At 10 pm Central time last night, I was sitting in the Las Vegas airport waiting to board my flight home. I heard a particular sound like a round of ammunition firing, but surely I was mistaken; there are slot machines in the Las Vegas airport and what I was hearing was probably a peculiar version of a game. I’ve never been so wrong. I am still processing what happened and writing this is helping me to do that.
It had been an incredible weekend. I was honoured to present at the Cue Nevada conference. I met an amazing bunch of educators from Nevada and beyond, connected with so many people in my PLN, met some awesome students from the area who volunteered to help with the conference, and were on the student panel. I tweeted out my take-aways and captured a few moments on Instagram and Snapchat. I mention this because it means that my friends, family, and PLN knew I was in Vegas for the weekend.
That evening, the presenters were invited to dinner where we shared a few laughs and some camaraderie. I learned much about the Nevada schools from the presenters there. My friend, Heidi Carr (who spearheading the organization of the conference) and I spent the day on Sunday as tourists. We visited the Hoover Dam, did a little shopping, checked out a few casinos and watched a Cirque de Soleil show. As she showed me the sights in her beautiful city, I exclaimed, “How cool that you can choose to come downtown and experience this fun and excitement whenever you want to.”
En route to the airport, we saw a throng of people and heard the live Country Music playing. We paused and I opened my window to hear the music. In that moment, I caught sight of a young couple, in denim and cowboy boots walking towards the show. I don’t know what made me stop and study the young woman so intently: so obviously in love, so obviously enjoying the sights of Las Vegas as I had been, her eyes and hair shining brightly. Her silhouette now etched in my mind forever.
When we boarded the plane, we were told there was an incident that would prevent us from departing. A few whispers about a shooting started to spread. When I sat down, I jumped on Twitter and literally saw the events unfold.
We were asked to disembark the plane as we likely going to be grounded until morning. One of the passengers said that many concert goers had moved towards active runways so the airport had to literally shut down. Another passenger suggested that because we were so close to the venue, there was a concern of gunshots towards the plane. I have no idea how true any of this speculation was. I was, for all intents and purposes in the safest place in the city, but I felt nothing but safe.
We were called back to board the plane a short time after. They had apprehended the suspect and the airport was again operating. There was, by now a line up of planes on the tarmac looking for permission to take off. So many of the passengers started to contact loved ones, knowing that with the time difference, our families and friends in Toronto would be worried and we would be in the air and unreachable to assure them of our safety. I had a half-finished Instagram post for which I needed to now change the message.
I was disheartened by the tweets I was seeing. The tweets ranged in nature and included:
-“live” updates from news outlets
-an outpouring of concern and prayers
-political commentaries which were highly charged
-gratitude for the first responders: police, firefighters, and others
-the spreading of mis-information and inconsistent reports
-families asking to confirm the whereabouts of a loved one
-the posting of extremely sensitive materials
-information for blood donation sites
-the creation of new accounts (Twitter bots) to spread hateful propaganda.
It is the good and the bad of
social media humanity. I used social media to ensure that my family and friends knew I was safe, and also received messages like this one from my favourite student:
— Olivia Van Ledtje (@thelivbits) October 2, 2017
And though I was safe, we now know how many families are being impacted by last night’s events.
Today, the children, who became so real to me and the educators in whom they are entrusted had to ensure that children feel safe in their own homes. This is no small task. If ever was a time to make the positives so loud, the negatives are impossible to hear (George Couros), it is now. People are hurting enough. We need to ensure that what we share in person and on social media about any event, particularly a tragedy such as this, is accurate, and hopeful and that it inspires action to help (there is a need for donating blood for example).
When we have a class social media account, we can control what we see for our students. When we follow accounts like those listed on my Twitter lists, it is unlikely that kids will see any of the aftermath of this event or the ugliness that can be seen on Twitter. This, however, is not true for the kids who are accessing social media on their own or who are just talking about what they know on the playground. And this worries me.
So here are a few things that may help as we try to make sense of this tragedy and support our students to feel safe and empowered.
Reflect on News
Today we learned of the devastating and sad news in Las Vegas and we keep the victims and their families in our thoughts.
It is important to remember to be smart news consumers as events and facts are unfolding. Here are some tips:
1. Do not be constantly tuned in to the news, check in several times throughout the day.
2. Check several credible news sources, do not solely* rely on social media for information.
3. Confirm that news outlets are reporting the same thing. Remember, news is a competition, they are trying to be the first to have the breaking story and while they strive to get it right, sometimes they make mistakes in their rush to be first.
4. DO NOT spread conspiracy theories or speculations on social media. Do NOT spread “fake news.” This hurts your reputation (your digital footprint) and harms society as a whole.
Bring Hope and take Hopeful action:
As educators (and as adults), we need to be creative and hopeful for our kids. We need to be constructive not destructive. We need to use every face to face and online opportunity to spread love, hope and hopeful action.
I think back to the Happy Jar activity I talk about in Social LEADia where Sara McCleod and her students, when they knew of a tragedy in Northern Saskatchewan, rallied to try to do something to take action to help, by creating a Happy Jar (I learned about it on Twitter and participated by adding my own inspiring message via Google Form on Twitter). They then delivered it to the community. When kids gather together for a common cause, it often strengthens the bonds within your own classroom and provides a hopeful outlet to their grief.
Hospitals need blood donated and there is a GoFund me account for victims. If students are particularly struck by the events, creating posters to rally help may just be helpful for them as well. Or how about thank you cards to the police force or emergency workers?
Ensure students feel safe and pay attention to children who worry
My daughter is a worrier. We “protected” our daughter by trying to shelter her from any news and sometimes it worked. Other times, it was worse because other kids would share false information which made her more scared. At the end of the day, I think taking the approach that ensures kids feel safe in their classroom is best. But let’s face it, we aren’t trained to be counsellors (even though we so often are) This resource, Helping Children Cope with useful links may help you to support students in need. If you know of others, I would love to hear about them.
I can’t stop thinking about those concert-goers who were just enjoying themselves. I think about how it could have easily been me or one of the people or loved ones of the many people I met this weekend. And I can’t stop thinking about and wondering where that young woman is today and if she is safe.
I know I will be hugging my family extra tightly today and trying to spread the positive as much as I can.
*I added the word solely