Digital Citizenship

Teachers, Take the Time to Talk to Students

As teachers, we often feel the rush to get through curriculum. We feel pressured by standards. By administrations. By tests. It can often feel like there’s absolutely no time for anything without a direct connection to our content areas.

And yet, the moments when we do step back from teaching to mentor students in life are often the moments that remind us why we teach. They remind us why students are so awesome. They remind us how the stakes are so high. They remind us of the potential that’s walking into our classrooms every day.

Therefore, as school starts tomorrow (TOMORROW!), remember to take the time to stop and talk to students. Talk to them about what they like to do for fun. Talk to them about their families. Talk to them about your life. Talk to them about digital citizenship.

Greet them at the door. Watch them play soccer. Sit with them at lunch. It doesn’t have to be every day, but show them that you care by making an effort.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to start intentional conversations with students:

  • Watch a YouTube video together. There are so many great conversation starters out there to watch with students that help us reflect on how we’re using our time and how we’re building relationships. I love to take 5-10 minutes at the end of class to show one and have a heart-to-heart together. (And guess what… not everything you watch has to be directly related to your curriculum. Raising our students to be humans is way more important than teaching them content.)

  • Ask them what they think. Find a controversial topic within your content area (or not in it) and open it up for discussion. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to not always have the answers, and I want my students to realize the same thing. I want to teach students to develop beliefs and be able to support those beliefs. I can’t teach that if I don’t ever ask them what they think.

  • Share what’s on your heart. No, of course you’re not going to share every little detail of your life with your students. That would be weird (and unprofessional). However, I find that when I stop class to share my heart with my students, they listen. It might be a life lesson I’m learning or something I’m observing about their class community. Regardless of the topic, when I take a moment to stop and share honestly with my students, I’m always amazed at how well they listen.

So take some time-outs this year from your classroom community to talk to your students. I think you’ll find that the time you spend mentoring them changes their behavior and increases their desire to learn from you. Share with them what you’re doing to be a positive digital citizenship and encourage them to do the same. When you spend time truly talking to students from your heart, you’ll be surprised how much they listen.

Students, Listen to Your Parents and Teachers

Guess what, students! Only TWO days until school starts! Woot! You can continue pretending to grumble, but I know you're excited for your school supplies and to see your friends everyday. I hope that you've been setting good boundaries as you've enjoyed your summer and maybe even listened to a few things as part of this Digital Citizenship Countdown.

Dear students, please listen to your parents and teachers. We really are try to help you be successful humans not ruin your social life. Really truly, we want what's best for you. This is what we want for you (among other things):

We want you to be able to carry on a face-to-face conversation with other humans. 


People are really important to us and have made a huge difference in shaping us into the men and women we are today. There are so many times in our lives when having someone to hold us while we cry or having someone to laugh with us until we peed our pants has made a world of difference in our lives. It's the people, not the things, that have made us who we are. And sure, some of that can happen with technology, but there's nothing as great as being face-to-face. We also just think this is a really important skill for you to have. Even more so than a good handshake. We want you to rock your future job interviews and have great first dates and grow up to be normal social humans. 

We want you to be well-rounded humans. 

Yes, I realize that's a really grown-uppy thing to say, but it's true. We want you to love the great outdoors and reading books and building things and cooking tasty foods. Sure, we're not always great at modeling that, but we know that we feel better when we do a variety of different activities in our life, and we know you will too. 

We want you to be present where you are. 


There are so many things fighting for your attention, including us. We want you to be present and engaged with us no matter where we're at. It's so hard for us to see kids sitting at a table together all staring at their phones, rather than being present. We fear that you're missing out on the great opportunities in front of you while you're looking at the screen or having your earbuds in. Yes, there are definitely times where they're are really great things on that screen, but sometimes there are even better things right in front of you. Your little sister looking up to you, hoping you'll play again. Your teacher imparting her awesome wisdom to you. Your friend sharing her heart. Be present where you're at and engage with those in front of you. 

And yes, we know there are times when we just don't get it, and we're out of touch. In those times we ask you to to try to calmly express what you're thinking. Help us understand more about the world you're living in so that we can best know how to support you and love you in it. We're really not trying to ruin your life. 


