6 steps to promote good digital citizenship for all students

Standing at the intersection of digital citizenship and responsible device usage, school districts can make a real difference in their students’ lives

By the time today’s digital natives enter high school, most of them have already been using devices, computers, the internet, and social media for years. They use these tools on their own terms and for their own reasons, many of which aren’t readily apparent to older adults who didn’t grow up with tablets and mobile phones in hand.

This usage presents unique challenges for educators who must not only teach a standard curriculum and help shepherd students into adulthood, but who must also help promote good digital citizenship both in and out of the classroom.

Whether this means posting on social media only content that they’d be okay with everyone seeing; not using profanity; using their devices responsibly and safely at all times; or following the rules and guidelines when using classroom forums, Instagram, or other sites; raising good digital citizens is as challenging as it is rewarding.

Here’s how we do it at our district.

Related: How to craft useful, student-centered social media policies

A 6-step digital citizenship plan

Step 1: Start with creating and implementing a Responsible Technology Use agreement.

We’re committed to helping our students use technology safely and responsibly, so our district implemented a Responsible Technology Use agreement. For our students, this means completing an annual digital-citizenship course within 30 days of enrollment in the district. We use a comprehensive program from CommonSense Media, where the lessons run 20-25 minutes in length and we administer them within our classroom labs, regular classrooms, or at home. The content is grade-specific (for us that’s grades 7-12) and features lessons designed to empower students to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world.

Step 2: Focus on digital etiquette, respect, and safety.

Our digital citizenship courses teach our junior high and high school students how to respect themselves and others through digital etiquette, digital access, and digital-law lessons. The courses educate students and show them how to connect with others through digital literacy, digital communication, and digital commerce lessons. Finally, they teach students how to protect themselves and others through modules like digital rights and responsibilities, digital security, and digital health and wellness.

Step 3: Prepare students to leave the best #digitalfootprint in the digital world.

Whether they enter the workforce or college, we want our students to be well prepared for the world. And that means leaving a digital footprint that they can be proud of. We take this responsibility very seriously; we consider this our last chance to teach them before they graduate.


Why students’ emotional well-being in school is tied to their success

A new report outlines how positive emotional well-being in school can help students develop the right skills to excel in higher ed and the workforce

Alongside growing awareness about the benefits of social and emotional learning (SEL), new research from Microsoft demonstrates once again that emotional well-being in school is a strong predictor of academic and workplace success.

The Microsoft report addresses the growing role artificial intelligence has in the labor market, and emphasizes the way skills such as emotional regulation, empathy, collaboration, and creativity (often also called soft skills) will help prospective employees stand out to potential employers. Developing those skills starts in school.

Read more: 10 activities to integrate SEL into your classroom

Helping students maintain positive emotional well-being in school aids in the development of these important skills, the Microsoft survey demonstrates.

Eighty percent of the 762 surveyed educators believe positive emotions are critical for academic success, and 80 percent also say emotional well-being is crucial for developing foundational literacies and communication skills.

Seventy percent say students’ emotional well-being in school has become more important for K-12 students since the surveyed educators started their careers in education.


5 ways to promote & share edtech success

Let others know about the great things happening in your school or district

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the TCEA TechNotes blog.]

“Toot your own horn,” my dad often advised me. “The squeaky gate gets the oil.” The advice to self-aggrandize often went against my shy nature. As a school or district leader, don’t let your shyness stop you from sharing successful stories, especially those that include the use of academic technology. In this blog entry, we’ll explore five ways you can promote and share successful edtech success.

Related: 8 easy ways to improve your public relations efforts

#1 – Create posters and infographics

Make an infographic that captures ways students are creating and sharing works. You can make impactful infographics using PosterMyWall, a free infographic maker. Or take advantage of some of these free infographics.

“Digital stories are multimedia movies that combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a narrative voice. Digital stories may be used as an expressive medium within the classroom to integrate subject matter with extant knowledge and skills from across the ” (Source).

Here’s one idea on capturing and sharing digital stories from people who were there. The poster is adapted from this source.

You can print these infographics or posters on walls, in teachers’ lounges. Don’t be afraid to brighten a restroom stall with a three-step tutorial on an ed tech topic of choice.

#2 – Connect the physical space to the virtual

Libraries represent literacy. What space in your school does the same for edtech-powered learning? This might be an office or space educators can get quick help on creating with technology. It may be a place they read technology-related websites and/or view short video tutorials. Yes, they could find this anywhere, but physical space sends a message. The message? Learning edtech has a tangible impact. Combine a physical space with online professional learning. Advertise upcoming PD in Your Pajamas, as Sharyland (TX) Independent School District (ISD)’s Alfonso Mendoza, Jr. (@SharylandEdTech) has done.

