Muddling through the blogosphere

April 30, 2018
by blogwalker

Making Empathy and Support Visible for All Students – A Shoutout to Sac City USD

Attending Sacramento City USD’s No Time to Lose – A Professional Conference to Activate Change for LGBTQ Youth was a wonderful way to end the work week. This was my second time to participate in this annual event, so I already knew the conference experience would remain in my thoughts over the weekend – and for a long time to come.

Superintendent Jorge Aguilar set the tone for the conference with his opening comments. After referencing the district’s commitment to strive for “equity, access, and social justice,” he stated:

“When you treat data with utter respect – as representing a child or family – data can take us into a humane body of work.”

In a time when test scores remain a mandated focus for public schools, it was inspiring, instead, to hear a superintendent raising awareness over the staggering bullying statistics that LGBTQ youth deal with, as shown in this recent infographic from GLSEN:

Infographic fro GLSEN on bullying stats LBGTQ youth deal with.

The power of the No Time to Lose Conference starts from the moment you pull into Sac City USD’s parking lot, where you see not only the Serna Center (district office) but also a second building, the Connect Center:

“The SCUSD Connect Center is a centralized Student Support Center that serves as a “gateway” to critical support services for students and families in our school district.  It offers an innovative solution to addressing the health, wellness and educational needs of SCUSD’s children, youth and families. This central hub is designed to increase coordination of services by providing a single, easily identifiable point of access and assistance to address the social, emotional, and health needs of all students.”

A shoutout to SCUSD for making it so easy for students and parents to find a wide range of much-needed family services. In addition to the Connect Center, SCUSD also supports the work of the Gender Health Center, a short drive from the district office. The Gender Health Center “is a non-profit organization meeting the counseling needs of the WHOLE community in Sacramento and the surrounding areas by making our services accessible to the most under-served communities, including the LGBTQQI community and focusing on the “T” or transgender.”

Throughout the conference, speakers from within and outside of SCUSD drew attention to the needs of our LGBTQ students and invited input from the audience. For example, Sacramento psychiatrist Dr. Swati Rao referenced the GLSEN infographic (above), drawing our attention to the fact that the majority of LGBTQ students feel that “schools are unsafe and unwelcoming.” She also shared that, thankfully, verbal harassment of LGBTQ youth is on the decline, due in large part to GSA clubs, supportive teachers, anti-bullying programs, and the integration of LGBTQ stories into the curriculum (per California Senate Bill 48).

Every speaker deepened my awareness of the need for students, teachers, and community members to understand the importance of being an “ally.”

“An ally is an individual who speaks out and stands up for a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against. An ally works to end oppression by supporting and advocating for people who are stigmatized, discriminated against or treated unfairly.” GLSEN Safe Spaces Kit – Guide to Being an Ally to LGBTQ Students

Just like my first No Time to Lose conference, the student speakers and and student panel were the absolute highlight of this year’s event. If you were not in attendance, one of the resources shared, the short video below, will provide a window into the world of daily challenges faced by transgender youth:

I look forward to continuing the conversations started with district colleagues who shared the No Time to Lose day with me – and becoming more actively involved in a variety of support efforts and events sponsored by my district, such as the recent LGBTQ Staff Awareness Training, which sparked conversations across school sites and departments.


June 14, 2015
by blogwalker

On Teaching Empathy & Kindness

I love hearing about positive student-initiated actions happening at elementary schools, especially by 5th graders. Too often, it’s with 5th graders that teachers and parents start to notice harmful patterns such as the “5th grade mean-girl syndrome.” Last week my  co-facilitator for our district’s digital citizenship program sent me the link to the video below. It’s pretty inspiring to watch five 5th grade boys embrace kindness and empathy.

In my own district, I want to give a shout-out to Christine Goodwin’s 4th and 5th graders, who responded to an anti-bullying school assembly by becoming “difference makers.” They quickly moved their commitment to taking a stand on bullying beyond the classroom walls, starting with a pledge and posters in the hallways and multi-purpose room, and onto a VoiceThread, with the possibility of a worldwide audience.

