Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mayoral "BANdates" are not the answer for preparing 21st century students for success

Mayor Bloomberg has been open about the fact that he doesn’t really get social media in general and it’s clear its value as an educational tool alludes him. So when the recent story came out that mislead the public to believe Facebook Got Teachers Fired, I was concerned that as in other states, uninformed policymakers might get involved in the business of education making snap judgements and proclamations that provide the public with a facade of safety, scapegoating the tool, rather than addressing the behavior of those abusing the tool.

Unfortunately, my fear was realized in a NY Post story this week with a headline stating, “Bloomberg calls teachers 'friending' students inappropriate. I am concerned that a politician unfamiliar with how to harness the power of social media is judging what is appropriate for educators. Innovative educators and educational leaders across the globe know being involved in the online worlds of their students can contribute toward achieving essential competencies necessary for success in today’s world. As educators and school leaders become increasingly tech-savvy, more and more are empowering students and parents to harness the power of social media. Doing so IS NOT inappropriate. What is inappropriate is our mayor, or any politician or administrator , making a blanket judgment about teachers who use a platform he doesn’t himself use or understand. (Note: I recognize he has social media accounts but he admits they are staff run). Additionally, I fear that Bloomberg will impose another bandate like he did when he banned students from using their digital devices even if teachers wanted them to use them for learning.

As a result, for many innovative educators, preparing students for success remains a subversive activity. The few passionate, tech-savvy educators who are brave enough to think outside the local ban and follow the guidance of the U.S. secretary of education and others who believe educators should work with students to harness the power of the mobile devices they own... have to do so like criminals, behind locked, closed doors. These unsung heroes do this work in the shadows secretly allowing students to use the tech tools they love and connecting with them in the online forums in which they thrive.

We need policy makers to get out of the way or get on board with letting educators do what they do best....making decisions that will best serve their students learning needs. Or, at least if they do want to take a stand and make blanket statements, perhaps they can get feedback from innovative educators who know the importance of thinking outside the ban and harnessing the power of technology and online environments.

If they did they would discover that when a responsible adult interacts appropriately with students in their environments - online or in the physical world, everyone wins. The adults interacting with students serve as mentors, guides, connectors, advisers, and protectors whether they do so in virtual or face-to-face interaction. If we don’t charge those who work with children to do so, we need to rethink who it is we are hiring. Adults engaging with children in their worlds IS appropriate. The sexually lude and elicit behavior the teachers in the Post story engaged in is what is inappropriate. Policymakers, administrators, and teachers need to be educated not to confuse appropriate tools with inappropriate behavior. Facebook doesn’t make someone act inappropriately. We must deal with the behavior not ban adults and students from such spaces whether these spaces are Facebook, Twitter, playgrounds, classrooms or homes.

If we continue to accept that adults take the easy way out and ban rather than embrace the power of social media and digital tools, the result will be students unprepared to succeed in a world that counts on these tools and communication mediums for success.

Our city’s next mayor will need to know how to harness the power of social media to win a seat in office. If we continue in the direction of these bandates, a child educated today, won’t be prepared to
  • Run for office.
  • Start a movement.
  • Make a difference.
While it may not be easy, we need schools to be a place where students will learn the many skills necessary to make a difference, because of, not despite school. Rather than condemning innovative educators, instilling fear, and tying their hands to do what is in the best interest of students we need to empower them to enable students to harness the power of these tools for learning

As a society we need to move away from segregating students and teachers in any environment and instill safety and responsibility in all of them. Rather than segregate, we need to encourage caring adults to be more involved in and connected to the worlds of their students. Let’s stop keeping the real world outside of classrooms and put the focus back where it should be. Rather than removing adults from student’s worlds, instead lets focus attention on policies that prevent these creeps from entering and remaining in the system for any length of time. We need to take a look at how we are surveying students (in a non-invasive manner) to find out information about those who are acting inappropriately in their lives. Addressing behavior of educators and supporting them in being role models, mentors, supporters, in all the environments in which students exist, will move us full speed ahead toward preparing students for success in the real world.

Let’s put the decision-making power about what is appropriate for educators back where it belongs...In the hands of teaching professionals and educational leaders whose job it is to make and implement such decisions. .

Interested in a school district with a sensible approach to educator use of social media? Read this district's policy here.


