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.

The Other End of The String – Thoughts from this week’s EdChat

Some thoughts and tips from this week’s EdChat, having a positive digital footprint

This past week’s EdChat was about best practices for increasing parent/teacher communication. Lots of great tips, resources, and ideas were shared as always. How effective is the digital communication between school and home? How great is the digital divide in your school or district? I need the proper PD to do this well, I don’t want to do it half way. These were just a few of the topics that came up during the evening edition of EdChat. If you weren’t there or haven’t yet had a chance to read the archive, check it out here.

Teacher ambition is always so high during the infancy of  implementing a digital communication tool. I know some districts, such as my own, offer teachers space on the web server to store their classroom/team/department/grade level web site. I realize this is not the case in every district. If you do have this option though, I recommend taking advantage of it and invest in the initial training necessary to create a web site for your classroom. Not only is it an excellent way to communicate with parents, but it can also provide resources for review, remediation, and enrichment to supplement the instruction that occurs in the classroom.

No matter which way a teacher chooses to communicate digitally with parents, choose one tool and stick with it. Consistently update it. If you post something that’s relevant for November, don’t still have it posted in February. Decide how much time you want to invest up front. Quite often the ambition quickly fades to update and maintain a classroom web site. Which, of course, easily happens with the one million other things that classroom teachers have on their plate at any given time.

If a district hosted site is not an option, blogs and wikis can be of use nicely and are easier to maintain when it comes to content and overall design. There are also many free web services that will walk you through building a professional looking site. I recently tweeted this resource, “45 Web Builders to Create an Insanely Awesome Free Website“. Definitely check out the tools there.

Our students also need to know about creating and communicating a positive, professional presence on the web. I call it “having a positive digital footprint”. I spoke this week to students at the Missouri FCCLA State Conference about this very topic. I wanted to help students understand that the way they communicate on the web now can either have a positive or negative impact for when they enter the workforce after college. I shared with them tools and strategies that will help them have a positive digital footprint. Universities are starting to look at a student’s web presence when determining whether to accept or deny entrance into the school. Potential Employers are certainly looking at a job candidate’s web presence when deciding whether to hire someone or not. I shared this recent study by Microsoft in regards to why your online reputation matters. Be sure and check out the statistics and watch the video “What does your Online Reputation say about you?” Whether we like it or not, teacher or student, Google is quickly becoming one of the “silent references” on our resume.

Creating any kind of classroom website, blog, wiki, or Twitter account can be a great way to keep in communication with parents. Some of those allow for two-way communication, but some don’t. The teacher has to evaluate and plan exactly what type of information and resources they want to provide to parents via the web BEFORE any creation starts.

Thank you for reading.