Two years ago, I heard Alan November cite a study that found empathy to be a top 21st century skill. Since then, I’ve been bookmarking resources that provide parents and educators with a structure for teaching and showcasing kindness and empathy across grade levels.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Books that Teach EmpathyCommon Sense Media continues to review and share resources for parents and teachers. This very comprehensive list for ages 3-15 is a great starting point for tapping into the power of story to transform hearts and minds.

Ten Amazing Multicultural Books for Helping Others – I had the privilege of joining Mia Wenjen (PragmaticMom) for a June 4 Twitter chat (#servechat). I think her blog subtitle says it all: “EDUCATION MATTERS. A MASHUP COVERING PARENTING, CHILDREN’S LITERATURE AND EDUCATION.”

Tips for Using Children’s Books to Teach about Kindness, Service, and Compassion – It was thanks to the invitation from Sheila, founder of Pennies for Time and organizer of the June #servechat, that I learned more about her organization and commitment to teaching kindness.

Five-Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empathy, and Connection – Another great collection from Edutopia.

Teaching Empathy through Design Thinking – Also from Edutopia, the article walks you through the Design Thinking framework, starting with Empathy.

Three Strategies for Using Empathy as an Antidote to Bullying – ISTE’s Nicole Krueger writes about “expanding the circle of caring,” “engaging students with storytelling,” and “converting bystanders to upstanders.”

Upstanders, Not Bystanders VoiceThread – I’ll tag onto Nicole Krueger’s reference to “upstanders” with an invitation to add to a VoiceThread I curate with my Digital ID partner, Natalie Bernasconi. We welcome stories of those who have crossed the line from bystander to upstander – stories from across generations, geographic locations, historic events, and everyday acts of courage.

If you have resources to add, please leave a comment.






January 2, 2015
by blogwalker

Teaching Kindness

It’s become quite clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must be taken seriously and nurtured as a matter of priority. Lisa Currie

The Challenge: Can kindness and empathy really be taught?

This morning I re-read Lisa Currie’s October post for Edutopia: Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reducing Bullying. In the past couple of months, the impact of school-wide bullying in the Sacramento region has been disturbingly newsworthy: the tragic suicide of an 8th grader in one district; a bullying lawsuit in an adjoining district; a number of student suspensions for racist activities at another; and an embarrassing parent confrontation during a regional cyberbullying public event for another.  This recent stream of bad press highlights the need for districts to teach – and expect – kindness and civility (AKA good citizenship) – face-to-face and online.

In my current position as a technology integration specialist for a large public school district, I am a regular visitor in K-12 classrooms. Many school sites display banners and/or posters around the campus reflective of the sites’ character education programs. Many have added cyberbullying to their character ed programs or are offering it as a stand-alone part of their digital citizenship curriculum (all sites are required to have some type of #digcit program in place). I am proud of the way many of our students, particularly at the secondary level, have stepped up to the challenge of confronting bullying. At one site, for instance, through their Unbullyable project, I know students have had a positive impact on their own campus as well as on their feeder elementary and middle schools.


I am grateful I have not yet opened the SacBee to find one my district’s schools featured on the front page for hurtful or hateful acts. And I applaud the efforts of K-12 teachers across the district to support their students in standing up and speaking out against bullying/cyberbullying. Yet a number of times, at several high school campuses, as I make my way through throngs of students exiting at the end of the school day, I hear them yelling out to classmates with rude, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., comments. As tempting as it is to keep walking (it’s just kids being kids, no? … I’m not actually a faculty member here, right?, etc.), when I stop and face the offending student (who probably had not realized there was an adult in their midst), he or she basically always has the same reply: “Oh … Sorry… I was just kidding.” It takes my standing there a while longer before they will generally say once again that they are sorry. It think/hope the difference is that the first “Sorry” is because I heard them; the second “Sorry,” the one that matters, is for having said the unkind slur in the first place.


Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.” Maurice Elias, Rutgers University

Stepping Up to the Challenge

But really, can kindness be taught? Can school districts serve as hubs for promoting these essential, timeless life skills? As evidenced in the Unbullyable project, I think so. Part of my job involves checking that all sites are teaching digital citizenship. In the first quarter of the school year, each site submits how it plans to meet e-Rate requirements. So teaching a few lessons during an advisory period, for instance, from Common Sense Media’s wonderful offerings, meets the requirements and often generates thought-provoking, possibly behavior-changing conversations. But some sites go above and beyond the minimum requirements by supporting a variety of student-led initiatives. These sites recognize that, with bullying/cyberbullying, the most impactful campaigns are student-initiated and student-led. At several of these same sites, teachers are weaving discussions of current bullying issues (local, national, or global) into their literature and social studies units. Although I’ve not set up any type of formalized student surveys, I’d be willing to bet that at these sites bullying incidents are becoming less frequent and, hopefully, less devastating.

Tips and Resources for Teaching Kindness

So how do we teach kindness to our students? I believe in the power of stories to transform hearts and actions. Thankfully, there is a wealth of powerful literature, starting with picture books, that teachers can use to ignite ongoing conversations on what kindness looks like. Common Sense Media’s Books that Teach Empathy list is a great K-12 resource and includes some of my favorites, such as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.

There are also a growing number of websites that offer action-based lessons, such as the National Council of Teachers of English’s  Read, Write, Think site. Their Living the Dream: 100 Acts of Kindness lesson/challenge would be a wonderful literature extension for primary grades to use in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,legacy and upcoming birthday. For middle and high school, I recommend visiting Facing History and Ourselves and checking out their Bullying and Ostracism Collections for resources to help students “think critically about the dynamics and impact of bullying in schools and communities.”

It is from stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, recent or from the past, and the ensuing conversations, that students often come to understand the role of the bystander in allowing bad things to happen, from bullying on the playground to unthinkable, unspeakable acts of government sanctioned brutality. Students need examples of what it means to cross the line from bystander to upstander. They need opportunities for grade-level and cross-generation conversations on how the courage of a single person to stand up and speak out against bullying and social injustice can change the school climate or even the history of the world. One of my favorite upstander’s tools is the Upstanders, not Bystanders VoiceThread. I co-curate this VoiceThread with my Digital ID partner/National Writing Project colleague Natalie Bernasconi. In the two years since we started the Upstanders, not Bystanders project, we’ve come to value how all voices and stories matter, from our kindergarten contributors to our Rwandan genocide survivor. Teaching kindness and civility needs to start in the primary grades and continue through adulthood.

One tip I have for readers is to document the work of your school sites. In the Sacramento bullying samples I mentioned above, I believe three of the four districts are currently in the process of developing district-wide digital citizenship plans. The fourth district has curriculum and procedures in place, but refers to the program as digital literacy rather than digital citizenship. Although the broader title makes sense, in the likely need to CYA, I think it’s wise to intentionally single out how each site specifically implements the teaching of citizenship/digital citizenship. A simple procedure my district has put in place, in addition to each site submitting an implementation plan at the start of the year, is requiring each principal to sign a statement at the end of the year verifying that digital citizenship has been taught at his/her site.

As my district heads into the third year of requiring school sites to document their digital citizenship plans, one shift I’ve noticed is also one I strongly recommend: Rather than plug in your plan at the close of the school year (post testing), as some of our secondary sites initially did, start the year teaching kindness and civility. Whether it’s through a shared article, a story, an assembly, etc., if the activity is followed with classroom discussion, I am pretty sure you will find, as a number of our teachers have, that student buy-in will be greater as will instances of students actually putting their citizenship skills into practice. Once standards for online/offline behavior have been articulated across the site, students are more likely to speak up for others and to think twice before they hit the submit button.

