Creating a Culture of Kindness

I spent all day yesterday curled up in a blanket reading Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. It is an older book, but I had never read it before and wanted to read it before the movie came out in November.

I cried about a dozen times. I didn’t make dinner or clean my house. I just read and read and cried. It made me think about several things.

  1. Kids have been cruel since the beginning of time
  2. Bullying usually happens under the radar of a teacher
  3. Many bystanders often don’t stand up to the person bullying for fear of reprisal

I have heard so many people saying that cell phones are banned at their school because of “cyberbullying”. And though I am not saying cyberbullying does not exist (it is so much easier to torment someone anonymously), I know that so much cruelty actually happens in person first.

I know this.

I lived this.

I was recently given the picture below by my mom. I have very few other photos of me from elementary school. If you look carefully, you may notice my eye is slightly off. All I remember about this very important day (In Catholicism, your first communion is an important sacrament. In an Italian family apparently you are supposed to look like a bride), is the hours the photographer had me pose until my eye looked somewhat “normal”. My dress was itchy and it was hot and because we didn’t have digital cameras back then he just took picture after picture hoping one would turn out ok (talk about sharing an edited version of yourself even back then).

I really didn’t stand a chance at fitting in or being popular. Although my face wasn’t “deformed” like the fictitious August Pullman, in the story Wonder, many people would often ask me what was wrong with me. Or “Why are you looking over there when I am right here?”  It didn’t help that I entered junior kindergarten not speaking a word of English and that I wore glasses with ultra-thick lenses. It also didn’t help that we didn’t have a lot of money and that my mom made many of my clothes.

So it’s no surprise that I spent many a day sitting by myself, the butt of every cross-eyed joke, taunted and humiliated for many, many years. My teachers’ responses over the years? Mostly teachers urged my classmates to “be nice to Jennifer”. That really helped. I remember one day in particular when a teacher urged people to play with me at recess. That was the day when my classmates invited me to play hide and go seek. I was “it” and it wasn’t until the end of recess that I realized that they were off secretly playing another game. Another incident that stands out in my memory is when our class got smelly markers for the first time. Remember those smelly markers? Do they still have them? I was invited to sniff a marker .  “Julia” went around a group of students inviting everyone to smell the blueberry marker, only when she got to me, she “slipped” and it went up my nose. An unfortunate accident which was utterly humiliating and had me sneezing blue for a week. The glint in her eye and the snickering of everyone around me showed me that there was nothing accidental about this incident. I could recount dozens of other stories which are etched in my memory.

All of those memories came flooding back when I read the book. Then I read the Professional Advisory put out by the Ontario College of Teachers: Responding to the Bullying of students which tackles bullying (both face to face and online), and includes a self-reflection assessment which poses some good questions.  These points resonated with me and can be applied to both online and offline situations:

INTERVENE EARLY:

Research shows that bullying stops in fewer than 10 seconds – 57 per cent of the time – when someone intervenes.15 Adult supervision and increased presence can prevent bullying. Intervene early and often so that students understand social responsibility and the importance of standing up for themselves and others.

DETECTION
ASK YOURSELF:

How do I detect bullying?

How do I recognize power imbalances among students of all ages that might lead to bullying?

How do I spot behaviour occurring outside the classroom or online that affects students?

How do I respond to smaller, subtle acts such as verbal slights, use of derogatory language and cutting humour that may lead to more harmful behaviour?

How do I encourage students to safely disclose bullying behaviour?

CAN YOU SAY THIS WITH CONFIDENCE?

My words and actions show that I treat students with care, respect, trust, and integrity and that I expect the same from them.

You can teach whatever content you want, but if students don’t feel safe and valued, it won’t matter. Taking time to create a culture of kindness in your classroom will help you save time in the long run.

A few ideas

RJ Palacio’s Precepts from the book, Wonder

The teacher in the book, Mr. Brown, asks his students to free-write based on precept prompts. Here are a couple of examples:

  • When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” —Dr. Wayne Dyer
  • “Your deeds are your monuments.” —Inscription on ancient Egyptian tomb
  • “Fortune favors the bold.” —Virgil
  • “No man is an island, entire of itself.” —John Donne

I really like this idea. Students could use Canva, Google Draw or a paper sketchnote to extend their idea and share and comment on one another’s ideas. They can share these  via the school and/or class social media accounts. They can find their own to share. This could become a weekly or monthly routine in the class.

Classroom Committees

My friend, Robert Cannone,  uses the idea of Classroom Committees. That is, student teams have responsibilities in the class on a rotating basis. They range from eco-team, to public relations team, to classroom design team. What impressed me most is how one of his students, Catherine, describes the experience based on the way Rob :

“Teams are like a puzzle, every person is a piece of the puzzle, and everyone is needed to complete the puzzle.”

