I have never been a big believer in having a ton of school rules. Often when we are confined to follow a ton of rules in school, they often are put in situations which lead to the wrong decisions. I know that there is a large contingent of educators that use the following rule with their classroom: respect. Everything that is right will ultimately fall under the category.
For example, I remember one school that I was a part of. The rule in the school was that students were not to eat in the classroom. I also remember one student that did not have the best home life and would come to school starving about two minutes before the bell rang. Now what? Follow the rules or break them to do what is right? The choice is obvious but the problem is that many are put into that type of situation. The respectful and right thing for this teacher was to ensure that the student was probably nourished and cared for in the school. I know my teachers will do what is right for each child. No rule like this is needed.
Now take Internet guidelines in schools. Social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter are blocked in many schools (not mine nor my division) while educators know the positive effect these sites can have (when used properly) on the learning of students. What to do as a teacher? Serve your students in a relevant way and break the guidelines, or follow along with the guidelines set by your school/division. Again, why are we put into this situation?
Yes there are a few instances where educators make the wrong choices purposely, but on the whole, it does not happen. There are cases where students have looked up bad videos on YouTube, but does that mean we have to shut the entire site down for everyone? Students also try many risky things on the playground, but you do not see crews taking down jungle gyms the day after a student breaks their arm. It is imperative that we give teachers the freedom to make the right decisions based on the best interest of the child, while also knowing that sometimes through these risks, some failure will occur. What will we learn from closing opportunities to all of those around us? Trusting those that you work with to make the right decisions (staff AND students) is worth more to the majority of educators than any incentive than you can provide.
Speaking specifically about closed Internet systems in education (I obviously not talking about the obvious x-rated sites that have no place in education), here is the great paradox of the situation. By not extending trust to your staff, how will you expect them to extend trust to their students? To say on one hand, “we want you to take risks in the classroom” or “let your students become risk takers in the classroom”, but on the other hand close down social media sites to schools and treating educators as they are not professional. Are we aligning what we do with what we say we want?
I was inspired to write this after watching a Ted Talk done by Barry Schwartz. His book, the Paradox of Choice is one of my favourites (here is the Ted Talk based on the same book). At one point he says, “As teachers, we are always teaching. Someone is always watching.” Schools and divisions should really take note of that point. If you are closing down social media sites in schools, it seems like that we do not trust the people that are there to educate students. If we don’t show our trust in them, why would a parent? I know my staff will be wise in how they work with students. Do you?
Although Barry Schwartz does not discuss what I am speaking about specifically in his talk, it has inspired my thoughts for this post. It is definitely a video worth watching. Barry Schwartz not only talks about the importance of morals but also how incentives also lead us to the wrong decision. It is a video based on business but these points can be easily applied to education.