When Dallas Hicks was introduced to Gaggle at an industry conference in 2018, this Technology Director at Rhea County School District in Tennessee knew that he’d found a solution to a very modern problem: protecting children in our digital world and helping to nurture responsible digital citizens.
“I have two school-age children of my own, so this was something I could really relate to,” said Mr. Hicks, who introduced Gaggle to the district and pushed the initiative forward. As part of that push, he engaged teachers in the mission by offering in-depth professional development for the student safety management platform.
With seven schools and about 4,500 students, the district laid out a plan that included face time between district administrators and Mr. Hicks, who is the first to admit that he’s “not a classroom person.”
“I’ve always been on the technology side, so I wanted to spend some time with administrators and teachers,” said Mr. Hicks, “showing them what we’re doing and helping focus on the importance of having a student safety platform in place.”
He felt this was a much better approach than just rolling out a monitoring service without giving stakeholders the backstory on it. For support, the district turned to Gaggle’s one-day training program, which was attended by at least one principal and/or guidance counselor from each school.
The training took about six hours and incorporated a demonstration of the technology and some role-playing to get administrators accustomed to the robust features of the student safety platform. “Gaggle gave us some scenarios and told us exactly what they were seeing on their end (e.g., profanity in student emails or the accessing of inappropriate online content),” says Mr. Hicks.
Using rubrics that show how incidents are evaluated and categorized, Gaggle asked district administrators to determine what intervention they felt was needed and at what point the contact should take place. “Then, the Gaggle team would tell us how it actually handled the situation,” said Mr. Hicks. “It was a great role-playing game that helped us all see how the process actually played out.”
At first, Rhea County School District implemented its new student safety platform with the goal of intercepting and addressing students’ use of inappropriate language online. The platform addresses those issues unless it becomes a “multiple offense” situation, at which point the district “jumps in as needed,” said Mr. Hicks.
“If the inappropriate behavior stops after the first offense, then we’re good,” he explained. “We never hear about it.”
What the district does hear about are situations that have immediate consequences, like a student who writes, “Hey, we’re going to meet after school today at 3 p.m. to fight.”
In such situations, the school principal (or, assistant principal, guidance counselor, or district office) is alerted immediately via phone and can quickly intervene and stop the problem from escalating. And if the issue is life-threatening—such as a student that’s threatening self-harm—Gaggle calls in law enforcement (if the district administrators can’t be reached).
Mr. Hicks says the professional development has helped ensure good buy-in for and usage of the student safety platform. “We have a good group of principals that realizes that if it’s that important, we do need to pay attention,” he noted. “They know that if a call is coming in at night or over the weekend, that it’s something that needs immediate attention.”
In a world where youngsters literally have the world at their fingertips online, and where an increasing amount of communication is taking place via digital channels, Mr. Hicks sees Gaggle as a great facilitator for teachers and administrators who want to help those students make smart, safe decisions. “It’s too easy to say that it can’t happen here, or that it only happens in big cities, but kids are the same everywhere; we’re all susceptible,” Mr. Hicks concluded. “They’re going to make mistakes and do things that they shouldn’t do, and we need to be aware and protect them—just in case.”