Parents, Talk to Your Student about Tech

Last year as part of our back to school tech training we started offering families time to go through Common Sense Media’s Family Media Agreement and Device Contract. Every family has slightly different boundaries when it comes to using technology in the home. We want to give families time to discuss what those boundaries are for them. I like to recommend certain standards (i.e., no computer in the bedroom), but ultimately each family needs to decide what is best for them. I like how the time we give them during that training gives them the space to at least start those conversations. If you haven’t already had such a conversation with your student, stop reading this right now, open the contract, print it out, go out for ice cream, and have the conversation with your student(s). 

As time goes on, though, it’s easy to get lax. Either we forget and stop being as aware, or it’s not worth the fight or life gets busy. It happens. That’s why it’s important to go back to the conversation again and again. Set yourself some calendar alerts - maybe one every quarter? - to return to the contract with your student(s) to see how both sides are holding up their ends of the bargain. Are you spending a healthy amount of time off of your device? Are you using the time on your device within the boundaries you've set up? Are you still charging it outside of your bedroom at night? 

Parents, your job is hard, and I thank you for it. Thank you for giving your student(s) boundaries at home with regards to technology so that they can learn to use it wisely. Thank you for partnering with us as teachers to teach students the positive powers of technology. Thank you for your help in keeping your kids safe in the digital space. What you’re doing isn’t easy, and there’s no perfect answer, but your devotion to talking about tech boundaries with your student(s) over and over again will really help to raise a positive digital citizen. 

Teachers, Communicate!

Communicating with Parents

Every night students come home and parents ask them, "How was your day today?" And how does the student reply for 170 out of the 180 school days? "Fine."

The parent presses on: "Did you learn anything?"


Isn't it amazing that we spend hours pouring into students and still these are their replies?

That's why it's important to communicate with parents. We need to give parents more information to help them have conversations about school with their students.

I've found that it's helpful to send an email home to parents every unit that explains my goals for the unit and different questions they can discuss with their student to learn more about what we are studying.

I think this year I will also start adding a digital citizenship question to the mix, even if it's not something directly related to our curriculum.

Parents are hungry for more resources to help them raise their sons and daughters as digital citizens, and we as teachers can partner with them by sharing what we know teens are facing in the digital space.

Communicating with Teachers

In many ways, we work in an isolation. More and more schools are pushing for collaboration among their staff, but many teachers have negative attitudes towards these forced methods (of which I am even guilty).

And yet, we are missing out on powerful ways of teaming up to teach our students.

We need to communicate with each other about the digital obstacles students are facing.

We need to communicate with each other about the topics we are teaching students and the expectations we are setting for them.

We need to communicate with each other about the strategies we use to teach students to be positive citizens.

For example, are we all requiring our students to use and cite Creative Commons media? Are we sharing strategies to stop sitting down so that we can have intentional conversations with students? Are we setting a positive example of spending our own time offline

We need to communicate with each other to support each other. It's not about competing for the teacher of the year. It's about caring for students and teaching them to be the best that they can be. 

So teachers, what are your favorite ways to communicate with families and colleagues about digital citizenship? 

Students, Keep Each Other Accountable

Hi students! Can you believe that we’re starting school in five days?! As teachers, we can’t wait to have your smiling faces in our classrooms. So please, bring your smiles. I hope that you’ve learned a few things as a part of this Digital Citizenship Countdown.

As we begin the new school year, I hope that you’ll keep each other accountable. Some of my best friends are those who kept me accountable in middle school. They’re still the ones that I go to when it seems like nothing goes right or when I have something to celebrate. I wish the same for you.

Remember that you fuel each other. You fuel each other to have the strength to do well. You spur each other on. However, you can also easily add fuel to each other’s fires. Encourage each other to do well and to be well.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to do that: 

  • Have some code words. Use words or phrases to call each other out without throwing each other under the bus. Maybe asking about the weather hints to your friend to stay on task in class. 
  • Use physical reminders. Put something on your computer to remind you to use your time wisely. Maybe it's a sticker of a jelly bean or even a Post-It to remind you to spend your time wisely. 
  • Be specific about your goals. When we aren't SMART with our goals, they often don't keep them. Give your goals words and share them with your friends.

All that to say, use your friends to help you be awesome. And in addition, be an awesome friend. Please help keep each other accountable. You'll much prefer to hear it from them than your parents and teachers, I promise.