Connecting the dots

'Dotted Perspective Vector Background' photo (c) 2011, Vectorportal - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So, I’ve been trying to find the right words to express some thoughts I have about being a connected educator. We’ve got just under a week left in Connected Educator Month and I wanted to make a contribution because becoming a connected educator in various online spaces has had profound impact on my professional and personal life for nearly 4 years now (come October).

While I (and as many others have shared) get tremendous benefit to being connected every single day from Twitter, Google+, Google Reader, etc., there’s a benefit to being connected that allows me to help others. I get to help people connect dots. It’s helping others become more connected. It’s connecting the connected I suppose.

This looks like me seeing someone pose a question like, “Does anyone have any ideas for how I can make communication better between school and home?”. While I don’t have direct experience with this, I might reply to them saying, “Have you talked to @Joe_Mazza?”. I know that Joe has implemented many new and innovative ways he reaches out to parents to bridge the gap between school and home. I make sure that person knows Joe and reaches out to him because I know Joe is always willing to help.

Here are some other topic/subject specific connected educators that are great to learn from and are always willing to help:

Erin Klein – elementary education
Stephanie Madlinger – professional development
Bob Dillon – secondary administrator
Pernille Ripp – elementary education
Tim Gwynn – elementary tech facilitator
Chris Betcher – Google Certified Teacher
Amanda Dykes – secondary science teacher
Dave Guymon – 6th grade teacher
Scott Newcomb – mobile learning devices
Jill Bromenschenkel – ELL
Lisa Dabbs – new teacher mentoring
Jason Markey – high school principal, 1:1 initiatives

This of course is in no way an exhaustive list. There’s no ranking here. This is a handful of people I know and what they specialize in. You know folks like this too. Once we become connected educators, do we have a responsibility to help others connect? I think we do. If you’re connected and see someone needing help (whether they’re a brand new connected educator or not), I urge you to help connect some dots from time to time. Not just during August, but making it part of your commitment to being a connected educator.

If you know me, you know I love helping people and sharing the awesome things happening in districts, schools, and classrooms all over the world. I know many of you share my desire to help, whether directly or indirectly. The more connected we become, the more people we know, the more ideas we get, the more we can become better at what we do to make learning better for students.

What’s done is done…some thoughts on Missouri SB 54

'The Straight and Narrow Path' photo (c) 2009, Eric Nielsen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There has been no shortage of tweets and blog posts around this new legislation that is MO SB 54. You can read the full legislation, which is known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and establishes the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, here. The part of this legislation that is creating a stir is SECTION 162.069 Paragraph 1 which states:

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Everyone is in an uproar about this. Why? The legislation has been passed and was signed by Governor Nixon three weeks ago. Sure, I think it’s unfortunate that we are legislating common sense to Missouri educators. Why is this law being geared solely at school districts? Are private schools having to follow this same mandate? Are any other institutions that work with children having to fall in line and follow the same rules? It’s unfortunate that we’ve passed legislation against the medium, rather than the behavior. Am I incorrect here? Here’s where I’m headed back to: where was everyone before this bill was signed on July 14th? I heard nothing about it before it was too late. Who failed who here? Had Missouri school district and teachers been better informed could something have been done before this bill was signed into law? I digress, since the title of this post is “What’s done is done” after all.

So my question is, to Missouri school districts, what are you going to do now that what’s done is done? Do we want to take the wider, more traveled path (blocking and banning and such) or the narrower, less traveled path (making this a priority to educate our teachers and students on positive and effective use AND allow it). Why weren’t we already widening the narrow path?

Missouri, let’s head down the narrow path as a state please. I would hope we can protect children and also be effective in our instruction by continuing to move forward rather than remain stagnant.  I’d like to see teachers and students work together in the process of creating this new policy.  To other districts in other states not wanting repeat legislation, what are you going to do?

So what can be done now? Here are some thoughts I have about it. Please note: this is my opinion only and does not reflect what’s going to happen in my school district. Please consult with your administrator to confirm policy specific to your district about what is permitted and what is not. If you’re in a district that allows teachers to use Facebook to communicate with students, obviously teachers are going to need to delete any current or former students they are “friends” with on Facebook. Note the definition of “former student” included in the link mentioned above:

Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Remember, it is possible to still use Facebook as a communication tool without having to “friend” students. This is where it comes in handy to know how to create a Facebook page. You can get all the info on how to create a page that students, parents, and the community can “like” in the Facebook help center. Start here to learn what a Facebook page is, then you can read further on how it differs from your personal profile, and then how to begin creating your page. If you want to see some examples of how Facebook pages are used in education here are a few to check out:

Lee’s Summit School District – Lee’s Summit, MO

New Milford High School – New Milford, NJ

Winecoff Elementary School – Concord, NC

There are many more great examples I’m sure and please feel free to leave a comment and share yours. More information can be found on Facebook’s page for teachers called Teaching Digital Kids, which has great information on how to use pages with students and parents  as well as suggestions for best practices and keeping students safe. At the bottom of that page you can also download the free Facebook for Educators Guide (PDF).

If Facebook is not allowed in your district then perhaps another alternative could be Edmodo or Collaborize Classroom. Both of these tools are very education friendly and allow teachers to create a secure environment to communicate with students and facilitate discussions, etc. outside of the regular school day. Edmodo does offer a parent access option and once you have created a Collaborize Classroom site you can also invite administrators and parents to join as well so they may access the classroom communication that is happening. Another post I would recommend reading for some additional information is this one by Audrey Watters.

Of course, if you’re looking for a classroom communication tool you certainly don’t need to look much further than Twitter. Students, parents, and administrators can visit your Twitter page to get your classroom updates in 140 characters or less. This information can be accessed without even needing a Twitter account. Provide the address to your classroom Twitter page and that’s all parents and students need. With the mobile options available for many of these tools this also makes it not only easier for students and parents to access the communication, it makes it easier for the teacher as well to post new items of information.

I just wanted to throw a few thoughts out there about this, ask some questions, and offer some suggestions that will hopefully help whether you’re a teacher in Missouri or not. I welcome your comments.

Thanks for reading.