What’s Trending Now?
My 8th grade son came home from school and shared that someone had ripped out all of the soap dispensers from every student bathroom in the entire building. He said the whole student body was talking about it. Yes, the TikTok trend had hit his school.
Schools across the country encountered vandalism, theft, and property damage. During an already-extended season of overwhelm that so many educators and leaders are enduring, this felt like an added weight on our shoulders. This felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. It had us asking questions like Who was going to fix the damage? Who was going to pay for the repairs? How can we continue to trust students during these moments?
My son went on to express frustration that no one was allowed to use the bathroom until the issue was resolved. Only one bathroom would be available, and it was on a different side of the building. We shared a lot of conversations about how this caused a disruption to him, to his classmates and peers, to all of the adults in the building, and also alarmed the whole community.
How Has This Trend Impacted School Communities?
I watched as teachers, principals, custodians, parents, social workers, psychologists, and community members posted across social media feeds, sharing the various ways that this trend had impacted their schools and districts. It felt disheartening. There was an overwhelming sense of frustration. What could we possibly do? Can we implement a ban on social media usage? Can we confiscate cell phones in schools? Can we start a campaign to ban TikTok?
Rumors of ongoing “pranks” or TikTok challenges are now popping up, claiming that the October “challenge” is to slap a teacher and record it, although the middle schoolers in my life assure me that no such thing is happening: “Someone is messing with you to get teachers panicking.” Either way, we need to have discussions with students about this. Where do we start?
Using Social Media For Positive Trends
Let’s start by acknowledging that social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s truly a network system that many of us rely on to stay connected and feel connected to friends, families, and yes- sometimes, strangers on the Internet.
Let’s also acknowledge that many times, the power of social media can be a very positive thing. For example, I utilize social media to help foster puppies get adopted to loving owners. I’ve used my social media platforms to help me get much-needed supplies for my classroom. My Twitter friends have helped me through some really challenging days in the classroom. My Instagram feed keeps my creativity flowing! My Spotify playlists keep me motivated during a workout. My Facebook feed helps me learn about new resources to use in my instruction. And yes, my TikTok feed can provide me with some lighthearted laughs sometimes.
How do we ourselves navigate the waters of social media- that includes the good, the bad, and the downright awful? Let’s open up spaces for dialogue in our learning environments. Let’s have students talk and reflect.
I designed a lesson for teachers to use in their classrooms. There is a Google Slides presentation with an attached link to a printable (or downloadable) note-taking document for students. The presentation guides students through a brief reflection that identifies the trend, shares how it has impacted their classroom or school, and asks for details on how it has disrupted the flow of a school day. It also asks students to reflect on other domino-related problems the trend has caused. For example, as a result of destruction in the student bathrooms, students may have not had access to the bathroom for several days while administrators investigated the incident.
Reflection: Don’t Skip This Step
The lesson also asks students to reflect on why they think this may be trending, and provides a space for them to share their own thoughts about it. It also asks them to assume the role of another person in the school system (perhaps an administrator, teacher, custodian, parent, or community member) and reflect on how it has impacted or disrupted their day(s).
Call to Action: Design a Trend
Then there is a call to action. This activity asks students to make a list of things that matter to them- what’s important to them? What causes or interests do they care about? Perhaps they’ve noticed that the local animal shelters have been full. Perhaps they’re noticing that a lot of their peers are feeling disconnected or lonely. Maybe their local food pantry needs help stocking the shelves. Maybe someone feels strongly about getting working smoke detectors in every home ahead of the winter season.
Finally, it gets them creating a trend! The activity asks students to design their own trend, and then reflect on the platforms they’d use, the hashtag they may try, and the purpose it would serve. Who could this trend help?
By reminding students that they have the power to influence positive change in their systems (and the world), we can shift the conversation from the community’s disappointment in their age group to an actionable opportunity for empowerment! Let’s help guide students in making sense of the world around them. Let’s remind them of their power, their voice, their influence! Students already have this power- let’s believe in their agency!
About the Author
Carly Spina has 15 years of experience in Multilingual Education, including her service as an EL teacher, a third-grade bilingual classroom teacher, and a district-wide Multilingual Instructional Coach. She is currently a multilingual education specialist at the Illinois Resource Center, providing professional learning opportunities and technical assistance support to educators and leaders across the state. Spina enjoys connecting with other educators and leaders across the country and beyond and is an active member of the multilingual education professional learning community. Her first book, Moving Beyond for Multilingual Learners, will be released in November 2021 by EduMatch Publishing.