POWER AND INFLUENCE

 

Meet the woman who’s training the next generation of thoughtful influencers.

By Kylie Adair

 
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Photography by Daniel Prakopcyk •

Photography by Daniel Prakopcyk •

It all started with one client—a teenage girl Tiffany Sorya was hired to tutor through an agency.

Sorya was living in Los Angeles, had earned a degree in biology and wanted to find a way to turn her love of learning into a career, so she decided to start tutoring part time. As time went on, her caseload grew and she began receiving private referrals, too. She started putting in hours and hours, often full work days homeschooling plus tutoring in the evenings.

A turning point came when she booked Kendall and Kylie Jenner as clients—the reality stars and social media moguls were finishing high school while filming Keeping Up With the Kardashians and needed a flexible schooling situation. After booking two of the world’s most high-profile homeschooled kids as clients, Sorya realized she could branch out on her own and founded Novel Education Group.

These days, Novel has expanded to include teachers around the world—from Mexico to Dubai and, of course, LA. The company’s clientele is made up of young people working in the entertainment industry, kids whose parents travel often for work, those whose parents simply prefer homeschooling, and teenagers on their way to influencer status—or who have already arrived there.

Heading into our conversation, I was curious about how Sorya manages to make her students care about learning the more traditional subjects like math and english. Why would they care, when they’ve grown up in the age of social media influencers? With the skills, instinct and, in many cases, access necessary to build exciting careers via the magic of social media? In light of the recent conversations around education, privilege and entitlement spurred by the college admissions scandal, I was looking forward to hearing Sorya’s perspective on educating these kinds of privileged spaces.

What I came to understand as we talked is that Sorya’s doing something, well, novel. If ‘influencer’ is here to stay as a career path, and if young people on social media continue to have real and measurable impact on the world, Sorya’s job is to equip the next generation of social media stars with the communication and critical thinking skills to use their influence for meaning and for good.

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Kylie Adair
Tell me about the early days. When did you start to understand that education was your passion?

Tiffany Sorya I really believe that school and education, in terms of purpose, is a skill set. Being a good student is a skill set. It’s not something that’s unattainable—everyone has the capacity to be a good student and everyone has the capacity to learn. And the information that you are learning is still important—I’m an advocate of education, so I really believe in learning about history and things like that—but I want to instil in students’ minds that it’s less about the War of 1812 and more about the fact that you are able to read about the war of 1812 and understand what you’re reading and be able to analyze things critically. It’s a skill set that you’ll carry with you and that will make you more successful in whatever you choose to do.
 
If you are not spreading a message of honesty and realness, people will see through that very quickly.

KA I know you teach a lot of budding social media influencers and kids who work in entertainment and are building platforms of their own, and I’d imagine it’s particularly difficult to make them care about history and math when they’re already on their way to a viable career via social media. What do you do to motivate those kids? What do you focus on in their studies?

TS I think self awareness is really important and that’s something we try to teach our kids. I think being aware of the impact that they have is important—because I actually think quite a few influencers are not aware of the impact they have. I think they see the numbers. I think that they post pictures that they like. But they have a very real impression on the rest of the world, on the millions of people who see their pictures and what they write. So if you are on a career path of being an influencer, it’s really about understanding the pure sense of what that means, which is someone who influences others, someone who can spread an idea. So what idea do you want to spread? I think that’s really what I’m trying to get through to these younger people. What is unique to you? Rather than mindlessly posting things just for the sake of a career.
Because really, in any career you choose, if you’re just mindlessly following that career path, it’s not going to play out well in the long run. So self-awareness creates that longevity. Thinking about, “Okay, what does this mean for me in the long run? What am I trying to do here?”

KA And that’s where the other aspects of education come in, right? Learning critical thinking skills, or just learning about subjects you’re passionate about and that you want to share with the world.

TS Exactly. Having interest in those topics and then actually following through with learning about them and sharing them—I feel like that’s a really big block for the youth who have taken this path without taking education seriously. I see a pretty large discrepancy in the kids who have followed through with their education and the ones who haven’t. The ones who haven’t, just conversationally, there’s a lack of confidence when we’re talking about conversations on a larger level, globally, and how other people could possibly be thinking about the same topics that you’re thinking about. So that’s what we’re trying to hone in on with influencers: it’s important to be aware of things that are greater than yourself, and then share those things, because then you will influence other people to think of things that are greater than themselves.
And I think that’s how we can change the trajectory, a little bit, of what an influencer is today. Because being an influencer sometimes it comes with a bad reputation and it doesn’t have to. It’s a position of power, really. So what are you really trying to do with that power?

KA And what do you hope your students do with that power? What kinds of messages do you want to inspire them to share?

TS I’m really hoping that my students use their position of power and their platforms to spread messages that are relevant to the rest of the world. I think it’s really important for them to be aware of what is relevant to the greater masses and understand that they have an influence over what is relevant. I also think people can see when things are fake and they can see when things are disingenuous—and that’s when people stop relating. I think about: who are the people you admire and why are you a fan of them? Why are you a fan of artists? Why are you a fan of certain actors or entrepreneurs or other influencers? And it’s because there’s something about them that you can relate to. There’s something genuine and real about their story that you feel reflects a part of your own life. So if you are not spreading a message of honesty and realness, people will see through that very quickly.
 
 
Photography by Daniel Prakopcyk •

Photography by Daniel Prakopcyk •

KA What are some ways you teach that sense of responsibility and critical thinking and self-awareness to your students? Any particular techniques or lessons you use?

TS Understanding the difference between confidence and ego as well as self indulgence and reflection is really important. I want my students to be confident. I want them to feel confident to share their opinions and have a voice. I also want them to be reflective about themselves, about lessons they’ve learned. I think that you always have to relate what you’re teaching to a larger and also current picture of what’s going on today. For example, if you are teaching about the civil rights movement, you want to relate that event that you’re talking about to something that’s going on today—and something that affects that particular student’s life. And this is why it’s really important that we cultivate our relationships with our students. It’s really important that we’re matching the correct teacher to the correct student, because we want them to build a relationship where they’re really understanding each other.

Another thing I try to do is attempt to get the student to put themselves in the shoes of whoever you are speaking about, when suddenly they have this ‘aha’ moment when you say to them, “Try and imagine what it’s like to be this person in the past.” And they have this moment of, “Oh, I understand what it’s like now.” Then you’re really creating that self-awareness for them. And in turn, they will want to create that same self-awareness experience for others. So really, you’re just teaching them to take experiences and see how they can grow from them personally and then spreading that message on to their peers.

KA You’ve become an influencer yourself through this work. What example do you hope to set for your students with your platform?

TS I hope to set the example to my students and to all the younger generation that you can have a really healthy balance between being an educated person and also really owning my identity as a woman. I feel like you can have both worlds and the two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I don’t want to feel like I can’t speak about hair and makeup and fashion just because I’m an educator. I also don’t want to feel like when I speak about hair and makeup and fashion that things like my marriage or my validity as an educator is going to decrease in any way. I don’t really feel like there is a platform right now in the influencer world of someone who is able to really represent both sides. And that’s what I want to show my students that they’re able to do—that if they are in entertainment or they’re a young entrepreneur, that education will only enhance that and that being a good student is something they can be equally as proud of.
 
 
It’s important to be aware of things that are greater than yourself, and then share those things.
 
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Kylie Adair is the editorial director at kaur. space. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and human rights and a miniature schnauzer named Dot.

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