Creating a culture in your classroom where everyone feels valued, can go a long way to supporting students who might be on the fringe of being accepted.

Compliment Wall, Kindness Cards

When I met Matt Soeth, from #ICANHELP he shared the power of a compliment wall which serves to create a positive culture in a school or classroom. The idea is that students create a physical board with post-it notes with compliments which students can take and share when they feel like someone needs it. You can extend this idea by creating kindness cards which students anonymously give each other; making note of which students are not receiving one. Extend both of these ideas virtually by inviting students to engage in kindness challenges online through their personal accounts or class social media accounts. If you posit social media of a place where you can “improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others (Couros, 2013), then that is the behaviour you will begin to see there.

Check out the resources I created to complement Chapter 10 of Social LEADiaInstil Empathy, Justice, and Character . where there are lots more ideas about creating a culture of kind in your class or school.

What are your ideas for creating a safe community within your classroom?

3 Ways to Save Today’s Generation

Do you honestly think that I am going to help you save our youth in this post? The real question is, do you, as many other adults believe today’s youth needs saving and the future is in tenuous hands?  Were you drawn to the title because it reaffirms your beliefs about this generation?

My post really should be called, 3 Ways we can address some problematic issues around cell phone and social media use.

I often share the example above. It is seemingly what people believe is wrong with today’s generation. And yet, the real story, is that the students were using the museum’s app to learn more about the painting. The media continues to circulate articles about how this is a lost generation. The most recent, an article in the Atlanta, Have Smartphones destroyed a Generation?

I was glad to see Patrick Larkin, a progressive and innovative superintendent, ask questions about the content of the article in this post to educators, We Need to Talk About Smartphones, and this post to families, rather than accepting it at face value and doing nothing.

The problem with these types of articles is they often paint issues around social media and cell phone use as very a black & white issues, and blame social media use for just about every ill in society. It then becomes so easy to share articles and bemoan the state of the world, rather than use our use our critical thinking lens.

In my book, Social LEADia, I assert that what we call an addiction to social media, is more a dependence not on the device itself, but the friends to which they provide access. This is a main theme of the research and work of danah boyd, in It’s Complicated.

The addiction narrative is quite strong throughout the parent and educator circles of which I am a part, and I am not saying that there isn’t truth to it. What I am saying, is that articles and posts which provide extreme points of view do not help!  Look at the article which literally states in its headline: Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine, says top addiction expert.

The article, published by the Independent also includes the subtitle, “Harley Street clinic director Mandy Saligari says many of her patients are 13-year old girls who see sexting as normal.” and of course, Ms Saligari has an extreme opinion on the matter, she only sees problem cases. My daughters and I had a very frank conversation about this idea which is not at all a reality for them and their friends.

What is revealed in near the end of the article is this:

“If children are taught self-respect they are less likely to exploit themselves in that way,” said Ms Saligari. “It’s an issue of self-respect and it’s an issue of identity.”

The real issue! Sending inappropriate pictures isn’t caused by having a smartphone.

So how to do unpack some of the issues so as to shed light on what we can do differently?

Use social media as a springboard to teach persuasive writing & critical thinking

A lesson I often did when I was teaching persuasive writing in English over a decade ago, was that I showed the students a letter that had been written to Ann Landers bemoaning today’s generation. It called youth selfish, stupid, and lazy. It went on to list everything that was wrong with youth (well before smartphones). Their assignment was to write a rebuttal using a variety of persuasive techniques.  The students were so offended and so were extremely happy to write back. One thing is clear: every generation believes the current generation to be inferior to theirs.

Show students some of the headlines,show them the articles. Then have students write a response to the source. Today, it is so much easier to send their letters to a real & authentic audience than it was back when I did this.

Another great thing to do is have students deconstruct the logical fallacies an article.   Noah Geisel did a great job deconstructing the article, Facebook and Twitter “harm young people’s mental health” in his post, “Can adults with college degrees fall for fake news too?

Start Conversations about Attention and Balance

I see a whole generation of kids who have been navigating online spaces almost exclusively on their own because we have refused to go there in school. Our current narrative prevents us from having conversations; instead we lecture and instill fear and teens, especially those at risk, retreat farther and farther away. Or we ban devices to avoid the problem altogether. And clearly, it’s not working for many.

This article shared by Kathleen Currie Smith, What Social Media and today’s generation did for my teenage daughter really gets at assumptions.  In it, the author talks about her concern with her daughter’s selfie-use and her apathetic friends, only to realize that she may have been wrong when her daughter is home sick and her “Snapchat” friends support her and cheer her up in ways she wouldn’t have imagined. This part stands out for me:

These kids proved me wrong over and over all week long. It was a humbling experience to say the least. Maybe all this technology, Snapchat, texting and selfies aren’t making them all crazy, self-centered bullies. It’s giving them access to each other in ways that we didn’t have growing up and maybe that’s not always a bad thing. I know that sometimes social media is abused and used in hateful ways but I’ve learned this week that sometimes it’s used in the sweetest, most generous ways.

Nonetheless, we know that balance, when it comes to cell phone use and social media are extremely important.

I really like this rubric (please do not use this as an evaluation tool) as a springboard for conversations with students about what fair and reasonable expectations look like. I know at my house, we do not allow phones at the dinner table or in the bedroom. These rules have been in place for years because as a family we value dinner conversations and sleep is extremely important for healthy kids and adolescents. Everything else is an in-the-moment conversation as needed.  A classroom is like a family and expectations that are co-constructed are extremely important for developing a healthy awareness of students’ own media use.

Use Digital Leadership as a framework for teaching and learning using social media

What if we looked at the devices in kids hands as opportunities to make the lives and circumstances of others better (George Couros). I’ve written a whole book on my ideas for this one because I have met so many students who are exceptional leaders in person, and who leverage social media and technology to lead the way for us. When I look at Joshua Williams, Olivia Van Ledtje, Curran Dee, Hannah Alper, Braeden Mannering Quinn, Aidan Aird, and the many other students  (follow them here) I have had the opportunity to get to know and others whom I continue to meet, I recognize that focusing on what our kids can be doing on social media will go a long way.

Together we can help students (who don’t already) see that they can use social media to:

  • Learn and share learning
  • Stand up for causes that are important to them
  • Be a more positive influence in the lives of others.

Let’s model what it means to be a positive force for change.

Let’s not take complex issues and over-generalize.

Let’s listen closely, ask critical and clarifying questions, and give our kids the benefit of the doubt once in a while.

You may be very surprised by what you see and learn.

I am confident that this generation of kids is more than alright; but like every generation before them, some of them just need some guidance from adult mentors.

 

Facebook for PD

I have been on Facebook for as long as I can remember.  It is where I connect with friends and family. It helps me keep track of birthdays and milestones. I know it tracks my posts because I get personalized ads & a memory pic every once and a while which usually makes me melt (even though it should concern me more than it does).

It HAS NOT been a place of learning. At least not until recently.

This despite the fact that George Couros and I, who have had lots of conversations about all things education over the years, challenged me to revisit my Facebook stance. I refused. I was perfectly happy keeping my personal personal on Facebook.  I was content to have my Twitter account completely professional, my Facebook entirely personal, and Instagram, well, that was where I was going to try a hybrid. But that was then. Now I know better.

Your social media experience is shaped by who and what you follow and your purpose. What I was doing was not wrong; it’s a personal preference, and though the nature of what I share is sometimes different, who I am does not change depending on the platform I am on. I am just me.

I have spent so much time and energy trying to bring people to Twitter. And once they realize how incredible Twitter is, they do love it. But over the years, I have also heard people tell me that they just didn’t get it. That the format didn’t fit with their learning style.

Personally, I felt like the connections I had made on Twitter and the learning that I was getting there was more than enough. Besides, I had an incredible, supportive Voxer group too. How much learning could a gal do, after all?

It turns out, I had been missing out on tons! I can still use Facebook for my personal connections, but I can also belong to groups based on my specific interests. In some ways, it’s similar to following a hashtag on Twitter, but in a Facebook group, only members of the group can comment which means you won’t have strangers jumping into the hashtag with their own agenda.

A few groups you may find interesting

The IMMOOC Facebook group, based on the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, co-moderated by Katie Martin and George Couros , was the first group I joined that was educational. There are lots of resources shared about leadership and Innovation by people that I don’t necessarily follow on Twitter and who are awesome.

The Breakout EDU Facebook group provides a flurry of ideas and constructive feedback for people using pre-made games and/or creating their own.

The Future Ready Librarians group (9591 members) and School Librarian’s Workshop (4850 members) are simply AMAZING! I literally put out a question and get dozens of ideas and feedback. This is true for almost every post. Both are very active and supportive groups. But really, how could they not be. Teacher-Librarians rock!

The Edumatch group is an extension of the Edumatch legacy created by Sarah Thomas and made up of resourceful educators from around the world.