  1. Lisa,
    I don't know that I blame the mayor for his position. I do blame the media however, who take incidents like those that you mention and either demonize those involved or completely distort facts, which is what I believe has happened in the NYC case. If teachers are not engaging in inappropriate behavior then why not friend students? I would not initiate the friending, but if I were still in the classroom, why not? Why not make that connection with a student and understand who they are on a personal level? That gives me a better ability to know how that student learns so I can prepare them for a world that, sadly, many of our politicians think will be a bad place.

    But lets be honest. Social media is becoming common place. It is a part of more and more jobs, especially the kind I think many of the jobs we are preparing our kids for.

    Education is key in these situations. Until there is someone (politicians, educational policy makers, etc.) who will admit either they know and embrace social media or that they don't but they understand its power, we will continue to be faced with situations like this. Situations so many of us have worked so hard to overcome to make learning better for our students.

  2. @Steven W. Anderson, thanks for the smart insights. They shed some more light on my post indeed. I want to clarify why I do blame our mayor, which has a lot to do with local politics that may not be clear to those outside the city. Here in NYC there is mayoral control of schools, so when the mayor doesn't like something such as digital technologies or social media, he has the power to ban it. He has done this with student owned technology so rather than harnessing the power of the hundreds of thousands of student-owned tech, innovative educators are not allowed.

    My fear is that when the mayor feels something is is inappropriate for educators, like friending students in online environments, the next thing you know, he'll enforce a ban. Make sense?

  3. What I find most disturbing about this story is the lack of of insight by the mayor. Does he not realize that by banning social media in the classroom he is leaving our youth unequipped to be responsible digital citizens. The increase in media stories surrounding bullying on social networking sites is on the rise. We have a generation that is willing to share personal exploits and revealing photographs with practically anyone. If teachers are not allowed to use social media in their classrooms then who is going to teach our kids how to be digital citizens in the 21st Century? Who is going to show them how to harness the power of these digital tools? These are tools devoid of intent; it is the user who decides their purpose. Educators can lead the way in demonstrating how these tools can make a difference. Lead the movement Lisa.

  4. @Seven Summits Librarian, I agree that the lack of insight by this mayor in particular and politicians in general is disturbing. However, I do understand that for many politicians and administrators, the power of social media alludes them. What disturbs me most is when people make judgments and put in place policies about things they don't understand...such as harnessing the power of learning tools students own or communicating online.

    What I find most powerful in your comment is the phrase, "These are tools devoid of intent." I'll definitely be using that in the future.

  5. @Lisa,
    Thanks for the clarification. I see what you mean. Mayoral control is not something I am familiar with so your explanation helps shed light on things.

    Either way, we need the right people in the right positions making decisions that affect our students' education.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. I get your point about the mayor mouthing off about something he admits to knowing little about. In system with a rigid and steep hierarchy like the NYC public school system, this must just drive you crazy as an innovative and creative teacher. On a more basic level, though I am not convinced that friending kids on Facebook is a wise choice for teachers or other educators. I am an administrator at a small independent school that requires students to use laptops in grades 7-12 and embraces digital technologies enthusiastically. We encourage students and faculty to explore and use all types of social networking tools to expand their learning. Some platforms, on the other hand, like Facebook, are rife with problems specifically because they represent the un-mediated social world of adolescents. I get that great schools will be the ones that prepare kids to be responsible digital citizens, but friending kids in their little social world of Facebook crosses a line between teachers and students that is problematic

    I am friends with past students on Facebook and communicate with adolescents and teachers through a range of social media platforms, but you've not convinced me that the benefits do not outweigh the dangers with this one. Am I missing something.

    I am not worried in the least that the teachers in my school will make inappropriate overtures to their students. What does concern me, though, is what teachers will do when they come into contact with inappropriate, dangerous and perhaps illegal behaviors on-line. For example, if you see something about a party where parents will be away and alcohol may be served flash across your news feed, do you call the parents? The police? Look the other way? If there is a car accident on the way home from that party, do you feel responsible? If you've done nothing, I think you are responsible on a moral if not legal level. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but I think that when adults enter the social worlds of children they cross a line. Of course we are open to aspects of this world all the time through the general work with and care for our students. They come to us with problems and we observe their social dynamics in front of us every day. On a parallel level, I would not encourage teachers to engage in their students' social worlds through other media like telephones or simply hanging out with them at the mall on a Saturday night.

    When teachers friend their students on Facebook, they enter a social world that they may very well not be able to navigate. By the way, I just asked my 14 year old daughter what she thought and she said, "teachers friending kids on Facebook, that's creepy." Maybe it's just her, but do you really want to be a part of what's going on with 12-18 year olds on Facebook? You may find that you have more work on your shoulders than you can handle.