Tag Archives: dan haesler

Is your school’s “digital citizenship” practice a pass or fail?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Walmart Corporate

This past week, I worked with a small group of educators on becoming a “Networked Educator“, and we had some great conversations about how social media is changing a lot of what we do in schools.  Within the group, there were about four teachers from one high school, who came to learn together and asked questions about how they could move their school to the “next level” in how they are sharing and learning with not only each other, but students as well.  They told me that felt that they were in some ways behind as a school, but they were making progress.

One of the ways that they felt they were making progress was by having a school Twitter account to share what is happening at with their community.  This is new to them and they are learning along the way, but the teachers admittedly felt that the school needed to do more to help their students.  As I checked out their Twitter account, I saw the “Follower Suggestions” and noticed two accounts that looked to be student Twitter accounts.  I asked the teachers if they were their students, they said yes, and asked permission to look at their tweets (which are totally public to the world) in front of the group, and they said yes, knowing that they probably weren’t going to like what they were about to see.

They didn’t like it at all.  They were actually mortified.

We looked at both students and many of the tweets were sexist, derogatory, and just outright offensive.  It made the group cringe and the teachers were embarrassed because we found it by simply looking up the school Twitter account.  There was no searching for students; it was just automatically linked because they followed the account.

When I asked the teachers if they knew the student personally, they said yes, and said that both of them were great kids.  I actually had no doubt about that.  When I was a kid and was with my closest friends, I might have said similar things.  To many kids now, they think that being on Twitter is, in some ways, being with their closest friends.  I remember one student in our school was blown away that I even knew what Twitter was and that we saw their account (they used a hashtag that all educators were following).

Do I ever swear?  Yup.

Do I ever swear on Twitter? Nope.

We have to talk with our kids and be honest with them that we are not perfect as individuals either, but we have to understand what is meant to be public and what is private.

Do we work with kids and really talk about the implications of what this can lead to?  I don’t want to think that either student’s life will be ruined by their tweets, but I know that if they continue to go on this way, I would hate to think that they end up like Alexandra Wallace, who did a very dumb thing on YouTube which then quickly went viral.  The question that I have with her scenario is, “did a teacher ever work with this student to talk about the possible consequences of her actions?”  I kind of doubt it.

So as we talked about next steps for their school, they had a concern that the view would be, “Let’s just shut down our school account so this won’t happen again.”


I was quickly reminded of this Dan Hasler post on social media and driving and his three main thoughts on how we do social media wrong in schools:

1. Driving lessons would be taught by adults (teachers or parents) with little or no experience of driving.

2. Driving lessons would only focus on what not to do.

3. Driving lessons would NEVER take place in an actual car.

So building on Dan’s thoughts and reflecting on this experience, I thought about a “rubric” of what schools could be doing in working with students to help them navigate these murky digital waters:

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 6.26.53 PM

I do believe that we need to work with our students to get them to the point of “Digital Leadership” and the “Sincere Compliments” video should be a standard we guide our students toward.  Nothing works 100% but we need to really be proactive as educators in our work with students, not simply worry about covering our butts.  If we are really wanting to do what is best for kids, shouldn’t we be at the top (or at least working towards) the top?

Where is your school on this continuum? Would you swap 2 and 3?

Here is the link to the Google Doc that I created with this “Digital Leadership Continuum” that you are free to copy, paste and use as you wish.

Empower Their Voice

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by HowardLake

It seems that serendipitously, if you are continuing to read blogs, some ideas that may be floating around in my head are made clearer by reading what others wrote.  In many of my conversations with educators and students, we have talked about empowering students to have a voice in not only learning, but to actually make a difference in the world.  Bloggers like Martha Payne and my friend Alyssa have inspired many in different ways through their blogs and by sharing their voice.  In both of those instances though, it was not necessarily a school or teacher empowering them to do this, but a parent who guided and gave them an opportunity.

So why should a teacher give these same opportunities in the classroom, especially with the demands of the profession and often an overwhelming curriculum that we must cover. In an article by Dana Edell titled, “Why Students Should Blog”, she discusses the power of blogging and why it is beneficial to our kids:

Though often more informal than structured essays, blogging can encourage young people to trust that their written words have power and that expressing themselves through written storytelling can transform themselves and our communities.

In the same article, Edell shares the story of a young woman challenging a company on some of the stereotypes that there were reinforcing with their product line and how her voice had made a difference:

Stephanie, 22, wrote a piece in December critiquing a popular toy company’s new line that was marketed for girls. She believed that the company’s pink and purple beauty salon reinforced negative gender stereotypes. She was angry. She wrote about it. Her blog post circulated throughout the blogosphere and eventually garnered a Twitter response from the toy company. SPARK decided to take the issue further and launched a petition that was supported by a dozen more blog posts by girls, expressing their charged opinions about the toys. Mass mainstream and social media attention led to a meeting with executives at the toy company. We have recently seen positive changes from this company, showing us that they not only read our concerns, but also listened and took action. It all started with a blog.

