I have an idea to give a common dialogue about promoting caring, respectful and responsible interactions among students in our schools as an expansion of digital literacy.
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I have felt a call to action after hearing a Middle School Principal, who receives my school’s students, give a “Teens and Technology Talk” over the past couple of years. She recently spoke again last week and my mouth continued to drop open as she shared many disrespectful ways that students at her school are using technology outside of school. Some of the online behavior that they engage in outside of school spills over into bullying and other issues which the principal has to deal with at school. As the K-5 Technology Teacher at my school, I teach Digital Citizenship lessons to students and try to prepare them for some of what is ahead in Middle School. Unfortunately, I have noted the ways that the principal describes kids as Rating each other in certain apps, hiding inappropriate images that have been circulated among students in what appears to be an innocent Calculator app, circulating, in social media, racially insensitive memes and trying to outdo each other in images that they post of themselves which show little amounts of clothing or none. I’d like to emphasize that not all students make the choices to disrespect themselves or others online, however, it is a growing issue.
After realizing that the tide of respect needs to change due to either a lack of or a shallow form of respect that has been shared about how teens have acted online, I have developed a character education acronym called iCARE which I have written about in detail below. I welcome your thoughts about iCARE and how we could continue to grow a culture of caring and respect among students in our school communities which would spill over into the larger community and world. Please share your thoughts on how to build the iCARE principles in the Comments section below this post on my blog. I have also shared the thoughts on the iCARE platform with not only my principal, but also the Middle and High School principals who receive the students whom I teach.
Each month, my school district highlights a specific character trait which is celebrated in classrooms. At the Elementary School, we promote character with “Caught You Being Good” tickets. Teachers give these tickets to students who have demonstrated character traits such as respect, justice and fairness, responsibility, etc. If students’ tickets are randomly chosen by teachers, then their names get called out on the Closed Circuit Morning News and are invited to select a special treat which are among many kid friendly, inexpensive treats that a Teacher’s Assistant at my school lays out on tables in the Teacher Workroom. In addition, each classroom teacher chooses a representative from her/his class to be honored with a certificate and a short blurb about how the child has shown the character trait at a monthly Character Tea. The feeling of accomplishment that a child gets when she receives a Character Tea Award or a prize for the “Caught You Being Good” is the same sense of accomplishment that I would like to see as students of all ages realize that they have done the right thing in face to face and in online settings. Based on reports of how teens have chosen to disrespect themselves and others in social media and how those behaviors have spilled over into school, it appears that more could be done to build a culture of caring and respect at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels.
iCARE is a character building program to promote values of a caring, respectful and responsible citizen. By using iCARE as the platform, opportunities will be provided through service projects and in interactions in classrooms and throughout the school to build an expectation of CARING and RESPECT which will hopefully spill over into out of school interactions, especially online.
iCARE allows a dialogue to exist between students to build an expectation of respect in all interactions including online behavior. Parents can support students and discuss the monthly character traits that are celebrated in schools. Principals could share the iCARE acronym with families in an effort to build a culture of caring in my community and share what our schools are doing to promote care and respect. Principals could reach out to families in the community to spotlight families who exemplify caring and respect in their encounters with others and thank them on their websites.
iCARE is an acronym which stands for
While in person and online, students encounter each other and develop ways to communicate. In order to promote self worth and self esteem, iCARE spotlights ways to communicate face to face and online with respect. Too often, students have disrespected themselves by posting inappropriate images of themselves or others, belittled others through rude comments (Ex. TBR – To Be Rude which often precedes an ill spirited text or online posting) and seem to not care about the long term ramifications of their actions especially as it relates to racially charged texts and memes which perpetuate a lack of respect for various ethnic groups. It is time to take action and raise the bar. We have expectations for behavior at school already, however, iCARE gives a place to gauge interactions as respectful or not and provides opportunities for students to discuss how to change outcomes into respectful ones.
iCARE could build on my district’s Character Traits by having students celebrate ways that their classmates communicate and respectfully encounter each other at school or in social media. For example, in January, the traits are Justice and Fairness. Classes could talk about how they see people being treated fairly and unfairly by pointing to examples in the media. Teachers could show examples of how kids have not been treated fairly by other students online and have students brainstorm ways to change the tone to a respectful one. Students would decide how they would encounter the same situation online and what they could do to promote respect.
