I have spent the last four days immersed in one of the best learning environments I have ever been exposed to. The ideas and concepts have been eye-opening to say the least. I have asked many of my colleagues, no make that friends, what the one thing they learned that stood out while here at ISTE 11. Every person responded that the most meaningful takeaway has not come from the formal sessions, but from the informal meet-ups that occurred in many places. People from all across this continent and beyond came together and shared stories, traded ideas, and debated points of view. I am so much the richer for having made the effort to be involved. My network may not be bigger from having attended ISTE, but it is certainly richer. I am amazed at how smart so many of these educators are and I know that my having participated in this event will make things better for the students of my school. I sit here for my last afternoon in the ISTE Blogger cafe longing to be home because I have missed one too many baseball and softball games and I really miss my family. After all, the relationships that we value always rise to the top of our list of importance. I guess that is my biggest takeaway from this conference is that it is the relationships and connections that matter most. We can connect all we want with social media, yet we will always crave “being together”. It is that “being together” environment we have to create in our schools whether we are using the digital tools or not.
This morning as I sat in a session, I happened to catch a tweet coming out of Will Richardson’s session that was going on concurrently. The tweet was about how we need to teach our students (and ourselves) to talk to strangers. I found it ironic reading that while sitting in a city where I have never been, with people I have never met, yet feeling very connected. Although I had never met any of these people in person before this conference, their expertise, support, ideas, and resources have been at my fingertips for several years. I really do not have to have all the answers or know how to do everything because someone I am connected with can help me. Our charge when we leave here is to do everything we can to connect our fellow educators with one another. Can you imagine how smart we could be?
Read the headlines and you find that politicians are resigning because they have a shirtless picture on the Internet tied to a false biographical sketch. Teachers are being put on leave for posts critisizing administrators or being tagged in photos with alcholic beverages. Student are being suspended for making disparaging remarks about teachers as well as for making threats or statements considered as bullying towards their fellow students. My focus for this post is not to discuss whether or not teachers have a right to post what they want, or about whether what students say in the privacy of their own homes is actionable at school, that debate would be mute moot if people would just think before they pushed the button that publishes a post on a social network. Privacy does still exist. You can choose to keep anything private. The key is keep it to yourself! For goodness sakes, if you want to have deniability do not put it on the Internet or send it in a message via a cell phone. We need to do a better job of modeling digital citizenship. What is scary is opponents of the use of social networking and cell phones in schools are gaining traction because of a few isolated incidents. Some of us have fought too hard to bring the power of social networking into school to let a few incidents roll back our progress. Instead of keeping these tools out of our classrooms, we need to integrate them where useful and guide our students in acceptable use. We need to open our labs in the evenings and invite parents in to dispell the myths and show them how to monitor their student’s use of social media. Teach parents to connect with their student’s school and each other to discuss education and student engagement. Even if we wanted to, we could not keep our students from using cell phones or social media. We might as well be involved with their use of these tools. We also have to realize that our use will be monitored as well. Don’t put anything on the Internet you would not want your grandma or some future employer to see!
Image courtesy of Freeclipart.com