Saturday, September 3, 2016

Do We Really Have Time for Digital Citizenship?

We've started a series of weekly discussions in our building about life in our increasingly digital world. I guess you could call it Digital Citizenship. I prefer to call it Digital Leadership. We have a half-hour academic support time built into our schedule four days a week. This past Thursday during that time we had our first lesson. We provided teachers with a couple of choices for activities that were pretty easy to implement. We showed a video of interview clips with our own students sharing some thoughts about how their digital life impacts their overall life. And then we discussed the upsides and downsides to technology, for us personally, for our relationships, and even for our nation. 

In my visits to classrooms, there were lively discussions during this time. These are relevant issues that kids really want to discuss. They want to hear different ideas, share their experience, and wrestle with how to successfully navigate this complex world. 

But there were also some challenges to making this happen. Our teachers and students are accustomed to having this academic support time for tutoring, making up missed work, and other important tasks. There were some legitimate concerns where the loss of the time was going to impact the academics of students. They really needed to retake that quiz or there was a study session for a test the next day. And so, I let the teachers decide. If you feel the academic need is pressing, then skip the Digital Leadership lesson this time.

Even my daughter, Maddie, was disappointed she wasn't able to use that time for academics. She is playing tennis and has missed a ton of school for matches and tournaments. She's working hard to get caught up and values Liberator Time to get stuff done. She was concerned about the loss of that time.

As I've thought about how this has all played out, my biggest question concerns our priorities. Are we really paying attention to our students' needs? There is no question that preparing students academically is important. But if we aren't preparing students for life in a world that is rapidly changing, will the academic knowledge really be that helpful?

Each year, I hear stories from heartbroken parents and see shattered lives because of decisions that were made online. I see the impact of all sorts of digital miscues, small and large. Besides the tragic circumstances that arise, there are also less obvious consequences of failure to navigate a digital world successfully. Who is helping kids figure this stuff out? 

One teacher commented that parents should be doing more to monitor and support their own children. I don't disagree with this. I think parents can do more to be aware and help meet these challenges. That's why we've hosted parent workshops and provided information in our newsletters to help parents in this area.

But what I don't agree with is the idea that it's completely the parents job to address these issues. Our school does not exist in a vacuum. We MUST address the relevant issues of our time and partner with parents to help students be successful. Our school motto is, "Learning for Life." That points to the need for learning that really matters, that will help students be successful, not just on a test, but in living a healthy, balanced, fulfilling life.

In our school, every student must have a device for learning. They can use a school issued Chromebook or they can bring their own device. But using a device is not optional. I think this ups the ante for us in our level of responsibility on these issues. It's important no matter what. But when our school is so digitally infused, we must work to educate our students about the challenges they will face. And we must educate them about the opportunities that digital can provide, too.

We are so focused on our curriculum and meeting standards I think we can forget to pay attention to our students and their needs. We aren't thinking deeply about what is most useful to them now and in the future. We see them as just students. It's all about academics. We are completely focused on making sure they are learning science, history, math, literature, etc. Are they college and career ready? Did they pass the state assessment? 

And the one overarching question, the elephant in the roomare you teaching content or are you teaching kids? Cause there's a difference. The best teachers are always ready to teach the life-changing lesson. They understand that's the stuff that really makes a lasting impact. Students will forget the foreign language they took in HS, they probably won't ever use the quadratic formula in real life, and reading Victorian literature isn't likely to spark a passion. 

I hope you get my point.

We can't afford to not make time for Digital Citizenship, or just plain citizenship. 

Question: How is your school addressing the relevant issues of our time? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.


  1. I appreciate your educational background, I am assured that the kids will get the best knowledge