My Social LEADia page and  Facebook Group are an entirely new learning experience for me and I am very much enjoying the journey!

Here is what I’ve learned

(that many of you may have known for years).

  • I don’t have to be Facebook friends with people to participate or be a member of the group (unless I want to)
  • there is a difference between pages and groups
  • Facebook pages are being used by more and more schools because that’s where parents (and grandparents according to one school principal) are.
  • You can schedule a Facebook post in a group
  • You can share in just about any form (including Flipgrid) you like and there are no character limits.
  • Regardless of whether the group is public or private you still need to ask to join and need to be approved by a member (it can be any member).
  • There are groups for literally any subject area you can imagine.
  • Hootsuite is a platform that allows you to post to up to 3 social media accounts for free so I can share to Twitter, Facebook and Google + all at once.

 

If you tried Twitter and it just isn’t working for you, try a Facebook group. Once you play and learn there, consider the extent to which a Facebook page or group may work for your school or class!

What is your favourite Facebook group for professional learning?

Talking social media and Digital Leadership (and #socialLEADia Book Giveaway)

One of the reasons I wrote, Social LEADia is I am passionate about sharing the message that social media can and should be embraced and leveraged in the classroom for good.

Whenever I have the opportunity to chat with educators about it, I take it!! I had the honour of chatting with Vicki Davis for her 10 Minute Teacher show about my new book, .

You can listen below.

Vicki is offering a book giveaway for US residents

Enter here. 

Canadian residents, enter here

Winners will be announced on August 16th.

If you have longer than 10 minutes, I also spoke with Stephen Hurley on VoicEd, the other day with surprise guest Leigh Cassell (who is featured in the book).  Check it out here.

As well, for a slightly different perspective, I spoke with Segrid Lewis on the Digital Parent podcast which can be found here.

I am going to keep talking about social media and digital leadership as long as people keep asking me to and I hope you do too! I think the more we engage in conversations around the topic in school, the greater likelihood that we can create a movement towards the positive!

 

 

 

 

Beyond Distraction

One of the reasons teachers are so reluctant to have students use their devices in school is that they fear students will be too distracted to learn and that students are way too dependent on their phones.

I definitely see this behaviour demonstrated in school to some extent,

In my book, Social LEADia, I explore this idea:

Kids are distracted by their phones. Kids are far more interested in what Sally and Johnny are doing at lunch than the War of 1812. They would rather play a game than work on a school assignment. Guaranteed. I was easily more interested in boys than what any of my teachers were teaching when I was a teenager. Even today, I have to admit that I am more interested in what my PLN on Twitter is sharing than I am when listening to someone regurgitate information at a meeting or conference. I think we need to rethink our natural response to this and help students (and adults) develop self-regulatory skills and as Rheingold puts it, “deliberate media mindfulness”…

As a Teacher-Librarian, I don’t have my own class per se, so the line I use most often when I am walking around the Library is: “Is your device helping you or distracting you?” This invites dialogue. It presumes positive intentions. When it’s helping them, students will often show me what they are doing (and this is most awesome, because I have learned so much!!). When they acknowledge it’s distracting, they immediately put it in their bags. I don’t “make” them put it away, I invite them to. I also always share my own struggles with my students.  I will often offer strategies for what I do and invite other students to talk about what they do.  

I also work with teachers and students on self-regulation by asking students to set goals for themselves and having them reflect on how well they met their goals.

But I also want to acknowledge another reality and that is, that what students are doing with their phones goes beyond distraction. Kids are creating too;  we just don’t necessarily see it or acknowledge it in school.

Check out the video below,shared by a friend of mine, about how Steve Lacy prefers to create music using Garageband on his phone.

A friend of mine, Janice Leighton and I were chatting one day about the fact that her daughter, from a very young age, would spend hours and hours a day editing videos to the point that she was worried about her. She tried to ensure that her daughter had a variety of other experiences, but Emma would always go back to shooting and editing video.

Emma recently graduated from film school and is working in the industry. Janice said something that really gave me pause. She said, “You know how Malcolm Gladwell in the Outlier talks about needing 10 000 hours to be great? Well, I really think that all that time I fretted about her, Emma was just working on her 10 000 hours.”

Wow.

I love that perspective & it’s not something I had thought of before.

Do we realize that opportunities today look very different than they did even 10 years ago? Do we see that young people are creating those opportunities for themselves in ways they have not been able to do before?  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned with obsessive behaviour–moderation is definitely important. But perhaps we might need to think differently about what our kids are actually doing with their devices and not assume that they are “wasting time”.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that we are reluctant for students to use their phones to work on projects. A few times when co-teaching, students asked if they could work on their own devices and the teacher at first didn’t feel comfortable with it. I encouraged the teacher because honestly, I know that I feel more comfortable with my own device because I know how it works. We want our students to create without barriers. Sometimes an unfamiliar device can be a barrier.

