,” I said to her, “To see a little bit deeper into our students’ worlds, to engage them as people.  Perhaps counselors could and should be paying attention to these public spaces and learning from them, maybe even catching early glimpses of future problems.”  (Thinking back – and opportunities.)

She was hesitant to invade the students’ “personal” spaces, space that they were sharing in public.  She didn’t want to intrude.

Intrude.

I don’t believe that we have the luxury of ignoring our students when they share in public.  I don’t believe that we should duck away from engaging them for fear of finding ourselves in awkward situations.  That said, I think societal climates suggest we should avoid private connections for a bunch of reasons – one reason I like Twitter as a meeting place.  I don’t encourage students to come to Twitter.  But when they’re here, I do look for them as folks to learn from and with.  And while they’re here, I will treat them the same as I’d treat any other person.  Perhaps better than any other – they’re students in my school district, and I have a professional and legal obligation to them as human beings first, students second.  We all get lonely.  We all get down.  We all worry and lose perspective and have rough moments.  Students.  Grown ups.  All of us.  And we’re supposed to look after each other.

That we avoid fumbling through awkwardness is human, too.  It is often simpler to disengage and to not know what happens in the world where our students will spend 85% of their time.  But it’s not right.

No one of us can pay attention to every utterance.  That’s beyond human. But together, we can look out for each other.  Some students will never reach out to us.  But others will.  What a gift.

I learn from and with students in a different way now than when I was a classroom teacher, responsible for the learning of a certain group of pupils.  Now we learn together wherever we can, in the informal publics of our school district, both the physical world of seminars and workshops and classroom visits and also in the virtual worlds of Twitter and the other public spaces of the Internet.  I’ve mentioned to colleagues that I follow students on Twitter and similar spaces.  Often, the response is surprise.  I always worry about that.

I want educators online and paying attention when a student exploring the public voice begins to share some things that are too often left unshared.  I want those educators and students to trust each other to handle those opportunities with respect and care.  I want growth to happen.  I want it to be good. I want positive and supportive models for students to light the way.

And, yes, I do want to intrude.  Each and every kid is worth the intrusion to keep them safe and vibrant and engaged and with us.

And you are, too.1

  1. A gracious thank you to Michelle Bourgeois, who kindly read and responded to an early draft of this post. []

15 thoughts on “Intruding. In Public.

  1. Bud,

    You’re on fire. I’m going to have learn to cross stitch so I can put some of the lines from last couple of posts on my wall.

    Between you and Milobo, Colorado is looking more and more like the promised land. Any more room over there?
    .-= Tom´s last blog ..Glorified Hamster Wheels =-.

  2. Great post with an important perspective!
    We have been wrestling within our district on the “friend the student” issues. Thank you for speaking so eloquently on finding another way to reach out to our students.

  3. Bud,

    I agree 100% that all students are worth the intrusion. I also get a shocked reaction when my colleagues find out that a students has befriended me online. I do have anything to hide; therefore, I should not have to worry about what I post or say because I would happily say it in my classroom. I look at students being online as an opportunity to help me better understand their world and to be a positive example in thier life.

    Keep up the great posts!

  4. Hmm…yes, wow. Between this and the please block post, I’ve got a lot to think about. I’ll be forwarding these on. Thank you for the compassionate, thought-provoking posts.

  5. This post was incredibly well done and a great piece to share with teachers and administrators -which I plan to do each and every time this topic comes up. We can never forget that our students are people with lives outside of school and that we still care about them when they leave the safety of our buildings. Thank you for reminding me what is important.

  6. I’m thinking of the first years that I did journal writing with my students–I can’t tell you how many people discouraged me from doing this for precisely the same reasons you mention here. I’ve been struggling with the notion of friending or following kids in these spaces for some time now, Bud. This is the first time I feel compelled to rethink my perspectives a bit.

    Here is what I’m realizing though– I am not afraid to know kids in these ways. I’m afraid that those I call upon for support may not respond the way that kids need them to. The same voice that tells us not to engage with kids in these spaces is the same voice that told us not to journal with kids is the same voice that remains silent in the face of the very real problems that students are confronting. If we can keep kids quiet and if we can manage their behavior in our presence, we don’t have to see what’s really going on beneath the surface or deal with the complexity of all of that.