 Pretty neat huh?  A young woman voicing her opinion and making a difference; isn’t that something we want to happen because of schools?

I was then pushed to think about the art of writing from a post I read from Ryan Bretag and how what we do with student blogging  often takes away from the things that we love in the blogs we read (transparency and emotion are two big ones for me):

What makes us want to make everything fit into our preconceived notions of school assignments and activities? Why do we value and appreciate the great blogs that are out there BUT FAIL TO USE THOSE AS MODELS for students and their blogs? Why do we use models so far removed from what we consider powerful?

This is not to say that every teacher is intentionally doing this but the reality is that it is happening.

I get that not all students will be writing at the level of the blogs we read but that isn’t what I’m referencing when I say use those as models. I mean modeling the qualities that draw us time and time again to blogs.

Simply telling our kids what they should blog about does not make them their blogs. It makes them our blogs that the students are simply writing; there is little ownership and it is not something where we empower our students to actually use their thoughts and their voice. 

If we want our students to make a difference in the world (not only in the future but now), and blogging is something that we see as an opportunity for doing this, how do help them take this next step?

Well…here’s one way…

I have been watching Jabiz Raisdana’s work regarding student blogging very closely and he gives some fantastic advice to educators on getting authentic student voice:

Blogging is about trust. Trust takes time. Students must feel safe to become vulnerable and open up. This trust is not built online, but in your classroom, when you are together, as a group, face-to-face. It is built through effective classroom discussions at the table and understanding the power of commenting and conversations. It is building offline spaces that are fun and creative and open to new ideas and projects. It is built by  sharing as much of yourself with your students as you can. Share your music, your ideas, and texts that move you. Share your contacts and friends and model what you teach. Use your network to show the power of networks. Before you know it your students will be writing about all kinds of things…

What I was most impressed with Jabiz was not what he had shared with educators, but what he had shared with his students to build that trust and show his belief in them.  He recently wrote a post entitled, “I Believe“, which he openly shares how he is inspired by his students:

I believe in you. I believe in your voice and your writing. What you write and how you write, right now in your life is you. For better or for worse it is true. If you wait until you are writing is perfect or good or accepted you will be waiting forever. If you wait to be yourself and stand behind your ideas you will wait forever. Confidence is about being happy with who you are and where you are in terms of skills. Confidence isn’t about measuring up to other people’s expectations. I don’t believe in good or bad or ranks or judgements or comparing or anxiety. I believe in confidence through risk and self-esteem through vulnerability. I believe in trust. I believe in communities.

An open, honest, and caring post that models what we would want from our students.  And what does he get from this?  A student that writes an amazingly powerful, courageous and honest post that, at this moment, has over 70 comments from people all over the world inspired by the honesty of his message:

And I envy those people in the Lunch queue who just turn around, talk to random people and become best friends (and beyond) instantly. I find it hard to go beyond my class. And those lunch groups. ARGHHHHHH. I try to join them, but how? Do I just walk up, come up with something amazing to say and just hang out? Because I can never find the right thing to say. And I’m not popular. And people don’t take me seriously…But then there are the endless websites that tell you to be yourself and not change your personality. So now what? How do I change the fact that people go “Oh, what’s Solal doing here?”to my face? And if they say that to my face, what must they say behind my back?

Judging by the comments and honestly, my own feelings, Solal inspired many kids and adults alike with his words. Sharing his experiences of what many of us have gone through, he has shown us that we are not alone.  Again, the thoughtful use of technology can bring people together and humanize us in different ways.

A couple of things here.  Does Solal have the understanding of how to blog this if his teacher does not model it first and give him the opportunity?  Does Solal have the courage to write this post if his teacher does not show his belief in him?  I will be honest here that I believe that we can never really teach this to our students if we do not experience this opportunity ourselves.  Many educators are working with their students to try and give them the opportunity that they themselves have experienced and many educators are starting to wonder what would happen if all teachers blogged.  Our voices matter.

How are you empowering the voice of your students?  Stories like these strengthen my resolve that we have to continue to create these opportunities for our kids to make a difference in our world.  And if it wasn’t for so many that shared their thoughts and stories, I am not sure that I would have been able to write this post myself.

Thanks to all of you that are willing to share.

(If you are reading this and thinking, “I should really start blogging”, here are some links that might help you get started.)