Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How Evil is Tech? A Response.


I believe in the power of technology to connect people, to empower people to be creative, and to open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be closed. This does not mean that there aren't mistakes that people can make with technology. I have made it my mission and my work to educate people so they can know the difference and use technology to make real positive change in their lives. Unfortunately, in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, David Brooks focuses only on the mistakes and boldly states:

"Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake."

Brooks starts his argument by talking about teenagers. He references data from Jean Twenge, to whom I responded in this recent post, showing that teens on social media are less likely to "hang out with friends, date, and work." He failed to recognized data that demonstrates today's teens are actually more healthy than their parents were as teens. The Center for Disease Control recently found, and Vox.com reported, that today's teenagers are 46% less likely to binge drink and 21% less likely to have tried alcohol at all than 20 years ago. The percentage of teens who smoke cigarettes is down from 34.8% twenty years ago to 10.8% today. Teen pregnancy rates are also dropping. In many ways, perhaps due to more options for how to connect with their peers using social media, teens actually feel less compelled to engaged in risky behaviors. We are looking a new pattern of teen social behavior. New does not necessarily mean worse. In many ways, these new patterns are healthier.

The second concern expressed is the "compulsion loops" that capitalize on "dopamine surges" with social media use. The research behind this phenomenon is the basis for much of my recent work – as a blogger and speaker – for educators, students, and parents. Brooks argues that media companies like Facebook and Snapchat use what they know about our biological responses to certain stimuli to increase their profits. There is plenty of research from UCLA, Harvard, and more that demonstrates how posting about oneself on social media and getting likes and comments help with those "dopamine surges". Just as parents faced the reality of helping their children learn healthy nutritional balance with the increased popularity of fast food in the late 20th century, today's parents and teachers must help their children understand this research and learn how to balance healthy intake and production of media in an era of media-overload.

The third proffer in the op-ed is that tech companies produce and sell "technologies [that] are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive." When Brooks makes this assertion, he fails to recognize that the users of technology are the ones in control of whether they are using "shallower" or "deeper" forms of consciousness. Technology itself it not evil or good. Technology creators and users determine whether they will create and use tech tools toward positive and active purposes. These uses include connecting with far away colleagues/friends/family, collaborating on a movie/infographic/digital artwork, building momentum for a social movement, and more. Does this mean that those creators and users will not make mistakes at times or indulge in some of those "shallower" activities? Of course not. Just as we indulge in a bowl of ice cream or a glass of wine, it is permissible to indulge occasionally in a game of Clash of Clans or a scroll through an Instagram feed. It is up to us to share our positive digital products far and wide, and to own up to our mistakes so that we can learn from them and use technology better moving forward.

Brooks closes saying that he wants tech to "pitch itself" with "realism" and "humility." He says, "Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life." I certainly agree that offline time engaging in hands on, in-person, nature-filled experiences is an essential part of being human. Tech can never offer us those things. In fact, tech is incapable of "pitching itself" to us at all. It's creators can, but remember that those creators are also users. Blaming the tech itself is not helpful or useful. It is step back from taking personal responsibility for our behaviors and encouraging our children to do the same. We need to shift mindset away from blaming the tech, step up, and take action toward living healthy, positive, productive, full lives in a tech-rich world.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The "Good Kid": Compliant or Engaged?

It's interesting when I hear teachers describe a student as "a good kid". I was that good kid in school. And, unfortunately, I definitely described some of my former students that way earlier in my career.

But what do we mean when we say "good kid"?

A good kid completes school work without many complaints. A good kid never breaks school rules. A good kid studies hard and carries out assignments to the best of her/his ability. A good kid is quiet when appropriate and participates when appropriate in class.

So, when we say that a student is a "good kid" we are actually describing someone who is compliant. A teacher with compliant students is able to get through each school day rather smoothly. But, from the student perspective, is using the path of least resistance actually the best way to learn?


Instead, we should encourage our children to be engaged at school. The Glossary of Education Reform explains student engagement in this way:


Inquisitive, Interested, Inspired.

These three descriptors – inquisitive, interested, inspired – are the defining elements of student engagement. In order for student to be engaged, they must be curious about their topic and task (INQUISITIVE). They must be wondering what the answers are and where they can find them (INTERESTED). They must believe that finding those answers and sharing them with others will make an impact (INSPIRED).

A student who is quietly completing instructions provided by a teacher and contributing to a peaceful silent classroom might be engaged. But she also might be merely complying.

A student who participates in class activities and games, often filled with music and fast-paced rewards, might enjoy playing the game. But it is not guaranteed that he is invested and engaged in his learning.

A student who turns in a high quality final project might have been engaged throughout the process. But she might have been merely complying through each step.

How can we tell the difference?

Students who are compliant:

  • are quiet or are vocal and obedient.
  • never (ever) question the lesson or asks questions the teacher doesn't anticipate.
  • when faced with a mistake, the student worries about the impact on his/her grade.

Students who are engaged:

  • are eager. Sometimes this manifests as quiet and busy. Other times it manifests with vocal and even disruptive questions.
  • wonder out loud about the facts and ideas they are being asked to learn. They are inherently curious.
  • when faced with a mistake, the student redoubles effort toward the goal or adjusts – not dilutes – the goal accordingly.

How can we make the difference?

The answer is student choice and voice. These terms have become buzzwords and, for many, have lost their meaning. Still we should ask our learners questions like:

  • What do YOU want to research?
  • What do YOU need to be successful?
  • What story do YOU want to tell?
  • What do YOU want to make?
  • How do YOU want to show what you've learned?

When teachers ask their students these questions, students are often ready to share their ideas. Some students have been ready their whole lives and the ideas will explode. Others will be hesitant because they've become accustomed to a compliant school culture. These learners will want to know the formula or recipe for success. Resist. Respond to their questions with the questions above. Stir the curiosity and engagement inside of them.

As parents, teachers, coaches, and administrators we can rise to this occasion. We can show the learners we care for – whether they are our students or our own children – that we want them to be curious and engaged, not obedient and compliant. Engagement is the key to deep learning and active citizenship.

