Working in education takes a specific kind of courage. Educators constantly face the question: Am I competent at what I do? Am I relevant?
In 2009 I published Owning Up, a curriculum that was a combination of social emotional learning, bullying prevention, and media literacy. But I had to admit that the curriculum got old fast. Sure the fundamental issues were still there but the context of young people’s lives changed. Gradually over a few months I realized that it wasn’t good enough for my students or the teachers who taught Owning Up.
And that realization was important. As an educator for over twenty years I am passionately committed to giving students and teachers the best resources. I can’t stand the idea of a young person being in my classroom and thinking this is yet another waste of time “let’s be nice to each other” class. Equally intolerable is conducting a professional development where a teacher sits in the back of the room catching up on their grading, making their marketing list, or playing “PD Bingo” in the back of the room. As Kyle, a teacher I am working with, recently said during a planning meeting, You go to PD specifically on the importance of not reading off a Power Point and having the kids get out of their chairs but the person teaching you is reading off a Power Point and we don’t get out of our chairs all day.
We know social dynamics, conflicts, and bullying influence every child’s ability to learn. We know a safe school climate depends on teaching students the skills to manage their emotions and critically think through solutions to social conflicts. And we know that social competency helps young people from any background thrive after high school. However, the reality is any “life skills” “character building” or “bullying prevention” is hard enough to convince students to buy into; specifically because so many don’t reflect the issues this generation of young people experience.
That’s why I had to overhaul Owning Up. Sure, it’s hard to admit when your material is out of date but worse is teaching material that your audience believes is unrealistic. Today, I am very proud to say that because of an incredible collaboration with educators who already use Owning Up and a group of middle school and high school editors, Owning Up is completely new.
Owning Up offers a solution by teaching young people to understand their individual development in relation to group behavior, the influence of social media on their conflicts, and the dynamics that lead to discrimination and bigotry.
Let me give you an example. There is no cyberbullying lesson plan in Owning Up. Social media is interconnected with everything we do: how we learn, what we learn, and how we develop our personal identity. It is an integral part of our relationship dynamics–from how we express our support of each other to our anger when we are in conflict.
Yet most of the teaching young people get about social media is without a realistic context and based on scare tactics like, “You will never get get into college or get a job if you take or send an inappropriate picture. Everything you do and say is always there forever.” Instead we should recognize young people’s use of social media as an incredible teaching opportunity to discuss critical issues facing civil society. What does it mean to have a right to privacy? What is the appropriate balance between people’s right to express themselves and other people’s rights to feel safe and welcome in a community?
All of these incredibly important issues can be tied to our curriculum goals teaching core curricula classes like US History or Social Studies.
But Owning Up isn’t just a written curriculum. In addition, we are have revised our teacher training program to reflect best practices for adult learning and created a teacher support network so they can modify lessons and share their learnings with their colleagues.
But formal program or not, we all have opportunities to meaningfully engage with our students. It’s our responsibility to ask them tough questions, treat them with respect, disagree when necessary, demand honesty, laugh with them, apologize if we did something wrong. And above all to always treat them with dignity.