“ ‘Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?’…Kinder than is necessary. Because it isn’t enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”
—R.J. Palacio in Wonder
Roasting. Burning. Bullying. These behaviors have invaded our students’ physical and digital spaces. When devices and social media make it so easy to be cruel to others, how can we teach our students kindness?
After reading R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, I’ve been reflecting on this question, particularly as I developed a new middle school digital citizenship curriculum. Digital citizenship for these students is simply citizenship—their online and offline lives are intertwined, and they don’t see them as separate. With this in mind, I decided to focus on personal identity as a theme for the seventh grade course, helping students navigate the intersections of their actions online and offline. Our overarching questions: “What is my personal identity? What do I want it to be?”
I’ve challenged these students to be kind. Each week, we start class writing a weekly reflection. Prompts for the reflection focus on raising awareness of habits and actions on devices. Following an activity in which students wrote appropriate and inappropriate captions for photos, they reflected on and were surprised by some of their comments about people they’ve never met. Why were they so mean? Because it was easy. Because it was anonymous. Because they could be.
So how do we teach our students to be kind digital citizens? Here are a few suggestions.
Managing social interactions is tricky for students regardless of the medium. Starting with a foundation of kindness provides students with the awareness and tools they will need to navigate ever-changing modes of communication.
How will you teach digital citizenship through the lens of kindness? How will you raise awareness among students of their actions and behaviors online and off? How will you model kindness in all aspects of your life?
Jennifer Hanson is director of library services at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.
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