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His educational goals are serious and so is his plea for help, which we’ve heeded


James Detwiler, principal of Stephens Elementary School in Burlington, Kentucky, decided to have a little fun by teaming up with music teacher Chad Caddell to sing the winter’s 10th announcement of a snow day school closing.

Within hours, the iPhone video they made – to the tune of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” – had gone viral on YouTube, where it’s now been viewed more than 1.4 1.7 million times. Says Detwiler, “Parents and students deserve a chuckle.”

Detwiler, 44, told me in an exclusive interview that, before he knew it, national media – including Katie Couric – picked up the story. She interviewed him via Skype, Tweeting out the link to her more than one million followers.

More than 50 stories have run so far about the video, on media outlets from The New York Daily News to the Today Show.

One huge lesson for Detwiler: “Your principal who believes in technology had absolutely no idea the power of social media – until this went viral.” Clearly, the Internet can be used for so much good, he says, but with that privilege comes the responsibility to use it well, and to train the students to know the difference.

Serious educational goals
Detwiler has serious educational goals behind his use of technology. “We want our students to see that there are fun ways to use technology and social media to be creative,” Detwiler said of the video.

Detwiler says he never set out to make a viral video. After he sent it to parents and students, his wife insisted that he put it on FB for friends and family. They immediately encouraged him to put it on YouTube, where it went viral within hours.

Emboldened by its success, Detwiler added a plea to the description of the video:
“…if this video can gain us some exposure, AND you know of someone willing to help us out with some cash for technology, we DESPERATELY need it. Ellen? Rosie? Oprah? Jimmy Kimmel? We love our jobs – I hope you can tell!”

We heed the call
Al Navas, my partner in MaximumPlus Workshops for GooglePlus Success, and I heard him loud and clear. Friday evening, we’re donating GooglePlus training to Mr. Detwiler to teach him how to use hangouts on air and other Google+ tools for classroom learning.

There are 20,000 students in the Boom County School district where Detwiler presides, and the educational focus is on collaboration, communication and critical thinking. He approaches the education of his elementary school students with a commitment to college, career and life readiness.

Kindergartener’s future careers not yet conceived
“Our kindergartener’s future careers haven’t even been conceived yet,” he says, “and we have to provide them with the technology skills they’ll need. I tell the parents that learning isn’t a school day thing anymore – it’s a 24/7 endeavor.”

He says, “I am really fortunate to work in a school district that understands that we have to meet the students where they are and incorporate the technology they are already using. Our school is on the verge of doing some remarkable things.”

We believe in the arts, not only for aesthetic value, he says, but as important tools for teaching 21st century skills. “That’s why we made the video.”

Detwiler says he’s no tech wizard, but he loves the concept of using tech to teach and says his school system is in the midst of trying to implement “bring your own device” guidelines for students.

There is wireless access throughout Detwiler’s school, and the site-based council that governs the school has given the go-ahead for 4th and 5th graders to bring their own devices into the classroom.

That is necessary, he points out, because the schools simply don’t have enough devices to go around. “We have some Dell desktops, approximately 60 iPads and 30 Chrome Books for 700 students.

Making such a major change in teaching also involves dealing with administrators, teachers and parents who aren’t familiar with connected learning. “It always comes down to education, getting the word out on paradigm shift,” Detwiler explains. “At some point have to have a leap of faith.”

With technology comes responsibility
Part of the school district’s guidelines say that before any school can institute BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) they have to institute several hours of online and classroom training on how to use the internet responsibly. In a sense, says Detwiler, being online, and involved in social media, requires a set of skills and cautionary behaviors that students need to be taught. There are programs in place in our schools to teach social responsibility so they can be “responsible, respectful and safe online.”

Ok, we’re onboard. Oprah, it’s your turn!

B.L. Ochman is CEO of MaximumPlus Workshops for Google+ Success, publisher of What’s Next Blog, contributor to AdAge Digital Next and co-host of The Beyond Social Media Show. On Twitter, she’s @whatsnext