Tag Archives: digital leadership

Why are we waiting for tomorrow?

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When I recently was visiting a school, I noticed their “motto” on the wall that talked about “developing today the leaders of tomorrow”, or something similar.  This was not unique to this school, and I could tell you from connecting with that staff, that these are some amazing educators that have created an amazing culture of learning and leadership.

The one challenge that I gave to them was by the asking the question, “Why are they not ‘leaders’ today? Why are we waiting for tomorrow?”

I understand the idea behind it and the age-old notion that as educators we are developing the “next generation”, but I also believe that if we want students to make a difference, why wait for it to happen later?  Why can’t they go out and make an impact in our schools and community, both locally and globally?  They have the world at their fingertips and playing “Candy Crush” on Facebook now doesn’t necessarily mean that one day they are going to be leaders because it’s “their turn”.  We need to empower their voice.

We are defined by our actions today, not our potential for tomorrow.

Kids needs time to grow up and be “kids”, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make a difference in our world.  I am hoping that stories like the one of Martha Payne become the norm and these kids aren’t simply outliers.

Words matter.

Our expectations matter.

If a kid makes a difference today, aren’t they more likely to do it tomorrow as well?

There is no need to wait.

A Few Options…

If you haven’t heard the Justine Sacco story, it is one educators should be aware of.  In short, with only a small social network (it was reported around 200 followers on Twitter at the time), a very inappropriate tweet got around the world, very quickly.  She was on a plane, not knowing that her name and a hashtag bearing it were trending throughout the world, and by the time she landed, her life was forever changed.

How quickly did it spread?  Check out the tweet below:

 

So as I see it, schools will see this and make a few choices.

1.  They will ignore it.

2.  They will talk about it with students and give them warnings about how social media can destroy lives and try to scare them off the medium.

3.  They will see the opportunity in this teachable moment to not only warn of the bad, but see that if something bad can spread so quickly, something good can do so as well.

Where is your school in this “Digital Citizenship” spectrum?  Hopefully we can turn stories like this around and focus on the idea of Digital Leadership and that our kids can do something powerful to make a positive impact on others, not simply focus on the negatives.

4 Things I Learned From Students This Week


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Sham Hardy

I spent the past week speaking to trustees, superintendents,  teachers, parents, and most importantly, students.  Working with all levels of school in a week, gives you a really interesting perspective, but I learned a great deal in working with a few thousand students this week.  Here are some of my takeaways:

  1. Let’s quit telling kids what they shouldn’t be doing, and try to push them to think about what they can do.  It was anti-bullying week in Ontario, and overhearing some students walking into my session, they were not excited about having to listen to me for an hour.  I asked them why, and they had said that they had heard the “cyberbullying” talk a million times.  I asked the one student was to give me a chance, and have an open mind.  I talked about “Digital Leadership, and at the end of the talk, he had come up to thank me because he knew what I was saying was different.  I did talk about “cyberbullying” for a part of my discussion with students, but I really want to communicate to them is that they don’t have to wait for the future to do something amazing.  The world is at their fingertips and they have opportunities that we never did.  They should take advantage of this fact and I try to show them things that they can do.  How excited would you be if you heard someone talk about all the things you shouldn’t do?
  2. Kids are already meeting “strangers” online.  One of the questions that I ask students this week is how many of them had met someone online first, and then met them offline.  It was easily over half (that admitted it).  This is a reality of the world and I would say that the majority of my friends now are people that I have met through Twitter or my blog first.  Think about it…How many of you have a friend that has married someone they met online?  It is becoming normal, and could become the norm soon enough.This would be even easier for students now to meet someone online.  If you have friends connected through Twitter, and one of them is on a community team, how hard is it for you to connect with a “friend of a friend” now through social media?  One of the suggestions that I give to families is that if a kid wants to meet with someone, that they have to video chat with that person before with a parent in the room.  If the person refuses, then they don’t meet.  We have to start talking to kids about how being safe, not banning the connections that many of them will make anyway, and many of us see value in.
  3. Little knowledge leads to little credibility.  One of the conversations that I had with a student was how sick she was of hearing from adults that don’t even use social media on how kids should act.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  Many educators get frustrated on hearing solutions on how to “fix” education from people that have never taught, or have limited time in schools.  How different is that then what the student is describing?  If we are going to talk with kids about how they are connecting online, it better come from a place of experience, as opposed to theoretical situations.
  4. Believe kids want to do great things.  This is a simple one.  The loudest applause I received this week was after a student asked me, “Why do you do what you do?”  When I responded that it is because I really believed in students and what they can do, and my focus was to do everything in my power to empower them, the kids gave me the loudest ovation I had received all week.  This is a truth for me.  I try to start from a positive place in every first interaction that I have with people and try my best to communicate that with them.  I give trust until I am taught otherwise.  Kids are less likely to do great things if they feel you don’t believe in them.  They could break your heart but I guess that is a risk that I am willing to take.

