Category Archives: digital leadership

Not Waiting for Tomorrow


Doing a talk with over 1800 students recently, I went back and forth about encouraging such a large group of students to use a hashtag.  This is something I do all of the time with educators, but many students are savvy with technology, but not necessarily see the benefit for learning.  Since the focus was on using social media to make a positive difference, I decided that it only made sense to promote a hashtag, and in the last minute, I decided to use one. Before I shared it with the students, I said to them, “I trust you and I want you to be successful, so please use this in appropriate ways.”

I started my talk, and as I do often, the first time I showed a video, I checked the hashtag and my mentions. This is a great way to see what students are learning/sharing/thinking, but also a way to connect with an audience.  The first tweet that I saw was directed at me and extremely inappropriate.  This was followed by two more.

I was devastated.

My heart sank and since I just speak from the heart, I felt that my talk could have went in a more negative direction.  I caught my breath, and by the end of the video, I continued to speak.  I did make mention about how one little compliment can make someone’s day, and one negative can ruin it.  Then I asked the students, what would you rather do?

So then I saw one amazing tweet thanking me for being there and complimenting my presentation style.  I called out that student’s name, and said, “You have no idea how much of an impact you made on me by sharing that. Thank you.”

Then another student complimented me.

Then another.

And another.

And another.

And it went on and on and on.

And it started from that one young man’s tweet.

By shining the light and giving the attention to the person that did something positive, kindness went viral in the room, and honestly, caught on the rest of the day. In fact, by the end when I took questions, one student asked me, “Can I give you a hug?”

I could have easily shut everything down, but that wouldn’t have made the room better, or myself. By focusing on what kids can do to make a difference, and saying, “I trust you”, the tide in the room changed quickly.

So what did I learn that day?

We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.

I ended the day telling students, you don’t have to wait until you’re out of school to change the world. Go lead today.

Thank you to the one student that made a ripple effect of positivity in the room, that not only impacted me, but led the way for others.

“You have the world at your fingertips…”


This is a message I have been sharing with students for the past few years, as instant across the globe has become easier each day.  If you truly think about it, the technology that we today is the worst that it is going to be from this day forward.  We lament that the iPhone 6 Plus is not that much better than the iPhone 6, but considering how far along the iPhone has come from it’s original iteration, or even existing at all, it is pretty amazing to see what has developed in such a short amount of time.

Yet when it comes to technology, what do we focus on with our students?  We talk about things such as “digital citizenship” and “cyberbullying” that more of our focus is on what they shouldn’t do, not necessarily what they could and should do.  

Take for example,  the WestHighBros Twitter account.  This is a student that saw cyberbullying in his school and what did he decide?  Not that he wouldn’t bully others, but the opposite; that he would lift them out. Jeremiah Anthony, the student that first started the account, started complimenting students in his school.  Not only did he make a positive impact, but in fact, he totally changed trajectories for some:

While standing in the pizza line during lunch one day, Anthony was surprised to receive a hug from a classmate. Caugh off guard, Anthony asked why she was hugging him. With tears in her eyes, the young girl looked at Anthony and said “I was going to kill myself, but I saw your compliment to me on my Facebook page and I realized how dumb it’d be to kill myself and that I do have worth and people to care about me.”

Her story isn’t unique. “Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately — that’s happened numerous times,” said Anthony. He has heard story by story of students who are so encouraged by the simple words of kindness they receive from @Westhighbros that they are convinced suicide is not the answer. (Foster, 2013)


He decided that this media is a way for us to not only make a difference locally (in his own school), but this account inspired students (and adults) around the world to use technology in a way to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Start local, impact global.

We need to shift the focus from developing the leaders of tomorrow, to developing our students as the leaders of today.  There is too much time spent on talking about the possibilities of tomorrow, without focusing on the access that all of us has to make a positive impact.  One of my favourite quotes is from a good friend Shelley Wright who says, “Kids often defy expectations if you give them the opportunity.”  If we want to ensure a better tomorrow, let’s help our students lead today. Seems like a much better way to guarantee the positive future that can be created.

