Ellie, Rachel and Dan – Learning that friendships count

Can you remember what it was like walking into school on your first day? Perhaps you moved schools and had to do it a number of times. Or attending the first lecture of your college or university degree? Walking into a classroom filled with 30 other people your age or a large ampi-theatre of 200. With all the benefits we profess about formal contexts, also comes the social expectations of how to behave and who to be. Social norms constructed by ourselves and our peers; and influenced by the society we live in. 

Learning about

I can remember my first day of high school in Australia. Where I lived, you changed schools from Year 8 to Year 9, and not all my friends went to the same high school. We got split up. I’d already been split up from my childhood best friend when my parents moved a few years earlier. This time the school system was splitting us up. Like most children, you don’t really have a say. It just happens. You have to learn to adapt.

On this first day at orientation, I was sat at the back of a large room next to another young girl, Carla Edwards (she’ll hate me for writing this). I turned to her in the break and said (in a very geeky way),“Hi, I’m Kelly. Do you want to hangout together?” 

She looked me up and down, stood up with her bag and said, “No thank you.” Then she turned and walked away.

It took everything in me not to cry. Crying though, would have been worse than having my offer of friendship rejected by a girl who I’d come to learn was part of the popular crowd. It was the first day of high school and the social groups were already forming.

We did eventually become friends. Not close friends, but we chatted and sometimes hung out. We even ended up at the same university for our undergraduate degree. I never did sit with her in the lecture hall though. Unlike Carla, the women and men who did became my friends at this and my second high school (we moved again); and at university, taught me an important lesson.

They taught me that developing friendships i.e., befriending people, is a behaviour. It is how you treat people (and them you). It is not being part of what is trendy or being connected to who is popular at the time. Befriending is a verb.

Learning that friendships count

Years later, as an adult working in a foreign country, teaching at Cardiff University, I’d be reminded again about the true essence of friendship. This time you didn’t ask someone to hangout with you in person, you instead found their profile on Facebook and clicked: “add friend.” If they didn’t accept, there was your answer.

Facebook friendship is formed through “befriending” i.e., friending someone on Facebook. It is a practice “we” enact.

At the time, I was teaching a class of about one hundred students who were studying marketing. For one year twice a week the students would walk into my Marketing Research class and we’d discuss the process as well as the ethics of data in decision making in a world going through rapid social digital change.

It was here that I met Ellie CollinsRachel Williams and Dan Middleton (and their friends).

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Rachel, Ellie and Dan with their friends wearing the rediscoveringfriendship.org t-shirts.

Throughout the year, I’d come to see their friendship in the classroom. Connect to each other through Facebook [1], I’d also see how they supported each other every day outside the classroom.

In February 2011, while in my office, a video posted by Rachel for Ellie appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. It was Elli’e 21st birthday and Rachel had created a video celebrating Ellie, their friendship and their time at University.

The videos is an example of how we enact our friendships by celebrating what we value in our friends. While not new, the way we enact it today is different i.e., we share a tweet, we like an update or we post a video on a friends wall for their birthday, we have coffee and share the photo.

Around the same time media articles streamed into my Google Reeder talking about the negative impact Facebook was having on the friendships and learning of young people. How it was distracting young people from their studies, and the number of friends on Facebook was having a negative effect on their identities and reputations.

The juxtaposition between how I was seeing my students use Facebook to support and encourage each other (and have fun); and media reports of bullying and improper behaviour could not have been further apart. It is not that I don’t think these activities occur in social digital contexts, I know they do. I just think we need to put them into perspective. And instead of scaremongering, we need to collaborate and learn more from young people on what they think and feel.

Ellie, Rachel, Dan and their friends; and the hundreds of students I have taught over the years have taught me a lot, about friendship, about learning and living in a social digital world. How they support each other, encourage each other and yes, have arguments and disagree with each other.

They were also the inspiration behind my TEDxCardiff Talk in 2011 and with their friend Dan, contributed to the blog: rediscoveringfriendship.org. A blog that today has received over 8,000 page views.

 TEDxCardiff 2011: Rediscoveringfriendship. (Not accessible in US)

Ellie, Rachel, Dan and their friends showed me that friendships count in their learning; not friend count. 

In recognition of the many young women going to school, or university, especially those going for the first time, in secret or against the odds, I wanted to pay tribute to them, their female friendships (like Rachel & Ellie’s); and the male friends (like Dan) and their families who value and support them.

Supporting girls/women to participate in education is important for all societies.

In some countries young girls are not allowed or are discouraged from going to school.
But, girls still go in secret.

In some countries young women are not allowed or are discouraged from going to University.
But, women still go in fear. 

While in others, we worry over women not being represented in certain subjects or providing enough senior female role models for their development.
But, women still go to make a difference. 

Why?

One thing that connects these three different scenarios of women in learning contexts, is the friendships and families who support and believe in them. Be it friendships with other girls/women, their male peers; or the parents and teachers who encourage them.

For female learning and development, friendships count.

To Ellie, Rachel and Dan; and female students everywhere and the men that value them, I dedicate this #WOWWales tribute.

Ellie Collins, Rachel Williams and Dan Middleton#WOWWales colleagues, mentors and friends.

Who inspires you?

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[1] Yes I am an educator who connects to her students through Facebook. Like the classroom, as an educator of digital learning Facebook is an important social context within which learning occurs.

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Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales. :-)

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #WOWWales. OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you.

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