    This is a brave and compelling post, about something that truly matters. Thanks for giving me a lot to think about.
    .-= Angela Stockman´s last blog ..Coaching Light vs. Coaching Heavy: New Perspectives from Jim Knight =-.

    1. “Read like a poem to me.” You are so right, David.

      Bud, this post is one of the reasons why I love your voice in the blogosphere, and why I am happy to know you “f2f” as well. It is this kind of caring, thoughtful, wise and confident–though always questioning/listening/learning– approach that makes you and your voice so vital.
      .-= Laura Deisley´s last blog ..What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? =-.

  7. Bud,

    Thanks for the excellent post. I don’t understand why educators are afraid of their students. Isn’t it necessary to get to know our students to understand how best to educate them?

    Besides there is no law saying we have to read everything a student publishes just because we follow them.

  8. Thank you for this articulate post. You have expressed so much of how I view this topic.

    As I see it, teachers must first join the online community. Too many don’t. They must learn the elements of digital citizenship and collaborative learning first hand. But as teachers we have a responsibility to be more. We must be a person of character whether in person or online.

    As you said: “It is often simpler to disengage and to not know what happens in the world where our students will spend 85% of their time. But it’s not right.” I agree, it is not right. Yes, there will be awkward conversations, tough decisions and critical thinking ahead but our students need us to guide them in their maturing as much as their mastery of content.

  9. I agree with you. Intrude indeed.
    In the nine years I have worked in the public school system, there have been several suicides during that time. I wonder if things might have been different if someone had made the student “their business.”
    ES

  10. Your blog has been giving me so much to think about. You seem to have a solid and strong position on this topic and I think the distinction you make that others do not is that you see (as you mention other places on this blog) all online activity as public space. I think with so much fear about online predators and inappropriate relationships between teachers and students (I was unlucky enough to stumble upon one of my colleagues having an affair with a student), that no one wants to be accused or thought of as crossing any lines. I know I have mixed feelings about the subject so if this seems tangential or unclear—forgive, I’m working through it. I agree with you that it is best to think of our online voices as public ones. And I agree that we have to make sacrifices to do this. I guess my hiccup is this: I think there are different layers of public and I don’t know if I want my worlds colliding. For example, I’m an adult and I might want to do adult things, think about adult things, talk about those adult things. Now, when I say “adult” I just mean things that I don’t think are for the young people in my life. Maybe I would go to a bar and have a glass of wine with my husband. That’s public and adult; but I don’t think it’s really the sort of thing I want to share with my students. Or back to worlds colliding, I’m a mommy to some I know and I might want to talk about breast feeding or poopy diapers—but not with my freshmen boys. They just don’t need to think of me in that light. This has been a bit of a problem I’ve had with Facebook. I have different personas. I can’t decide if this is something that technology should accommodate. I’d like to have different friend circles. In physical public, I’m not the sort to stand with a megaphone announcing all of my business so why would I be that way online? Or should I change? Be more like you and Atticus Finch; be the same in my living room as I am on the street. I honestly don’t know but thanks for giving me a new angle to ponder. It feels like growth which is good no matter what I decide. To make one more comment on something you said, when it comes to gaining info about someone, especially a kid, in trouble, we must take care of each other.

  11. Thank you for sharing this, Bud. I’m saving this as a go-to bit of reading material for when I receive the same sort of responses you did from the counselor. It’s been hard for me to articulate to colleagues WHY we should be in those spaces. I spend so much time explaining it’s okay, it’s not dangerous, how teachers shouldn’t be presumed to be predators online…that I never get to the why. Great schools let students grow and be who they are while also knowing those students and caring for them and creating a net around which they can catch the students when need be. We can create such a net for children online as well. One that doesn’t constrict and trap them, but that’s wide enough to swoop in when they need us.
    Mary Worrell´s last blog post ..Reading the gender binary

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