Instagram is getting a bad rap right now. And yes, much of it is justified – but the truth is, thanks to this online image-sharing platform I have had a breakthrough with a student that I don’t think would have been possible otherwise.

It started 18 months ago. A student who had completed a year at another institution came to us, battle-worn and without her friends, left behind while they were enjoying college life and progressing.

She had taken an educational hit and was feeling it. But with us and a brand new set of subjects she wanted to find her place and to be successful at something.

And last year she mostly was, with a set of decent grades at AS and a straight progression onto the full A Levels. Again she progressed, doing fine, completing her targets, finishing her work.

But there had to be more. I knew she wasn’t pushing herself, that she still felt worried about making mistakes and was working below her ability. So how to get her achieving at the correct level in these last few months? How to make that leap so her grade could leap too?

Invisible barrier

I did the normal teacher things – gave clear and focused feedback, spoke to her parents and other tutors about how best to support her, and was always positive and encouraging; but nothing changed.

So I tried something a little more dramatic and asked her to re-present all her work, to make her sketchbook slick and crisp, to move away from the scrapbook approach that wasn’t working.

Amazingly, not only did she agree but she did it all in one week; and in doing so doubled the amount of work on each page, creating new content, new designs to bolster the rest.

Good, I thought, we are getting there.

But still, she worked alone, still looked scared, despite the clear improvements she had made.

Work experience I thought. This will help her. So I talked to her of a local interior design company, already offering a placement to another student.

“Show them your work, ask to help out, get used to talking to customers and clients,” I suggested. I knew she could do all this and more, but she was too frightened.

What stopped her? Why couldn’t I get her to see how able she was and what she could do?

A safe space

It was fear. Fear of people seeing her and judging her and thinking she wasn’t good enough.

And that’s when I thought of it: an Instagram account. It would be a safe way to get her work shown, with no face-to-face required.

Still, though, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. I was starting to despair… until I remembered. We have a department account.

Straight away, I did two things. First I put my student’s work on there, anonymously, then I went onto my own social media and asked my friends to ‘like’ it.

And they did – but not just that. They left genuine, enthusiastic encouragement, and praise.

A week later, a new account was following me.

It was my student, and she had started putting her work up herself. “I saw the comments,” she said, with the start of a smile, “and I realised I could do it.”

Of course, we still have far to travel, but from this account she can build her confidence, link in with other local creatives and follow the interiors company that’s 200 yards from our art buildings and willing to take on students to give them experience.

Setting up a social media account may sound like a very small thing – but for this young person, I know a leap of faith is taking place – an act of bravery, and one I believe will bring its reward.

Hannah Day is head of visual arts, media and film at Ludlow College. The department’s Instagram account can be found @ludlowcollege_art.