Although I could go on and on what I learned from students, I was just honoured to have the opportunity to connect with so many students this week.  They know a lot more than we give them credit for and if we listen, they can teach us quite a bit.

Amazed, Inspired and Happy

In a week where I have spent the majority of the time working with students, I have been really trying to promote the notion of “Digital Leadership,” and hoping the students look at some of the opportunities that are out there now to make a difference in the lives of others.  I have told the students that they do not have to wait for “the future” to make a difference, because they have the ability to do something now.  Some of them took me up on it, and one student started a blog trying to promote “acts of kindness”, while others started a Twitter page to compliment others in their school.  If you give them the chance, students can inspire you to become better.

Many of the conversations that I have with adults go directly to the “negative” online.  Although I understand the concerns, it is sometimes an “out” to not teach students about it, and sometimes comes from a lack of awareness.  Although I do talk a lot about all of the opportunities to do something great online, I do promote an awareness of the bad things that exist out there as well.  That is vital.  In reality, online is not the only place that bad things can happen, yet it is often the message that we share with our youth.  If we keep telling kids that the Internet is bad, they might just make that true.

Whatever you are looking for online, you will find it.  There is so much information out there, that there is going to be a lot in the negative.  So why not steer our kids to some of the amazing?  If I make the assumption that the majority of people in the world are good, and the majority of people are on the Internet, what does that tell me?  Where are we directing our students to go?

Awareness is vital and I will always teach that, but I am also going to continue to promote some of the great things that exist online.  In the last 12 hours, I have been amazed, inspired and “happy” with some of the things that I have seen shared.  Hopefully some of these will show some of the awesome that exists in our world that you can find online.

Be Amazed

This video is a compilation of 852 Instagram images from 852 different users to make one remarkable video.

 

Be Inspired

This is an amazing video that shows struggle, happiness, and perseverance from not only a mom and dad, but this amazing little guy.  (Grab tissues)

 

Be Happy

Pharrell Williams put together a 24 hour video for his new single “happy” and it is simply people dancing and smiling.  Simple, but I love it.

All of these videos I have seen in the last 12 hours, but it is probably because I was looking for them.  What are you trying to find and share with your students?

The Unfair World and the Low Bar


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Paul Sturgess

As I was listening to someone talk about “Digital Citizenship” practices in their school district, I wondered if this was really setting the bar too low in our practices within our schools.  As I think more about our world, and what kids have to deal with, it is pretty tough for them to just be “kids” and screw up the same way we did.  They live in a totally different world where many will “google” them before an interview, and because of something that they have done at the age of 16 or 17, they might lose a job.  If that was true when I was 17, I have no idea where I would be today.  I had the ability to screw up but the mindset was not to share your life publicly.  Now I believe that we have to be empathetic and give our kids some leeway and understanding for their mistakes, but does everyone feel this way?

The standards for kids aren’t just really high for what they do online, but what they do offline as well.  It is easy to do something inappropriate when you are sitting with friends, have one of your buddies record it on their phone, and share it with the world.  It reminds me of the time that a girl fell into a fountain while texting and it was posted for the world to see.  Something unintentional that happened offline now haunts her online without her permission to post.

We can look at this and realize that kids don’t have the way we did and feel bad for them…

Or…

We can also realize that our kids have opportunities that we never had.

Remember the movie “Pay it Forward”?  One of the big ideas from the movie was that doing something kind for others, and eventually, AMAZINGLY, it went around the world.  At that time, that was a pretty cool notion.  Now, when I write this post, anyone in the world can see it immediately.  I have had comments from people in Asia, Australia, Europe, as well as all over North America.  Getting an idea around the world is as easy as pressing “publish”.

So with the unfairness of what our kids deal with and a lot of the privacy that they (often on their accord) give up, are we trying to tip the scales in the other direction?  The idea of being “good” online is not really that inspirational, and reminds me of this quote that I have used before:

“People do not fail in life because they aim too high and miss. They fail in life, because they aim too low and hit.” (Unknown)

I like to think that our kids have an opportunity to make a real difference in our world and I love the idea of “Digital Leadership” to push our students to think of doing something more with social media.  The “Sincere Compliment” video did not only inspire kids in their school, but because it was shared openly, inspired many students/teachers (especially within Parkland School Division)  around the world to do great things for others.  I have seen a seven year old student in our district write one blog post, and receive 43 comments on her first try (some from her, but many from people all over the world).  She is learning at a young age that she has the power to share a message across the world with ease, and I believe if kids realize they have the power to make a difference, they will give it a shot.