I don't want anyone to describe my daughters or my students as "compliant." What is easier is not always better. When it comes to the children I care for, whether they are family or students, I'd much prefer adjectives like "engaged" and "curious."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Getting Real About the Teen Depression-Cyberbullying Connection

A couple of months ago I wrote a response to a psychologist's theory that smart phones are responsible for the increase in teen depression and anxiety. The overemphasis on screen technology as a root cause for the increase of major depressive episodes among teens and young adults is not new. The most popular articles about this topic found online, like this recent one from Time, will continue to confirm that screens are the problem because it is an easy answer and soothes adults who are not sure how to manage the tech use of the adolescents and teens in their lives. There is not doubt, the stories of individual teens they tell in those articles are touching and concerning.


According to the Mayo Clinic, the true causes of teen depression are:

  • biological chemistry
  • hormones
  • inherited traits
  • early childhood trauma
  • learned patterns of negative thinking

Surely some of the learned patterns of negative thinking can stem from some interactions students have online, especially cyberbullying. While cyberbullying is a phenomenon educators and parents need to help their children understand and overcome, its prevalence should not be overestimated. In fact, a recent survey shows that most bullying is verbal and the vast majority is in person.


This information is not meant to minimize the traumatic impact cyberbullying can have. (There is help available. My favorite resources are ConnectSafely's Parent's Guide to Cyberbullying and Parent, Educator & Youth Guide to LGBTQ Cyberbullying.) It is meant to provide a realistic understanding of the myriad of causes of teen depression and anxiety. Even if we were able to eradicate cyberbullying among children and adults, the major causes of teen depression would still exist. It's time to stop blaming devices and apps and start addressing the true root causes more holistically.


You can follow Jocelyn Brewer on Instagram at @diginutrition.


The well-being of the teens and adolescents in your life depends on your awareness of ALL potential causes of depression and anxiety. In addition to the Mayo Clinic webpage hyperlinked earlier, I also recommend the National Institute of Mental Health. Read them, build your awareness, and be careful to avoid simple explanations – like blaming cell phones and social media – for the rise in teen depression and anxiety. Raising and educating healthy children is challenging, complicated, and incredible rewarding.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Are curriculum specialists in edtech denial?

As an educator who has built my career during the 21st Century, I've found that my fellow education professionals often classify themselves in one of two categories:
  1. Specialize in curriculum (often in one specific subject area)
  2. Specialize in technology (either as part of IT or integration)
This is a mistake.

Curriculum is the what, education technology (aka edtech) is the how. They have to be developed together in order for a student's learning experience to be engaging, effective, and relevant.


Edtech Defined

Recently I was asked to define edtech. Here is how I responded:
"Education technology – or edtech – is the study and practice of effective teaching and learning processes and strategies that incorporate devices, apps, programs, and media. Edtech can be used in traditional classrooms, at home, and as part of learning in almost any setting."

My definition encompasses more than devices and apps. Because we put the word "education" in front of "technology" we are giving the term greater meaning. Education is not made up of tools. Rather, education is made up of research-based, interpersonal, creative instructional practice and the teachers and students who participate in that practice. Teachers who seek to make their instructional practice a best practice in today's world seek to incorporate technology devices, programs, and resources.

While it is appropriate for an educator to specialize in a particular curriculum area – like early childhood, middle level humanities, studio art, or advanced chemistry – it is inappropriate for any of these specialists to brush off edtech as if it is not something needed in their classroom. Effective teaching practice incorporates the tools and skills that students are already using and will need to learn for the future. These include accessing, analyzing, and interpreting digital resources. They also include communicating, creating, and sharing using digital tools and programs.

This does not mean that students should not be writing with pencil and paper, reading physical books, creating with materials like scissors, wood, string, glue, and paint. But they should be using edtech seamlessly as they plan, design, organize, analyze, and share their learning with these items.

As with other education concepts – such as common assessments and standards-based grading –edtech can be practiced properly or it can be practice poorly. For instance, when fill-in-the-blank worksheets are distributed as digital PDFs instead of on paper, teachers should not be surprised if their students succumb to the temptation to navigate away from the PDF to other media on their device. Mere substitution of digital for paper is an example of poorly practiced edtech. Learning what constitutes effective edtech is essential.

Effective


  • Edtech is effective when it allows students to access information, collaborate with others, and create in ways that were previously impossible. 
  • Edtech is effective when it is use in concert with face-to-face social environments and non-digital resources. 


Not Effective


  • Edtech is not effective when it is used as a substitute for a great teacher who cares to get to know her students and build positive educational relationships with them. 
  • Edtech is not effective when a paper worksheet is merely traded for a PDF and and hardcover is merely traded for an ebook.

Often educators enter the classroom with a passion for their subject matter specialty and for working with children. The most effective educators constantly seek to learn more about their subject matter AND about how to best teach the children they serve. Edtech must be a part of that professional learning and a part of every classroom.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Breaking my Blogging Dry Spell

The people I live and work closely with know that I've been neglecting this blog for nearly 2 months. But there's more to it than that. Because I haven't been writing, I haven't been processing my professional thoughts and experiences in the same way. For years this blog has been the place I go to sort out and express my professional thinking, and I'm back.


How it happened

Just after my last post, there was a sudden change that happened at my school. What the change was does not matter in this context, but it did turn my understanding of my place and my role there upside down for a while. It took a lot of mental energy for me to develop new understandings and I was honestly a bit unsure of myself during that time. I was afraid to share here.

A realization

Now I realize that I should have blogged about a lot of that. Like many education bloggers, the topics of my posts are often inspired by experiences that I have every day at school. I do not write specifically about students or teachers without their permission, but I do share my research and ideas based on my work with them. During the last 2 months, I've done a LOT of research and thinking. The act of writing pushes me to organize and interpret that research and thinking into strategies that I can use and share here.

By failing to go through the writing process during that transition, I was failing myself.

Forgiving myself

I was probably ready to start writing a couple of weeks ago, but restarting was harder than I expected: What should my re-entry post be about? Was anything I was currently working on or thinking about interesting enough to share with other educators? The first post of my return had to about something important in order to be worthy, right?

Now that I read those questions typed out plainly on my screen, I can't even believe I let myself think those things. Those are precisely the questions of self-doubt that I'm often telling my colleagues to avoid as they venture into blogging. Educators who are willing to take the time to write about their professional work and share it with others are committing an act of generosity, inspiration, and selflessness. Your colleagues around the country and around the world learn more from you than you realize.

I have 3 or 4 more blog posts outlined in the notes app on my iPhone. I pledge the write them over the next few weeks and share them here. No more self doubt. No more perceived writer's block.

When you go through a similar time in your professional life, I hope you can remember this post and forgive yourself sooner than I did. Educators everywhere need your ideas and work so that they can grow and become better. Don't hold back.

