Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Super Secret Society

It's been a while since I've published my thoughts on this blog, having spent the past few years focused on supporting teachers in my local community.  Today, I'm reaching out to my online colleagues to share an idea I'm hatching this week, in support of students who are feeling lonely and disconnected.

Where Have Our Children Gone?

While no one was paying attention, a large proportion of our teen community has decided that free time is meant to be spent alone, in private, with a glowing screen.  Whether connecting on social media, binge-watching video, or playing video games, our young people have retreated to their bedrooms.  I'll wager that you, or parents you know, are wondering what happened to their children.   Whether interacting on their mobile phones or portable computers, the most connected generation of all time, seems to lack for opportunities to engage in a face-to-face context. The steady diet of dopamine and serotonin, induced through follows, likes and comments, seems to have stifled the urge for physical interactivity that used to characterize the lives of teens.

And now, in school districts across North America, adults are trying to get a grip on how to engage young people in helping themselves.  The term 'mental health strategy' has become and education obsession as educators, parents and community members attempt to fix what's wrong with a generation that seems to be withdrawing from traditional society.  Never before has a generation of learners cried out so loudly for help with their social and mental well being.

The Birth of a Secret Society

As I sat in a large group planning meeting last week, student success teams from our local high schools attempted to make practical sense of the guides and supports that were available to school communities.  Action plans were drafted to be shared with our board level student success leaders, and a follow-up was promised.

While this work was underway, Jane McGonigal's book 'Reality is Broken' began rattling around in my brain.  During my drive to/from school, I had recently finished reading the audio version of the book and I was inspired by the ways in which game mechanics were being leveraged to increase social engagement, to connect co-conspirators, and to solve problems.  Long story short: before leaving the meeting, I had purchased a domain name, created new social media accounts, and had a draft in my mind for a new community-building game to be called 'Super Secret Society',

Meaningful Missions + Human Interactions = Joy.  

This is the secret sauce for the Super Secret Society.  I believe that ordinary days, spiced with a positive community extra... can become extraordinary. The semi-mysterious logo was designed by blending S+S+S into a symbol that is reminiscent of that doohickey we once needed to play 45 RPM records.  The symbol is circular, representative of how positive behaviours might be 'paid forward'. What goes around comes around. My hope is that others will find themselves engaging in socially generous behaviors that are sparked by thoughtful missions.

What type of missions are you talking about?
With a goal of creating a culture at our school that is based on friendliness and personal engagement, the missions that I'm collecting for broadcast can be characterized as fun (wear mis-matched socks); interactive (take time to notice the eye colour of your friends); challenging (stand up against an unnecessary use of vulgar or hateful language); generous (share something from your lunch with someone you've not shared with before); habit-forming (hold the door open for at least 5 different people today).

Who participates?
The missions will vary in difficulty depending on one's personality and comfort with social interaction.  In general, tasks can be accomplished by anyone young/old; student/teacher; parent/child.  Without realizing it, other community members are also participating.  The more a person takes on challenges, the easier future missions will seem, and the more connected an individual will become to those in the community.

How does one discover the day's mission?
Missions are posted on TwitterInstagram.  Participants can access the missions by following supersecretsoci on either platform.  Only those who follow will have access to the missions.  The group is top secret after all! (For those without social media accounts, the missions will also be posted openly on Pinterest.)

How are missions accomplished?
Missions are accomplished in secrecy!  Don't let on why you're doing any particular task... just complete the assigned missions and enjoy the fruits of your labour.  To accept a mission, simply click the like button/heart icon to confirm that you've received the instructions.  If you'd like to document your achievement, each day's mission has a matching hashtag that can be used to share your personal experience.

What's the payoff?
The payoff for individual participation is positive human interaction.  The payoff for school or family participation, is the fostering of a collegial community climate.

Can I tell other people?
Since there is a bit of joy at figuring out that the society exists, my hope is that hashtags appearing in the posts of game players might spark the curiosity of new players.  "What was that sock photo with the #sss0001 tag all about?"  There will be times when a mission will ask agents to gather co-conspirators but if you know of individuals or groups who would make good agents, please share a link to  . Perhaps at your school, the logo, posted conspicuously, and paired with a QR code can be used as a cue to induce the curiosity of potential agents.

What if I have an idea to share?
If you have an idea for a super secret mission, please share your idea.  Inspire people you'll never know, to interact in positive ways.  Together, we can create ripples of friendliness, fun, and fulfillment.

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