In the past three years, filmmaker Laney Blair has made nine short films. Her work has appeared at multiple film festivals across the United States. She also co-founded the successful #IAmMyBeautiful body positivity campaign in her spare time.
A veteran presenter at global education conferences, she’ll be sharing her ideas on screenwriting, filmmaking and memes in three different sessions at ISTE 2017 — just days before her 17th birthday.
“I’m hoping I can help inspire teachers to take some of the things that have helped me and incorporate them into what they’re doing,” says the junior at Lakeland High School in Florida. “Not all students learn the same, and I know the traditional school setting isn’t always great for students. Finding other ways to show what you’re learning can be really beneficial.”
Laney serves as living proof of how far students can go when given the opportunity. She attended a Montessori middle school where teachers stoked her creativity and helped her demonstrate her learning through storytelling and video.
“I really enjoyed the Montessori philosophy, the way students facilitate a lot of their own learning,” she says. “You end up really interested in things, you go at your own pace, you aren’t stuck at a level don’t belong in, and if you fall behind you have people there to help you catch up.”
By the end of eighth grade, she knew she wanted to be a writer. Her passion for storytelling catapulted her into a competitive film program at a local arts school, where she takes electives in filmmaking while fulfilling her core requirements, such as English and math, at a regular public high school.
Experiencing the two schools side by side has been eye opening, she says.
“There’s definitely a difference from film class — where we have the latest equipment, technology and specialized teachers — to the normal classroom where the teacher may not be specialized, and you’re working from a textbook and just writing papers on a laptop,” she says. “A lot of schools are incorporating a lot more technology into education, and that’s a great benefit. You can create media that way and make things out of what you’re learning.”
Learning by making things has been central to her success, helping her meet the ISTE Standards for Students by teaching critical lessons in:
Self-empowerment. Having the freedom to express her learning through creative work gave Laney the momentum she needed to develop her passion and dive deep into each subject. She hopes more teachers will incorporate creative media, such as video and memes, to help students express themselves in the ways that resonate most with them. “It’s empowering — it really is. It allows you to reach out and discover things on your own. It forces you to figure out more about what you’re making the material on. You become more interested in the subject you’re learning about.”
Digital citizenship. Sharing her work online has shown Laney how powerful film and social media can be. As a filmmaker, she’s become conscious of how the media influences the way people see themselves — an awareness that inspired the #IAmMyBeautiful body positivity campaign, which has been featured on BuzzFeed. “We were trying to figure out what we could do in school that would be beneficial to the people around us,” she says. “I try my best to portray people openly and honestly. If you look at the photos on my campaign, they’re unretouched. Any acne or cellulite — I don’t cover any of it up. I want it to be true and honest.”
Global collaboration. Laney began learning how to collaborate across geographic boundaries through her mom, ISTE member Nancye Blair Black. By age 13, she had presented at her first ISTE conference. She has since shared her ideas at the 2016 Student Technology Conference, the 2017 STEM Entrepreneurship Conference and presented three sessions at ISTE 2017. The collaborative skills she’s developed have been vital in helping her partner with local businesses as well as a New York modeling agency for her social media campaign.
Although her ultimate goal is to report on pop culture as a multimedia journalist, she enjoys teaching and has learned a lot by sharing her ideas with educators. She acknowledges that not every student gets the same opportunities she’s had, and she wants to encourage teachers to take advantage of technology to help draw out students’ passions.
“There needs to be more individuality in schools,” she says. “You could have a student who can potentially do amazing things, but they could be failing because they haven’t had the opportunity to find out how they need to learn. We need more opportunities for students to figure out what they want to do — and can do.”