Monday, September 18, 2017

LGBTQ Cyberbullying: Real Data and Real Advice

While I am a fierce advocate for free speech online, I'm also an educator who works every day in my own school community – and by writing on this blog – to spread awareness among students and teachers about how to practice positive and helpful digital citizenship online. Since my passion and my work bring me back to cyberbullying quite often, it has become clear that certain groups of young people are targeted more often than others.


This data makes it clear that our students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are particularly vulnerable to bullying, discrimination, and abuse. The way we use digital tools to communicate also makes them vulnerable to cyberbullying.

This is why my work with ConnectSafely.org is so important to me. While I can make an immediate impact in my school by working with our teachers and students everyday, it is my hope that some of my contributions to ConnectSafely can have a broader impact nationwide. I'm proud of our new guide.


Specifically, you can look for advice and expertise on:
  • The benefits and risks of online interactions for LGBTQ youth.
  • How parents can support their children before, during, and after they experience cyberbullying.
  • The importance of sustained positive school culture to support students.
  • TONS of action items and resources to help schools figure out what to do next.
  • A review of legal protections and case law.
  • A section specifically directed at children and teens to help them learn to protect themselves from and cope with cyberbullying if necessary.
Not ready to read the whole guide just yet? Check out the Top 5 Questions to kickstart your thinking and the Resources Page to learn more about organizations and materials available to you beyond our guide. When you do read the guide, feel free to comment and let us know what you think, how you're planning to use it, and share your story to help bring more power and positivity to the online world for all youth.

Monday, September 11, 2017

When is learning truly authentic?

It is not uncommon for educators to bristle a bit when asked whether they engage students in "authentic" learning. Without providing more context for the term, some might think they are being accused of developing and delivering lessons that are not genuine, or are fake. In education, authenticity means much more than genuine over fake. According to the Buck Institute for Education:
In education, the concept has to do with how “real-world” the learning or the task is. Authenticity increases student motivation and learning. A project can be authentic in several ways, often in combination. It can have an authentic context, such as when students solve problems like those faced by people in the world outside of school (e.g., entrepreneurs developing a business plan, engineers designing a bridge, or advisors to the President recommending policy). It can involve the use of real-world processes, tasks and tools, and performance standards, such as when students plan an experimental investigation or use digital editing software to produce videos approaching professional quality. It can have a real impact on others, such as when students address a need in their school or community (e.g., designing and building a school garden, improving a community park, helping local immigrants) or create something that will be used or experienced by others. Finally, a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to students’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities, and issues in their lives.
Upon gaining better understanding of what authentic learning is, most teachers buy in immediately. They recognize that students will be more invested and engaged in their own learning if they see the tasks and content as authentic. Many educators, however, need examples to help them get started with creating authenticity in their own project and lesson plans.


Melissa Greenwood, editor at SmartBrief, recently asked me for examples of authentic learning at my school, St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts. Here is my response:
At St. John’s Prep, students often use such tools as Adobe Spark, iMovie and Notability to create clean, professional-quality media. Their quote graphics, videos, animations and infographics are clean and beautiful and demonstrate content mastery. By creating the digital products they see adults sharing online, they are more invested in learning. What makes these authentic creations even more exciting is that they are encouraged to share them beyond our classrooms. Our digital portfolio program gives our students that chance to share their work broadly if they wish. But perhaps even more important, through the portfolio process, they have the chance to reflect on what they've learned and why they are proud of their creations. Their authentic learning experience is twofold: They will create what adult professionals create, and they will get to share their graphics, videos, designs and writing with the world beyond our school if they choose.
The resulting article brought together four unique stories of authentic learning from teachers all across the country. My three co-contributors are certainly educators I admire: Sydney Chaffee, the 2017 Teacher of the Year; Alice Chen, a brilliant and well-known technology coach; and Bryan Christopher, a journalism teacher and Teacher Voice Fellow. Click the image below to read the full article. Share these examples with your colleagues and encourage them to add more authentic learning to their lessons and projects this year.



How do you bring authentic learning to the students in your classroom. How do you support teachers who are looking to add authentic learning to their lessons and projects? Comment below! The more examples we share, the more our students will benefit.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Power of School Culture for New Teachers

Throughout the month of August, shiny brand new teachers have been preparing their classrooms, reviewing curriculum, planning welcome activities, and tossing and turning the night before that big day. (OK, let's be honest, veteran teachers are doing these things too. But first year teachers' hearts are beating a little faster.) Everyone wants these newbies to be successful: the administrators and colleagues who were on their hiring committees, the students who enter their classrooms, the parents of those young learners, and all of us who want them to breathe new life into our education system.

Where We Are

Sadly, recent research shows that new teacher retention is poor. Nashville, Tennessee loses half of its new teachers within 3 to 5 years. Even worse, in Oakland, California schools 70% of new teachers leave within 5 years.

The top recommendation for retaining these teachers is to build meaningful and sustainable mentorships. Most schools and districts have mentor programs in place the formalize the feedback and support loop between new and veteran teachers. These programs can be effective, but perhaps the greatest indicator for their success is how the mentors feel about their profession and their school.

The Data on New Teacher Burnout

A new study shows that the climate of a school and burnout level of veteran teachers in school is perhaps the greatest factor in predicting the longevity of early career teachers (ECTs). The Infectious Disease Advisor reports:

Jihyun Kim, from Michigan State University in East Lansing, and colleagues examined factors associated with burnout levels of 171 ECTs in 10 school districts in Michigan and Indiana. The authors assessed the impact of burnout levels of ECTs' mentors and close colleagues in a social network influence model. 
The researchers found that ECTs' burnout levels correlated significantly with the social network exposure term, indicating that ECTs' with mentors and colleagues with higher burnout levels were more likely to be burned out at a second time point.

Those of us who are veteran educators should pause here. We make up the in-person social network of early career teachers. The words we use to describe our profession, our body language and facial expressions in the hallways and copy rooms, and the tone of our farewells on Friday afternoons have a deep impact on the newest colleagues in our schools. We teachers and administrators have the power to shape school culture, and therefore shape the chances of success of our new colleagues.



Who We Are

The teachers and administrators who work together to serve students in a school are all leaders. Students look to them as learning leaders. Parents look to them as academic leaders. And, of course, early career teachers look to them as leaders of the profession. In Learning Transformed, a new book from ASCD by authors Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger call upon education leaders, whether they work at the classroom, school, or district level, to be LBAs. Here's the rub:

LBT = leader by title
Murray and Sheninger write, "LBTs often exhibit... defining characteristics such as egos, power trips, ... ruling by fear, and insecurity when their ideas are challenged in the open."

