I often get the opportunity to work with students and speak to them in large gatherings, which can be tough. Some of the educators that I speak to might know me from my book, blog, or Twitter, but it is rare that students have any clue who I am. Online connections help to build rapport with a lot of people before I speak, but with most students, I am starting at zero. I always try to focus on building rapport with an audience, but large groups of students can be tough, especially when they hear about “social media” from an adult coming to a school. Many students have too often heard the “don’t cyberbully talk”, and from what many of them tell me, they are sick of it. My focus is to help them see what they can do, not on what they shouldn’t do. Schools should not live in a “culture of don’t”, but focus on what’s possible.
That being said, it is not that I ignore cyberbullying completely. What I try to focus on with students is that we never know what is going on the other side of a screen, and what might seem like a meaningless or comment to you, can have a tremendous impact on someone else, either positive or negative. I have felt it and I am not alone. Sometimes I am having a bad day, and a rude comment will come out of nowhere, and it seems like it is piling on. Sometimes I am having a great day, and a rude comment will come out of nowhere, and it seemingly wrecks the rest of the day. Either way it sucks. I do my best to deal with it, but only a select few are impervious to some of these comments they receive. What I tell students whenever I can, is always err on the side of positive. Any person can have an impact, so your best bet is to try and make it a positive one.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge ideas. We should. Yet rapport is important. I have found that when I do not agree with someone, the best way to have a conversation is by asking questions, not making statements. Seek first to understand.
Yet after my latest talk with students, one young woman hung around after. She came up to me to say thank you for my talk, and then revealed that she had been (and still was) being cyberbullied. What started off as a smile, turned into tears on her face, and I did my best to just let her share her story. My heart broke for her, because what seemed meaningless to others, was hurting her so deeply. I gave her some advice, but I asked her if it was okay to give her a hug, to which she replied yes. She cried a little harder, then stopped, thanked me, and went on to class. Her principal watched and checked with me right away to see what happened, and he immediately followed up with her. I realized that part of the reason she felt comfortable telling me in that situation is because I was a stranger to her. It is sometimes easier to be vulnerable to those you may never see again, than those who you see every day and, in your mind, perceive you to be strong.
In my mind, I can’t stop seeing the tears rolling down her face as she told me her story. Is what I saw, what others knew? Now, I know there is always two sides to a story, and I only caught a brief moment of this student, but it was just a reminder to me about how important this work is for ourselves and our students.
A reminder to myself…Always err on the side of positive. We rarely see what is on the other side of the screen, so let’s just do our best to be kind to one another, and work with our kids to do the same. The message of “don’t cyberbully” is not enough; we need to do our best to go out of our way to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
P.S. One of the students that I spoke to already started an account to tweet positive things about other students in their school. I look forward to following the account to see it grow!