I think that perhaps I need to change the question I ask my students.  I will now start to ask,

Is your device helping you or distracting you or are you creating something amazing with it?

 

#WeLeadBy Student Digital Leadership at its best

In my book, Social LEADia I highlight a student Twitter chat (@AMDSBKidsChat) created by Leigh Cassell and Nicole Kaufmann. This idea has inspired a group of Ontario leaders (including myself) to organize a province-wide student-chat #ONedSsChat beginning in October. If we, as educators benefit from this format, then it might be a great way to show students how they might use Twitter productively and for learning?

Then a few days ago, I met Isaiah Sterling who is high school student from Missouri, who decided he would like to create and moderate his own Twitter chat: #weleadby. Isaiah sites Dave Burgess and Beth Houf as educators and leaders who took the time to share and support him.  It even inspired elementary principal, Lance McClard to write a blog post:

Will you be that caring adult who supports a student who demonstrates initiative in both online and offline spaces?

Give Isaiah a follow and check out his blog after you read his reflection below:

Reflection: Moderating my first Twitter chat as a student digital leader #weleadby

As a student, I love to share, inform, and grow in my student leadership efforts with the everyday use of social media. Over the years, I’ve done just that. Recently, I was wondering what my next big move in student leadership with the use of social media would be. Something extraordinary crossed my mind, Twitter chats. I always see HUGE Twitter users creating and moderating their owns chats, so I figured I could do the same even as a student. I knew it was time to show my true inner digital leader… Guess what? It worked. Just like Leigh Ragsdale (@leighmragsdale on Twitter) says, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Through all this, #weleadby was born. The chat focuses on leadership in any area of life be that personally, at work, educationally, etc.

It took me about an hour or two to gather the best questions for the chat and create graphics for each of them even though the chat only consisted of four questions! I wanted to make sure everything was perfect for my chat participants.

Scheduling and creating graphics wasn’t all it took. I knew I had to build my participant base! Therefore, I created a post announcing the upcoming chat and tagged well known and respected educators like Dave Burgess and Beth Houf. At first, I thought to myself…”Oh they are so busy!! They won’t see and share a tweet a student leader from southeast Missouri that was trying to share his chat time to a lot of people!” BUT, they were instrumental in helping me build my participant base! Dave, Beth, and a lot more educators helped me build that base by retweeting and telling their followers what was going to happen. Through this, leaders and educators from everywhere started replying saying that they’d join! All I could do at the time was thank them and hope they’d follow through. I’d like to say that this was in a two day time period! Just amazing! As a student digital leader, I knew I had to bring a sense of confidence and belief in this chat! Beth, Dave, and others were so amazing at helping me maintain just that.

There were lots of steps in preparing for this chat.  Before the chat, I knew I’d have to use something to schedule the guided questions that would be used for guests to interact upon. I had some background experience in HootSuite, so I decided that would have to do. HootSuite is yet another social media dashboard tool that allows users to schedule tweets for anytime of the day they’d like. I scheduled tweets with questions and took time to schedule tweets that prepared guests for the next question. It took me forever to decide how far apart I wanted these tweets to be, but in the end I decided five minutes was perfect.

Not only did I just schedule text, I also made graphics for each of the tweets. I used an app on my phone called Typorama. Typorama allows users to create beautiful graphics for anything they wish easily.

I’ll always remember sending out the tweet that mentioned the chat started in five minutes. At this point, I was extremely nervous hoping that people would participate. Five minutes later, my phone and computer would not stop beeping from the overwhelming response. My HootSuite dashboard froze several times due to all the activity coming through. I told myself I should interact with the guests that are participating. Most messages after the guests would reply would be just a quick thank you or happy you joined! If I saw something really appealing, I retweeted it and commented more on their tweet. This happened A LOT. I found myself retweeting and commenting on almost everything that came back in the #weleadby search. I was able to connect with so many great, enthusiastic, motivating, and encouraging leaders from all different locations! I do admit it was VERY overwhelming at first, but after awhile the fire for the why behind this chat kicked in. I want to connect with leaders and want leaders to connect with other leaders to promote, motivate, and engage leadership efforts anywhere in life. Here are some pictures from the chat:

I’ve always been a social media and leadership fanatic. I’m honored to be able to combine the two and show my student digital leadership! What an amazing experience I know’ll known I’ll never forget.