LBA = leader by action
According to the authors, LBAs are those who have "taken action to initiate meaningful change in their classrooms or schools. These leaders don't just talk the talk; they also walk the walk."

Murray and Sheninger go on to write:
In our opinion, the best leaders have one thing in common: they do, as opposed to just talk. Leadership is about action, not position of chatter. Some of the best leaders we have seen during our years in education have never held any sort of administrative title. (p. 34)

The remainder of the book is a treasure trove of research strategies to practice the mindset needed to be a leader for positive progress in education. The authors go on to address many opportunities that can help new and veteran educators alike: creating intentional learning experiences, designing learning spaces, providing personalized professional learning, and collaborating with colleagues and community members. As we embark on this school year, think about who you are as an educator. It important to plan for impact we have on our students, but also the impact we have on the other learners in our school: our newest teacher colleagues. Learning Transformed is a key resource toward this honorable goal.

As the school year begins and you welcome new educators into your school, remember that what you do and the disposition with which you do is a form of leadership and can have a long term impact on their success. Even if the school year has been rolling for a few weeks, take time to reflect on how much energy you had during those early days. Is it sustainable? How can you build on it instead of letting it wane?

Your contribution to school culture will shape the experience of your new colleagues. Help transform learning and teaching for them by being a force for good each day. When teachers feel supported and empowered, so do their students. At the end of the day, we are all there because of the students.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Generations Will Not Be Destroyed by Smartphones


This article from the Atlantic appeared multiple times in my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds last week. The author is a professor of psychology and experienced researcher with a focus on generational differences. Her title claims that smartphones are destroying the post-Millennial generation. This paragraph is perhaps the clincher:
"Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy."
My concern is that the author, although certainly qualified to utilize the mental health data given her background and experience, is connecting her conclusions to the phones themselves. Her focus is misplaced. She should be more focused on people's behaviors when using their phones, not the phones themselves.

A couple of days later, a response to the Atlantic article appeared on JSTOR Daily. The author is also a published researcher and she encourages readers to shift the focus of their blame away from phones. She claims GenXers, the parents of those post-Millennials, are really the generation facing destruction. Her overall message is captured here:
"...you know what smartphones and social media are really great at? Tuning out your children.
I know, we all really enjoy reading articles about how it’s those evil smartphones that are destroying our children’s brains and souls. It lets us justify locking their devices up with parental monitoring tools, or cutting off their mobile plan when they fail to make the grade.
Fellow parents, it’s time for us to consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged. It’s because we’ve disengaged ourselves; we’re too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids."
At least this author is focusing on behaviors. She is calling out parents to be models of healthy technology use before pointing fingers at their children. I do agree with that concept, but I'm still concerned about the blame game.

What do educators think?

When educators read articles like these two is it easy for us to think, "If my students are hooked on their phones, it isn't my fault. The data shows that the phones themselves are the problem." Or, if we are more likely to believe the second article, educators might think, "If my students are hooked on their phones, it isn't my fault. Their parents are the real problem." The purpose of this post is to reject those two mindsets emphatically and remind educators of what they already know:

Placing blame does not solve problems. Taking action does. 

And, what's more, simply banning students from accessing smartphones and social media at school is not going to work. Actually, according to a new study from the University of Pheonix and Harris Polls, educators' social media use is clearly trending up.
  • 41% of teachers use social media at school, up from 32 percent in 2016.
  • 28% of teachers don't use social media in the classroom, but would like to.
This data seems to show that more educators are recognizing at least the potential value of social media use as part of their work in education. My hope is that we also recognize that our learners will not develop healthy social and technological habits with their devices unless we intentionally teach them. Just as we work hard to teach our students skills like keeping notes organized, managing their time, and how to write a lab report, we need to teach them how to leverage social media to help them learn and share in positive and productive ways. The children we serve will not learn these skills unless we recognize our duty to model them and teach them.

How will educators step up?

  1. It starts with cultural norms – not disciplinary rules – that all community-members agree to be held to. Yes, even adults. At St. John's Prep we have developed these and are rolling them out intentionally this year. Our infographic was even designed by a student and is posted in every classroom all over campus. 
  2. Bring parents into the conversation. Share the data on parent screen use with them and ask them to hold themselves accountable as well. Provide them with practical tips and resources, like these we curated for the parents in our community at St. John's Prep. Offer consistent opportunities for them to come together and talk about successes and struggles as they raise, and you educate, their children in this brave new world.
  3. Take tech risks with your students! When they are excited about a new tool or a new way to share their learning using their smartphones, embrace those ideas. Be sure to help them learn about privacy and security when trying a new app or program, but as long as it is safe students should be able to get creative even using tools you are not familiar with.
We will not get caught up in the blame game.
We will not succumb to a fatalist attitude that we are already on an inevitable destructive path. 
We will not make the mistake of oversimplifying the solution and imposing unrealistic bans.
I'm confident that educators will step up, be the voice of reason, and get to work making the meaningful changes that we need so that all generations develop healthy proactive habits.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Home School Communication: It's Not About Progress Reports


Each afternoon during the last school year, my daughter's 2nd grade teacher sent a few cell phone photos and a 2-3 sentence explanation of what they showed. It probably took her no more than 5 minutes to snap the shots of her students, type up the words, and hit send. About once per week I would dash off a few sentences in response thanking her for the photos or letting her know what my daughter had said about school that day. These seemingly mundane quick interactions helped me build an everyday relationship with my child's teacher. The benefits of building that relationship went far beyond a teacher fulfilling her contractual obligations to communicate student progress. There are 5 specific scenarios that come to mind in which her quick photos and messages created a lasting benefit for my daughter and for my husband and I as her parents:

  1. It made it easier and more natural for me too reach out to her one night early in the year when my daughter left her homework at school. Together we were able to come up with an alternative assignment that my daughter enjoyed and also helped her practice the skills she was working on.
  2. That everyday relationship made me think to ask her about her favorite online educational games so that I could direct my daughter's at home screen time toward positive activities.
  3. At one point in the school year, a new class seating assignment created a little social conflict for my daughter. I helped her brainstorm potential solutions. She went to school the next morning ready to advocate for herself, but I also know I could send her teacher a brief email to keep an eye out as my daughter navigated this tough situation.
  4. When we ran into her and her family in town, we were able to talk effortlessly about the exciting things my daughter was learning and doing in school. These conversations didn't turn into awkward impromptu parent-teacher conferences. They were more like pleasant small talk.
  5. Speaking of those parent-teacher conferences, I actually had a tough time scheduling one this year due to our busy schedules. Because of all of our communications throughout the year, though, I could just up the phone or email my daughter's teacher anytime I had a question. No need for a special conference to touch base.
I hope my daughter's 3rd grade teacher takes a few moments each day to use the devices at her fingertips to help build a relationship, too. It is likely that throughout her elementary education experience I will get that kind of communication. But will it continue in the upper grades?

