Digital Leadership

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by flickingerbrad

I rarely ever do this, but it is now the second time this week that I have posted a comment that I made on someone else’s blog.  Sorry if it is bothersome but I think it is important that I can come back and look at my own growth in this space later on to connect my learning.

Joe Bower has some strong viewpoints on differing topics in the world of education and I have read his blog for the last two years.  I feel comfortable calling him a friend of mine and I learn a great deal from him.  Recently, Phil McRae had a guest post that was shared on Joe’s Blog that shared some thoughts about technology (I really encourage you to read the entire post).  At the end of his post, Phil posed two questions:

1) How might educators engage with digital technologies so that students can become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers? 

2) What technological innovations will help to create a society where people can flourish within informed, democratic and diverse communities, as opposed to a culture of narcissists that are fragmented by a continuous partial attention?

I thought I would try to share my thoughts on this in the comments and have shared what I have written here:

Phil and Joe,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I would like to point you to an example.

If you look at Martha Payne as an example, as outlined on Ewan McIntosh’s blog (and countless other sites), you see a 9 year old student that is giving an answer to both of your questions. Here is a child creating through her blog a movement on improving the quality of food that is served in her school’s cafeteria. Because of this opportunity to actually have a voice, she saw that she was able to make a change and bring awareness to something that she thought was an issue (as does Joe on his blog here daily). Even though it was something that many around the world felt was admirable, her school did not appreciate the fact that she was criticizing the food being served and tried to censor her blog. So instead of a school promoting this opportunity for a student to have a voice with a large audience and make social change, they actually tried to shut her down. I won’t go into entire details of the story as Ewan shares it well in her blog posted below, but I guess my question is, do we find it narcissistic for her to write to make a change through technology? Is Joe’s blog narcissistic? Does this post convey that as well? It is already shared on one space, so why in another?

What I want to believe is that you, Joe, myself, and others want to make change for the better and we have an opportunity to have a voice more now than ever. Is there any selfishness in these pursuits? Probably to some extent as I think we all want to make a difference in the world as there is an overwhelming positive feeling that comes from this. How could it not? I think however though, it is important that we not only use a Web 2.0 technology in a 1.0 way. I watch many only share what they are doing and not really engage in conversations with others using the technology that they use to share their message. If you look at Mayor Nenshi’s Twitter feed, he is engaging with constituents all of the time, sometimes on his politics, but sometimes on the new Batman movie. There is a human quality that can come out of using this technology that many of us are missing and helps to create a stronger connection to leaders that did not exist before. Is it truly authentic? Well that would depend on the leader. But I would say that it is much better than it was before.

The problem is that it is too easy to create this culture of fear around technology. I received this email from a company the other day warning administrators of all the “bad” things kids can do because of technology.

“Students can get into trouble on computers, especially on the Internet. And when they do, you’re often caught in the crossfire.

With LanSchool Classroom Management Software, you can watch what students are doing and even catch them in the act. Plus, you can document their actions to prove your point.

Put an end to trouble in your classroom today.”

When people focus on all of the bad things technology brings, they can easily create this “us vs. them” mentality as opposed to actually focusing on a conversation.

If we actually focus on giving students a voice through this technology, I think we are looking at some amazing learning and leadership opportunities for kids that goes beyond what we could have done as students in school. Ewan has a great quote in his blog post about some of the amazing learning from Martha’s experience:

“Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure. “

Would any of this happened if Martha wasn’t able to use this technology? it is her own pursuits that made it happen in the first place, but again, using technology in an effective way, gave her some amazing opportunities to make some powerful change. As adults, we need to continue to figure out how to continue to use these technologies to help ensure that Martha is not an outlier but the norm.

Just my two cents.

(Link of Martha’s story told by Ewan McIntosh)

I encourage you to share your thoughts here or on Joe’s blog.



  1. Mr. Couros,

    I believe the broader issue is that it is a lot easier to block everything than to spend the time educating students on proper ways to utilize technology. Martha was, and is, doing this, but too often our students lack this guidance and schools infrequently wait to take on the challenge. It is much easier to build a wall, than engage those around you in changing what is happening.

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