A school superintendent who pioneered bring your own laptop to school six years ago in School District 43 says the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to social media and teachers have a responsibility to teach kids how to be literate online.
Chris Kennedy, a West Vancouver district superintendent, was back in his old school - Riverside secondary in Port Coquitlam - with a message that adults have an important role to play in instructing kids to be good citizens online.
Arguing that kids have "tasted the honey" when it comes to connecting with each other online, Kennedy told the BC Teacher-Librarians Association annual conference at Riverside last Friday that students need help to be more productive online and teacher-librarians are in a unique position to guide them.
Teacher-librarians are already skilled collaborators, Kennedy pointed out, they've created comfortable spaces in their libraries and they know how to turn kids on to reading. But they have to do more and will face challenges on the way.
"Our kids are going to miss out," he warned, while other more flexible - and hungry - countries will push ahead. "We're kind of near the front of the world in B.C., we should be getting out in front again," Kennedy said.
THE 5 'NOS'
Unfortunately, the tendency is for people to assume there is not enough need, too little money or a lack of desire to create change and often there is too little trust to begin the conversation. But to suggest that there is no urgency ignores the obvious reality, Kennedy said. The landscape has changed in the last five years and B.C.'s education system is at risk of falling behind unless the power of the internet is harnessed.
Younger and younger children are coming into school with at least some understanding of technology, and a degree of expectation around it, including his own, he noted, and educators need to be in the forefront leading the charge instead of waiting to see how it pans out.
Making technology relevant, connected and unlimited isn't easy he said, but school libraries are in the best position to push for change, Kennedy said. Teachers and teacher-librarians can show students how to use e-books and online resources, teach them how to write properly, do math and be good citizens online while making sure their schools are properly equipped so all kids have the same opportunity and access.
"The core is still the core," Kennedy said. Youth might be online all the time but they still don't know how to use it with purpose, such as for building productive networks, taking ownership of their own learning, and being influential.
"Good writing still matters," he said. "Using social media needs to be taught. We need kids to be able to read, write and do numeracy. If we didn't believe that two weeks ago, we know that now."
Kennedy, who was a principal at Riverside secondary for five years, writes a blog called the Culture of Yes, and recently tackled the issue of intolerance and offered an example of a way to make schools safe for everyone. The lesson seems particularly instructive given recent concerns about online bullying and how to stop it.
In his most recent post, Kennedy quotes extensively from a letter written by a West Vancouver teacher who was the subject of homophobic comments by kids on the school ground and who wrote the letter to comment on how dry policies can be an effective motivator for positive change.
Instead, of simply punishing the Grade 7 students, the teacher was asked by his principal to develop a lesson, which he did, putting together a history of homophobic terms, data on how they have been embedded in the culture, and how they can impact youth with statistics showing the high gay teen suicide rate. It was delivered to 60 kids with teachers, counsellors and the principal in the room and prompted a lively discussion. For the entire blog post, visit here.