It isn't about nightly homework checks

There is a common practice to hold back on daily updates to parents as learners mature. Usually, the philosophy behind this shift is that as children get older they should take more responsibility for their own learning. But I'm not talk about daily communications that include each night's homework assignments or regularly scheduled progress reports. Rather, as a parent I want to know what my daughters have tried, learned, read, and discussed each day. That way, when they get home we can share and discuss in a way that is more meaningful than, "How was school today?"

Adolescents and teens can be help accountable for their school work without sacrificing teacher-parent communication. The more parents know about their child's day, the more likely they are to be positive proactive forces in their child's education. Every teacher needs as many parent allies as possible, and every parent wants their child to have a healthy and strong relationship with her teacher.

How educators can make it happen

This year, I'm happy to be a part of the #Pledge100 campaign to reach every parent during the 2017-2018 school year. Much of this post has been about my experience as a parent, but as an educator I also saw great benefits when I stayed in constant communication with my students' parents. As a middle school teacher, I kept up a class website where parents could find the class calendar and all materials. Additionally, I sent home personal emails to 3-4 students' families each afternoon letting them know about how their recent experiences, successes, and struggles in my classroom.


These emails took me no more than 15 minutes to write each afternoon. The benefits were two-fold:
  1. Parents knew that I thought about their child as a unique individual who deserved an education that fit him best.
  2. My end-of-day daily reflections helped me think more carefully about how I spoke to and served every student every day. I believe I grew into a better teacher because of this practice.
As a high school teacher, I kept up a similar class website, but also sent home weekly detailed emails with links to examples of student work. These links featured student videos, podcasts, and even ebooks authored by entire classes. Parents enjoyed the celebration of their teenager's learning and I found that the rapid-fire 5-minute parent-teacher conferences we held once a year were much more relaxed.


Start this summer

We even got a message late last week - in the dog days of summer - from my daughter's teacher reminding her former 2nd graders to read. I was so impressed. I showed it to my daughter and she said, "I can't wait to go back to school so I can visit Ms. W and Ms. R. They will be so happy to see me and I can tell them about summer camp!"

If you haven't communicated with your former students yet this summer, don't underestimate how powerful and positive it can be for them to hear from you. The fact that you thought of them during your vacation time will mean to world to them.

And, of course, reach out to your incoming students as soon as possible. Hold off on homework policies and class expectations. Share a little about what you love about being a teacher and how you used some of your summer to get ready for them. Reassure them that you are excited to meet them and get to know them. Perhaps you could even encourage them to write back to you.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Beautiful Learning

"I use the term beautiful work broadly: ...Always, in all subjects, there is a quest in my classroom for beauty, for quality, and we critique all that we do for its level of care, craftsmanship, and value."
-Ron Berger quoted from Buck Institute

Recently a colleague of mine, a grade 7/8 math teacher, emailed me with his reflections from reading a book he borrowed from the bookshelf in my office. After a discussion about homework quality and quantity with his colleagues during the final professional learning day of the school year, he stopped by my office to share his thoughts about what makes student work worthwhile. I handed him An Ethic Of Excellence by Ron Berger and encouraged him to read it and dig a little deeper into those thoughts. About a month and a half into summer, he emailed me with his thoughts:

"Beautiful work is the idea that schoolwork is about the process of producing something beautiful. In that process learners learn the lesson. It is beautiful not because it's neat or colorful or artistic, but because it represents the very best work of that individual, with the assistance of their classmates along the way. Schoolwork isn't something that we just have to get done and move on. It's an iterative process and our learning is in those several iterations."
-Glenn Blakney

Glenn pointed out some things that I've been thinking about quite a bit: 
  1. School work should feel just as valuable and worthwhile to students as work feels for adults in pursuit of their careers and/or passions.
  2. Valuable learning does not happen entirely in collaboration with others, but it also does not happen entirely in isolation as an individual. The feedback we get from others is just as important as the reflections we do on our own.
  3. Learning is in BOTH the process and the product. We learn from making mistakes and finding out how to fix them. We also learn from feeling the satisfaction of creating a product that we are proud to share.

Near the end of his email to me, Glenn wrote, "This is what genuine and effective Project Based Learning looks like." It just so happens that, as part of my preparation and planning for our upcoming in-house school conference, I was reading articles and watching videos about some of the hottest education theories including PBL. I came across this video from Edutopia on rigorous PBL and it really captured the elements of beautiful schoolwork for me.


Besides the aesthetics, what would be the elements of beautiful schoolwork in your classroom? How would your students, their parents, and the community beyond your classroom know that your students' learning is beautiful?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Time to Change the Vocabulary of #EdTech Leadership


Often when administrators are asked about the current state of education technology in their school or district, they make declarative statements:

  • We are 1-to-1.
  • We use Google Classroom.
  • We adopted Microsoft 365.
  • We have a makerspace.

I've learned that those are unfinished statements. The sentiment they express is not the vision or leadership that educators and learners need. I'm shifting my perspective. Here's why.

The "roll-out" of new devices or tools is often the first edtech goal an administrator has for her district, but it should not – it cannot – be the last. A roll-out is all about strategy and planning. Once equipment, software, and programs are in place, the work has just begun. How will student learning be affected? The statements above should look more like these:

  • We are working toward...
  • We are excited about...
  • Our plan is to...
  • We have started to...

Each of these 4 statements should be finished with phrases that include the words "student" and "learning" in some way.

Education is a moving target. As soon as a district team writes a goal, that goal is both outdated and worth pursuing. It is outdated because district leadership needs to achieve that goal while planning for what comes next. It is worth pursuing because it is a necessary and big step along the journey of progress toward the best possible student learning.