(If you have never seen this video, please check it out below, and PLEASE share it with your students. We need to put these ideas in front of our students.”

Focusing on What We Can Do

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of students in Schuyler (pronounced Skylar which I was corrected on several times!), Nebraska, last week, and I was overwhelmed by their kindness and positivity.  I focused on the topic of “Digital Leadership”, which essentially focuses on the opportunities that are in front of our students to make a difference in the world.  Although I discuss how to be safe and topics such as cyberbullying, the main emphasis of the talk is “you have the world at your fingertips, what are you going to do with it?”

After the talk, several of the students came up to me and thanked me for not only my positive message, but that they had the feeling that I believed in them.  We had some great conversations and I later discussed them with the group of teachers that I was learning with.  This came back to the students, and they actually offered to bring me a Starbucks to the professional learning day, which was unbelievably kind of them, especially since the closest Starbucks was about 30 minutes away!

They then gave me the following note:

This is now something that I carry in my computer bag along with me. My favourite part? “Keep doin you!”

Too often, the narrative with our students is what they can’t do, and I think we need to really focus on what they can do, and help them see leadership opportunities today, not tomorrow.  We need to focus on the positives and how people are making the lives of others better, like the Clemson football team holding a pep rally at the home of a terminally ill child.  We need to put more of these ideas in the minds of our students.

I look forward to following these students using social media to make a positive difference in the school community at the Schuyler Spirit Club twitter account.

I also wanted to say thanks to those students that went out of their way, to make someone’s day. You have no idea how greatly appreciated it is.

Find the Awesome, Create the Awesome

Below is a visual from a cool site called Tweetping ( that shows all of the tweets at a given moment happening real time.

(The site is pretty neat to watch and this video is not as current as the website but hopefully you get the idea.)

I often show a video capture of this site, as to let people know that even though I am quite the optimist, I understand that at any point, in all of those tweets, there is horrible stuff being shared.

I know this and I get it.

What I really believe we need to do with our students, is not only help them find the awesome stuff, but to create it.

Jennifer Casa-Todd writes a great post on this topic, and shows how young people are using technology to make a positive impact on the lives of others:

Students use technology and social media to…

1.  empower others who have no voice
2.  address societal inequality
3.  promote important causes
4.  learn and share their learning
5.  be a more positive influence in the lives of others

And here are some great examples of kids doing this right now:

  • @ThatHannahAlper (Hannah Alper) uses social media to enpower and inspire–just check out her website, Call Me Hannah to see how she does this.  She is also a champion of environmental causes and just recently became a Youth Ambassador for Bystander Revolution, which is an organization taking a stand on bullying.
  • @Aidan_Aird, a 15 year old student in our District. created a website, Developing Innovations, “To inspire, celebrate and promote #STEM.”  Aird’s website states, “I realized there were lots of amazing kids out there working hard, creating and discovering amazing things. With them in mind, I created Developing Innovations…[which] has featured and celebrated over 65 young scientists from around the world on the website. There are so many hardworking young scientists out there that are trying to make a difference. By being featured on my website, they get the exposure they deserve and are encouraged to keep working hard. It is a place to celebrate their accomplishments and inspire other kids to follow in their footsteps.”
  • Jeremiah is a high school junior and creator of @westhighbros, a Twitter account that tweets compliments to friends and classmates.  Check out the video here. (shared by George Couros @gcouros)
  • Though Kid President (@Iamkidpresident)  gets a little help from Brad Montague, 10 yr-old Robby Novak definitely empowers others through his inspirational videos as well as his own story.  He is also a champion for important causes.  Currently, you can see him fighting child hunger by following the hashtag #hungerfreesummer or by checking out the video here.
  • Joshua ( @Joshua’s Heart) is a young man passionate about inspiring kindness in youth and stopping world hunger. Here is his keynote during the EduMatch Passion Pitch event hosted by @ShellTerrell and @SarahThomas found here.  More information about the great work he is doing can be found at

As Jennifer states in her post, it is easy to identify these kids as “outliers”, but our focus should be on making this the norm.

It is easy to complain that there is so much bad stuff online, so why not focus on teaching our students to inundate the web with the good?

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