Outside the Bubble: Encouraging Students to Develop Their Own Dance Community

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Nowadays, social media is a way of life and a way of interacting in a community. Online communities provide a sense of identity, belonging, and opportunities that don’t exist in traditional communities the way they once did.

Personally speaking, I find it easier to find like-minded colleagues online than in my own neighborhood. Here, I am one of a minority group of dance artists that may or may not share the same expectations, aesthetics, approaches, and standards. However, communicating online has led to relationships, brainstorming networks, and opportunities that have benefited my work in my actual community.

Why shouldn’t it be the same for kids?

Developing a community of dancers within any classroom depends on multiple dynamics and sometimes thinking outside the room can nurture relationships inside.

Facebook, Twitter, and fan sites can spur students to follow and interact with their favorite dance artists in ways they may never have a physical opportunity to do. Tracking the commentary and posts of these same artists can lead to a developed sense of trust in the teachings you offer in the classroom. It also opens the door for you to discuss modes of communication, etiquette, and networking.

I always appreciate when a guest artist shares the same information I do but in a new way. With tools like Facebook and Twitter, now the reinforcement of my “truth” can come when I need it and not just when I have someone in house.

In the classroom:

As the instructor, establish a professional account for Facebook or Twitter, and use this account to interact with artists on behalf of the class. In this way, you could follow artists whose work is relevant to your class studies. As the responsible adult, you may contact this artist and inquire if they would be willing to set some time aside to “talk” to your class in an interview type format. This could be done in a real-time chat or in an email exchange.
What to do:

  • Survey the class for questions ahead of time.
  • Discuss which questions would be important for basic information and which might the artist be excited to answer.
  • Create a final list of inquiries.
  • Invite students to pose potential answers based on research they conduct on the artist.
  • Conduct the interview.
  • Compare what they expected to learn to what they actually learned about this artist.

On their own:

Thinking of kids exploring the internet unsupervised is, well, scary but there are distinct benefits.  Students can start to interact with other dance enthusiasts, including some their own age. Soon they will establish their own group of dance colleagues that can offer support in ways their actual friends may not.
Consider the following in keeping kids safe and engaged:

  • Explain to your students the etiquette and risks of interacting online and emphasize that an agreement should be reached with their parents before starting this line of activity on their own time. Parents can help monitor conversations to assure not only appropriate communication, but also thoughtful and productive questioning.
  • Discuss the appropriate way to get an adult’s attention in real life and how it relates to online engagement.
  • Emphasize mannered lines of discourse- using please and thank you, a respectful tone, and knowing when enough is enough.

Establishing Boundaries:

Just as we want students to demonstrate appropriate behavior, it is important to remember that adults need to do the same. Sometimes we can get so involved with our students that the lines between personal and professional lives can start to blur.

Remember your role. You are a teacher, a role model, and a source of information.

Just as it is important for the conversations you and your students to have with artists be professional, the same goes for you and your students. Ethically, it is important to draw clear boundaries between personal and professional relationships.

  • Online this means not “friending” or “following” from personal accounts for students, and maybe even their families.
  • Even from your professional pages or accounts, keep the posts content driven. Keep your comments informational and away from personal opinions that could offend or be misinterpreted.
  • Be cautious of online relationships with colleagues. They may not share the same ethical standards on social media boundaries and this can confuse the lines you have established with students and their families.

Redirecting

In an age where bullying can reach beyond demanding lunch money and name-calling, teaching to positively participate in varying modes of communication must also be addressed. In many instances, the dynamics of the relationships with friends, frenemies, and others at school does not remain on school premises and is greatly fed by online communication after school hours.

One reaction is to discourage kids from engaging in social media but another would be to use it to reach beyond their current circle, hence finding other kids with similar interests, situations, and goals.

When introducing your students to the positive sides of online involvement, address the negative sides too.

How do you expand the bubble?

Heather Vaughan-Southard
Heather Vaughan-Southard is a dance educator and freelance choreographer based in Michigan with rich teaching experiences in higher education, K-12 public schools, and private studios. With an approach of teaching dance as a liberal art, she draws from her experiences dancing professionally in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles to create experiences that move beyond the boundaries of a studio, producing well-rounded, thinking dance citizens. She is author of the blog EducatingDancers, where she chronicles her perspectives on dance and dance education. Heather holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, BFA in dance from Western Michigan University, K-12 Dance Certification from Wayne State University and is the mother of two small children whom never seem to stop moving.
Heather Vaughan-Southard

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