While it is essential for education leaders to celebrate the good work that is being done, it is just as essential for those leaders to communicate an inspiring vision that includes tangible benchmarks to measure progress, especially when it comes to measuring the value of any type of technology in schools.

To help me think more deeply about what technology in education might look like in 5 or 10 years, I recently read LeiLani Cauthen's The Consumerization of Learning. Cauthen skillfully explains the past, present, and potential future of our learning and growth as educators in a world that blends digital and analog at every turn. Some of her predictions are jarring, but others are inspiring and even comforting. When creating a vision and the benchmarks that will be a part of the journey, school and district leaders should consider the possibilities Cauthen shares in this book. For instance, when it comes to the continuum of education progress, is your school in the:

  • Strategy Years?
  • Tactics Years?
  • Sustainability Years?
  • Analytics Years?
  • Design Age?
  • Age of Experience?

Cauthen's advice for each stage is worth considering. Be aware of where your school is, but remain focused on where it needs to be. Her vision for a more personalized (a.k.a. consumerized) education experience for students and teachers is exciting. Educators may not agree with everything in this book, but it is a very good thing that these ideas are now part of the discourse about how public education needs to change.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

This is Your Brain on Technology #ISTE17 #IGNITE

Access to our screens – and the information and connections those screens make possible – is an essential part of our personal, academic, and professional lives. But the amount of time we spend looking at those screens is having an impact on our brain development. Based on my research into neuroscience and my work every day in schools and classrooms, I put together this Ignite talk (5 minutes total, 20 slides, 15 seconds each) for the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education Conference.



It answers many of the questions we have about how much is too much and which uses of technology are worthwhile.


How are you incorporating screens in healthy ways at home and in your school? How are you working with all stakeholders – students, teachers, parents, administrators – in your community to establish a clear culture of healthy technology use?

The research and testing doesn't stop here. This is just the beginning. I'm looking forward to learning and sharing more in the coming months, and next year at #ISTE18 in Chicago.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Talking to Our Children About the President's Tweets

Click here to listen the the segments.
For adults this fast-paced tech-rich world can be intimidating. And yet, children are the focus of my work. Imagine how overwhelming this world can look to them!

While many dismiss that perspective and argue that they are "digital natives" for whom navigating our tech-rich world is easier, I know first hand that is it not.

Children are the focus of my work in 3 ways:

  • I'm the mother of 2 young girls who are eager to explore the media and opportunities of the online world.
  • My profession is educator and I work with teachers and students in grade 6 through 12 at St. John's Prep. We are focused on how to make the world a better place today and in the future.
  • I have a passion for advocacy of digital citizenship, literacy, and safety through writing, speaking, and organizing with the non-profit ConnectSafely.org.
Often, when certain events occur – like President Trump's tweets yesterday that focused on insults rather than substance – I'm asked how we can realistically insist that children, adolescents, and teens refrain from acting the same way online. 


The truth is that all of us, children and adults alike, are learning how to use the powerful communication tools the online world has to offer. This means that all of us are making mistakes and learning from them. I had the opportunity to talk with CBS News Radio this morning and share my advice for parents and teachers. Click here to listen to the interviews.

For more resources to help in both the classroom and at home, check out ConnectSafely.org's parent and educator guides here.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Freedom (and Consequences) of Our Students' Digital Speech

In the past two weeks, two big news reports based in my home state of Massachusetts demonstrate how crucial it is to teach our children about the impact even the smallest online communication can have. Despite these stories with no winners, we shouldn't censor our children. We should encourage them to share their highest quality work online, and have ongoing conversations with them about being upstanders when "drama" happens among their peers online. Here are the specifics:



Harvard Withdraws Acceptances

Harvard University revoked the admissions offers of 10 incoming freshman – recently graduated high school seniors – who created their own messaging group. The creation of the group was not the problem. According to the report in the Harvard Crimson, the prospective students "sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children." The story made national news. It wasn't because of a few rescinded acceptances, a common practice for colleges this time of year. It is because of the reason for rescinding was new.

Michelle Carter's Verdict

Today, in a courthouse in Taunton, Massachusetts, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter of Conrad Roy in a bench trial. Once again, it isn't the charge and trial that are shocking. It is the evidence and context for how Carter acted. According to the New York Times, "When he became sick from the fumes and stepped out, prosecutors said, Ms. Carter ordered him by phone [in a text message] to 'get back in.'” Roy was found dead in his car the next day.

In both cases, it was digital messages sent by teens in seemingly private contexts that led to serious public and life-changing consequences. When talking to your teens – whether they are your children or your students – about these two situations, here are some key messages they need to hear:

1. Be the Real You at All Times

Whether words are verbalized face-to-face or typed in a text message, they are representing your thoughts and your personality. What do you want people to think about when they think of your name? Are you someone who adds energy and positivity to a conversation? Are you someone who lifts others up? Are others grateful for the information and messages you share?

2. Take Care of Yourself and the People You Care About

At some point each of us will face a difficult situation due to online communication. Some of us will be a target, some of us will see a friend suffering as a target, and some of us will see a debate raging about an issue that touches close to home. Ask your teens: What will you do? Will you take action that matters without contributing to a toxic online dialogue? Will you stand up for the people who need allies? Will you show calm reasoned strength in the midst of a negative online tornado?

3. Nothing is Private. Harness the Power of Public.

Both of the examples above involve messages and media exchanged between teenagers who believed they had privacy. Whether our shares are in the form of public posts, DMs, or text messages, the Harvard and Carter cases both illustrate the risk we take when tapping Post, Publish, or the share arrow. Rather than taking in this information and feeling handcuffed, our youth should feel empowered to make great change with the tap of a keyboard. If nothing is private, imagine how many people could be reached with innovative ideas, new artwork, and fresh music. Use this power of sharing for good! Avoid getting bogged down in any negativity.

How will we parents and educators frame this new era of online communication – and consequences – for the children and teens we care about? Will we fill our conversations with warnings and negativity? Or will we share these stories so that our children can feel a sense of duty to better represent their generation and build a positive vibe that drowns out the negativity?

Perhaps you think my ideas seem naive. I assert that they are not.

The balance of sharing positivity and protecting against negativity is the key to cracking open the digital world we all want for the future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Never Too Early


Our children are eager to try out the devices they see their parents and older siblings using. Adults worry about how much time they are spending with screens.