During February, whose character trait is Citizenship, students could examine situations of how to be a responsible citizen by creating Hearts on paper which would have examples written on the hearts of how they are responsible, respectful and caring in online and face to face encounters with others. The idea is that if a human heart has the right oxygen flowing in, then the oxygen renews the lungs thereby producing carbon dioxide and allowing life to exist. A heart needs a person to inhale and exhale in order for the body to function. As people, we need to be responsible to make comments that breathe life and health into ourselves instead of being irresponsible. When you tear others down with words, you are tearing yourself down and stifling your ability to communicate. When you build others up, you bring life and encouragement into yourself and others. This month would allow students to document their journey of giving life by their word choices to others in person and online. Students could participate in the following activities:
During February, students could examine situations of how to be a responsible citizen by creating Hearts on paper which would have examples written on the hearts of how they are responsible, respectful and caring in online and face to face encounters with others. I will have them look at statements about digital citizenship that they will discuss in small groups.
I would have each child in 4th and 5th Grade write how they communicate with respect when they encounter others in person and online. I will have them brainstorm a list on an online Padlet which they will choose from to write on their paper hearts. I will spell the following words by building each letter on my bulletin board with the hearts that students have written on: #iCARE I will also post the acronym iCARE and share what it means.
I Communicate and Respectfully Encounter
Show a heart that has been darkened by hurtful words and comments that weren’t respectful.
Repair the heart by doing something kind on top of the hurt places. Discuss what happens to a person who has been hurt by words over and over.
Add to an online social media outlet like Twitter to share compliments of how people have been respectful, responsible and caring with the hashtag: #iCARE.
In March, students would focus on Courage or doing the right thing when others aren’t. iCARE conversations in classrooms would again spotlight ways to be courageous. Students could take the iCARE Pledge to promise to communicate and respectfully encounter others in person and online AND focus on examining how their choices online are courageous or cowardly. Teachers could have students examine ways to be courageous if online sharing in Social Media puts others down or tears down their reputation? Teachers could talk about how students who put others down are sometimes just seeking ways to build themselves up but are going about it all wrong. Students could brainstorm the following scenarios:
Brainstorm acceptable ways to communicate courageously.
Brainstorm respectful interactions and projects to empower people.
Brainstorm ways to respect ourselves and those who do not look like us.
Brainstorm ways to not perpetuate stereotypes.
Brainstorm how to give “likes” for sharing appropriate info online instead of seeking to “one up” someone and put a riskier image or meme online. Discuss apps to build a sense of community instead of oversharing inappropriate topics for teens.
In April, the our spotlighted trait is Perseverance. This could be a time to think about continuing the traits and persevering to make a difference in the lives of others. Students could show that they care by developing iCare school projects to target how to help others such as tutoring, volunteering and community service.
In May, the character focus trait is Hope. We could end the school year by sharing stories how students have had hope when they have seen others choose to communicate and respectfully encounter others. Students could nominate each other for iCARE Awards where they would outline how other students have demonstrated character traits while communicating respectfully face to face and in online interactions with others.
I would like to have students design an iCARE Tee Shirt for our community. A portion of the proceeds from each school could go to fund a service project such as the Servants With a Heart food preparation for hungry families in Charlotte and Nicaragua or to fund another charity. My school’s students packed 50,160 food packages in September of 2015 for Servants With a Heart which had a huge impact on students and their ability to make a difference. I blogged about that experience here.
Please let me know if you would like to share the iCARE idea with your schools or Leadership Teams. I want to be a part of a solution in our community to promote health and wholeness in ways that people treat each other, especially online. This could be the beginning of a movement and usher in a tide of caring.