Dear School Board Members and Administrators:
In our omnipresent world of education budget cuts and high-stakes testing, accompanied by chest thumping and speeches about “real world application” of learning, it is alarming that school leaders would elect to ban a pivotal tool for interaction between students and educators: Social Media.
Every single day, individuals from all walks of life (students, teachers, politicians, business people and more) are successfully and unsuccessfully tweeting, pinning, using Facebook and otherwise interacting with the world via smartphones, tablets and computers.
Yet our school, like so many other short-sighted “centers of learning,” has chosen to ignore, block, and even ban these tools and instruments that can be powerfully harnessed and employed in the classroom.
You encourage your faculty to be engaged, to become 21st century educators, and to develop innovative lessons that are applicable both in the classroom and “real life.” You promote professional development about connected learning and sponsor programs that prize global citizenship.
Yet, at the same time, you establish policies that prohibit educators and students from connecting using social media.
Every day while reading blogs (many of which you send to me), I see evidence of educators producing exciting lessons using social media: “live tweeting” historical events, creating a classroom Facebook Page to allow students to collaborate, using Twitter hashtags to further engage students in classroom projects, and teaching students to use Pinterest to amp up team projects, to name only a few.
Yet we are prohibited from using these free and very powerful tools in the classroom and instead directed to inferior and less user-friendly alternatives, some of which are NOT free.
The reality is our students are engaging with social media tools right now, every day, outside our school walls. They know them, they like them, they use them. Every day that I see my students forced to post to their “closed” school blog, I lament the loss of connectivity, authentic audience and collaboration they could be experiencing if they attended a more open and savvy learning institution.
Every time I’m directed to a private social network space in lieu of Facebook or Twitter, I am frustrated by its clunky user interface and the disinterested reaction from my students.
I know that you are fearful
I realize you are concerned about many potential problems: “Stranger Danger,” cyber-bullying and even illegal activity. However, you are missing out on an incredible opportunity – and avoiding your responsibility to address an urgent learning need.
You need to enable your educators to provide guidance to their students and promote positive digital citizenship.
Right now you’ve opted to let students, including impulsive teenagers, “go it alone” in this world without adult guidance and supervision because you fear a screw-up could become a lawsuit. Instead of providing adequate professional development to your faculty so that they can . . .
• work with students to develop and enforce appropriate boundaries,
• sharpen their own media usage skills, and
• serve as role models and mentors
. . .you have hobbled our creative abilities in the classroom and hindered our access to our learners.
On a personal note, I have never known a good teacher to suddenly become a predator because they could send tweets to a student. We need to legislate behavior, not the tools of learning.
Administrators and school board members — it’s time to reexamine your policies and see if you are truly protecting your students and teachers or simply following guidelines based on “worst case scenarios” put forth by lawyers who know little or nothing about the needs of today’s learners.
If we want to prepare students for the “real world,” then we need to operate in it. If we are concerned about educators’ ability to manage social media in the classroom, then we need to provide them with professional learning and support.
Blanket bans are not only counter-intuitive, they are preventing us from becoming the dynamic 21st century learning institution that we could easily become.