Isolation, Connected Learning, and Perspective

I have spent the last couple of days in Atlanta for IB training and met some incredible educators from the Atlanta area as well as from Chile, Tortola, and Israel. One of the hallmarks of IB, is International Mindedness.

And yet, although there were some great face to face connections made a the conference, there was very little reference to how we might connect each other virtually. I was very much aware of the few educators who were connected on social media, and how few of them connected their classrooms to experts and other classrooms. Unlike most of the conferences I typically attend, there was no hashtag so I could connect with others. In my own workshop, we had an email list.

This fact was evident to me at the onset. The keynote was extremely good, and showcased an inquiry project in which students became invested in better understanding the Zika virus and yet when it came to the “take action” piece (part of the IB framework), there was no move into the community, no connection with experts.  The learning, though very rich, stayed in the classroom with the students. The speaker acknowledged that for next year, the “take action” part will be expanded because a student asked to share the learning with others.

When we had the opportunity to “turn and talk”, I shared how frustrated I was that the “take action” part of the assignment being showcased did not allow students to connect with an authentic audience; to take true action in their community and beyond. The learning literally stayed in the classroom with the students. Before long I connected this math teacher who had never used Twitter for learning with greats like Dan Meyer, Jo Boaeler, Alice Keeler, and my own colleague, Diana Santos. He shared that it never occurred to him to use twitter like that.

This made me ponder the statement, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” which I have heard George Couros say often. And it’s true. it is a choice. Sort of…

In the following Twitter exchange initiated by Cliff Kraeker referring to a post by David Truss, there was a question as to why some teachers are not open to connecting (by entering into each other’s classes both face to face and virtually). The consensus seemed to be fear.


But I am going to propose an alternative reason. That in many cases, people don’t know what they don’t know.  This was certainly true for the math teacher.

In my workshop session in particular were teacher-librarians who felt very isolated because they are the only people in their role. And every time I showed someone how they might use Twitter or Facebook for professional learning or to connect a class around an idea, or culminating activity, the teachers I spoke to were very much open to it; it just hadn’t occurred to them to do that. At one point, we were sharing resources and alternatives to databases and I offered to pose the question on Twitter. Within minutes, teacher-librarians from my PLN responded with a plethora of suggestions. Check them out here. You could tell that the teachers in my session were quite surprised.

One moment in particular stood out to me. The Teacher-Librarian from Jerusalem, Israel was drawn to a book called Jerusalem and as she looked through it, she was shocked at the many stereotypes it perpetuated. She shared her concern with me and I suggested she mention it to the Teacher–Librarian (it would be impossible to know the contents of every book in the Library connection).  In our conversation, Michelle made a very significant observation. She said, as teachers and teacher-librarians we seek to buy books from diverse perspectives so as to ensure we are being internationally minded and honouring the diversity of our school population. The question is how do we know if there is an inherent bias? We have no real way of knowing because we have a limited understanding of other cultures and places.

Mic drop.

So what would stop us from sharing a book title with a class from another culture to have them look through the perspective and biases and share their ideas with one another?  I suggested having students create alternative passages, sharing them with each other and affixing a QR code or URL link to the alternative perspective created by the students. We both got so excited about the idea and how easily we could actually accomplish that using technology and social media.  What an incredible learning experience for everyone!

People aren’t necessarily afraid of doing that, they just don’t think of doing things like that.

I hope that my book, Social LEADia will help to provide ideas, but I also think it requires all of us who are connected to passionately share how transformational that experience can be for both ourselves and our students, to explore what is possible today that was difficult to accomplish before,  and not necessarily assume that teachers are too afraid to do this.

Making a Positive Impact

Have you ever had a summer cold? Happens to me every year! This year, it seems particularly awful! I’ve been feeling miserable for days and even more so because I had to cancel plans with my Book Club on Friday AND give up the opportunity to go see Ed Sheeran on Saturday! We also had tentative family plans to go to an Escape room today which everyone convinced me was not a good idea because I’d be sneezing and coughing on everything.

So to say that I have not been in the best mood the past few days is a bit of an understatement. And yet now, at this moment. My heart is bursting with love and joy.

Why you ask? Because of a 9-year girl and her messages (both public and private) on Twitter.

Now granted, Olivia Van Ledtje is not your average 9 year old. She is a force of positivity and all that is good in the world (the analogue AND online world).  She is inspiring and hopeful and one of the students I feature in my book, Social LEADia. She calls me her #CanadianTeacher 🙂 Olivia is proof of how students are not waiting until they grow up to lead and certainly how positively they can impact others! And her voice, among the other powerful student voices in the book epitomize the importance of student voice–not just as an idea we talk about in education, but as essential and valuable to teaching and learning.

