I'm always happy to talk to my students in the lessons and hear what they have to say. I love all the opportunities to talk to them outside school hours too. Some time ago one of my students created a temporary Facebook group so that we could participate in an amazing project We're on the Air created by Theodora Papapanagiotou. This proved really useful because it gave us more space and time to discuss the stuff related to the project. After having completed the project, we didn't remove the group, though. On the contrary, we decided to keep it so that we could share things related to our English classes.
Most of my colleagues don't have a Facebook account and those that do are somewhat reluctant to accept the idea of having their students as their FB friends. I've heard words of warning, such as that my students may abuse the information I share on Facebook, or that they'll tend to be too friendly to me, or that they will behave differently in the classes. First of all, I never share publicly anything that I might be ashamed of. I rarely share personal information anyway. The aim of my participation in social media is the attempt to build my personal learning network. I'm convinced that my PLN is 100% 'safe'; it consists of people with the same interests - passionate educators who love teaching and sharing useful information, so they could hardly 'spoil my reputation' or discredit me in any way. This means that all my students can see on my Facebook page is tons of comments in English related to ELT and education (if they care what I'm doing at all). I dare say these comments are always positive, polite, and decent, so I believe there is nothing my students could ever abuse. On the contrary, they may well come across something useful to learn. Secondly, I've never felt uncomfortable in the class just because there were people who I had added as friends on Facebook. My students are intelligent and they know where the limit is; they know they must treat their teachers with respect ( I respect them as well after all). And yes, my students behave differently in my classes; they feel more relaxed and more open to share their experiences with someone who is their ally.
From time to time, I also comment in Czech on something my students have shared, which is not related to English or school. The other day I commented on a post on vegetarianism. It was a video showing how cruel people are to animals in some parts of the world. I'm not a vegetarian but I truly respect those who are, and so I felt the urge to express my opinion. From the moment I entered the conversation, more and more young people joined in and the discussion heated up. I soon withdrew because I felt there was nothing else to add, but it was interesting for me to follow the comments and observe the way those kids communicated their ideas to influence others. Some of them left rude comments, but overall, the kids expressed very intelligent opinions.
I believe that if we extend the conversation outside school hours we get to know our students more. The conversation becomes more authentic since we become real partners in the process of communication. We can then use the information we learn about the kids to make formal instruction more meaningful and to create a real-life learning environment. In addition, I think it's fair to give our students an opportunity to get to know us from a different perspective too. As teachers, we ask our learners loads of questions on a daily basis and we expect these questions to be answered. In ELT particularly, these questions are often very personal and intimate. But do we allow our students to peek into our lives as well? Well, this is a rhetorical question to which I already know the answer but you may extend the conversation and leave a comment if you wish :-)
*Goal 8/ Cycle 4