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Lisa Nielsen Headshot

Political 'BANdates' are not the Answer for Preparing 21st Century Students for Success

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New York City's 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 judgments 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 recent NY Post story 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 when policymakers espouse blanket judgments about teachers who use a platform they don't personally use or understand. (Note: I recognize Bloomberg has social media accounts but he admits they are staff run). Additionally, I fear that Bloomberg, like policymakers elsewhere, will impose another BANdate like he did when he banned students from using their digital devices even if teachers wanted 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 United States 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 policymakers 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 New York 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, students should be learning and utilizing the many skills necessary with technologies available today that enable them 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

Rather than segregating students and teachers in any environment and let's focus on instilling safety and responsibility in all environments. Instead of segregating, lets encourage caring adults to be more involved in and connected to the worlds of their students. Instead of creating artificial environments inside school walls, let's let the real world tools, skills and expectations into our schools.

The answer isn't to remove all adults from student's worlds because of a few who we wouldn't want around our kids online OR at school. Instead lets focus attention on policies that prevent these creeps from entering and remaining in the system. 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 with adults who care about them.

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.

Cross-posted at The Innovative Educator