Saturday, January 25, 2014

Digital Citizenship: Not Just for Kids

The New Year has presented school districts in my area several new challenges.  In Ohio, we are use to delaying or closing due to snow fall and/or icy roads.  But unlike our typical winters, we have experienced first hand the phenomena called the Polar Vortex, which is bringing us unseasonably cold weather, additional snowfall, and extremely dangerous wind chills.  These frigid temperatures and wind chills, prompted some school districts to close or delay.

This has prompted a debate in several communities about how cold is too cold.  Of course, this debate plays out in social media, particularly on Facebook.  Parents and community members post not only questions that are geared toward furthering their understanding of the delaying/closing process, but also "air their grievances" about issues they have with the school district.  

While I believe it is important to engage the community in two way communication and be open to feedback, how should schools respond when the conversation becomes accusatory, inaccurate, and even inappropriate?  I watched the dialogue unfold as one district attempted to respond to the concerns and explain the decision  making process.  The response was viewed as defensive and was openly criticized by parents and community members.  Suddenly, the comment thread appeared to take on a "mob" mentality.  The continuous negative comments and criticisms, left me with a multitude of emotions.  I felt saddened by the "attacks" on the school and simultaneously frustrated that more individuals who were supportive of the district's decision didn't post comments.  

I began to wonder if those in favor of the district's decision intentionally didn't post a comment for fear they would be criticized or "bullied" for their opinions.  (It should be noted that there were positive comments or favorable comments posted as well).  I also realized that I had an opportunity to respond, yet didn't.  I wondered why I remained silent.  And my answer was simple:  fear.  I was afraid any comment I made would be criticized.  I was afraid my comment would put me at risk professionally- what would be the consequences in my own district for commenting on another district's decision even if my comments were favorable or supportive.  Would I hurt or help professional relationships with educators in this district?  Are these the same questions others were asking themselves?  And, were those who remained silent victimized as bystanders to the negativity that unfolded?

How a parent responds to district decisions and district personnel influences how the child views the school.  How many students watched this negative dialogue unfold?  How many students' opinions of the district or district personnel were negatively influenced by the actions of the adults on Facebook that night?  

We teach our students the importance of digital citizenship.  We remind students to THINK before they post.  We preach to them to make sure that what they post is Truthful, Helpful, Important, Necessary, and Kind.  Yet, I logged off Facebook that evening with a sinking feeling that the ones who need digital citizenship are the ones who have the greatest influence on our children:  the parents.

Currently, my district does not utilize a Facebook page, however, we have not been immune from these types of conversations unfolding in social media.  And, as we look toward utilizing one in the future, how will we handle controversial decisions?  How does your school respond?


  1. Cathryn,

    You hit it on the head! Adults often fail to realize that they are modeling with every post or comment. I also believe people in general join in the "mob" mentality which makes it more difficult for people to share opposite viewpoints. Four years ago I deleted my Facebook account...I do have a Twitter account, I'm not sure why but I see Facebook take on the "mob" mentality much more than Twitter. Maybe that's just my personal bias.

    This was a good read and you've inspired me to share something similar in my parent blog. Thanks Cathryn

  2. Great Post Cathryn!! It's tough to face the criticism and being afraid of stirring the pot is natural as well. Like Ben, I deleted my facebook account a while back and I have only recently opened a new one that I will use much differently than I have in the past. Still, I think it is important to communicate with the community and your learning network. That is how people become informed and how we grow professionally. Sometimes we have to take on difficult conversations and sometimes we have to remind ourselves to take time to respond intentionally and purposefully.

  3. Cathryn,
    I have also watched these comments unfold on many fronts. I've seen friends upset schools are closed. I've seen them upset when they are not. I've seen friends complain about teachers attitudes about testing (too much pressure on students), over assigning of projects, and lack of support for children.

    Like you, I think those of us above 15 have grown up without all of the social media spaces are learning to navigate this system. Social media provides new ways to keep parents and families informed. The more we model a positive system for these platforms, the more parents will begin to do the same. Social media provides an easy way to share all of the amazing things that happen each day in our classrooms. This can help us move beyond the often negative coverage of media, the shouting of corporate reformers, and even the occasional negative posts of upset parents.

    Like you, I often avoid these conversations as getting into a debate on some of these issues isn't a productive use of time. Instead I work to make sure that I am sending out a message in my social media interactions that is empowering to the profession and to public education.