This is more than just “existing” and “being good” online, it is about making a difference.  Isn’t that the bar we want to set for our kids, and if they miss, and are only good to one another, aren’t we still better off?

Anonymous vs. Appropriate


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by gavin. robinson

Here is some interesting information from the “Pew Internet & American Life Project” on teen use of social media:

Teens are increasingly sharing personal information on social media sites, a trend that is likely driven by the evolution of the platforms teens use as well as changing norms around sharing. A typical teen’s MySpace profile from 2006 was quite different in form and function from the 2006 version of Facebook as well as the Facebook profiles that have become a hallmark of teenage life today. For the five different types of personal information that we measured in both 2006 and 2012, each is significantly more likely to be shared by teen social media users on the profile they use most often.

  • 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
  • 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
  • 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
  • 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
  • 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.

In addition to the trend questions, we also asked five new questions about the profile teens use most often and found that among teen social media users:

  • 92% post their real name to the profile they use most often.2
  • 84% post their interests, such as movies, music, or books they like.
  • 82% post their birth date.
  • 62% post their relationship status.
  • 24% post videos of themselves.

Huh.

I guess that push from schools teaching kids to be anonymous online hasn’t really been that effective.

How about the following slide?


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Plug Us In

Are we anywhere near that in our work at schools?  I think in PSD70 with our Digital Portfolio Projectwe are closer than many, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Maybe instead of continuously pretending kids are staying (or even care to stay)anonymous online, maybe we need to change the conversation and talk to them about being appropriate.

Engaging Parents in the Learning Process


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by bestlibrarian

“The role of parents in the education of their children cannot be overestimated.” ~Unknown

When you ask parents from any country in the world, what they ask their children at the end of the day about school, their question is very similar:

“What did you learn today?”

The disconcerting thing is that the answer is almost always exactly the same.

“Nothing.”

With some of the work that we are doing in Parkland School Division, we are really trying to engage parents in the learning of their child by opening the door into the classroom.  Through the use of blogs, twitter, and other social media outlets, the question can change to something similar to, “I saw that you were learning about (blank) today; can you tell me more about it?”

Different questions usually get different responses.  Improve the question and you are more likely to get a better answer.

Parent Participation vs Parent Engagement

Although the more parents can have a positive presence in our schools, the more they will build relationships within the school community, engagement is something different.  Children are shown to have a much better chance at success if their parent is actively engaged and reinforces the learning that is happening in the school.  Case in point; if you want to improve your child’s reading, read to them at a young age and model what you want to see.

Yet as students get older, many parents are uncertain about the learning that is happening and feel uncomfortable with the content.  The benefit of a lot of learning in our schools today is that it is not solely focused on learning content, but skills and process which are important aspects in a learner’s development.  Being able to engage in the process with your child, like reading, will help improve their learning.  That type of engagement brings learning to a different level in the home.

Are we becoming illiterate?

One of the most influential articles that I have read was by Will Richardson on the notion of expanding literacy. In it, Will discusses The National Council of Teachers of English definition of “21st Century Literacies”, and how many adults, not just kids, are becoming or illiterate.  For many, the notion of literacy boils down to reading and writing, yet it is much more.

“Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” NCTE

So with that in mind, what are parents doing at home?  Are they creating websites with their children, assessing what is good and bad information, creating videos and podcasts, and so on?  The majority of our students see the Internet as a place of consumption, not creation.  We need to shift that focus.

Mitch Resnick challenged this notion of consumption when he stated:

“We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online, but don’t produce?”

Based on this ever-changing definition, we have to ask, “Are we literate?”

Keeping Kids Safe

People are quick to jump on using these new types of technologies as either “dumbing down” education (David Crystal’s research shows that reading and writing improve through the use of mobile devices as opposed to the other way around) or that kids will be unsafe.   The reality is that schools in partnership with parents, need to guide children to not only be safe, but to leverage these technologies so that children will have opportunities that we did not.

Carlene Oleksyn, a parent and pharmacist, has immersed herself in the use of social media, not only for the benefit of her own learning, but to ensure that she safely guides her children.  In a recent post on her blog titled, “The Talk”, she shares a conversation that she has with her children:

It started like this:

“Boys, when I need to hire someone do you know what one of the first things is I do?”