Additional Resources

In addition to the resources listed above, another outstanding resource is the Cyberbullying Research Center. I love their Cyberbullying Quiz – What the Research Shows, and all the resources linked under their Related Posts section. This exceptional resource, and many more, are listed on the Stepping Up page of the Digital ID project – along with the invitation for your students to submit a PSA in the upcoming 2015 Digital ID PSA Challenge.

Edutopia! Lisa Currie’s article is part of the dynamic Bullying Prevention collection of resources on teaching kindness, empathy, and digital citizenship.

On my New Year’s Resolution List is the intent to update this post during the school year with samples of digital citizenship surveys for students, along with data on the results and impact of teaching kindness and civility. I welcome your input.

Best wishes to all school sites for a year of newsworthy positive accomplishments!



June 29, 2010
by blogwalker

Live from ISTE NECC – Day 2 – Alan November

One of my all-time favorite conference speakers is Alan November, so I’m sitting in a huge ballroom right now, with hundreds of other educators, waiting to learn from his Empathy: The 21st Century Skill spotlight session.

Key Points:

  • Question: Where is that sense of urgency in American classrooms to connect children via the Internet? And the need to expose students to the human side of the Internet? – as is currently the case in many classrooms across Asia.   When will American teachers realize the Internet is about relationship building of people to people … It’s not about students doing Google searches in order to type a research paper.
  • Worries: Alan expressed concerns about the US  economic downturn.  The only way we can get out of debt is by selling outside USA – so why aren’t we focused on globalizing the curriculum? Globalization should start in kindergarten! Every single teacher should be working with children all over the world. We need “audacious goals.”   All kids should graduate with knowledge, skills, and a network of people they can tap into. Skills and knowledge in a global economy are not enough!
  • Top skill students need: Empathy – the most important skill students can have in global economy is the ability to  hold different points of view at same time. But Americans are not good at this.  Africans and Europeans, for instance, are educated to learn different languages, cultures, etc.
  • Sobering reality: In the US, K12 education might not be at the leading edge of thinking about technology in a global economy. We need to be teaching students to seek multiple perspectives. For example, to understand the background and impact of Turkey’s application to join European Union being turned down, students need to research from both a US perspective and a Turkish perspective. In a global economy,  you have to see issues from the other point of view – you have to have empathy.
  • Googling for multiple perspectives: Getting “country codes,” for instance,  influences the “basic grammar of the web.” A search for country codes will bring up the two-letter combination for any country.  Now add site: to the country code. Check it out – the difference between Googling European Union +Turkey as opposed to European Union site:tr is in the perspective. Potentially a huge difference! Other samples shared:
    • To examine the American Revolution from both the American and British perspective, Google”American Revolution”. This search will not only bring up the opposing point of view, but could bring students in contact with classrooms in the UK, also studying the Revolution. It’s not enough to read about the American Revolution – students need to approach it from different perspectives.
    • How about a unit on Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars.  For a Danish perspective on the Nazi occupation, Google “Number the stars” site:dk. And why not take it a step further: find a classroom in Denmark and collaboratively start the process for creating a trailer for the book, via a Google Doc.
  • A bit of irony:  Public schools were put in place for democracy. How ironic that the very skills/tools to become our nation’s president (Twitter, Facebook) are blocked in so many U.S. schools.

Need more convincing on the need to teach students to manage global relationships? Check out some of the podcasts on the November Learning website.  You might start with An Interview with Rahaf Harfoush, a member of Barack Obama’s Social Media Team. Her viewpoint: If you want to become President, you have to build and manage relationships.

Much inspired- as always – by Alan November, I’m heading to ISTE Central to purchase a copy of Global Education: Using Technology to Bring the World to Your Students and then into the vendor’s area to find Rita Oates and continue a conversation about promoting global communities through the wonderful – and free – ePals program.

Skip to toolbar