A Lot to Believe In
Sameer and I just returned from the Jostens Renaissance National Conference which was held this year in Orlando, Florida. This was the 5th year that I have presented at this conference and the second time that Sameer has participated. The theme of the event was “Something to Believe In” and did they ever deliver. Despite what the media and some politicians might have us believe, there is a lot to believe in when it comes to the current state and future of education in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some significant challenges out there confronting educators in America, but if the folks who attended this conference are any indication, there is much to be optimistic about.
Over 800 enthusiastic educators and 300 rock-star students were in attendance, but with the amount of energy and vigor that was present during all of the activities, you would have thought that ratio was reversed. The conference included dozens of educational breakout sessions, several featured presentations, two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, a rock show (by Parachute!) and a trip to Epcot, among the many other highlights. It is always the best conference I am involved in every year and this was no exception.
Most educators are familiar with Jostens because they offer yearbooks, class rings, diplomas and a whole host of other products and services to create and promote school spirit. What is most attractive to us, though, is the outreach and programming work they do to help schools increase graduation rates and boost student learning, leadership, character, and integrity. For example, Jostens Renaissance is a *free* program that schools can customize and implement to improve attendance, academic performance, belongingness, and connectedness. It is all about recognizing and rewarding students and staff for positive behaviors in the classroom and beyond. The National Conference is an annual showcase of best practices in these efforts and educators leave with hundreds of practical ideas along with a boatload of inspiration and motivation.
Sameer and I presented a 3 hour pre-conference session along with two breakout sessions during the conference. All of the sessions were filled to capacity – even the 8am breakout on Sunday morning! That tells you something about those who were in attendance. They are motivated to learn as much as they can to improve the culture of their schools.
We did a “Pause Before You Post” student session that had well over 100 participants. We learned from our online interactive polling during the presentation that 61% of them had posted something online that they later regretted and that just about half of them didn’t think that their school took cyberbullying very seriously. To be sure, this is not a representative sample in the scholarly sense, but it gives us a unique perspective on these issues from the viewpoint of a specific sample of students who are generally very involved in their schools. Many of the students talked with us afterwards about some ideas they had to improve the climate of their school and to prevent the misuse of technology. A couple dozen turned to twitter to publicly pledge to “pause before they posted.” (We worked with Jostens last year to develop a “Pause Before You Post” kit that schools can use to reinforce positive messages about the safe and responsible use of technology.)
What I like most about this conference is that it embodies much of what we preach about how to develop a positive climate at school. It is all about the people: the relationships and connections. In schools, how the staff treats students and each other determines a lot about the climate. The teacher at the front of the classroom is perhaps most important in this regard but the counselors, principals, cafeteria servers, bus drivers, and anyone else who interacts with or in front of students also has a significant role to play. In a school with a positive climate, students and staff treat each other with respect and value each other’s contributions to the greater whole. Moreover, the students and staff genuinely want to be there—they want to be a part of the learning that is taking place. They look forward to coming to school and interacting with their friends.
That is how the Jostens conference is. Even though most of the attendees are first-timers, it is like one big family. People come from across the United States and Canada, yet revel in their common experiences as educators and students. It is a carnival-like atmosphere where everyone is learning and having a good time (and the conference clearly shows that these two things need not be mutually exclusive!). It is also an opportunity to forget about the problems facing education and focus on why teachers went into the business in the first place. The organizers pour their lives and hearts into this event, and it shows. You want to be a part of this. It is just plain amazing. And you can’t help but want to bottle that up and bring it back to your school.
If you are interested in some additional tidbits from the conference, check out @J_Renaissance on twitter and the hashtag #somethingtobelievein. If you are a Jostens school (you have Jostens yearbooks, class rings, or graduation materials), talk to your sales representative about bringing Renaissance to your school. Again, it is free and you will not regret it.
Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation Launch, and School Climate!
Justin and I had a great time at Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation launch at Harvard University last week. It was amazing to be surrounded by such brilliant scholars, researchers, and practitioners from across the United States, and even a few from England and Australia. The professional event we were a part of was entitled “Symposium on Youth Meanness and Cruelty,” and this involved an all-day meeting and brainstorming session to identify priorities for the Foundation. Afterwards, the highly-publicized launch event at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre gave Oprah Winfrey and other luminaries like Deepak Chopra and the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius the opportunity to ask meaningful questions to Lady Gaga about the genesis, role, and goals of her new Foundation.
