In July of 2018 I went from a high school teacher of 15 years to a building-based administrator. The change, although pre-COVID, was at the beginning of the educational revolution; when technology went from a luxury to a necessity.
Don’t get me wrong, I was using technology in my classroom; Google Docs, a class website to post assignments and content, and an LMS that required students to go online to see what their grades were. But all of those things constituted educational technology in its most basic form. They weren't enhancing students’ thinking or bringing content to them they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Educational technology at that time was simply changing the platform in which students got information. After all, a digital worksheet was still just that: a worksheet.
But as we approached 2020 and I started to get my administrative feet under me, technology quickly became one of the foundational pillars of education. The joint lab I used to conduct with my students and those from other districts across The Commonwealth of Massachusetts (sharing data and increasing sample size thanks to Google), was a drop in the bucket compared to what we would be doing regularly in just a few short years.
While many districts felt the pressure of trying to find a way to provide all learners access to curriculum during the pandemic, today, one-to-one districts are not just common, they are the norm. In fact, as we have transitioned back to full-time, in-person learning, some students have been reluctant to return to the classroom. If they can access everything remotely and asynchronously, what then, is the purpose of coming back to the classroom?
This question is proposed rhetorically. The point of this blog is not to convince anyone, students included, of the value of in-person learning. Instead it’s to accept the notion that in less than a decade, education went from paper-based worksheets and textbook readings, to digital activities, online collaboration, and computer-based learning. When coupled with the notion that the social lives of students have also gone from in-person to online, we are faced with a world for which none of us are equipped. Many, including the supposed experienced adults in this narrative, have yet to find a balance between the digital world we are now immersed in and the real world in which we live.
For me, I used to find socializing with peers hard enough as a child and young adult. Learning the hierarchy of various cliques and popular acquaintances left me quiet and reserved; feeling more confident to observe rather than speak up. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be free of the pressures that came with middle and high school. Today, however, as a 42 year old woman with a good career and two kids of my own, I find weeding through the world on a computer screen to be more challenging than the tangible world I can reach out and touch. Constantly being inundated with other’s accomplishments, supposed happiness, and future endeavors fuels the inadequacies I thought I had long since overcome. While the answer is simply, “Christine, just don’t look at it,” it’s not that easy.
Everything in our world is digitally connected. If it’s not on the phone, it’s on the iPad which is connected to the phone. And if it’s not on the iPad, it’s on the computer, which, you guessed it, is also connected to the phone. It’s nearly impossible not to be exposed to social networking once Pandora’s box is opened, and I don’t mean the music app. You can attempt to find balance, but even with maturity and perspective, it’s a struggle to do so with kids, families, careers, and the need to focus on self-care. If adults are having trouble managing all this, imagine how difficult it must be for young minds; students whose brains have yet to fully develop.
This is where a tool like Gaggle can come in. Gaggle can be the eyes and ears of our students when we otherwise cannot be; we’re too busy fighting the urge to look at our phones rather than asking our children how their day went. Unfortunately, there is an assumption that Gaggle is a way to “get kids in trouble” or make things punitive for students. The reality is that Gaggle can indicate to building-based administrators when/if a student is in need of additional support and assist in getting families involved in finding additional support. When a document is “flagged” and sent to school staff, it allows a connection to be made with parents/guardians and for information to be shared directly, i.e., flagged documents to be sent immediately. In my experience, Gaggle has never resulted in disciplinary action against a student. Rather it has served as a safeguard for kids who might be struggling with mental health issues and are using digital platforms to open up about it.
The number one job of all building and district leaders is to ensure the safety and welfare of students and staff. This responsibility is not beholden to just physical safety, but emotional safety as well. And it doesn’t just mean safety within the physical confines of their schools, but also within the digital spaces we so heavily rely on today. Gaggle Safety Management is a tool that every district must invest in. It helps educational leaders monitor the safety of our students in the digital world, a place that we cannot otherwise get to, because unfortunately, we’re probably lost within it too.
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