You can use tools like Certify’em or Autocrat to create digital certificates for both face to face and virtual professional learning opportunities, including self-paced ones.

You can set up an old fridge box or large appliance box as a video station. This could be a green screen room or a place where teachers and students use video apps. They can conduct interviews about technology innovation lessons. Have them reflect on a successful project they have participated in. Then share those video creations via social media.


4 lies the system teaches school leaders about struggling readers

It’s time to separate myth from reality so we can support all readers

There are four lies/misconceptions about struggling readers that have become embedded in school systems, said Terrie Noland, vice president of educator initiatives at Learning Ally, during a recent edWebinar. “School leaders are just following along and are starting to believe them.” These misconceptions are having a detrimental impact on struggling readers, and school leaders need to set the tone and build a school culture where best practices and evidence-based research are shared to create a system of support for all readers.

4 lies we are told about struggling readers

1. Struggling readers have a lower cognitive capacity than typical readers

All students have similar cognitive capacities in their brains; however, the connections to learning are different in the brain of a struggling reader. These students need a specific type of fluency intervention for them to make connections to the cognitive capacities in their brains that lead to learning. The four elements of fluency that launch students into the cognitive process are rate, automaticity, accuracy, and prosody. By building these skills, students start to develop their neuro-networks and move to the learning area of the brain.

2. Lower expectations for students that are falling behind due to reading

The belief that lowering reading expectations benefits struggling readers not only hurts students’ competency but under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is against the law. In the case Endrew F. v Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court ruled that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” and that “goals should be as ambitious as is reasonable for the student.”

Related: These easy intervention strategies can help struggling readers thrive

Setting a low bar is not a recipe for reading success. Schools need to set challenging goals for students with disabilities while also scaffolding up the content. Giving struggling students individualized tools and accommodations enables them to reach their learning potential and be given the same assessments as non-struggling students.

3. Our curriculum needs to embed leveled reading no matter the goal

Leveled reading must have a specific purpose and intent when used as a tool for struggling readers. Using predictable text that utilizes repeated patterns provides students opportunities to practice the taught skills. Controlled text (where the text is written with words that use decoding skills) can be used to help students move onto the cognitive process. Leveled texts (where stories and informational text has been written to control the level of difficulty and some aspect of skill application) provide students with guided reading instruction to practice skills necessary to read non-leveled content when back in the classroom.


How to tackle testing trauma in 4 effective ways

All of these ideas can operate as standalone or combined strategies to help reduce anxiety

It’s that time of year again. Standardized testing is making its way throughout American schools, and with it, nerves are ramping up. Because high-stakes tests happen all year (e.g., midterms, formal assessments), you can use any or all of these strategies at any time. However, they are especially helpful during the intensity of high-stakes testing season.

These strategies are quick, easily adaptable to any school setting, and work with all age groups. Employing just one will be helpful, but the progressive effect of adding them together is even more effective.

How to prepare your students for tests

1. When you move the body, you move the mind

Set up exercises before testing each day. Given that students sit for most of their school day, this is effective even during a non-testing day. Remember that on testing day, students may sit for up to two straight hours! Intermittent body movement is critical to good circulation and flow, and with that, the mind moves better. This quick warmup is effective before a test and during a break between sections.

Have students follow an exercise routine in the classroom; here’s an example. Better yet, have your physical education teacher make a video; students likely connect more with their own teachers. Play energetic/motivational background music. Getting the body activated in this way is important, especially right before a long period of sitting, and will activate a child’s mind to think more creatively and critically.

2. Test site visitation day

We decided to help reduce student (and faculty) anxiety by scheduling a test site visitation day. Here’s how it works: Several days before testing week, schedule students to visit their test site. Just being in a test-site location matters, as being in that context helps put students minds at ease. Do an announcement like this one, explaining that this is no different than their regular classroom setting and that they likely know some kids. They also get to meet the proctor.

Related: A classroom teacher’s guide to reducing test anxiety (and testing!)

3. Free write test anxieties and discussion

We know from research that anxiety is reduced when students write about their test worries. We incorporate this practice into our test site visitation day: When students are in the room with their peers and proctor, they can take a few moments to free write. Next, they talk about their concerns and there is a brief discussion class wide about a few of the main worries. Often, students say out loud, or may think privately, “Wow, others have the same worries as me. I’m not alone.” That shared experience helps validate concerns and can be a calming experience.