I should mention that Lady Gaga also gave her mom Cynthia Germanotta the opportunity to share from her heart, as this Foundation (or Movement, as they would prefer to characterize it) is their joint project. Both were very eloquent and impressive, and we definitely appreciated what they had to say. Most important to me was the fact that they desired to do this work against the backdrop of solid research which could properly inform them as to what can work and what will fail. A handful of celebrities have come up with similar campaigns but have not sought the assistance of scholars in the field to let them know where and how to direct monies and other resources. Finally, I should say that it’s somewhat unbelievable that we were just a handful of feet away from arguably the two most influential women in the entire world, in our generation.
My task at the Symposium was to help lead the School Climate/Culture stream (there were five other streams which included: Classroom-based curricula, Curricula as campaign for a networked age, Evaluation and assessment, Grassroots and peer-driven initiatives, and Law and policy—which Justin participated in). I was particularly excited about my role in the school climate stream because of our forthcoming new book entitled “School Climate 2.0” – we’ll share more information about that in the weeks ahead. The Foundation is dedicated to youth empowerment, and believes that: (1) all youth have the right to be safe; (2) all youth need to have the skills to be successful; and (3) all youth need to have opportunities to be productive citizens. Our Stream goals were to identify gaps, holes, and issues in the school climate arena, and to inform the Foundation’s agenda in this space.
Here’s basically what we came up with together, as a team (including Rick Weissbourd – my co-leader, Peggy Sheehy, Peter Smith, Arthur Horne, Gary McDaniel, Dierdre O’Connor, Lee Rush, Howard Gardner, Deborah Temkin, Peter Wyman, Margot Strom, Larry Magid, Jeff Parotti, Ned Crowley, and Hannah Deresiewicz).
NEED TO KNOW POINTS:
1. Schools do not operate in a vacuum, but are rather embedded in a culture and society. Therefore, any focus on schools alone is limited. The shift needs to occur in culture and civil society, both from the top down (institutionally) and from the bottom-up (grassroots). That being said, schools are not powerless and have important access and resources (albeit never enough of the latter). Expecting schools to be the only site of social change, however, will fail to affect the entire environment youth inhabit.
2. In a similar vein, bullying is not an isolated youth phenomenon. Aggressive, prejudiced, and mean behavior is common among adults as well. Therefore, any solution to meanness and cruelty must confront these problems across demographics and while keeping in mind their causes (e.g. prejudice). Such a solution precludes adult-driven, vertical reflections and interventions that do not engage youth. As such, young people can contribute to these reflections, as they offer perspective and experience not available to adults.
3. Traditionally, students in schools are often grouped as “successful,” “lost causes,” “athletes,” “geeks,” “outsiders,” and so forth. Reinforcing these often artificial categories limits both young people’s identities and our imagination when it comes to interventions. For example, zero-tolerance policies classify rule-breakers as “bad kids” incompatible with the school. Schools should encourage and build structures that lead to cross-interaction between groups and micro-cultures. For example, low-achieving students working with high-achieving peers begin to adopt better behavior. This is likewise true when it comes to social exposure (e.g. Gay-Straight Alliances).
4. Successful programs out there are diverse but share some characteristics. These include:
- youth involvement in agenda-setting, implementation, and evaluation;
- sustained and more meaningful parent involvement;
- investment by teachers, administrators, system, and community, especially in terms of funding;
- attention to students’ social success as well as academic, moving away from narrow attention to academic standards;
- direct interventions for particularly at risk groups blended with school climate initiatives (paying attention to the vast majority that are doing fine, while also “catching” the 5% at high risk through personal interventions).
1. Prevention and intervention needs to begin at the youngest ages. While interventions for older young people are critical, there are diminishing returns to culture shifts once behaviors become firmly entrenched. Therefore, values and social-emotional skills should be part of core-learning goals from early education onward.
2. Training for the change-makers (teachers, students, community) should be undertaken strategically with express attention to cruelty and meanness. This is especially true for in-service and pre-service teacher training, which necessarily involves also meaningful feedback from young people. Likewise, progress toward this end should be assessed and made available to the public.
3. Supporting collaborative campaigns that harness youth collective power along with untapped resources, such as policy or even celebrity (this is where Lady Gaga can have a huge impact).
CROSS STREAM COLLABORATION:
1. Grassroots and peer-driven initiatives – school culture is created by everyone in the environment (and influenced by outside). Collaboration among all stakeholders guided by common principles will create comprehensive shifts. Relevant stakeholders include parents, law-enforcement, youth workers, mental health professionals, and others who work with and care about students.
2. Classroom-based curriculum: resources that draw on young peoples’ input and intrinsic motivation, including games, new media, social media.
