It’s Not Digital Citizenship—It’s Just Citizenship, Period.

21st Century Skills

It’s Not Digital Citizenship—It’s Just Citizenship, Period.

By Christy Fennewald     Jan 31, 2018

It’s Not Digital Citizenship—It’s Just Citizenship, Period.

Citizenship knows no boundaries. The civics lessons we teach our students outside of the digital arena apply to the online world and vice versa. So why should we place restrictions on being good citizens? Shouldn’t we always be good citizens—both online and off?

As a classroom teacher and an instructional technologist, I struggled with how to find time in students’ already-busy schedules to incorporate digital citizenship, even though I knew it was important to teach. Additionally, the name itself didn’t help my cause. Those reluctant to embrace technology wholeheartedly were immediately repelled by the word “digital” while early adopters found the title redundant. So I lost the digital.

In 2015, at a private 6th-12th grade school, was when I first decided to ditch the digital but it wasn’t the only change I had to make. Citizenship lessons still had to fit within the confines of the school day and blend into the curriculum, and I learned quickly that it takes time, support and commitment to create lasting and meaningful change. Before I could initiate a plan, I needed a cross-curricular group of faculty to discuss the best fit for a citizenship curriculum in school life. So I sent out an interest form to our faculty. After a few weeks, I found several faculty members representing a variety of campus groups who had an interest in bringing citizenship into the school day.

The group and I met once a month to determine the critical areas of need. For instance, members suggested creating “d-days” or digital days with prepared citizenship activities to discuss in our fifteen minute advisories. Others discussed having student-led chapel talks and parent talks on topics of concern (to be voted on by students, faculty and parents).

After several months of meetings, we introduced our first idea, d-days, to the rest of faculty. We developed a database of five- to ten-minute citizenship activities that other teachers could lead in their advisories. Each activity featured a video or other multimedia source with reflection questions to spur discussion. The activity topics focused on current issues, safety, identity, privacy and positive uses of technology. Through continuous exposure to citizenship topics, we believed that students would develop empathy and understanding for the world around them.

Hosting Events

After planting the seeds for a foundation, we introduced monthly parent “tech” talks and biannual chapel talks led by students. Both of these talks served to give voice to the other members of our community: parents and students.

We began by hosting breakfast conversations with parents. We choose topics from a parent interest survey we had sent out to ensure that the topics would be beneficial. While the parent conversations weren’t always highly attended, we always had bodies in the room. Unfortunately, finding times for parents to come on campus is a continuous obstacle for schools.

To combat this, we also held biannual chapel talks led by students. While many schools do not have this daily opportunity built into their schedule, it can easily be added to other common times like lunch and assemblies. Our daily chapel services are fifteen to twenty minutes in length so our “chapel talks” averaged about ten minutes long. This short but meaningful time gave students an opportunity to hear how their peers were actively modeling citizenship.

In our first chapel talk, five students shared ways in which they have cultivated their digital identity: through a service website featuring a Haitian school, through a Gofundme page providing need for impoverished girls, through an art portfolio and through a music publishing site. Students showed the importance of having a presence in the world. That presence should be unique to the student, but can vary from charity causes to artistic celebrations. On another occasion, student leaders read aloud from social media posts meant to cause harm. By giving a face to the words, students reflected on the power of words.

Blending Into the Curriculum

Initially our attempts at building citizenship were channeled through planned events like chapel talks, parent talks and weekly d-days. Though these were routine, they didn’t mesh with our ultimate goal: blending into the curriculum.

This year, using our d-days template, we gave teachers a week to complete a citizenship activity. On Tuesdays, all teachers received an activity (sometimes a separate activity for K-1 and 2-4 grades) to complete by the following Tuesday. The activity never took more than ten minutes to complete, and it corresponded to the classroom charters, or contracts, students were developing. Teachers could team teach activities, adapt activities or integrate them into other lessons. In classrooms that felt this was another added responsibility, I collaborated with our librarian to team teach these concepts into the social studies lessons we already taught.

Each classroom presented the newly coined, “digital weeks,” in a format that best represented their class. In the end, no one activity looked the same each week. This was blending into the curriculum.


So, where do you get started? Check out the Let’s Get Digital presentation for a full listing of resources and a guide to your first year of “losing the digital.”

  1. Form a cross-curricular citizenship focus group, and start meeting regularly to determine your school’s unique needs
  2. Adapt resources from Common Sense Media, Google’s Be Internet Awesome Curriculum, and more. Curate these resources on a common site for your students, staff and parents.
  3. Give a voice to those same constituents: faculty, students, parents
  4. Host regular events
  5. Build it into your curriculum.

Through this faculty-supported plan, we were able to put in citizenship measures that best met the needs of our diverse classrooms. I hope you can begin to “lose the digital," too. After all, citizenship doesn’t end when you shut down the laptop or silence the smartphone. It’s all around us. And it’s just citizenship, period.

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