5 secrets for rolling out a successful 1:1 initiative

California’s largest elementary school district shares key considerations for going 1:1

Classrooms have become increasingly tech-focused, though technology alone isn’t enough to change a classroom. Instead, it’s a mix of the right training, tools, and support. Powerful digital resources become transformative only when the teachers and students using them are engaged and understand how to use tech to its fullest potential.

Chula Vista School District is the largest elementary school district in California. Of our 30,000 students, 34 percent are English learners (EL), and 52 percent are students living in poverty. We’re located approximately five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, making EL instruction a top priority in our schools.

Five years ago, we began the journey to implement a 1:1 initiative across our 41 schools, for third through sixth grade. During this experience, we’ve learned a lot. These are our five key pieces of advice for rolling out a one-to-one initiative in an elementary district.

5 lessons learned from a 1:1 district

1. Create equitable access

With such a large district, we have teachers and students coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with their own individual experiences, strengths, and challenges. As administrators, it’s important to us to ensure that what we’re sharing with our student body is relevant and meaningful.

Prior to rolling out our implementation plan, we engaged researchers from Rutgers University to conduct a study on internet access in our communities living in poverty. We found that over 90 percent of households did in fact have access to the internet, but often through a cell phone, rather than a computer or tablet. This signaled a significant gap, where students had unequal access to technology. A 1:1 initiative builds a bridge to access for students who may not otherwise be able to work digitally.

Related: One-to-one: Overcoming financial and other obstacles

Chula Vista has built a culture around collaboration to meeting the needs of all of our students. We used California’s Local Control and Accountability (LCAP) program to set goals, plan actions, and leverage the needed resources to build our 1:1 strategy.

2. Create an interdependent system

Rather than calling our system centralized or decentralized, we have coined it “interdependent.” With this concept, every single stakeholder group has something to contribute, and we work interdependently to move and meet student needs. This includes working with local business leaders, parents, and faculty to support learners.

Prior to rollout, we engaged our stakeholders—specifically teachers—and held a hardware summit. We invited vendors, including Panasonic, Lenovo, and Asus, to demo their products. Teachers, administrators, and students were able to test the hardware and vote on which tools they liked best.

This way, we knew what our stakeholders wanted from the beginning. We were able to see what would provide value to teachers and students.


How we turned around our students’ confidence and scores

A high school English teacher uses online portfolios my classroom to help students feel more comfortable with trying, failing, and, most importantly, improving


Hillsboro High School is part of the Hillsboro Independent School District in Hillsboro, Texas. It is a rural district that serves over 2,000 students on five campuses; 77 percent of the student body qualifies for free/reduced lunch.

Biggest challenge:

Our school is required to enforce a series of standardized tests every year to assess a student’s achievements and knowledge learned in the grade level. When students weren’t passing these tests, their self-confidence was diminished and it affected their willingness and effort during difficult tasks. Instead of worrying about a single test score, I wanted my students to shift their focus on their day-to-day growth.


I teach English, so I started using mini-lessons for essay writing to break down skills. My goal was to change the climate and culture in my classroom to help students feel more comfortable with trying, failing, and, most importantly, improving.

After assigning a “standard” written essay based on materials that we were reading in class, I would have students read their essays at the front of the class while I recorded them. Later on, I would upload these videos in their FreshGrade portfolio. The goal of these videos was for students to “see” how their writing skills were progressing over time.

Once students overcame their shyness, I saw a drastic shift in my classroom. Students were correcting their work as they read out loud, which translated to better writing the next assignment. They were able to view their essays and noticed their improvements for themselves, something that wasn’t happening with the traditional approach to essay writing.

Related: 4 things you should know about digital portfolios

Before, students were mostly concerned with getting the work done; now, they are motivated to reflect and improve. Through online portfolios, students know if they are meeting standards and are able to adjust as necessary. Students are taking ownership of their writing and focusing on their improvements, not their failures.

In addition to this strategy, students complete journal activities that are uploaded to their portfolios throughout the year. Recently, students researched Supreme Court cases that may impact them and reflected on this in their journals. Through this, I’m not only connecting real-world events in the classroom, but giving students the opportunity to hone their writing skills over time and reflect on their progress throughout the course of the school year.

Lessons learned:

  • Confidence affects effort.
  • Focus on growth, not scores.
  • Encourage student engagement.

Next steps:

To continue building student confidence and ownership by using digital portfolios, and to celebrate wins and progress throughout the school year. Since parents have the ability to access student portfolios, my hope is that we can increase family engagement inside and outside of the classroom as well.

Next week:

See how a district turned around its reading program.


Student safety management is more important than ever

School administrators navigate a tricky field of potential physical safety threats, making student safety management tools a must-have

Along with students’ increased use of and reliance on technology comes another avenue to detect risks for harmful behavior or violent attacks. School safety management systems can play an integral role in helping administrators stay on top of critical threats.

Often, it seems as if just when the nation starts to repair after one school shooting, another occurs. Students fear for their safety or fear copycats during the anniversary of attacks, and they also fear physical attacks or threats because of their race or religion.

Read more: The biggest changes to school security

And violent attacks are just one piece of the student safety management puzzle. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm, inappropriate messaging or contact with others, and reports of abuse are more common than school leaders may realize.

For instance, during the first six months of the 2018-2019 school year, 5 out of every 10,000 students threatened that they, or someone they knew, were planning a suicidal act or were engaging in self-harm. One out of every 10,000 students had planned a specific threat of violence toward others or their school.

These figures, from a report by student safety management provider Gaggle, demonstrate the importance of getting out in front of the myriad potential threats school administrators must navigate.


Transform your staff lounge to support teacher wellbeing

Providing peace corners help teachers practice mindfulness

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the Move This World blog.]

According to a study done by the University of Missouri, 93% of teachers are experiencing high levels of work-related stress. Mindfulness has already been proven to boost the emotional climate of the classroom by supporting teacher wellbeing; however, many schools still struggle with incorporating mindful practices for staff into school culture. What can schools do to begin prioritizing mindfulness as a daily routine for staff? Peace corners could be a place to start.

Related: 8 ways I practiced mindfulness this year

What are peace corners?

The purpose of a peace corner is to create a quiet, calming, and inviting space to practice mindfulness. With a growing number of children and teens experiencing trauma, peace corners have become a safe haven for students and a way for educators to address adversity and underlying issues of inequity in education.

Students are able to visit these spaces to work through personal challenges independently, practice self-regulation, and spend a few much needed mindful moments alone. Peace corners often contain a number of sensory items such as stuffed animals, toys, comfortable seating, glitter jars, notebooks, etc – all objects that are designed to help students with meditation and reflection.

Peace corners are proven to be effective and they’re empowering our students to practice resilience as well as take ownership of their actions and emotions. It’s true that peace corners were originally intended for students; however, everyone deserves time for quiet reflection, especially educators.

3 steps to creating peace corners for staff

Step 1:
Introduce staff to the idea and then figure out what they’d like to see included in their peace corner. Since a peace corner is a private and transformative space, it is important that this area is designed to fit the diverse needs of your staff. Ways you can collect this information is by addressing it at the next staff meeting or sending around a simple email survey that will allow educators to express their needs.


Designing a K–5 robotics class from the ground up

An innovative math teacher lays out his multi-year approach to teaching STEM with robots

As a former computer engineer with a background in applied math, I’m a firm proponent of STEM education. As a math teacher with 14 years of experience facilitating robotics clubs for students, I’m also an ardent supporter of programming and robotics as a vehicle for STEM ed, so when I had the opportunity to build a K–5 robotics class from the lab up, I leapt at the opportunity.

Our school is a brand-new Title 1 campus. We’re in our first year and just opened in August, so we’re still tweaking and learning as we go, but we’ve developed a solid foundation for introducing students—even those who are very young—to a range of STEM and other concepts in an environment that feels more like fun than work. Here’s how we did it.

Kindergarten & 1st grade

When I was designing the program, I wanted to make sure we were building a bridge from kindergarten all the way to 5th grade and beyond, so our program is designed to be progressive throughout the six years students are with us and to set them up for more advanced robotics in middle and high school, should they choose to pursue it.

For kindergarteners and first graders, we use two products: LEGO’s STEAM Park and KinderLab’s KIBO.

STEAM Park uses Duplo LEGO bricks and gears, pulleys, and other simple machines to help very young children begin to understand concepts like leverage, chain reactions, motion, measurement, and even buoyancy, which isn’t usually introduced until 2nd grade.

Related: 11 educators share how they bring coding into the classroom

The KIBO kit allows students to build robots using a series of sensors and then program them by arranging a series of scannable blocks. The sensors are critical for them to understand going forward, of course, and the block coding helps them become more comfortable with the basic ideas of coding, such as creating sequences and other design concepts.

2nd and 3rd grade

In 2nd and 3rd grade, we use WeDo 2.0, also from LEGO. WeDo offers a motor, some basic sensors, and programming software that helps students understand basic functionality and how all these things work together.

Our 3rd-graders work with the robots4STEM suite from RoboKind. Robots4STEM comprises a two-foot-tall humanoid robot named Jett, a visual coding language, and a curriculum. Students can program a digital avatar as they learn programming, then switch over to run the actual robot with the code they have written.