Schools are all about boundaries: stand there, sit there, don’t cross that line, detention if you’re smoking inside the school gate, you’re off the hook if you’re outside. Today though, the boundary between what was goes on in school and outside that gate is increasingly blurred. Students bring their problems with them to school from home, from the school bus and from their friendships; whole or broken students come to school looking for answers. Teachers have become expert at reading the signs of a child who is struggling, support services, though never extensive or funded enough, help hundreds cope on a daily basis. But it’s in one particular area that that line between what goes on inside and outside school is particularly indistinct: students online lives are increasingly becoming an issue for schools.
We need only look at recent headlines to notice the impact the life lived online is having on schools, and we don’t have to dig too deep to find instances of cyberbullying in many schools. How schools deal with this issue is becoming a real problem, and the lack of clarity for students, parents and teachers in how to deal with the online lives we all now lead is as big a problem as the misuse of social media for example.
Social media have a role to play in education and educators ignore their pervasiveness at their own peril. The use of twitter and facebook in classrooms is a positive adjunct to work a teacher can do with students but, to return to where we started, boundaries are necessary. It isn’t necessary to spend hours talking about what these rules should be, though of course school managers should be careful that they have a properly thought out policy on the online presence of students and how that can impact on school. The simple underpinning for any such policy should be simple: trust everyone, until they violate that trust, fix that fault, then trust again.
Kids are now increasingly living online, it used to be that the mobile phone was the enemy, before that it was the tv, and once it was writing things down; we’ve embraced change for centuries, we should be capable of embracing this latest newness too. There will be problems but they can be countered by educating students in the significance of their online footprint. (I recently found my students very naive about how deep and broad that footprint can be, they appeared to be refreshingly, but simultaneously worryingly, open on the internet.)
My biggest fear for students today is that they are not fully aware of the implications of their online lives, that they are too open and trusting on the internet and that schools have a duty, not only to deal with misuse, but to educate in fair and appropriate use. Parents may need to get this help too, so they are confident that their children aren’t being mistreated online, by those they know or indeed have never met. Schools, while embracing change, need to be sure that everyone in the school community is confident that no-one is left behind, open to torment or drawn into internet involvement that causes them harm.
We are entering a brave new world of communication and information, school is all about interpersonal relationships, so being online should naturally have an impact on education. Just let’s also be aware that kids are kids and that they need guidance in what is okay online as well as on the corridors.
Originally published here