Kim Karr spent 13 years as a middle school teacher prior to dedicating her talents to #ICANHELP on a full-time basis. Since that time, #ICANHELP has spoken to more than 400,000 students in the United States and Canada. Kim has inspired thousands of people to join the #ICANHELP movement to choose a more positive life both on and offline. Her enthusiasm for life is irresistible and infectious for both students and adults.
We talk with Kim about the social media landscape that both students and adults are facing today and Kim talks about some ways that we can be proactive with positivity online.
John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Kim Karr. Kim spent 13 years as a middle school teacher prior to dedicating her talents to #ICANHELP on a full time basis. Since that time, #ICANHELP has spoken to more than 400,000 students in the United States and Canada.
Houston: Kim has inspired thousands of people to join the #icanhelp movement to choose a more positive life both on and off line. Her enthusiasm for life is irresistible and infectious for both students and adults. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Kim Karr.
Houston: Welcome everyone to the CharacterStrong podcast, conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're hanging out with my friend Kim Karr, who runs an organization alongside our friend, Matt Soeth, called #ICANHELP. Not only does she talk about and advocate positivity on social media and creating solutions in the digital world, which is huge in schools right now, she also offered to drive me an hour and a half the other day, which is the nicest thing ever.
Houston: So thanks for sitting down. We're at WACA today. It seems like most of our hangouts are at these conferences because #ICANHELP just continues to grow because there is such a need. Tell us just a little bit about how #ICANHELP serves in schools through that lens of school culture in the digital age.
Kim: Yeah. So both Matt and I were educators. Matt was at a high school, I was at a middle school. We saw there were some major social media issues, and so we come in and educate and empower the students and the adults on how they can handle these big crises, or even small crises, like what they can do because it's such ... Social media expands so far, and some people don't ever actually know what to do with it.
Houston: Yeah, so much of that world is reactive. Tell me a little bit about the reactive side. When something does happen we can't control crises all the time, so when there is a crisis that's unexpected, tell me about the reactive part and then we can get to the proactive piece.
Kim: Yeah, sure. My most recent case was just this past week, and a middle schooler contacted us. A student went up on SnapChat and was complaining about the vice principal, saying that she's racist, saying that she's a lesbian, dyke, and whatever else, and was asking people to swipe up and join the movement. So the ASB president actually reached out to us with a direct message on Instagram. Hey, how do we handle this? What do we do?
Kim: And I asked her, well, how many people are actually talking about this? And she's like, the entire eighth grade class. Are you sure that's how many people are talking about it? She said maybe 30. All right, so 30 people are talking about this. How can we force the ... change the movement, like getting people to talk about something other than this small negativity?
Kim: So then I said what if they got everybody to post a picture of their animal or their puppy, like making them have that. So then she actually got her eighth grade friends to all send these cute little messages with funny little memes that said like, there was Yoda, whatever, little Yoda and all the cute characters, and it was just funny that people were going to use these messages.
Houston: I love that idea. So often our initial response to negativity is to react by hitting it head on, which sometimes the better solution, especially if it's in the building and you know who it is, it's a relational piece, right? You need to talk to that kid, there's a reason for the behavior, but we never engage directly on social media. It's like how can we overpower the negativity with positivity?
Houston: One of the things that #ICANHELP does is it's a solutions organization that helps provide students and staff, this is a conversation like students are reaching out saying what do we do? And that's like the question on social media. What do we do? And I love that you're able to provide some solutions there.
Houston: Let's talk about that proactive side. What does that look like before we ever get into crisis? What are some things that we can be really intentional in our school culture to address that social media piece?
Kim: Yeah, so even making sure your school has a social media policy. We now have an online course that's teaching admin how to actually create that because it's so important that you actually have a policy, so you can actually have something to stand by. And just making sure you're educating your students about it, and even showing what a positive site looks like, and being that role model.
Kim: We have curriculum, we have the resources on our websites, and then we come out and do presentations, or we're doing a train the trainer model as well, to get the adults on it too. We have an online course for teachers too now, that teaches them how to be positive online.
