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Tools of the Trade: Kindness in our Digital and Physical Spaces

Rita Sorrentino

R.J. Palacio’s award-winning children’s novel Wonder and the recent major motion picture of the same name shed light on tender topics for the tween-targeted audience. In the book and movie, kindness, acceptance and friendship triumph over bullying, exclusion and peer pressure. Readers/viewers of all ages can undoubtedly connect with feelings and emotions of the characters in identifying empathy as an important and vital skill for social and emotional growth.

As we begin this New Year, perhaps a companion book, 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts offers us an alternative to traditional resolutions, that for the most part, decrease significantly as the months of the New Year unfold. In this insightful book, with daily precepts organized by monthly themes, we have an opportunity to focus attention on important precepts, the profiles behind the precept, and the status they hold in our lives. With thoughts compiled from popular culture, literary and historical references, as well as contributions from readers of Wonder, Palacio extends Mr. Browne’s teaching with precepts and opens conversations between characters. These brief daily quotes on the really important things (virtues, kindness, heroes, self worth) serve as mindful moments, classroom discussion starters, writing prompts and/or reflections on the accumulating consequences of choices. As a whole class, in small groups or individually, students can begin the new calendar year by identifying precepts that highlight important learning goals, provide motivation in tough times, and build stamina for literacy learning throughout the academic year.

Teaching digital citizenship fits easily along these lines of fostering a culture of caring and empathy in our learning spaces. Technology gives us amazing opportunities for communicating, collaborating and connecting with people near and far, but also presents digital dilemmas as more students, even our youngest learners, interact digitally with content and other users across various platforms. Keeping up with their digital lives is a challenge to families, schools and communities, but a necessary and essential part of their safe and responsible digital participation and understanding.

In this blog post, “The Definition of Digital Citizenship,”  Terry Heick a former English teacher who is interested in how learning is changing in a digital and connected world, walks us through a working and evolving definition of digital citizenship. Concluding with “the self-monitored habits that sustain and improve the digital communities you enjoy or depend on,” he explains how digital citizenship involves actions and habits that define the tone of interactions in digital environments. The article concludes with an infographic that presents a growing list of characteristics in student-friendly language. Perhaps students can consider some of these guidelines as precepts for their digital learning.

· Use technology to gather information, communicate or just have fun; use caution when talking to people you do not know.

· Utilize online etiquette.

· Include all who wish to join.

· Respect others’ point of view; explain why you disagree.

· Stand against cyberbullying.

· Talk to someone about what might disturb or confuse you

· Cross-reference all resources. Don’t just take their word for it.

· Explore what other are doing around the world and embrace new technological abilities.

I came across a Ted Talk in which writer and speaker Lauren Hug talks about the power of kindness in our digital world. Lauren laments the rise of anger in many digital spaces, and explores kindness as a critical stance for connecting and understanding others in our physical and digital environments. She challenges us to examine our core beliefs and evaluate how we fit in, stand out, and speak up. Her forthcoming book, Digital Kindness: Being Good to Yourself and Others in a Social Media World, promises more on the subject of developing professional digital communication skills and strategies for navigating social media. Lauren serves as a high school coach for public speaking, debate teams, and communication skills. She endeavors to plant seeds for purposeful digital kindness by developing strategies for listening and acknowledging others in meaningful ways.

Further Resources:

CommonSense Education provides a comprehensive curriculum to help students participate safely and responsibly in our digital world. Included are resources for parents, educators and advocates.

ISTE (International Society for Technology and Education) continues to expand the conversation around issues related to kids and technology, particularly digital citizenship. Becoming safe and responsible digital citizens starts very early in a child’s life. This site includes current articles to deal with trends and promote positive outcomes.

What resources have you used to raise awareness of the importance of responsible behavior? How can we help our students make connections between Mr. Browne’s precepts and digital kindness? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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