My good friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd, has released a wonderful book on the topic of social media and students, entitled, “Social Leadia; Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership“. This book not only provides a powerful “why” for students using social media in powerful and positive ways, it provides practical strategies for educators and parents while sharing stories of students doing amazing things right now. It is a unique book, and I am proud to have been a part of it, while also writing the foreword.
The book is now available on Amazon, and I think it will definitely push your thinking. Below is the foreword from the book.
I will never forget a workshop that I was leading with educators, that also had a significant number of students in the room. We were discussing the ideas of digital citizenship and digital leadership, and one of the adults in the room expressed the idea that these things were not something we needed to talk about in school. No matter what I had said, he countered that social media wasn’t important in schools. One of the students in the room stepped in and said, “Sir, social media is like water. It is everywhere. You can either let us drown or teach us to swim.” Not only was I moved by his words, the teacher immediately redirected his focus to get into the conversation, not stop it. This was a beautiful reminder that we need to stop telling our students that they are the “leaders of tomorrow”; they obviously can have a major impact on the world today!
I was reminded of this student’s words when I was speaking at a “Digital Leadership” event for approximately 2000 high school students. At the beginning of the event, I encouraged the students to share any ideas, thoughts, or questions they had to a specific hashtag, or tweet me directly during my talk or both.
Usually, when I do this, I show videos during my presentations, which allow me to check the hashtag and gauge what the audience is feeling or thinking. What I noticed was one tweet that expressed how “boring” the talk was, using an expletive in front of the word boring that started with the letter “f”. Feeling a little squeamish, I went on, showed another video, and then noticed two more tweets that were much worse, and attacking me directly. As one of the biggest advocates of the power of social media for helping people to make a positive change in the world, I have to be honest what I felt at that moment: I need to shut this down.
Then while I was presenting, I caught myself and thought, “Am I really going to shut this down because of three students out of 2000?” Am I going to let them drown or help them learn to swim?
I had to redirect. Without directly acknowledging the inappropriate comments, and in the context of the talk, I stated the following:
“Every single one of you in this room can have a major impact on the lives of others, including me. Do you know how I can tell if you have made that impact on me? If I saw you outside of this school, would I cross the street to come talk to you. If I would, you have made an impact on me, and I hope that I can be the person that you would go out of your way to talk to as well. Let’s be that for each other.”
Showing another video, I checked the tweets again. This time, I saw a student say, “I like the way you present your message. It’s really entertaining and informative.” I immediately stopped everything and asked for the student to stand up, which he did. With a tear in my eye, I said, “You have no idea the impact you just had on me. Thank you.” I will never forget that moment as the other students cheered for him as well. What followed though was incredible, because his impact was not only on me but his fellow students as well. They started bombarding the hashtag with positive messages to me and what and how I was presenting, They were literally finding anything nice they could say to me. One student even said, “I love your sweater!” Anything nice they could think of, they said to me.
After the presentation, I was overwhelmed by the positivity that they shared towards me. Going through the tweets, the first three that I mentioned were “buried” at the bottom of the pile. So much so, that the teachers from the school had no idea that it actually happened in the first place until I brought it to their attention; they had only seen the compliments. Those students taught me something that day that I will never forget.
We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.
And to think, I was so close to shutting that opportunity down from the majority, because of a very tiny few. Do we do this too often in schools?
This is why I am so happy that Jennifer Casa-Todd has written this book. Her perspective as a leader, educator, and parent brings these ideas together in a way that will not only provide answers, but have you asking questions as well. This is extremely important because adults need to be in on these conversations.
Think of all the stuff that we used to get away with when we were kids, that could totally alter a life today? We all made mistakes (and still do so to this day), but our kids don’t have the same luxury that we did when we were growing up. Many of the people reading this book didn’t post anything inappropriate on Facebook when they were teens, not because they thought so deeply about their future, but because Facebook didn’t exist (although you might have something on a MySpace page somewhere!). When I talk about this with students, many of them say that it is unfair that they are held to a different standard than we were as kids. What I tell them is that, “You are right, it is unfair. But you also have more opportunity than I ever did at your age. What will you do with it?”
What Jennifer does beautifully in this book is she not only shares an adult perspective on how to make an impact on leading towards a positive narrative, she shares powerful examples of young people already doing this, and rather than speak for them, she let’s us hear from those students directly. Some of the positive stories she shares about the transformative power of social media are because of their teachers, and some are in spite of them. I know that personally, I would like to be the reason that our students make positive choices in these spaces. In reading Jen’s work over the past few years, and in what she is sharing in this powerful book, she is showing how kids right now, are creating opportunities that were impossible when we were kids.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be aware of the negatives, but we also need to take advantage of the positives. As Jennifer will show you, these positive opportunities are not meant only for the outliers, but can become the norm for our students, if we are purposeful in how we look at the world, and the opportunities that exist. When you look at a device in a child’s hand, do you see distraction, or do you see opportunity? How you look at it, will determine how you lead.
I am 100% confident that Jennifer will not only push your thinking, but she will guide you as to how to embrace the realities that exist in our world today. The book might make you feel uncomfortable at some points, which is how our brains grow and is part of the “messiness” that is learning that we need to embrace, but if you are reading this, it means you are in on the conversation.
Knowing Jennifer personally, I know she is just as passionate about changing the current trajectory of how we view social media in education as I am. As parents and educators, we all want the same thing for our kids; something better for them than what we had at their same age. Jennifer hasn’t written a book that only focuses on the idea, “social media is here to stay, so we might as well pay attention.” She has done something much more powerful. She has shown that the opportunities for our children are now better than ever, and she walks you through how to make this a reality in your schools.