A few years ago I sat in my office with a Grade 3 student who was having difficulty calming down after a particularly explosive episode led him to be removed from the classroom. He and I were fairly regular companions and we had a deal. While he cooled off, which tended to take some time, I kept him company, but did not give him attention. This one particular day he was really angry — spitting mad to be precise — and launched first one, and then the other, of his sneakers at my head. His aim was terrible, so both shots missed and I continued reading my email and working away while he diffused. Once he calmed down, we worked through what had happened and made a plan for a better go next time.
It never occurred to me to take his sneakers away for the rest of the year, nor did I think to ban sneakers altogether at my school. Were they used inappropriately and even perhaps dangerously? Yes. Are sneakers essential for students to function in my school. Pretty much.
Less about tools, more about trust
The 2010 Horizon Report discusses digital media literacy as a key skill in every discipline and every profession:
Faculty and instructors begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum … but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm. This reality is exacerbated by the fact that as technology continues to evolve, digital literacy must necessarily be less about tools and more about ways of thinking and seeing, and of crafting narrative.
As we push for some increasingly imperative shifts in the way we do business in public schools, we encounter resistance in many forms. Resistance can be good — it pushes back and encourages us to reflect on what we are doing. And resistance can come from a number of places and in a number of forms. Behind resistance can be ignorance, both willful and not. Fear of the unknown breeds resistance to transformation and innovation. Some people who resist change are comfortable with the status quo and don’t see or feel the need to disrupt the current situation.
Through many recent discussions with colleagues and members of my PLN, I find the conversation turning to notions of trust. One of the most pressing tasks for an administrator is establishing a trusting relationship with all members of the school community: students, parents, and staff. Don’t confuse this with the pressure to satisfy everybody’s demands. On the contrary, establishing relationships built on a solid foundation of trust means that even when stakeholders disagree with your decisions, they are able to trust that you are acting from a deep conviction to your moral purpose, namely the well-being and learning of each and every child in the building.
One of the best ways to gain the trust of those in your community is to grant them yours. When students, parents and staff see that you trust them, they are more open to taking risks and placing their trust in you. Simple. At the crossroads where an urgent call for our students to develop highly attuned digital literacy skills across all areas of the curriculum intersects with a deeply held commitment to creating a shared culture of imagination, inquiry, curiosity and creativity harnessed in the service of student well-being and achievement we find an atmosphere that must be founded upon trust.
Who and what do I trust?
I know that we are very near to having wireless in all of our schools. I know we need to shift from a current situation where mobile devices are not welcome and where digital content is stringently filtered. I know that our students are going to be using their own mobile devices, as well as school provided tools, to access, analyse and synthesise their learning. As we move towards those realities, in what and whom am I willing to invest my trust?
I trust our students to use the tools and devices that enable them to be connected learners. I trust that they will learn to make responsible decisions around how to use their mobile devices, just as I trust that they will behave appropriately towards themselves, their peers, staff and the facility. This means that I am willing to engage in difficult conversations with individual students or small groups when they have made a poor decision. I am going to deal with the behaviour and I am not going to allow the tool to become a scapegoat.
I trust our staff to engage students in learning experiences where they will have multiple opportunities to hone digital literacy skills across all areas of the curriculum. This means that I will support staff in learning new skills and that I will engage in learning alongside them. I will happily make mistakes and turn those moments into learning experiences. While modeling my own responsible use of the tools through which I connect and learn, I will trust my staff to also demonstrate responsible use.
I trust our parents to work with their children to continue the development of those crucial digital literacy skills beyond the school day. This means that I will be available to listen to concerns and that I will recognize that everyone comes from different comfort levels when it comes to understanding the benefits of connected learning. I am willing to take the time required to establish trust with our parents because I know that in the end, our students will reap the benefits as they grow and learn to be responsible digital citizens.
Who or what else am I missing? Because you can bet I’m willing to do the work 🙂 also posted to my blog