Empowering your students to meet new people

I don’t travel very frequently, especially by myself.  So when I do, I combat the anxiety by talking to people. Literally anyone who has the fortune (or misfortune) of sitting beside me on a plane or in a waiting area or on a tram–you get the idea.  I get lots of recommendations for restaurants and places to stay, but occasionally, I have unexpectedly awesome conversations with people I would never have had if I hadn’t embraced the opportunity to talk to a complete stranger.

I met a shipping company owner, who told me about the small country, Suriname, and the unethical (as well as dangerous) logging practices happening there which he experienced.  I was fascinated by his stories.

I met an engineer whose passion is to travel the world to participate in Caribana festivals. I had no idea this was a thing and that anyone can join a team and participate.  Check out this example.

I met a PHd candidate in Veterinary school specializing in Dairy Farming who is a part of a summer institute where he is visiting dairy farms throughout Canada and the US to learn about innovative farming practices.

I met an educator in an independent school who has organized ISEEN–an organization dedicated to experiential learning in independent schools.

I met an IT consultant working for the New Mexico Forestry Department (and Uber driver) who shared the struggles and the strategies they use to try to contain forest fires.

All this learning didn’t not include the many number of educators whom I actually met at my IB workshop from across the globe.

And then on the plane, I was reading Participatory Culture in a Networked World, and this quote by danah boyd  on page 87 jumped out at me:


One of the main points brought up in the book is that people (but especially kids) tend to stick to their same interest groups when they are on social media, but that when we open them up to new possibilities and new people via these networks, that there is the potential to level the playing field and allow for greater opportunity for some who by reason of socio-economics, geography, or ethnicity, might not otherwise have access.

How are we allowing our students to Engage with New People?

Today there is a definite pronounced “stranger danger” fear narrative that is associated with both face to face interactions and the use of social media. When it comes to social media, this is likely because parents and teachers don’t actually know what kids are doing online. What we do hear is the frequent negative instances of social media gone wrong, and yes, it can go wrong. But technology and social media can also promote participation, civic engagement, and allow kids to meet with experts and other other classes.

danah boyd explains this uneasiness well in, It’s Complicated the social lives of networked teens.  She says,

“…[m]any adults fear networked technologies for the same reasons that adults have long been wary of teen participation in public life and teen socialization in parks, malls, and other sites where youth congregate. If I have learned one thing from my research, it’s this: social media services…are providing teens with new opportunities to participate in public life, and this more than anything else, is what concerns many anxious adults” (boyd, 2104, pg 24).

Other research suggests that there are positive benefits of integrating social media (Hadewijch and Verdgem, 2013)  for teaching and learning.

Technology and Social Media–Tools for Connecting Students to New People

The Digital Human Library

I am honoured to be a part of the Digital Human Library, founded by Leigh Cassell.  Here, you can connect with experts from a variety of fields so your students can talk to them, ask them questions, or work along side them.  It provides a unique opportunity for experiential learning   You can meet a museum curator, a symphony conductor, or an artist without having to leave the classroom!

Twitter and Google Plus Communities

There are so many people from all walks of life on Twitter.  It’s the perfect place to initiate a connection which can then be developed via other technology.  Check out this resource if you are new to Twitter. Similar to Twitter, Google Plus Communities offer teachers a plethora of opportunities to connect with people, organizations, or other classes.  Both platforms offer a search bar and communication can happen in real time which provides a rich and authentic learning experience.

Google Hangouts and Skype in the Classroom

Whether you choose Google Hangouts, Google Hangouts on Air or Skype in the Classroom, it is now easier than ever before to live stream with the connections you make, either personally or via social media.  Check out the Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts on Air tutorials I have created here.

We no longer have to work within the strict confines of our schools to meet new people, nor to we have to necessarily go on a trip.  We have the opportunity to connect students to the world and make our Curriculum come alive for students right now by a simple search or by clicking on a link.  Once they realize that they can voice their opinions and ask questions of adults and their questions are valued, they will increasingly gain confidence that their voices matter..

How do you help your students to engage with new people?



boyd, danah (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale
>University Press.

Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.

Vanwynsberghe, Hadewijch, and Pieter Verdegem. “Integrating social media in education.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013). Academic OneFile.

Leave a Reply