If Your District is Doing This, Convince Them to be the Adults

It’s at :51 in the video below that my disagreement with these local policies comes into sharp focus.

“I think it clarifies what an inappropriate student-teacher relationship is,” the interviewed teacher says, “and it identifies the means by which we have learned some of those relationships begin.”

That sound you hear is the intent missing the mark entirely.

It makes sense that a school district should want to protect students from inappropriate adults not because they are a school district, but because it is the job of the community to protect its youngest and most vulnerable from such influences.

Closing down all means of communication online doesn’t keep students safe, it makes them vulnerable or leaves them that way. I’ve always had online social networking connections with my students. Initially, in the days of myspace, I attempted keeping two accounts. One was the Mr. Chase who would accept student friend requests. The other was Zac who would accept the odd invite from college friends and people I was meeting in life.

Moving to Philadelphia (and Facebook), I collapsed them into one account. When it came down to it, Mr. Chase and Zac weren’t far apart and I found myself wanting to live by the standards I was hoping my students would adopt as our district attempted to terrify them into online sterility with threats of the immortality of their online selves.

Throughout all of that time, I’ve never once worried that I would be setting an improper example for students or calling my professionalism into question. In my online public life, I act as I do in my physical public life – someone who is charged with helping students decide whom they want to become and then being worth of that charge.

Moreover, this is how you break down communities. It is how you leave children unattended. It is how you miss cries for help and avoid bonds that can lead to lifelong mentoring and assistance.

Telling teachers they can have no contact in social spaces with students is not “clarifying inappropriate…relationships.” It is avoiding the conversation about what inappropriate relationships should look like, adding to the implicit accusations that teachers cannot be trusted outside the panopticon of school walls, and reducing the common social capital possible in online neighborhoods.

Instead, teachers must be given the tools and space to consider appropriate interactions and online content, helped to understand the proper channels when students share sensitive information online, and be trusted to be the same guides for digital citizenship that we should be expecting them to be for offline citizenship in our schools, communities and classrooms.

One thought on “If Your District is Doing This, Convince Them to be the Adults

  1. A thousand amens, Zac.

    In British Columbia we’re up against a privacy law that states all public institutions must have ‘informed parental consent’ when engaging students (and their online data) via services whose computer servers are outside the province – which is effectively the entire Internet, save the Sharepoint spaces our district has purchased and which kids avoid like… a Microsoft product. Each service – Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Flickr – requires its own consent form, so say the legal people. As you might imagine, this has slowed the process of having schools constructively influence digital citizenship among our students considerably.

    Something our school is trying to do is what you’re describing here: gain the legal license, and support from our administrators and board office, to meet students in these spaces. Twitter, as I’ve been telling anyone in British Columbia who will listen lately, is a hallway at each of our schools. It is full of people from the school and the local community; much of the conversation there occurs while the school day and events are in session; and vulnerabilities and risky behaviour in our physical communities are amplified with these digital tools. The terrifying thing (or the thing that should be terrifying, anyway) is that because of our privacy laws and schools’ unwillingness to tangle with them, there are no teachers or other responsible adults in that hallway.

    What do we imagine might occur in a hallway at our school with no adults in it? Where young people knew they wouldn’t bump into anyone over the age of seventeen?

    Clearly, shutting the door to the hallway and letting young people fend for themselves in that hallway is no way about protecting young people’s best interests and potential, and I’ve always appreciated your voice in this struggle as you’re someone who does what more teachers should: create the web as it should or could be, one post, one reply, or one relationship at a time.

    Thanks for sharing, always.

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