Nope, they had no idea.

“I google them,” I said. “I see what they post on Facebook, Twitter, blogs. If they have posted anything that is calling someone else down, is sexually inappropriate, or if they’ve made blatantly disrespectful comments on other people’s postings, I would tend not to hire that person.”

The difference between Carlene and many is not this talk, but it is the credibility that Carlene has from immersing herself in using these technologies herself.  By having a Twitter account, blog, amongst  other things, she has learned how to keep safe by stepping out and looking around first, as opposed to simply letting her kids run wild when they reach the age they are allowed to use social media based on a company’s terms of service.

From her experience, she is able to give some very relevant advice:

I think as parents we need to do three things for our kids:

  • Be aware of what our children are doing on the internet

  • Be on sites with them and teach as they go.

  • Be examples with our own digital identity.

Carlene understands that the world is changing, so she is taking advantage of the learning that can be done while helping her children navigate some murky waters to find a much more positive place.  She is setting a high standard for her kids not only through her words, but through her actions.

Concluding Thoughts

Kids existing online is not enough.  Many schools talk about the notion of “digital citizenship” but simply being a “citizen” is not the heights we should be aiming for offline, so why is it online?

Through my work, I have tried to focus on the idea of “Digital Leadership”; the notion of using the technologies that we have to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I try to model this simply by writing this post and trying to build more awareness of the opportunities that technology affords parents and children in learning.  Some kids are doing amazing things.

Millgrove School was recently highlighted on Global TV for their work on trying to use social media for learning, but by doing good for their community and hoping to inspire others around the globe.  Isn’t that the standard we should be aiming for as school communities?

To be successful, educators do not only need the support of parents, we need their engagement.  The door is opening more every day to your child’s classroom.  Are you ready to step through?

See No Evil?


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by daveynin

I had the question yesterday from an IT Director (one that I have been asked several times) about the “issues” that happen when you open up social media in schools.  He told me about a principal that said that they continuously deal with issues because of Facebook, Twitter, etc. (remember…the sites are not the issue but the behaviour) and the principal said that it would be easier if they shut it down.  He then asked me how I would deal with it.

The first thing that popped into my head was this video of kids that aren’t any good at playing hide and seek:

This video really made me think that many believe if we close our eyes, nothing bad is happening.

Wrong.

In fact, if we shut down social media in schools, we are less likely to teach our kids how to use that sites safely and effectively, and students are more likely to make mistakes.  Isn’t education the main way we solve problems in our society or are we adopting “ignoring stuff” as the new solution?

Recently, I did an interview on this very topic and the host said that my logic on this topic was similar to getting kids to drink with parents at home.

Really?

When the adults in the room say things like this, it first of all terrifies me, and then makes me realize they have not seen the positive impact that social media can make on their lives and the lives of others.  I was so glad to see that Global Television recently wrote an article and shared a video on the work we are doing in PSD70, and more specifically, the classroom of Kelli Holden and her grade 4 students, to inform the public that there are a lot of positives that can come from the effective use of social media.

With anything, there is good and bad.  Ignoring teaching our kids about this medium is not going to help them in any way to see the positives and we can’t just say, “not our problem” anymore.  If we only teach the curriculum to our kids, we have failed.  It is imperative that we work with our students to be people that follow their passions, be positive citizens, and make a difference in their world now, not the world we lived in as kids.

Thanks to Emily Mertz for doing a wonderful story on our teachers and students at PSD70! Check out the video below if you are interested in seeing what our teachers are doing to make a difference.

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.”

#Fail

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:

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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.

Digital Leadership Defined

When I looked up the term “digital citizenship”, the first definition that I found was the following:

…teaching users the rules of good citizenship online; this usually includes email ettiquette, protecting private information, staying safe online, and how to deal with bullying, whether you’re a target or a bystander.

For the past couple of years, I have been really focusing on the notion of digital leadershipand although I have not seen a formal definition of what that would mean, I would like to think of it as this:

Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.

I have written about students such as Martha Payne before, as well as teachers who work to empower the voice of their students.  Yesterday though, I saw another great example of how a student is making a difference in the lives of his peers.  In our schools, it is understandable that we work towards (as a minimum) students understanding the notion of digital citizenship, but how often do we stop there?

We really need to push our students to make a change in their world and highlight how social media can give them an opportunity that we never were given as students.  Just being “citizens” online is the average; kids already exist online.  We should be pushing for much more than this.  Hopefully the video below can serve as an example and conversation starter for what a person can really do now to make a difference.