EC&I 830

Teaching Students to Be Kind Online

By the time my kids are old enough to use social media, I am hoping that it somehow becomes uncool or just goes away. I realize that this hope is…highly unlikely; however, my maternal instinct is to protect my daughters from anything that might be harmful to their self-confidence, knowing all too well that some kids (or adults) base their self-worth on the number of likes they receive on a post. When my oldest daughter asks me when she is allowed to have a phone, I tell her she can get one when she is 20, which sounds similar to what my dad used to tell me about when I was allowed to have a boyfriend. When I was 13, I thought his dating rules were “totally unfair” but now as a parent, I completely understand where he was coming from. He wanted to keep me safe from anyone who might hurt me, in the same way, I want to protect my girls and keep them safe. But thinking about this topic from the perspective of a parent just solidifies how important it is for students to learn the skills to be responsible digital citizens (even though sometimes I wish I could raise my daughters in a time before social media existed). Here are two ways I have approached the topic of digital citizenship in my classroom.

Last year, our school was asked to create a submission for SaskTel’s “Be Kind Online” campaign which “aims to end bullying and cyberbullying in our communities” and “help empower those committed to changing online behavior for the better.” The requirements for the project included making a video to post to our school’s Instagram and TikTok accounts showing how our students spread kindness in our school, both online and in person. My colleagues and I were excited about the opportunity to take part in the campaign knowing that it would be a great way to approach the topic of digital citizenship in our classroom. In the process of creating this video, students had the opportunity to collaborate, laugh and have fun with their peers while also reflecting on what it means to be a kind and respectful digital citizen. The project was an engaging way for us to discuss the important topic of digital citizenship with our students as it opened up conversations about the importance of treating others with respect regardless of whether you are behind a screen or face-to-face.

Earlier that same school year, another colleague of mine stumbled upon an Instagram account created by students from our program, about our program. Once she found the account, she obviously had no choice but to check it out. Most of the posts were completely harmless — funny memes, cute pictures, inspirational quotes — but, after scrolling a little further, she came across an anonymous post criticizing me and my colleagues. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say the post was not an example of students “being kind online” and we as teachers were all hurt by what our students had posted about us; however, because we are also mature adults, we knew we had a responsibility to help our students learn something from the situation. Even though it was uncomfortable, we recognized that addressing “the post” was a teachable moment related to appropriate and respectful online behaviour. We wanted our students to know that even though it was likely more difficult to talk to us in person about their concerns, it would be more appropriate and less hurtful than posting something critical about us online. We also discussed how it can be easier to say something hurtful online (not just about a teacher, but about anyone) when you aren’t saying it to that person’s face. Although the conversation was tough, I am glad we were able to guide our students and give them some tools to navigate similar situations in the future. 

I am looking forward to finding new ways to teach about digital citizenship in my classroom more consistently. I am teaching a Wellness 10 class this semester, and supporting students in the development of their digital identities would be a perfect connection to the curriculum. As I think ahead to planning this content, I would love to know what other teachers are doing to support student learning in this area. What are some ways you approach digital citizenship in your classroom? What resources have you used? What strategies have worked well for you? And finally, what resources should I be using at home with my own kids? 

My name is Catrina Hunter. I am an Arts Educator at Balfour Collegiate on Treaty 4 Territory. I work as part of Balfour Arts Collective, a high school program for students who are passionate about the arts. I am currently working on my Master's in Education Curriculum and Instruction.


  • Ramsel Guillermo

    I really like the generated idea in form of a “slogan” by SaskTel that is visible to everyone. When I was new in Regina and started going around Regina City by Regina Bus Transit, it was very meaningful tagline “Be kind Online”, that was the first image that stuck in my brain when landed as a new international student here, which is really a kind reminder that everyone deserves kindness wherever we are, “online” or out of social media. The “Be kind to one another” by Ellen Geneneres initially reminded me that kindness happens everywhere at any time and anyhow.

    I like your article, thank you Catrina for sharing this.

  • Janeen Clark

    Cat – I remember when this incident that you wrote about happened, and how hurtful it felt at the time. I also remember the difficulty of the conversation that followed, and the really positive learning that came from it. I wish there was a way to to teach those lessons without having to go through these tough situations. I mean, we all know that some of the most memorable lessons we have learned have come from experiences like this. Do I still have nightmares about the time I got caught copying Calculus questions in grade 12? Obviously. Did I learn a lot about myself and ultimately grow from this experience … yes! Do I wish I could have done it an easer way… a thousand times yes. So, I know those kids will definitely remember these conversations, but I wish they could learn without making the mistakes. I know I’ve veered slightly off track here, but I wish, in this case, that these students had thought about the people on the other end of that post before they hit the share button. How do we encourage students to humanize the post, story, snap, or tweet they are responding to? I think that humanization is key to checking our digital selves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *