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.
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