In today’s hyper-political, increasingly siloed world, social media is often pegged as yet another divider—a place where we reinforce our own views and cut ourselves off from others. But for a growing number of teachers, social media may actually have the opposite effect.
Teaching can be an isolating profession. Because, as it turns out, teaching can be an isolating profession. For decades, studies find that while nearly all teachers view collaboration with colleagues as important, most of us are able to spend just a few minutes each day engaged with our peers.
Against that backdrop, social networks have become a vehicle for us to share ideas, best practices and make connections across the country—or even the world.
Our story started in a Facebook group for teachers using ClassDojo, a communication app that’s in nearly every K-8 school in the U.S. We soon learned that teachers in every country use it, as well.
KINDNESS, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT
David was using the technology to motivate and mobilize his community to help rebuild an impoverished Nigerian school. Stacy was looking for experiences to make concepts like kindness come alive for fifth-graders in suburban Illinois.
Along the way, we bonded over a shared commitment to introducing our students to concepts beyond content, cultivating traits like kindness. And we found we had a personal trait in common as well: The enormity of our task meant that we would never feel like we were prepared “enough.”
But because of this social connection we had the chance to change that feeling, bridging that “enough” divide and coming up with ways to inspire each other as much as our students. The students in our classrooms got to know each other through video. They soon found out that they shared similar interests, challenges and aspirations despite the 6,000-mile distance—even though David’s students were surprised the students in Westwood Elementary in Illinois didn’t wear school uniforms!
Our interactions, of course, sparked classroom discussions about what food was like in Nigeria, or whether the American students spoke or studied different languages.
But communicating across cultures also helped our students to hone their communication skills and think critically about the root of their similarities and differences. More importantly, it led to the sort of teachable moment that can, perhaps, only come through collaboration.
That moment began when Mrs. Weber’s class began collecting school supplies, with the goal of sharing resources with Nigerian schools that were far less abundantly equipped. And when we learned that the cost of shipping could exceed the value of the resources they’d collected, our students took their efforts online through a GoFundMe campaign.
Together, we pioneered a sort of “project based” curriculum in kindness. And our students learned that you no longer have to be in close proximity to help out, exchange ideas and share cultures. Mr. Obianyor’s community was grateful for the help. And “our” students in Illinois expressed gratitude for the chance to play a role in his community.
Technology helped to unlock the realization that they had the power to affect change beyond their community. That they began to enjoy—and thrive—on both collaboration and kindness inspired us as not just educators, but fast friends. “We are ‘lucky’ to help,” they explained.
Over time, we’ve begun to incorporate acts of kindness throughout our lessons, and have had many discussions since about what “acts of kindness” look like—and how being kind changes the world for the better.
We’re using kindness as a vehicle to talk about concepts like the “Power of Yet” with online resources that transcend language barriers and cultures.
We’re proud to share examples of how our students are practicing kindness, beyond the confines of the classroom. And in an era where teachers often feel disconnected in a hyper-networked world, we’re hopeful that our collaboration can inspire our peers about the potential to leverage social media for good.
Authors: Stacy Weber and David Obianyor
Stacy Weber is a fifth-grade Dual Language teacher in Woodstock, Illinois.
David Obianyor is a teacher and a member of Corona Schools’ Trust Council in Lagos, Nigeria.
This piece was originally published in Education Post on March 28, 2018.