Connecting with students is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of teaching. In moving to remote learning, educators were asked to redesign their curriculum and employ new methods of teaching and engagement. Educators rose to the challenge with strength and flair that only teachers could muster. In adapting to this new learning environment, many are meeting students where they are – online and on social media. Read on to hear how one teacher uses Instagram to connect with her middle school students during remote learning and beyond!

Meet Gianna Gurga, a middle school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher in Wallingford, Connecticut. Her classes are filled with essential learning related to middle school life skills – cooking, sewing, personal finance, character education, and social-emotional learning. 

In Her Own Words

One of the issues that I experience when connecting with students during remote learning is the fact that there are some students who just aren’t connecting with me or my colleagues. When you focus on the social-emotional well-being of children as your profession, this radio silence is something that is extremely concerning. Fortunately, I work with a great team of school counselors and social workers who can reach out to non-responsive students.

Communication in the Time of COVID

But even for those more responsive students, they have interpersonal and personal needs that may or may not be met during remote learning and social distancing. I have always been  constantly in my kids’ faces (in a good way!), both before remote learning and now. I create Facebook posts for students. I’m consistently posting on Google Classroom and emailing parents to keep them in the loop. I hold Google Meets weekly as a form of fun, socialization and learning for my students. But by far, the most successful platform for me has been Instagram. My Instagram is kid-friendly and consistently active. I even take part in Instagram Live!

Why Instagram?

 The purpose behind creating my Miss Gurga Instagram account 5 years ago was to simply connect with students and other educators. I wanted a space where I could post pictures of my students doing so many amazing things in my classroom and in my school. When I started at my school, I told my colleagues about my classroom Instagram and they thought I was joking. But if I want  to relate to my students and show them  that I am a real human being too, I need to connect with them on this level. 

Instagram is an online community where students are already sharing and socializing daily. And of course, kids love seeing themselves and seeing their friends – my feed is simply the connection point. It has been an  invaluable platform for me, even helping me to also remind students of homework and school announcements they might have missed. All of my Instagram posts are linked to my Miss Gurga Facebook page so parents can stay informed, as well. 

I teach almost every student in my school, whether through enrollment in my class or working to get to know them socially. Students would come to my room to hang out and to socialize.  Now that we can’t be together, Instagram has become a method to maintain those connections and check-ins. 

Keep it Relevant: Why do Students Come to You?

My Instagram posts consist of pictures and videos of things that are happening in and out of school, announcements, and things that I do in my “real life.” I even started my own Instagram “segment” with a hashtag –  #CookingWithGurga – because my students wanted to see me cook outside of school.  

Provide Opportunities for Interaction

I love the poll and question features on Instagram Stories! Sometimes in the caption of a photo, I will write a “Call to Action” (i.e. What is wrong with this? What should I do? Correct answers will get a prize!). Sometimes my former students even respond, which makes me smile.

Keep it Light

My school has been doing a series of teacher challenges, and I have been able to share the videos with my students on Instagram – it has been a big hit!

While this work might benefit my students socially and academically, I truly reap most of the rewards. I have been teaching for 9 years, and it has been so great to see my former students start businesses, go to college, win awards. This platform allows us to stay connected with students even after they have graduated.

Gianna Gurga is a middle school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Dag Hammarskjold Middle School, focusing specifically on Sewing for 6th grade, Financial Literacy for 7th grade, and Interior Design for 8th grade. Gianna shared this Smart Shopping activity to bring real-world learning into her classroom alongside the FutureSmart financial literacy program.