by Charise Kollar
“Miss, wanna take a selfie with me?” Having taught middle school and high school students, I am not a stranger to hearing this request on a regular basis. With the ever-evolving social media realm, students are constantly “plugged-in”, interacting with one another through visuals, audio, movies, pictures, and clips. The craving to share with one another is stronger than ever before, and educators are constantly being invited to the party.
This year’s act of transitioning from the role of full-time teacher to full-time graduate student has brought about unexpected obstacles. Predominantly, one challenge that I did not anticipate being prevalent was my lack of “withitness” with evolving social media practices of students. Unknowingly, the adjustment to graduate school has resulted in the distancing from discovering “cool” new apps and innovative ways in which students use social media to communicate with one another.
Luckily, I was given the chance to redeem some of my lost time in the classroom by participating in a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. This seminar, titled HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership), gives students the opportunity to build on their leadership abilities with the intention of instilling global change in any desired field. The students, who are referred to as ‘ambassadors’, are randomly placed into groups of ten. Within these small groups, the ambassadors participate in self-led, in-depth discussions about the content of the presentations and interactive activities with the help of a volunteer or ‘facilitator’.
Unlike the common, traditional classroom, social media use is sporadically encouraged throughout the duration of the three-day seminar. The entire HOBY community participated in moments of expressive creativity, titled, “Social Media Blitz”. During these times, all cell phones reemerged from backpacks, purses, and pockets. Ambassadors loved having the opportunity to contribute to their individual social media communities. Admittedly, the staff and facilitators also took advantage of Social Media Blitz. Hashtags, such as #SoFLHOBY and #DaretoDeviate, were used to link all HOBY participants. The “wanna take a selfie?” question was running rampant. HOBY pride was everywhere, and everyone wanted to give themselves the HOBY stamp of participation via their social media accounts.
On the last day of the seminar, the use for social media underwent a transformation. The ambassadors were exposed to a social charity called “Feeding Children Everywhere”, which allowed them to work together as a team in order to box over 10,000 meals in less than one hour. The human conveyor belt was assembled, and each ambassador assumed a specific role. While one member of the group poured in an exact ratio of dried beans, rice, and salt into a transportable bag, another member weighed the bag and iron-sealed it shut. And while every role was valued and vital to the packaging process, an additional role became just as prevalent: documenter. Documenting the event on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook became an important step of the process. The ambassadors took ownership of their voices and chose to spread the word. Service is cool. Service can be a rejuvenating, social, and fulfilling process, and everyone should be given the chance to partake in making the world a better place.
Through viewing this documentation process, I began to make connections between the impact of social media at HOBY and the potential impact that it can have in the classroom. How can educators effectively utilize social media to connect students with one another, while concurrently encouraging them to spread the word and promote their ideas, values, and passions? The ambassadors were true examples of proactive 21st century literacy advocates. The National Council of Teachers of English (2013) define the usage of 21st century literacies as being able to “build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought”. Showing students that social media has the ability to not only connect and share ideas, it can also bring about solutions to global issues is a powerful responsibility that should not be bypassed by educators.
The ability to interact with these bright and ambitious leaders was a reaffirming experience that critical thinking skills are alive and well, and that our students are continuously searching for ways to be relevant. Students are learning to adapt to the 21st Century literacy realm, and they are finding any avenue to have their voices heard. As educators, particularly English teachers, we focus on honing the voices of our students in their writing. Shouldn’t we promote this practice by way of social media, as well? Our students are not simply the leaders of tomorrow; they are making an impact today. It is our job to help them in this endeavor and encourage them to take a stance and responsibly utilize their voices in the most powerful and lasting way possible. Let’s accept our invitation to the party.
NCTE Executive Committee (2013). NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/governance/21stcenturyframework