3. Evaluation and assessment: Socio-emotional learning should be a core part of curriculum and mission, but standardizing it can be challenging and problematic.
BIG PICTURE IDEAS:
1. Young people have a collective intelligence that we do not have and cannot develop naturally. This is born of engagement with new media (game environments, virtual worlds, etc.). We can transcend the boundaries between youth and adults by using youth’s natural skills and intrinsic motivations.
2. Mini-documentaries can be created by youth featuring schools that are highlighting climate best practices, perhaps also tapping into the celebrity network of Lady Gaga for greater cache.
3. Collaborative efforts between youth, teachers, and other adults should be solicited and rewarded. It is important that we not create “adult solutions” to “kid problems,” but that we focus on human solutions to human problems.
As you can see, it was a pretty remarkable day. I know that the Symposium was just the first step in what will be a long dialogue and a lot of work in this area. We’re excited to be plugged in and will do what we can – with the help of so many other scholars and educators on the front lines – to assist Lady Gaga’s movement and make a measurable difference in emboldening students, equipping youth-serving adults, and promoting a kinder, braver world.
National Conference on Youth Cybersafety, Dallas, TX, March 3rd
On March 3rd, I will be presenting at the National Conference on Youth Cybersafety in Dallas. I’ll be speaking about Cyberbullying Prevention and Response, and there are a number of really bright and seasoned experts covering a variety of other topics at this event. Adolescent brain development, legal issues, sexting prevention, social media use among youth-serving professionals, online reputations, school-based walled-garden social networking approaches, and student-led initiatives will all be addressed and discussed in detail. If you are in the area, I encourage you to come out and meet me there! You can learn more about the conference here www.youthcybersafety.com.
Jostens Renaissance 2011: You Make it Matter
As regular readers of this blog will know, Sameer and I have had a long partnership with Jostens. When I was in high school in the mid-1990s, our class rings and yearbooks came from Jostens, so I knew of the brand. About four years ago, Charley Nelson, who is the director of educator services for Jostens, contacted me to talk about our cyberbullying work. Little did I know that in addition to their yearbooks and rings (they designed the 2011 Super Bowl ring!), they also coordinate a number of professional development activities for educators, mostly centered on cultivating a positive school climate. Their Renaissance Program emphasizes academic achievement, encourages student and staff recognition, and promotes school pride. We’ve worked with them over the last year to develop materials for “Pause Before You Post” – a campaign to educate teens about responsible personal publishing (online and off). See our “Student Guide to Personal Publishing” here.
The flagship event for Jostens Renaissance each year is their national conference, which draws over 1000 educators and student leaders from around the United States. I have been fortunate to have been a presenter at this conference for the past three years and I will tell you that it is flat out the best educator conference that I have been a part of. The positive energy is palpable and I leave the conference inspired and reinvigorated. There is a lot of learning and networking, infused with A TON of fun. This year, the conference is in Anaheim (July 15-17) and both Sameer and I will be there, presenting on issues related to cyberbullying, sexting, and responsible social networking. Headline speakers include Bill Walton (basketball Hall of Famer) and Liz Murray (Homeless to Harvard). If you have never been to this conference, you need to attend – and there is still time to sign up. I personally guarantee that you will not be disappointed. If you have attended in the past, leave a comment with your experience. If you will be there this year, stop by and say hello. If you are a Facebook follower, find me and mention this blog and I’ll give you a gift (while supplies last!). Hope to see you in Anaheim!
New Hampshire’s Cyberbullying Law, upcoming Cyberbullying Conference
New Hampshire is one of the states whose cyberbullying law (passed earlier this year) we applaud. Specifically, House Bill 1523 asserts the following:
I. Bullying or cyberbullying shall occur when an action or communication as defined in RSA 193-F:3:
(a) Occurs on, or is delivered to, school property or a school-sponsored activity or event on or off school property; or
(b) Occurs off of school property or outside of a school-sponsored activity or event, if the conduct interferes with a pupil’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the orderly operations of the school or school-sponsored activity or event.
The language discussing cyberbullying that is initiated offline but still affects the school is extremely important, as educators are demanding clarity as to when they can intervene once a student of theirs is victimized. We particularly like the way this is worded – and every state needs to include language like this in their bullying/cyberbullying statutes.
This law and its application will be discussed in detail at an upcoming New Hampshire cyberbullying conference in Meredith on November 1st. I will be presenting, as will colleagues from the Attorney General’s Office and the Internet Crimes Unit, the State Trooper’s office, and the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC). I encourage you to attend if you can!