Houston: So what would be one of the things that you hit at on that course that's like step one? We create the policy, which I'm sure there's some great ways or strategies to think about the language there. But what would be step one or two there, in terms of the proactive piece?
Kim: Well, so the admin, it's the social media policy, it's the ... We give them actual templates for sending home to parents, and then it's also digital restorative because that's a huge piece, when they actually do have an issue. It's getting them to actually fill out the things to be able to help them correct that, the digital restorative justice, which is definitely a huge piece that schools are now making. If it's alcohol or drugs, now it's social media, getting them to do a restorative piece. That's for the admin.
Kim: Then for teachers, same thing. We're teaching them how to ... What's your actual classroom policy for cell phones, because some schools are allowing it, to use it. Some are not. So we're trying to say hey, here's a policy you could create in your classroom.
Houston: In your experience, what do you say there? Cellphones in the classroom. If you were the teacher in the classroom, what does your policy look like and how do you hold kids accountable in a loving way?
Kim: Every single person's different, and so my policy in my classroom was I allowed them to have it, but of course you always have those kids who didn't use it correctly, and you want to make sure you have a good policy of what it was. So if they did mess with the policy, then it was I don't want to see your phone out. And we have a conversation with the parents, like their phone has to be put away completely, because they've already misused it. That was my policy when I was teaching, was we were okay with it if you had it out but if they misused it then it was put away completely in their backpacks, and they couldn't even have it out for anything.
Houston: I imagine part of that philosophy comes from the sense of this is your world, this is the world you're living in, sometimes it's hard to fight the natural, it's coming, right? And it's here that every student has a phone, just about, so what way in the classroom, as kids are using this? How did you, from a culture loving or a behavioral standpoint, use those in the classroom in ways that you thought were healthy or productive?
Kim: Yeah, sure. Well, I mean definitely the difference between even when you and I were growing up, you had an online life and an offline life. Now these guys are being raised, well, this is all one. So as a teacher, you want to make sure you understand that it's so different. This is their life. The phone is part of them, and so now, yeah, I would always have them pull out their phones to put in reminders on their phone to use it for a calendar, to look up things or research stuff, to even use it for Pinterest, right, for ideas. There's all kinds of things you can use it ... Digital is amazing. There's so many awesome things that they can use it for.
Houston: Yeah. And you actually help nominate kids who are doing things good. It's called Digital For Good, and I know we've been a part of that before, helping sponsor some of the things for those students. Tell me about one of those kids and what they've done.\
Kim: Yeah, so this year Digital for Good is September 16 at Facebook headquarters. One of the winners actually is part of the robotics club at his high school in Modesto, California and he wanted to do something awesome and so he went down to the veteran's hall and found a veteran who was missing an arm, and then made an arm. He used to be a baseball player and can catch a baseball. That's one of the winners this year.
Houston: That's amazing.
Kim: Right. Another girl from Pennsylvania, since she was seven she's been selling these blue lollipops because her classmate died of pediatric cancer, and so now she's selling these blue lollipops. She's now a junior in high school and she's raised over $100,000 with selling blue lollipops.
Houston: Using social media as a platform.
Kim: Using social media to promote it.
Houston: Kim Karr, amazing and a great reminder that where it used to be offline and online, it has become one, and so how do we make sure that we're embracing that in a way that's thoughtful, proactive, how do we make sure we have strategies when we're reacting, which we inevitably will be? And if we were to wrap up our time together, in the form of a tweet, one tweet about school culture, and then at the end #ICANHELP, what would be your one tweet about school culture? Your one nugget of wisdom, tweet-sized?
Kim: Oh, we've got to put our CharacterStrong and #ICANHELP baby together, right? Like icanhelpstrong? Something. Everybody in here can help. Teachers can help, students can help. Let's do this together. You can't be kind online if you can't be kind in person. You won't be kind in person if you're not kind online. Let's just keep being CharacterStrong. Let's be helpful and strong online.
Houston: I love it. Thank you, Kim Karr.
Kim: Let's go. Rock on.
John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong, and how we are supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.