As an educator, I understand the importance of incorporating technology in learning so that our students are prepared for the future jobs that await them. As a parent, I understand the desire many parents have for their children to explore the natural world and use their hands to create. It is possible to balance these two important goals. Here are a few ideas for parents and teachers of young children. (I've tested them with my own small children!)

Storytelling

The Simple Shift
My 2nd grader accesses Drive
through her school district's portal.
My second grader sees me typing blog posts, watches my fingers move over the keyboard, and asks questions about how I use formatting features like headings and creating and adding images. Of course, now that she can read and write, she wants to record her own stories and ideas. Although she is young, with some help from our local public school district, she is set up with an school Gmail and her very own Google Drive. After watching me organize mine over the years, she thought carefully about what she wanted to name her folders. Then she started writing stories. Her first was about a neighbor with a haunted house who coaxed children with cookies to come in. Once she was done writing it she wanted to share it.

The Big Shift
So, the next step was to teach her how to share her documents. I showed her the  Share  button in Google Docs and taught her about email addresses. The first share was with her first grade teacher, the teacher she had last year. To her delight, two days later she found her teacher left comments on her haunted neighbor story. Now she was motivated to write and share more. As long as we are talking about who she is sharing with and how to properly communicate online, I'm happy to encourage her desires to write and share her ideas.

YouTube and Video Creation

The Simple Shift
Responding to the outcries of parents, Common Sense Media is gathering funding to help them review and rate the most popular YouTube channels that our kids love. Common Sense is using the tagline, "Have you lost your kids to YouTube?" to motivate parents to donate.

Yikes. No one should feel like they have lost their own children.

An approach that has worked well for my family includes early exposure to YouTube with gradual release of control. It isn't foolproof and it isn't a silver bullet, but it forces ongoing conversations about media consumption as a part of our day-to-day lives. I started showing my children short online videos once or twice a day when they were babies – while I prepared a quick lunch, took a coveted private bathroom break, or tended to a sibling's diaper change – so they recognized online media and only saw short clips and content I was comfortable with. Then we'd sing the songs from the videos together. As they've gotten older, we've refurbished old laptops that they can use to explore YouTube, among other things online, as long as we talk about the search terms they are typing and the content they are watching. Their screen time is limited and is mixed with lots of outdoor play, reading, art lessons, and sports. It is all about teaching them how to balance.

The Big Shift
The girls filmed their video after a lot of planning.
After finding a YouTube channel with sisters who challenge each other to fun contests, my two daughters wanted to learn how to make and share their own videos. This ignited a conversation between the 3 of us in which I asked how they wanted to plan the video. We talked about storyboarding, script writing, finding our props, creating a set in our house, and rehearsing. Then we completed all those steps! Once the filming was done, I walked them through the video editing process including adding royalty free music and on-screen titles and graphics. We even created a YouTube channel and uploaded their videos. So far is it private and we've only shared the videos with a few select family members. If and when they are ready to go public, we will decide together after a clear explanation of what "going public" really means in terms of feedback and online interaction with others.

The one theme consistent with all of these approaches to technology with young children is continuous communication with parents and other adults they can trust. Technology should not be used as a "babysitter" or a way to keep children quiet. Rather, it is just another tool children should be taught to use. Like many tools – in the kitchen, in the yard, and in school – it carries some risk. But just as we teach preschoolers to use sharp scissors with our supervision or encourage them to jump in a pool for swimming lessons, we need to teach that same age group how to navigate the vast and amazing online world through our devices. 

There is no guarantee that my young children will not make mistakes with technology as they get older, even with these careful and intentional conversations we are having now. But when they do make mistakes, we can reference these conversations and remind them about our values and priorities. Their digital record will be so overwhelmingly positive and their mistakes will be vastly outnumbered by the goodness they've shared.

What do you do with your youngest children/students to teach them about devices and the internet?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What is the One Thing All Learners Need?

This time I'm going to give away the answer in the first line: Personal Connection

We know that student-teacher relationships are important when it comes to students' academic success. But, how does this apply to professional learning for educators?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of working with the teachers, therapists, and specialists at the Valley Collaborative School. They asked me to share both a high quality curated list of openly licensed digital education resources (OER) and an instructional design method to help their educators customize learning based on both those resources and the varied needs of the children they serve. Based on my experience yesterday, combined with the work I've done with a few other districts, I have developed a theory: When it comes to professional learning, there are 3 levels of participation. Each level serves an important purpose, but if we never dig deep enough to get to Level 3 then the learning needs of participating educators may never truly be met.

Level 1: Keynote to Inspire

Keynote addresses are exciting. The audience buckles in for an experience. They expect to laugh, wonder, hear Tweetable soundbites, perhaps shed a tear, and leave inspired by new ideas. As educators, we sometimes need our souls to be fed by the inspiring big ideas of a keynote speaker. I know I always have room for improvement, but I hope the educators yesterday felt a sense of urgency and energy when the keynote was done. Many times I have left a big conference theater or even the auditorium of my local school and hoped to bring the energy I felt from the keynote to my students.

But, how, exactly? What are the actionable steps we should take?

Level 2: Demo to Experience

Often, when hired by a district or brought on by conference organizers, a keynote speaker will facilitate an interactive follow-up session that demonstrates the theories and practices they highlighted in their address. In my case yesterday, this meant walking educators through the Start With a Question method that incorporated OER, digital formative assessment, and collaboration. The teachers were working together to tinker with online simulations, experiment with video and gaming, and teach one another about the most efficient uses of their devices. I saw them engaged, talking, thinking, and sharing. Educators deserve to experience the joy of learning in this way often.

But, when the demo was over, would this experience and my instructions truly affect their teaching and their students' learning?

Level 3: Personal Engagement to Connect

Although it occurs less often in formal professional development, educators might need to engage one-on-one with the speaker/facilitator. Thankfully, this is exactly what I was able to do during the last of the 3 hours I'd planned with the teachers at the Valley Collaborative School yesterday. As I moved from table to table and sat down with the different small groups of educators, I discovered there were questions and ideas I never would have heard if I hadn't pursued those personal conversations. Much like many of our students, some teachers are unlikely to speak up in a large group and ask questions.

Some educators were already running with the resources and tools I'd demoed for them. They were exploring, designing, and building lessons. When I sat down to talk to them I wanted to encourage them, point out more advanced features they might want to use, and answer their higher level questions about how my approach compared to others they were already familiar with. I loved these interactions!