It may have taken her all of 10 minutes to actually create a video and share it with me, but she didn’t have to. However, in so doing, Olivia made such a positive impact on me today!

This is in fact the core of the book based on George Couros’ definition of Digital Leadership: to use social media to improve the lives, well-being and circumstances of others (2015).

One of my favourite quotes by Leo Buscaglia goes like this:

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, and honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

I think that it is essential that we apply this to our face to face dealings with people, but I think we underestimate the extent to which we might do this virtually as well. It does us well to remember that behind our screens are vibrant, complicated, wounded and/or wonderful people. Everyone could use a kind gesture.

Here is Liv’s video:

How might you make someone’s world brighter today?

Sink or Swim: Ongoing conversations

The other day, I had two simultaneous conversations on Twitter. One, with a group of educators and one with a high school student, Gabe Howard whose vignette is featured in my book, Social LEADia. This post is me trying to work through my thinking on the very important topic of inappropriate apps.

On the adult side of the conversation, Bethany Hill posted a reference to the statement made from a student to George Couros based on his 2015 post, Drown or Swim? This was followed by the advice by Kimiko Pettis that in some cases, “scaffolding” is important (to extend the metaphor, see the pic of pool tubes & noodles. Then Mr. Vince continued (and pushed the metaphor) saying, “Pool fencing is mandatory. Don’t forget that we do close pools. Some SM apps are totally inappropriate.”

Mr. Vince sited the Spotafriend app which seems to be a place for teens to engage in “dirty chat”.

You can see the full convo here.

Like I said, I was simultaneously engaged in a conversation with Gabe Howard  (10th grade) on DM. He told me about the Amino app.  I had never heard of it.

Here is an excerpt from our conversation (used with permission)

I am passionate about gaming and specifically, game related fictional writing. I have had many of my stories featured on . The app is free on your iPhone, I’m not certain you will be able to access them on the website. I have always enjoyed writing. I have been writing and publishing my work online, for almost 2 years now. I enjoy unleashing my creative juices and ideas to my audience. Some of my pieces have had 500 -2,000 likes and much feedback. Most importantly, its therapeutic for me. I have mentioned to you that traditional school does not provide the creativity that some students crave.

Amino is a social media app similar to Twitter or Facebook, with a little unique spin in the forms of various communities. The main drawing point for Amino is individual communities unique to a specific interest. For instance, there are specific communities for Movies, T.V. Series, Video Games, Art, Writing, and the list goes on and on. I

You can do many things on Amino, ranging from blog posts, polls, public chats where you can talk to online people, and many other options. You can follow other users, gain reputation points by posting more content and being nice in the community, and see the latest posts made by others. I use the app as a way to express my interest and personality as a writer, posting various projects that are “featured on the front cover” of the community. Basically, it’s a way for people who enter a community to see the latest and most stunning pieces of art or other content. Amino is very tricky to be apart of, you need spend more time on it if you play a major part in a community. I am a leader in one community, and the people who made the app (Team Amino) require that the leaders spend an absorbent amount of time moderating posts, becoming involved in the community, and just being active in general. It can be frustrating in some instances like these. While I enjoy posting stories and getting constructive criticism and positive feedback from other users, I think Amino has about ran its course for me.

When I looked the app up on Common Sense Media, there was lots of activity–mostly parents saying that the app is dangerous and that it perpetuates cyberbullying.

If I had only looked at Common Sense Media, I would have a singular idea about this app that for Gabe has been a very enriching community.

Though I do agree that not all social media apps are created equally and they don’t all have a place in the classroom,  my chat with Gabe  proves to me that this is such a grey area that to most adults seems very black and white. I have written about inappropriate apps and how complicated this is before , and when I heard about Music.ly  when talking about Periscope and again based on my experiences with Yik Yak (which I include in the book),

You see, at first glance, you would say, ban those apps. Make sure your kids don’t go near them. But what can be a really great app for some, can be deemed dangerous for others. Typically, it’s not the app, but the way an app is used and by whom it is used that makes it “dangerous”.

Think about this, I’ve seen some extremely inappropriate stuff posted on Todays Meet and Padlet…The fact is, you could say that about Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook; for some, the experience can be extremely negative and for others transformationally positive.

And yes, while fences are important in some cases, what I think we need to worry about is the false sense of security we have when fences are up.

Of course we need to make our students aware of the dangers of predators who engage in these communities to try to lure kids, but there are many facets to apps like Amino and Spotafriend which require us to ask some important questions:

Why might kids gravitate towards apps like this?

