Empowering Students!

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

As explained in my previous post Think! Media Literacy and the quest for truth, “[…] nowadays students need to also become media educated with the guidance of their classroom teachers and librarians” adding that “Perseverance and commitment are needed, as media literacy is an essential skill in the digital age.”

Media literacy is concerned with developing an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of those techniques. […] Media literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products.” 

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (Henry Jenkins – MacArthur Foundation)

And because there is not much point in creating media products without having an audience, we should guide our students to become contributors: they are not attending school to pass time and absorb course content waiting to get old enough to play a role in the society. This traditional model is gone! Everyone, regardless of its age, has the ability to make a positive impact on local and global communities, and creating connections, as Scott McLeod reminds us with examples of amazing children and teenagers whose contributions, often through social media, had a positive impact on other people’s lives and/or showed their ability to be engaged citizens!

Extracurricular empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines – September 2013

I am lucky enough to be working at the International School of Brussels, a school with a great reputation and vision, constantly seeking improvement, placing the student empowerment at the core of its mission. Willing to adapt to a fast-changing world, our school provides regular Professional Development days on campus, inviting some leading experts in the field of education, combined with mini-session offered by colleagues sharing their expertise. I thought I would mention a few from the past recent years, as Scott McLeod is one of the experts brought to us: it will help to understand where we stand as a school in terms of student empowerment and participatory culture.

In September 2015, our PD training’s focus was technology with In The Zone – Learning Innovation in Practice at ISB: “We all – students, faculty & staff – live, teach, learn, and work in a world packed with technological innovation. So much of it untapped in its potential to transform what we wish to achieve. Scott MacLeod is a leading expert who works with schools, in the US and globally, inviting us to think about how technology can transform the teaching and learning landscape. He also brings a focus to the idea of building a personal digital footprint that reflects positively on who we are. Scott will work with students – 10th grade – and faculty on both these areas of his expertise.  Scott is joining us for a few days to work with a number of stakeholders, faculty, students, and parents. He is a core part of the “In the Zone” day organized in the Middle School“.
In March 2017, ISB hosted the Learning by Design conference: A call to re-imagine the way schools facilitate learning. The conference included workshops, seminars, Learning Labs and opportunities for networking, and involved some of our students. Founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators, Gary Stager was one of the learning facilitators.
The second Brussels LbD conference took place in February 2019, looking at the following: “Re-imagining school requires a commitment to changing culture, courageously challenging old assumptions and a willingness to play with and test new ideas – even if they fail.” One of the many learning facilitators was Ewan McIntosh, founder of NoTosh, which makes accessible the creative process required to innovate.

As an example, here is one of the initiatives that the Middle School implemented a few years ago a program for grade 7 to 9 students: it offers choice modules built in their regular schedules. Its objectives are to give students a chance to explore and develop new or pre-existing skills and create the conditions for them to develop and/or deepen a passion for a particular topic or skill. Whenever possible, faculty and staff leading these workshops are encouraged to involve the students in the planning process and trajectory of the module over the 9 sessions to make it more student-centered.  

Examples of past Personal Learning Modules: Collaging with Friends / Jewelry Design Makerspace / Blogging Like a Pro / Booklovers Club / Italian & Cooking / The Art of Gaming / Dance Workshops / Crocheting with Calmness / Let’s Chat! / Engineering – Design Creativity / Entrepreneurship / C’est bon, c’est belge / Gardening, the Life-Cycle / Life Through a Lens / Psych Experiments Through the Ages / Electric Guitar and Bass Rockers / Take Action / Captivating your Audience / Middle School Madness / Sports in Popular Culture / The Great Outdoors / Yoga / Share Your Ideas: Podcasting and Vlogging / Let’s Go to the Caribbean! / African Hand Drumming.

The modules are run by faculty and staff who are willing to share their skills and passions, usually outside their regular role in the school: for example, a math teacher running a Djembe drums initiation, a library assistant, a silversmith by training, leading the Jewelry Design module… Meeting twice a week for periods of 9 weeks, students hold a showcase of a Celebration of Learning at the end.

An acceptable use policy (AUP), is a set of rules applied by the owner, creator or administrator of a network, website, or service, that restrict the ways in which the network, website or system may be used and sets guidelines as to how it should be used.

In Rethinking AUPs, McLeod is asking if “in all of our efforts to teach students safe, appropriate, and responsible technology use, are we forgetting the more important job of teaching our students empowered use?” In a rather long list of blog posts and other resources, he supports that rather being a document stipulating constraints and practices the purpose of such policies should be enabling optimal empowerment of individuals within a school, to meet personal, organizational, educational, and societal goals.

At my school, the Acceptable Use Policy is part of the Student Handbook in the Middle School; in the 2019-20 copy, it is referred to as the Technology Handbook, and rather than rules, it refers to “agreement” and “principles”.

Student Technology Agreement
All technology decisions at ISB are guided by the following principles:

  • Appropriate technology use is an essential component of optimal learning environments.
  • Technology creates new teaching and learning opportunities that improve student understanding.  It contributes to an environment in which teaching and learning are learner-centered, collaborative, engaging.
  • Technology provides the means for equitable learning opportunities. Technology allows teachers to meet the diverse learning needs of students by adapting to individual goals and learning styles.

