Being Human 101

Lesson 1: Technology

During my career as an elementary school counselor one of the cool things I got to do was meet with classrooms of children and teach lessons on such things as character and decision-making. I liked that there were no grades given and, generally speaking, there were no right or wrong answers. There was plenty of opportunity to explore various points of view and I did my best to create a safe atmosphere for discussion and learning.

During the final decade of my career technology came into play more than ever. Students in upper elementary were granted the privilege of having their own school email addresses. We progressed from having a few fifth graders with cell phones, to the majority of kids from grade three and up having their own phone. We went from requiring the phones to be powered off and in their backpacks to allowing students to use their devices during “green zone” time, which usually meant between classes, lunch, recess and other times with teacher permission. This was part of the reason there developed a need for instruction in internet safety, cyber-bullying and staff needing to stay on top of texting language used by kids for both the purpose of making it easier and to keep adults from always know the true meaning of their conversations.

Along with my fellow educators, I realized that kids were much more likely to text or post hurtful messages about others than they were to say the same words out loud to their friends. We noticed that some of the same kids that were generally thought of as “good kids”, sometimes texted or posted the most cruel things. As is true of humans of all ages, these hurtful technological blurbs tended to get passed on from one kid to the next. Most often, sooner rather than later, the child being name- called or otherwise humiliated found out. Sometimes the hurtful messages were less direct, being about a kids family, a staff member or even one of their friends. Just like it often is with adults, the kids felt hurt on behalf their special person and wanted to defend them. This behavior didn’t stay contained to individuals. Often the derogatory posts were about sports teams or clubs, be they local or professional. Fashion, music, certain foods, you name it, it was all open to criticism so feeling sometimes got hurt and kids felt like they were under attack even when the attack was less than direct. I decided they might benefit in a lesson in technology empathy.

I drew a stick figure on the dry erase board at the front of the classroom and told the kids my stick figure represented, Jordan (a name that could be either male or female), and that I wanted them to pretend that Jordan was a new kid in their class. I went on give a brief description of Jordan, telling about some of Jordan’s personality characteristics that could be viewed as positive, along with more characteristics that were likely to be thought of as weird or negative. I gave each student a post-it note, asked them to pretend it was a cell phone and instructed them write what they might text to a friend in another class if that friend first texted them asking, “Tell me about the new kid”. I did not require them to put their names on the post-it-notes, but instructed them to tap their imaginary send buttons. I collected the sticky slips of paper. Next, I read each note aloud then attached it to stick figure Jordan on the white board. This generally brought out giggles from the class.

After all the notes were in place I told the kids that now they were to pretend that I was Jordan. I held up a small white board about the size of a sheet of notebook paper and told the kids that each one would now have a turn to come up, take a note from the board and look at me, Jordan, while reading the message on the post-it. Hands shot up and several kids asked if they had to pick their own note. “No, you may choose any one like”, I assured the kids.

The mood in the room changed and most often the kids took their time in selecting the message to read to Jordan. Not always, but most selected the messages that were kind or at least not cruel. Some kids that were unfortunate enough to be last or nearly last found they struggled to read the hurtful words and look at my sad face. I didn’t force them and instead read it for them. They almost always commented. “That wasn’t mine.” Even though sometimes it was.

This lesson wasn’t one of my warm-fuzzy stories where we all felt better when it was over but many kids told me it was their favorite when asked at the end of the year. It also reminded me that I needed to walk the walk and while I was not perfect I think the lesson made me a better person as I did my best to lead by example.

I wish that I could round up groups of name calling adults and teach this lesson to them! When we use social media to call names it hurts. I doubt that any of the following will read my posts or yours; Donald Trump, Joe Biden, The Democratic Party, The Republican Party…but when we call names and scatter insults around like confetti people suffer and are thus more divided.

I am not saying we shouldn’t have conversations about Donald Trump, Joe Biden, The Democratic Party and the Republican Party, we definitely should. But what if we had these conversations with the rules of most elementary schools?

  • We are respectful, we don’t call names or makes fun of people or tell lies about them.
  • We take turns and don’t interrupt
  • We don’t say anything about a person we are not willing to say to their face.
  • We use appropriate language
  • We use our inside voices
  • We avoid hurting people with mean gestures or facial expressions
  • We are a team and every member is equally important, even when we don’t agree

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this selection I hope that you will share it. Have a blessed week and be safe out there.

Thanks to the following for the use of their photographs: Johah Pettrich, Ivan Aleksic and Marcus Spiske

4 Comments

  1. That’s a REALLY powerful exercise, Sue. I wish you could somehow put together a publication of the many insightful, life-changing activities you used with your students. Your expertise, knowledge and ability to connect with students just HAS to be available to other educators who come after you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are just cool, in elementary language or at least way back in my teaching days, you would have been cool You are so on target with everything. Loved the post and love you friend. I am busy every day this week but maybe the next week we can walk or sit and rock, social distancing and a mask. ________________________________

    Like

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