If you are reading this right now, chances are you have a social media account that you use for your work as an educator. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram... it doesn’t matter which platform you use. That social media account is an often underutilized tool that can give your students access to an authentic, global audience. We should be leveraging these accounts everyday to show students that their ideas and stories are not completed to fill their teacher’s grade book, but to actually have an impact on people they will never meet and even potentially change the world.
Before social media ever existed, when I was in 8th grade, I signed up for my school’s journalism class. Every month or so, we would put out Paw Prints, a school newspaper that covered school issues and popular culture. In order to get our stories published, we would pitch article ideas to our classmates and, when eventually approved by our teacher, we would work on writing them.
I happened to take this class right around the time that the Internet was beginning to make its way into everyone’s homes. A few weeks earlier, I had convinced my parents to get Compuserve (AOL’s cheaper competition) in our home and, suddenly, I found myself connected to a whole new world.
I instantly knew what I wanted to write about for the school newspaper. I pitched the class on the idea of comparing and contrasting two competing websites for a monthly column. The first article I proposed would be a comparison of our two local Bay Area newspaper websites - the Contra Costa Times versus the San Francisco Chronicle.
Look at those websites. What a time to be alive.
In the end, I determined that the Contra Costa Times website was the winner. It had more local stories and, yes, I just happened to be a paper boy for them. The deck was stacked against the Chronicle all along.
Paw Prints came out later that month and, despite my enthusiasm, the reception was underwhelming. Not a single person stopped me in the hallway to congratulate me on my hard hitting journalism. Apparently, there would be no Pulitzers Prizes handed out that month in the category of middle school website comparisons.
A few evenings later, my home telephone rang during dinner. My parents told me someone wanted to talk to me. There was an adult on the telephone. I assumed I must be in some sort of trouble. Adults don’t call middle school students during dinner time unless said middle schooler is in trouble, right?
I was not in trouble. On the phone was a marketing representative from the Contra Costa Times. They had read my article in Paw Prints and wanted to know if they could use it as a advertisement in their printed newspaper as a way to draw attention for their website.
A photographer came to the house and took a photo of me standing next to my family’s Compaq Presario desktop computer. A few days later, I found myself staring at my picture and my writing in our local printed newspaper
It sounds so cliche to say, but this is the moment I became a writer. This was the moment that I realized that my words were worthy of being read. This was the moment that I realized that I by putting thoughts on paper, I could have an impact on other people.
At the time, in the mid-nineties, I was the only student in my journalism class who had this opportunity. To have written something not just for my peers or for my teachers and their menacing grade books, but to have written something for the world. In 1997, it felt like a wholly unique experience for a middle school student.
Today, as we all know, everything is different. In a moment, with just a few taps of our thumbs and a quick picture snapped, we can give a student the opportunity to have the same type of genuinely authentic audience.
In the next few days, look for a student who really poured themselves into their work. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is a creative endeavor that your student has created. Not a worksheet, not a multiplication time test. Something that they did not just complete, but actually created from their heart.
Take a photograph of that work and share it on your social media account that you use for your work. Make sure you follow your organization’s rules for social media posting. Maybe it means blacking out their name so that they cannot be identified (this is a great opportunity to teach about Nom-de-Plumes if need be). Or maybe it means posting it front and center on your classroom webpage.
This one time, don’t share everyone’s work. The moment that everyone’s work is simultaneously shared, it dilutes down the experience for each individual. It doesn’t have to be the best piece of work in the class. Just choose one student who could use the boost and share their work with the world.
Right before you hit send, show them what you are doing, and say these words to them.
This work is so amazing and inspiring that everyone, not just the people in this classroom, should have the opportunity to read and learn from it. I am so proud of you and how you have grown.
It is amazing how we take pictures of kids' work and share them on social media without ever telling them what we are doing or why we are doing it. When we don’t communicate these things to our students, we miss an opportunity to give them their Paw-Prints-Article-in-the-Real-Newspaper moment. We need them to realize that the goal of their work and their ideas is not to obtain a rubber stamp or that checkmark plus in a grade book next to their names. The purpose of their work is to grow and share their ideas with their community and the world.
Today’s access to authentic, global audiences is a gift that we can share with our students. There is no moment more joyful than hearing that your work matters and is worthy of being viewed by people you will never meet.
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