Social media for school has always scared me a little bit. I grew up on social media- in high school, Facebook was new and all the rage with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so many more to follow. I watched friends, family, and eventually my students turn into scrolling zombies with many of these habits trickling into my life as well. If you were to have a conversation with me about social media, I would express a strong dislike for it. Yes, I have and use social media and realize the hypocrisy of that. However, I feel that I am now able to control my usage of social media in a way that I was not previously able to. I’ve watched people’s careers destroyed over a seemingly harmless or once funny post. Before graduating from college and applying for jobs, my university warned students to clean up our social media using the “red cup rule” where we had to go through and make sure everything was clean and no red cups from college social events were in photos. The list of frightening side effects from social media was daunting as a new teacher. So the decision to use any kind of social media as a new teacher was difficult and felt risky.
Why use social media?
The initial decision to use social media was tame- a Facebook page to push out events and announcements for parents. It would be controlled by me and only me. It went over well particularly with parents who enjoyed livestreams, quick reminders, and photos of their students. However, professional Twitter and Twitter chats quickly exploded with administration encouraging Twitter usage for personal professional accounts as well as school organizations such as music ensembles and sports. Twitter was added to my collection of social media with the bulk of consumers being administration or other teachers. Now, almost all teachers in our school use Twitter for their classrooms!
Soon after the addition of Twitter to our orchestra social media, I realized I was reaching most people… expect for my students. Where were the students if not on Facebook or Twitter? Instagram. And with that, Instagram was added to the collection.
For any regularly scheduled school year, I use all of the accounts to push out generally the same information, photos, reminders, announcements, etc. It’s a great way to encourage students, make parents proud, and show off what you’re doing in your program in a controlled way. My rule has always been “if it can get me fired, I want to be in control of it”. So I personally controlled all of our social media which does take time and effort but was paying off in terms of program advocacy and program moral.
Social Media during COVID-19
Fast-forward to present day and the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures. Students, in an instant, are not seeing their friends, shows and events are canceled, and pushing out information to and checking on our students has become infinitely more difficult.
Students who would normally come talk about life in my office with me or their orchestra friends lost their support system. One the day the announcement was made that school would be closing, students were scared and overwhelmed crying in my office. That is an afternoon I certainly will remember for the duration of my career. It was strange, uncomfortable, and no one had answers.
Overwhelmed with the uncertainty of the future, students craved the connection of their peers. The Monday following “the shutdown”, students were going crazy. I’ve never received so many Remind messages on a single day from my students. It was day 3 of the shutdown (2 of them a weekend) and students were already craving normalcy. I had a Zoom meeting with my officers and asked them what they wanted to do about this and their answer was to utilize our existing social media.
We developed a plan that revolved around the usage of our Instagram knowing that’s where the students were. We created a meme bracket challenge, students signed up to do “A Day in the Life” story takeovers, and Tik Tok challenges. It became easy for me to hop on the story and give some reminders, say “Hi!”, and share bits of my daily life. Commenting, which I had previously turned off, was turned back on so students could interact with each other (under a watchful eye, of course). I loosened the reins on my rule about me being the only one with control over the account and gave two of my student officers access so they could post and interact with the followers in more relatable high school ways.
Feedback from the community
Our account’s popularity went way up very quickly. Students, parents, and other teachers started following us and tagging us in posts. I was able to celebrate students who were accepted to colleges and making post-graduation plans. The outpouring of positive content from students was so cool to watch as a teacher. The choir and band students quickly created or revived accounts for their ensembles so they could connect in similar ways.
Some of our students have said the following about the Instagram account since we have been shutdown:
“I like using instagram while we are not able to go to school because it gives us a chance to talk with friends and not feel as alone as we think we are. We are all going through the same struggles and it’s important to know that we are in this together (April).”
Example of a story from April:
Our orchestra program has always been based in tight relationships, teamwork, and supporting others. Students often eat their lunch in the band or orchestra offices. We host many social events throughout the year and, even during our closure, are hosting lunch for students who just want to socialize with each other via Zoom. The fact that the students are able to continue to connect in some way has been a blessing. Our account brings a smile to not only my face but hopefully is a connection for our students. The scary social media monster has helped to keep our students together during a time of forced isolation and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Below is a compilation of many Tik Tok videos, practice videos, toilet paper challenge videos, highlights from Zoom, and Instagram takeovers that have been posted over the last few weeks!
Please give us a follow at @pennridgeorch on Instagram and Twitter for more content or on Facebook by searching for the Pennridge High School Orchestra page! Please reach out to me if you have questions at [email protected]. I’m happy to discuss how you can get started on social media to stay connected with your students!