So how do we do this? We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us. Social media is a constant social exchange (for better and worse), a way to maintain important connections and relationships, a place to find support and share interests with like-minded people (especially when you can’t find it in real life), and a source of information that profoundly impacts the way you see yourself and the world around you.
Reflecting on your own experiences
At Cultures of Dignity, we believe that successfully teaching any kind of social and emotional learning requires teachers to ask themselves the same questions they ask their students. Before initiating a discussion with your students on topics of responsible social media use, take some time to reflect on your own experiences with this exercise:
Put a check next to the question if you can answer “yes.” Have you …
• Posted something, then checked repeatedly to see how many people liked it or made a comment?
• Accidentally sent an email or text to the wrong person?
• Been in school when someone showed you a post about you, a colleague, a parent, or a child that made you feel sad or anxious and didn’t know what to do next?
• Had a friend or someone in your family post something that made you really upset and affected your relationship with that person?
• Now write down a few sentences that describe your experiences and feelings to any of these questions.
Look back on your social media posts of the last six months and ask yourself the following questions:
• If a stranger saw the posts you just looked at, what would they think about you?
• What do you want people to think about you and your life?
• How accurately do your online posts and interactions reflect what’s going on in your life?
• Do you take steps to protect your online privacy? How important is privacy to you?
• Is the way you handle conflict online similar to the way you handle conflict in real life? Are you proud of how you conduct yourself in either or both contexts?
How to talk with your students about social media
Bringing your reflection into the classroom
Now take a step back and remember that the majority of young people are extremely skeptical about anything we tell them regarding how to use social media. We have to show them that we are doing the work we are asking them to do. We have to show them that we acknowledge we are affected by social media too. So no matter what you teach—math, social studies, Spanish, language arts, or computer coding—sit down with your students and say something along the lines of:
I know I’m your math teacher, so technically my responsibility is to teach you math, but I also want the time we spend together to be good. And I know that I can be the best math teacher in the world, but if something comes through your phone that upsets you, you’re going to have a really hard time focusing on what I’m teaching you. I want to take a few minutes of our class time to dig a little deeper because I think it’s more than me nagging you to put away your phones and not being mean to someone. So we’re going to take 15 minutes to answer a few questions and then have a discussion. This doesn’t have to be the only time we talk about this. If what we do seems like a good use of time, let me know.
You can do the same exercises above and then have a discussion. Share some of your own insights; this shows them that you don’t think you’re above these issues because you’re an adult. Your goal is to approach the topic from a place of curiosity instead of blame and judgment. From there, you can fine-tune your class agreements about how social media is used in and outside of class.
Remember what you know: When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage. When they see that you hold each of them to high standards and you implement those standards fairly, they engage. When we admit adults’ hypocrisy, they engage. And when they are given a voice to express their own experiences and opinions, they will hold themselves to higher standards then we can ever impose.
[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Common Sense Education.]