As a teacher I tried very hard to make connections with my students. I knew about their likes, dislikes and interests beyond the classroom. I attended their events outside of the school day and made frequent contacts with their parents and/or guardians. I cared. I kept current attendance and made sure they kept up on their studies. I had no idea what was going on in their lives...
This is my 3rd year as a building administrator. As a teacher I knew a portion of my students lives but due to FERPA, some pieces had to be withheld by office staff. Now as an assistant administrator one of my big roles is partnering with our counseling department, other administrators, and sometimes the local authorities to help students having tough times. Here is a partial list of situations I had to help with very recently:
1. A young person ran away and the mother did not know where the student went. To support the family, we collected and counseled a team of students to try to contact the student through social media and texting. The student eventually came back after being discovered and persuaded by friends.
2. A young person bullied another person through creating rude memes and sending them out to dozens of their friends via social media. The student being bullied was scared to come back to school for fear of being made fun of. We used some search techniques to track down the examples and had all parties delete the images. I and others counseled all parties involved and took care of the emotional and discipline parts of the situation.
3. A young person was being sexually harassed and blackmailed through social media by an adult. We had to get the authorities involved and after a bit of research I encouraged our local police force to involve the Michigan Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force which was a new forensic tool to them.
4. It was brought to my attention there was a 'burn session" on a school bus in which students used some extreme and inappropriate language. Most students denied involvement or minimized the situation. They didn't realize that others had recorded their words on their cell phone (and luckily brought it to our attention instead of sharing it via social media). Students were counseled, disciplined, and reminded that actions in today's society can follow them FOREVER via the internet.
So, how did these difficult events make all of us better?
1. Students, office staff and local authorities are more aware of the power of social media and how it is being (or can be) used by students and adults. All have begun utilizing OkToSay and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force to their benefit as well as tracking local hashtags with Hootsuite to follow conversations.
2. Office staff, some families, and local authorities are now more aware of how much social media can amplify the effects of bullying. What once ended at 3pm when students went home now does not end due to the constant influence and outreach via social media.
3. Office staff and local authorities are now aware of the positive influence (bringing home a runaway) today's technology can offer, especially through social media.
4. The heightened awareness of social media usage prompted us to reach out to our county liaison officer who has done a presentation (in small groups) for all of our students about cyber-bullying, sexting, and human trafficking. All counties/areas have these no matter where in Michigan you are.
5. We have created and shared a handout via our social media and email blasts to all parents informing them about current social media trends and apps they need to keep their eye out for.
6. Conversations about Digital Footprint/Tatoo of social media had context and I believe will create change.
While the last month has been difficult for a group of our students and staff, it has always increased the tools and knowledge needed to support each other. This weekend I came home and hugged my kids. I vowed to stay up to date on social media. I will always support my students, staff and family through tough times and will utilize all local and internet resources to keep them safe. Will you?