While rereading the Raven Cycle in preparation for the final book (The Raven King, released this spring) I discovered the author, Maggie Stiefvater, had social media accounts and a dedicated fandom. The way that Maggie interacts with her fandom is reminiscent of the way that I strive to interact with my students and I couldn’t resist drawing some comparisons.
Not sure what a fandom is? Try a Google image or Pinterest search. It’s a fun rabbit hole.
Looking at traditional school from an outside lens is beneficial, and I think that lens of fandom is just plain fun. Sometimes we are just too inside the system to get outside of it’s constraints; Maggie Stiefvater’s social media interactions helped me see beyond those constraints.
I hope for my students to be fans of learning and making connections. They might come to my classroom wary of science or school, and I want to welcome them, give them choices, and empower them.
Maggie’s fandom isn’t required to show up like my students, but they do show up in droves on social media and at her events. I want my students to flock to my classroom and to learning the way that Maggie’s fandom flocks to her social media accounts. So here’s how I intend to do just that!
1. Get to know your characters (again and again).
Readers ask Maggie fantastic questions about her characters and she often answers them (to the delight of her readers). One reader asked which Disney characters each of the Raven Cycle characters would be, and she responded. Another reader turned that response into glorious fan art.
These character questions would make fantastic get to know you questions for students. I will be rewriting my current Get to Know You paperwork post-haste with questions like:
- What Disney character are you?
- What is your sign (astrological or otherwise)?
- What Hogwarts house do you belong in?
I’m planning to add in one of these questions on a weekly basis next year to be more intentional about getting to know my students every day, not just in the first few weeks.
2. Meet them where they are.
You can either spend your days teaching students how to contact and interact with you in ways that you prefer, or you can meet them where they are. While many authors have sales-based websites and a Twitter profile, Maggie Stiefvater goes a good deal further. She is also active on Instagram and, notably, Tumblr: a paradise for fandoms everywhere.
In my classroom, this looks like interacting with students on our class Instagram and trying to figure if I can integrate SnapChat into school-based communication. Instead of battling over figuring out email attachments, students send me direct messages on Instagram: I’m happy, they’re happy.
3. Show them that you care.
Maggie wrote a lengthy guide for introverts planning to attend her book signings. She recognized that a large social gathering would be a challenge for some of her readers, and she created a guide to help them get to the book signing and come out unscathed. I should probably write a similar guide for students who are afraid of lab reports or exams.
Don’t assume that your students know that you care about them, many will assume you don’t care until you prove otherwise.
4. Listen carefully and respond honestly.
“My parents kicked me out, where do I go?”
“Why did you call my mom?”
“I’m never going to be good at this.”
“What do we do if the shooter gets into our classroom?”
“I can’t read this.”
Teachers are faced with hard questions and painful comments and kids deserve good answers that are filled with as much honesty and sincerity as we can muster. The questions students ask and the comments they make often carry more weight than meets the eye. While the examples above are obviously weighty, sometimes a simple “Will there be homework tonight?” is filled with anxiety about an after school job, caring for siblings, or lack of internet access.
5. Be the multifaceted individual that you are.
I am a teacher (and a wife, friend, student, blogger, scientist, entrepreneur, bibliophile, Harry Potter superfan, etc.). You get to be all the things! You don’t have to let one of them define you. You are more than the title on your business card, and it’s not only acceptable but wonderful for your students to know that.
6. Acknowledge and accept imperfection.
I am not a miraculous omniscient being simply because some of my time is spent at the front of a classroom. I make mistakes, ranging from copying the wrong handout to that one time that I taught cut banks and point bars backwards. I think my students need to see that I am imperfect and it is safe for them to be imperfect as well.
In the grander scheme of things, I continue on the road of imperfection. Just because I am supposed to be an “adult” at this age, doesn’t mean that I have everything figured out. Telling kids that getting a diploma quickly followed by post-secondary education is the road to happiness and prosperity is a straight up lie. This glosses over relationships, career and personal goals, and taking the time to find the multitude of things that make you happy.
7. Make sure it’s about the HOW.
Reading a book, like a lesson, is about the how more than the what or the journey more than the destination.
The joy and art of teaching is in creating a journey with your students (the how) that leads to high levels of understanding and engagement. The better that journey, the more students will be able to understand. While an author thinks about the experience the reader will have, teachers need to consider the experience that students will have in their classroom.
8. Be open to the fanart and fanfiction.
Hear me out! I have great respect for authors that encourage fanart and fanfiction; they have true confidence in their own work and in their fans. While Maggie has written canon, her millions of fans want to express their love for her work and let their own imaginations fly free.
I create boundaries in the same way that original authors set the parameters of the world within their novels; fanart and fanfiction creators work within those parameters. While I plan learning experiences, I also set parameters but try to give students opportunities to create their own learning experiences within those parameters. This might mean providing multiple assignments that would allow students to reach the same understanding or allowing them to propose an alternative assignment based on their interests.
Students need to be able to make decisions (in general and) about their own learning, with some parameters, or if they are ready, without them. Classroom fanfiction is students taking control of their own learning and asking for new and different opportunities within the parameters that you have set.
9. Make them hungry for the work.
Not for food, for whatever you have to offer. Tweets and Tumblr posts about major character deaths and plot twists in the Raven King drove fans to distraction. Proof: The first printing sold out in less than 48 hours.
Students should have this kind of enthusiasm for your class. I cherish the days where they clamor to come in and get right to work. Right now, it’s not happening every single day, but that is the goal.
Keep in mind, the kind of enthusiasm that led to the Raven King selling out didn’t magically happen over night, Maggie got fans excited on Twitter and even completed a reader countdown to release day challenge along with many readers on Tumblr. How do you create excitement and anticipation in the classroom?
10. Give them what they want.
Maggie’s fans simply reach out on social media to tell her what they want, when are you giving students opportunities to tell you what they want? I survey my students at least 6 times a semester to give them an open forum to share their opinions and ideas. I have made drastic changes to instruction based on their feedback.
Students wanted to eliminate points on a certain type of assignment because they felt it encouraged completion rather than thought – we eliminated the points that day. They loved a new kind of test corrections, we never looked back. Someone wants to sit on the floor or counter? Do it.
My students know what they want and need and I genuinely try to give it to them, with the exceptions of candy, soda, and coffee.
11. Set clear boundaries.
While the digital world breaks down barriers, know your limits and share them with others. A classroom, like a fandom, is not a place for sharing absolutely everything; it is up to you to determine, clarify, and communicate those boundaries. This might mean no email after dinner or only staying after school one day a week; we can’t all ask for a Ferrari!
12. Think about the message you send.
Maggie Stiefvater has also given a TedTalk, “How Bad Teens Become Famous People.” While it is not commonly referenced in the way that Ken Robinson or Angela Duckworth are, I think it is a worthwhile watch for educators.
Think about the labels that you have for yourself and those that may exist for your students. Then think about how to approach them like a fandom and help them choose their own box.
If you found Maggie’s tweets entertaining, you should follow her on Twitter and also find her books at your library, local bookstore, or on Amazon. If you found this post entertaining or relevant to your teaching, you should let me know in the comments!