It is very interesting too, I think, to notice the Resources For Parents listed at the end of the document: they are first-hand partners in the implementation of a participatory culture and they also need to support the empowerment of students at home.


Elizabeth Gilbert, “The Kids Are All Right.

Yalda T. Uhls, “Parents, Chill. Technology Isn’t Destroying Teens’ Brains.”UCLA Newsroom, December 2, 2015.

Yalda T. Uhls, Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.

Amanda Third, Damien Spry, Kathryn Locke, Enhancing Parent’s Knowledge and Practice of Online Safety.

Elizabeth Perle, 5 Myths about Teens and Technology Every Parent Should Know.

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson. The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.

Danah Boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

Common Sense Media, Social Media, Social Life: How Kids View Their Digital Lives.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting.

Scott McLeod, “Extracurricular Empowerment”, TED Talk.

Think! Media Literacy and the quest for truth

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Literacy refers to the “ability to read and write” and is mainly associated with the first years of school: reading starts with learning to recognize the letters; next to identify words, and finally to grasp what those words mean. As they become able to understand a text, readers then become writers. Along the way, with lots of practice, readers and writers will develop strong literacy skills.

In the last part of the 20th century, the increasing spread of computers and other digital technologies in communication required additional skills and by extension, these necessary skill-sets became known as computer literacyinformation literacy, and technological literacy.

Photo by Agnieszka Boeske on Unsplash

They are all interconnected and, a couple of decades ago, it became obvious that it should include media literacy.
Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they are sending. According to Media Smarts, Media Literacy means “being able to access media on a basic level, to analyze it in a critical way based on certain key concepts, to evaluate it based on that analysis and, finally, to produce media oneself.” This is crucial as nowadays it is not anymore only adults, but children and teenagers as well, that are exposed to a huge amount of information from a wide collection of sources, far beyond the traditional media such as TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines of previous generations.
The scope is large and diverse: text messages, social media, memes, viral videos, video games, advertising, etc. Media literacy is not limited to only digital media, but rather all messages we consume in a variety of media platforms. It is very important to realize that all media share one thing: someone created it, and it was created for a reason. Understanding that reason is the basis of media literacy, and as educators, we need to fully understand it to implement it in our curriculums.

Most people have access to technology and are active online: while beforehand you had to be a journalist or a writer to publish information, today it is easy for everyone to create media. Anyone can publish online (nearly) anything they want and, as a consequence, we don’t always know who created something, why they made it, and whether it is reliable. This makes media literacy tricky to learn and teach. Perseverance and commitment are needed, as media literacy is an essential skill in the digital age.

Common Sense Education provides educators and students with the resources they need to apprehend the power of technology for learning and life. On the topic of Media Literacy, they insist that everyone need to:

  • Learn to think critically
  • Become a smart consumer of products and information
  • Recognize the point of view displayed
  • Create media responsibly
  • Identify the role of media in our culture
  • Understand the author’s goal. 
From Pixabay

At our school, as I already mentioned in a previous post, we were lucky enough to have in situ training from Common Sense Media expert Merve Lapus who met with some admin and teachers and modeled lessons for Librarians and Technology Integrators.
Their Digital Citizenship Curriculum program is great for its ready-to-use lessons, adapted to each grade, and knowing that you can even tailor them to your own specific needs and curriculum (by shortening them, adding activities, slides, etc)
As an example, here is a lesson planned for grade 6, titled: “Finding Credible News, How do we find credible information on the internet?

Media Smarts, along with their partner Companies Committed to Kids (who shut down in 2017) also created lesson plans on the topic, including videos. Their goal with the project Media Literacy 101 was to help Elementary School teachers delivering lessons on Media Literacy concepts.
The first one of the series is: What is media anyway? and provides both a lesson plan and a video for the older elementary school students, but could easily apply for teenagers up to grade 8 at least.

Being able to decrypt the different media content you are exposed to is extremely important, but sometimes people won’t be so critical when it comes to their own online contributions, especially if they re-post or re-Tweet. You should always THINK Before You Post, at the Butler University reminds its faculty and students (and us)! The graphic below is worth memorizing…

At the beginning of our school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 10, I joined on Facebook an international support group for educators going through the same unique experience. In this group called “Global Educator Collective”, I was amazed to read a teacher’s plea to her fellow colleagues and members of the online community, asking them to check their information before posting them!
If educators are not setting the example, how can today’s young people navigate critically and safely through the traps of the 21st-century information world?

Screenshot from the Global Educator Collective Facebook banner and from a message posted on March 20, 2020, by Carol G. D.

There is still a lot of work needed to be done to raise awareness to counter misinformation, especially when the Pew Research Center tells us in its Social Media Fact Sheet that today about 7 in 10 Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with new content online, share information and entertain themselves. Social media usage by adults raised from 5% in 2005 to approximately 72% today!

Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. These sites and their creators seek to mislead, rather than entertain readers, for financial, political, or other gains.
Misinformation and the five types of fake news be described as a modern plague of the digital world.

In conclusion, as young children were taught by pre-Kindergarten teachers the beginnings of reading and writing, becoming more literate year after year, nowadays students need to also become media educated with the guidance of their classroom teachers and librarians.