Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Madeline Blackwell
on April 10, 2020

As e-learning looms large in the public consciousness, keeping students safe from a distance can seem daunting. Luckily, Gaggle doesn’t just alert administration to keywords found in students’ documents and emails. To ensure that teachers and parents are able to address the actual issues in their students’ lives, real people, like myself, monitor this content every day.

Like many of the other Safety Representatives on my team, I have a background in education. In my case, I am licensed to teach high school English. Although I am not currently teaching, I love that I get to continue helping students here at Gaggle.

Because we monitor content around the clock, my workday starts early when I take over for the night crew. Throughout the day, I look through content that has been identified as potentially concerning and figure out what constitutes a true threat to student safety.

The best way I have found to describe what I do is to say that I often have to work like a detective. Typically, I only receive a short excerpt of student work, but even when I am looking at an entire document or email thread, I very rarely have a complete picture of the student’s life or mental state. First, I check our system to see if the student has other items that have been flagged so I can try to understand that student’s situation better.

At other times, I find myself consulting the internet. Studies show that young people in America spend an average of six to nine hours in front of a screen; this undoubtedly influences how students talk, think, and communicate. For this reason, I find myself seeking definitions for unfamiliar slang (thanks, Urban Dictionary!), checking out sites like Instagram or TikTok, and deciphering obscure memes.

I also rely on the guidance of my team members to determine the best course of action for an item. We all bring unique knowledge and experience to the position that can be integral to the decision-making process, especially because student concerns are constantly evolving. Even the most experienced Safety Representatives are confronted regularly with unfamiliar situations, so this teamwork is truly essential.

Despite all this research, a lot is often left unclear. I think everyone has struggled to determine someone’s tone in a text message or email. Without seeing facial expressions or hearing that person’s voice, jokes can appear to be threats and cries for help can sound sarcastic. As a Safety Representative, this type of interpretation is a major part of my job. I do my best, but because I don’t know the students, it is my responsibility to alert the people who know the students best—the school personnel—to any potential situations.

Students are interacting online more than ever. This manifests itself in benign ways—I’ve noticed students “texting” back and forth in shared documents—but it can also be more insidious, like when students share nude images of themselves. The most common thing I see, however, would have to be mentions of suicide and self-harm. Suicidal language is used a lot, whether students mean it or not. Saying “I want to die” can express deep emotional pain, but also disappointment at a minor inconvenience. Much of the content I see in this category is serious. Memoirs and personal narratives, for example, are common assignments that provide an opportunity for emotional outpouring. Students often use these assignments to celebrate their own success, work through past traumas, or reveal ongoing issues.

It is finding those ongoing issues that motivates me the most. At the end of my day, I leave happy knowing that I have helped districts keep their students safe. Students will always find new ways to communicate, express themselves, and reach out for help. And the people behind Gaggle will be there to hear them.

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