Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sometimes I Bend the Rules

There are two seniors in my Upper School advising group who are sloughing through the college application process.  Everyday brings a new venting, only occasionally a celebration of a milestone passed.  So, it was with consternation that I read a recent article in the New York Times, titled They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweet., about the impact of social media presence on the college application process.  

The opening section caught my eye, "At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., admissions officers are still talking about the high school senior who attended a campus information session last year for prospective students. Throughout the presentation, she apparently posted disparaging comments on Twitter about her fellow attendees, repeatedly using a common expletive." I cannot imagine what this student was thinking, but it made me stop and consider how my own seniors are using social media.  I have made it a policy not to connect through social media with current students but I bent that rule late last year.  

Have you ever driven a car full of teenagers for any length of time?  If you are quiet they forget about you, or at least they ignore you.  You learn a lot, and with a helpful cough or grunt, you can remind them of your presence to prevent yourself from learning too much.  I was invited by a then junior now senior to join Instagram.  I'd avoided it until then but I considered it on her behalf.  Then I weighed the implications and consulted with a workmate.  My colleague helped me see that if I allow a student just that little bit of a window, and I carefully curate what I Instagram it would have the same effect as when quietly driving a car full of kids.  My student would know I was there and perhaps her online social life would in some way be shaped by my presence.  

Mostly I post pictures of my cat and dog, or even a particularly lovely scenic view.  I don't "follow back" but there are a couple of other advisees that follow me.  I'm still wary but I try to model the "if I can't say/post it in a school hallway I won't post it here" mentality.  I was able to stay connected to advisees as I traveled this summer and when I posted a picture of an ancient Greek carving of Odysseus, from The Metropolitan Museum in New York, I was pleased to see that a kid to whom I'd taught The Odyssey expressed comic aversion to my taste in art. I got a chuckle and she got to rib me, it seemed like a fair exchange.  

A minor connection, perhaps too small to note if Instagram didn’t permanently log it, but the long-term effects are deeper.  I hope that none of my advisees is ever so alone online that they feel like no one who matters to them is listening.  



  1. Nice - taking a risk, right? This post reminds me of this post by Chris Lehmann of SLA -

    We can use SM to forge relationships. It's kind of like "flipping" advising - you flip your classroom, why can't you flip advising?

  2. Thank you for sharing this James. Social Media is another opportunity to allow our students to communicate with us and to be a positive presence in their lives.