How can we empower them to comport themselves in positive ways and be “first responders’ (term I learned from Matt Soeth) if something goes awry?

Are they really as bad as we think? And if so, to what extent does banning & blocking really help?

Are these apps appealing to kids because they are seeking their own “tribes” or communities away from parental control? 

How might we support kids to seek out the good kinds of communities which we as adults call a PLN?

I firmly agree with Henry Jenkins, danah boyd, and Mimi Ito in their assertion in Participatory Cultures in a Networked Era that blocking sites:

“actually perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own”

And the BBC article Limiting Time online won’t reduce risks shared by Kim Zajac speaks to the necessity of helping students build emotional resiliency and that “helping them deal with risks they face online is vital”.

The fact is, we have NO WAY of knowing when the next “BAD” app is going to come along. And every app has a terms of service which is designed to prevent cyberbullying and inappropriate use.

What I think is so much more important is the conversation that ensues when we mentor instead of monitor, block & ban. (Devorah Heitner uses the expression mentor over monitor & I love it).

And whether we are parents at home or teachers in a classroom, perhaps we need to ask questions like the following to get a better understanding of what’s going on:

“How do we define community?

“What makes online friendships different from face to face friendships?”

“Where do you meet others who share your interests?”

“What are the benefits and dangers of connecting online?”

In classrooms, these can be open provocations for further reading, inquiring, and debating in Language Arts or English class.

These are the sometimes murky waters through which we must wade as we learn how to navigate the unchartered waters of modern teaching and learning. But navigating them effectively means that we ensure we are equipped to handle unexpected wind or storms amidst calm seas rather than staying ashore and waiting for the perfect day to venture out because our kids are already out there and some of them really need us.

 

It’s time. #socialLEADia

In the concluding thoughts in my book, Social LEADia, I call upon my favourite poem by Robert Frost to talk about the decision that stands before us in Education when it comes to using social media:

So it seems to me that stand before two roads diverging in a wood.

Some stand and don’t choose a road. They shake their heads and bemoan the woes of living in a digital age. They cite privacy issues and big data, and hope that everything will resolve itself or that miraculously social media will go away.

One road is well travelled. It is one where fear and negativity prevail, and the path is so worn that we constantly try to fix the potholes. On this path, our lessons cannot include social media because it is blocked and banned and students are left to navigate digital spaces on their own . We know inevitably where this road leads because so many have been down that path before.

The other road is less travelled. It is somewhat “grassy and wants wear” because not as many people choose that way. But it is one that the teachers and students featured in this book have travelled. It is one where we think differently and act differently when it comes to leveraging the potential of social media. It is being led by the next generation of changemakers with positivity, creativity, and hope.

Just today I experienced several things that tell me that more people are longing to travel or are travelling the road to positivity than we think!

First, I was looking at new publication, ISTE Standards for Students So many of the standards for students require us to think differently about teaching and learning. In particular, when we consider the criteria for Empowered Learner, Creative Communicator, and Global Collaborator, as well as Digital Citizen.

Along with the ISTE standards, came a magazine called, “Empowered Learner,” also published by ISTE. In it, CEO Richard Culatta shares the following quote that pops out in the sidebar:

“I worry that too many digital citizenship conversations focus on what not to do, and that’s not very compelling. It’s much more compelling to talk about what we should be doing and how we could be using tech tools to make our communities and the world around us a better place.” (page 10)

He then goes on to say,

“So in addition to helping our kids recognize the things to watch out for, we encourage them to be leaders in the digital space to encourage other people to use that medium to do good.” (page 10)

YES. YES. YES.

This is exactly the premise of Social LEADia, inspired by the definition of Digital Leadership from George Couros (2013) and which 17 year old Najha Marshall explicitly states as well:

“Adults keep telling us what not to do, but they never tell us what we should do.” (Social LEADia

It is so awesome to hear the CEO of ISTE express similar sentiments!!!

I also read an article by Emily Weinstein, found in the ISTE Digital Citizenship Resources, who draws from her experience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Common Sense media to write, Debunking 5 myths about kids and their tech.

And finally, I got this tweet from Mr. McClenaghan. What really struck me was the line. “I’ve been waiting for your voice!” He also shared a post he had written.

I am so heartened by this growing movement towards making sure we balance our fears of technology with the incredible power and potential it has for our learners! It is definitely about time!

If you are at the ISTE conference this year, please consider coming to my talk and join us on the road less travelled.

 

 

Source: “Interview: Richard Culatta: ISTE CEO shares his vision for ISTE, previews coming attractions.”

Empowered Learner. ISTE Publishing. Arlington: July 2017.