A few educators were open minded and able to get started, but then got stuck. I could recognize them by their facial expressions of body language and made an effort to get to them as quickly as possible. In most cases, they'd found some great digital resources, starting building a lesson, but weren't sure how this activity would fit into their teaching. We chatted about what their classroom space looked like, their students' personalities and needs, and how they normally start and end a lesson. Then we worked together to brainstorm how the Start With a Question method could improve on both the teaching experience for them and the learning experience for their students. I loved these interactions too!

Finally, there were educators in the room who stalled before they started. Since quite a few of the professionals who work in education are actually specialists, therapists, and clinicians it is important to connect to their unique but vital roles in our schools. During these conversations I asked a lot of questions about their typical day, the children they serve, and the resources and activities they currently depend on. I had much to learn from them. As a result of talking and learning from one another, we were able to develop some new approaches to their work that incorporate digital resources, devices, and new kinds of interaction. I'm grateful for these interactions because I learned the most from them.

These Level 3 interactions helped the professionals make clear connections between what they do each day with children and the method, resources, and tools I was sharing. Without personal conversations, those connections would have either taken longer to form or may have never formed at all. The efficacy of that 3 hour professional development afternoon was enhanced because we took the time to talk to one another face-to-face. When designing professional learning in the future, whether it is in the form of a keynote, an interactive session, or a very small group, I'm going to make a concerted effort to set aside time to have as many of those face-to-face conversations as possible.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Vetting Student Apps Isn't Enough: Data Privacy for Teachers and Parents


If you're still skeptical that student data privacy issues are of the utmost importance in school communities, check out the latest information about the massive data breach from a prominent edtech company. Implementation of a vetting process for new apps or programs in school districts is essential to protect students' personally identifiable information (PII) and aggregated data. (If you're looking for information on setting up your own vetting policy, download this toolkit from CoSN and check out some resources from Cambridge Public Schools.) The alphabet soup of regulations – like FERPA and COPPA – can be dizzying, but they need attention. But once your vetting process is in place, it isn't time to relax just yet. Rather, schools and districts should push themselves even further.

As a teacher, I sometimes found it frustrating when I had to wait to get access to the digital tools I wanted my students to be able to use. (If I had decided that a video creation tool was great, I wanted my students to be able to try it out right away!) Now, as a digital learning specialist, I want to make sure the teachers I work with feel as little frustration as possible and develop an understanding of why short delays are sometimes inevitable. Based on my experiences as a classroom teacher and a digital instructional coach, I have some recommendations for the steps schools should take.

Above all, make sure your vetting and deployment process is thorough, but also quick and clear. Ideally, teachers should not have to wait more than a couple of days to find out whether a tool they have requested will be permitted in their classrooms. Even the best-laid lesson plans are constantly shifting. Teachers need their administrators and technology experts to remain cognizant of that reality. After developing your expedient vetting policy and process, here are the steps I recommend so that the entire school community is informed and on board:

Step 1: Informal Teacher Professional Learning

Start by informing classroom teachers about the vetting process within normal conversations in regular team or department meetings. Make sure it is clear that teachers are not responsible for vetting on their own, but that the information is being shared with them so they can be more informed educators and users of digital tools. To help calm any anxieties, emphasize that the research, investigation, and communication with companies will be handled by district technology and administrative professionals.

At this stage, I have found it is also helpful to highlight a few examples of what the vetting team will look for when they read privacy policies and terms of use for any new apps or programs.  (At my school this short list included ad tracking, SSOs with social media, and age restrictions among others.) At the end of these discussions, it might be helpful to send teachers off with a little more information to read and digest on their own. I recommend the Educator's Guide to Data Privacy from ConnectSafely and the Future of Privacy Forum.

Step 2: Formal Teacher Professional Learning

After allowing a few months – either a summer break or a quarter grading period – for the new policy to settle in and become part of the routine, it is time to share more sophisticated information about data privacy and digital citizenship with teachers. Here's why: It is no longer uncommon practice for educators to share information about their profession, school, or even students online. It may be shared in a professional blog post, as part of an education-focused Twitter chat, or just as a funny anecdote on their personal social media account. Teachers need to understand that their personal and professional online identities are not separate because of the way their data trail connects everything they do.

No teacher should be told not to use digital tools or social media. Their positive modeling for the students and parents in your community is invaluable. In addition to the Educator's Guide to Student Data Privacy mentioned above, resources like the Educator's Guide to Social Media, a free guide from Larry Magid and I, and BrandED, a new book from Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin, are excellent resources to help you plan those formal professional learning sessions with your teachers. This video or this video from Common Sense Education might be a great way to kick off your session.

Step 3: Curriculum Integration for Students

Now that your teachers understand privacy implications (based on the vetting process for student apps shared in Step 1 and the implications for their personal and professional lives in Step 2) they are better prepared to inform their students. Here are my top privacy integration tips:

  1. Planned integration of data privacy concepts in regular lessons. For example, when introducing a new vetted tool for which students have to sign in, the teacher could take a few moments to skim through the Terms of Use with students so they know the highlights to look for before they check the box during the account creation process. 
  2. In the moment discussion. Teachers like to call these "teachable moments." For instance, if your school has a one-to-one program and fully manages student devices, students might question why they are not permitted to download certain games or apps. Teachers can seize on this question to invite discussion about whether students think about what developers do with the information we share when we download and start using new un-vetted programs. (Hint: Unless the privacy policy says they do not share or sell that information with advertisers and companies looking to target new customers, it is likely that they do.)

Of course, this should be part of a thorough digital citizenship school-wide program. Data privacy is an essential part of helping our learners understand how their behavior online can have an impact on their in-person lives.

Step 4: Informal and Formal Parent Education

As part of that digital citizenship school-wide program, parent programming should be prioritized. At my school we provide webinars that are both live and recorded, parent council presentations, and interactive experiences specifically for grandparents, incoming parents, and more. While some offerings are compulsory and others are optional, there is no way to offer too much parent education around digital health and safety in schools and at home. In my experience, parents are hungry for help when it comes to managing their children's screen time, online interactions, and developing a healthy balance of technology use. In fact, we are constantly looking for new ways to reach more parents and are hoping to offer even more programming next year.

Some of my favorite resources for parents include ConnectSafely's library of Parent Guides and Janell Burley Hoffman's iRules.

Now, in you district, the order of these steps might be different based on the interests and involvement of your stakeholders. This post is not meant to be a decisive solution. It presents options and ideas to provide guidance for schools that are in the midst of the process.