The Power to Kill Innovation

From: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thenextweb/4560108299/

This summer, I wrote a post discussing the world of social media, and how our administrators need to jump in and lead our schools in this “new world”.  Here is one of the things that I wrote in that post:

There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.

Last weekend, I was disheartened (as many were) reading a Matt Gomez post on the end of Facebook in his Kindergarten classroom (you should really read it and the comments).  The first thing I thought when reading it was, “Seriously, he is using Facebook with his Kindergarten students?”  I was shocked because I did not really understand how he would be doing this, but I continued to read on.  Here is where the post really got my attention:

“My class Facebook page is shutting down this week. I was told that the district does not support it and thus must close it down. I knew this might happen, it was a risk I took in trying something so unknown without permission. I had prepared myself for this day. The page was very successful and I feel I met my goal of showing that there is more we can do to engage parents (see HERE) . Actually the success of the page is what led to its demise. The great teachers I work with also wanted to use the tool and parents began to ask why I was the only one using it. This made my principal need to address the situation and the final solution is closing it down.”

So…a teacher does something that is innovative and pushing the boundaries in the classroom, and it is shut down because it has been successful?  I was dumbfounded reading this.  Don’t we want our teachers to be innovative?  I have seen schools try to use tools that “look” like Facebook to kids, but at the end of the day, kids go to Facebook (or Twitter, or blogs, etc.) and we need to go past “relevant” and move to “real”.

I actually sent a message to Matt and asked him if he thought the blog post was appropriate.  Here is what he said to me (paraprhased):  ”I really believe that this is in the best interests of kids and families and I am willing to stand up to do what is right.”  As soon as he said that, I asked him if I could actually go look at the Facebook page and was absolutely AMAZED at some of the comments I read from parents:

“Just watched this and got goosebumps. Thank you for going the extra mile to share Julie’s (and your classroom’s) educational experiences with our family. It has been an answered prayer to know Julie had such a wonderful teacher and great start to his education.”

“Mr.Gomez, as a first time kindergarten parent I was very concerned about how my child would do all day in school,your Facebook page has given me the peace of mind to know that she is having a fun day filled with learning and growth. Also with your lessons that are posted on here it give us parents a heads up on the standard what did you do today answer of “nothing”,we now know what they did&can easily engage them in further expansion of that lesson,class project,etc. I really do thank you for all you have done for our children and us parents,I will miss our Facebook next school year…”

“Any chance the 1st grade teachers will have a Facebook page?”

Powerful huh?  Parents give us their children to take care of and nurture for a large part of their day.  I watched Matt, through these comments and many others, connect with parents in an extremely powerful way.  How important is this for parents in Kindergarten class?  With some of them having their first child in school, I watched in an amazement their connection to the classroom and to the teacher.

Here you have parents, working with teachers, in a space that they are all in anyway, creating relationships, learning about classroom initiatives, while modelling for students a positive digital identity.  This is not only teaching the students about the positive interactions that are so important in online spaces, but in reality, it is also doing this with parents. Read comments in almost any mainstream news site, and you will see some adults not acting so appropriate. We can all learn together.

In this whole thing, I am really looking for the negative in what Matt was doing.

Although I did not ask Matt, my guess is that he did not force parents to join Facebook but he went to where they were.  Even a year ago, I asked our parents how we could get more parents to visit our blog at school and help to build connections.  One of our very thoughtful parents said to me, “You need to be on Facebook; that is where we all are.”  A Facebook page was made in the next hour.

If you check out Matt’s post and read the comments, you will see that not everyone agrees with what he was doing.  As an educator, when doing this type of work, I always ensure that parents are comfortable in the work that we are doing with their child and they do not have to partake in anything that they are uncomfortable with.  What I do believe though is that what Matt was doing was preparing kids, with their parents, to see how this space can be used positively before they are given the opportunity to go there alone.  We always talk to our kids about driving in a car, then we sit beside them before they take the wheel; this space should be no different.  Guidance is essential.

Just for the record, I totally believe that this decision was not made to hurt kids and has the best intentions in mind, but when we do not fully understand the things that are happening in the world, we need to either immerse ourselves in them, or trust those that do.

For me, this is something that those that administrators need to understand.  They have the power to encourage or kill innovation in our school, and I am wondering what happens to the heart and morale of a teacher that has tried something which has been proven to be successful, to only find that it is shut down?

Reading Chris Kennedy’s post yesterday and seeing how principals are jumping out into the blogging world despite their own fears, I really believe that this is what we should be embodying to our students:

We often talk about the many changes happening in education and how we, as leaders, need to model the change.  We want students to take the risks, own their learning, be ready to make mistakes but to learn from them as well,  and to create content for the digital world.  We can help by modelling all of this.

The world is changing extremely fast but ignoring it and pretending that things don’t exist outside our school walls is not going to help our kids.  Immersing ourselves in the world and continuously learning alongside our community is what we need to model.

I am really looking forward to reading Matt’s post where he discusses all of the cool things he is doing to connect with his parents through Facebook and role modelling for his students, while sharing the amazing things that they are doing. I am just hoping it happens.

  • http://teachwellnow.blogspot.com/ Maureen Devlin

    Thanks for advocating for positive change and supporting innovation. I wonder how much time decision makers took to talk to Mr. Gomez and parents about the rationale and benefits to his approach. One possible compromise could have been the establishment of a closed social network like NING that fosters communication but may better protect the privacy of young children.

  • plarkin

    George,

    I would suggest that the parents go to the school board and discuss how this teacher created a resources that had helped them to become more engaged in the education of their children and ask how this type of resource could be taken away. This just doesn't add up!? We need more engagement of this type by parents and not less! Bravo to Matt for thinking outside the box! As you say, we need teachers who model this type of thinking for their students. I am saddened to think that this type of thing would be stifled by a school district and left to wonder if they expect the same narrow-minded approach by their teachers when constructing lessons for their students?

  • Karissa

    Well written post George. I do applaud the teacher in his efforts to share in learning. In our school, one of the means of communication is something called the Agenda. While this may have the ability to be an effective tool, the reality is that the teacher does not have the time to send an individual written message to 20 plus parents. Facebook is a means to accomplish just that, it can send a broad message to the parents on the page. Safety concerns of course are rampant, but those are often driven by a lack of understanding. I am unsure of the extent of this teacher's facebook use, but I do know that most parent's concerns over Facebook are the sharing of pictures and locations. This can be avoided of course. Facebook does have security features. So, to sum that up, yes administrators and parents alike need to understand the Global shift of technology and Social Media. It can enhance learning, and ultimately as you mention if the children do not understand how it is used then they will be left behind. Using technology doesnt mean we forget or lessen the other means of learning (which I would adamantly oppose, such as Arts), it just means we keep pace with the ever changing world through a certain medium.

  • http://www.good.is/community/ecosmart Phillis Walkes

    I honestly like your comments here. Great blog, nice effort folks.

  • Britt Gow

    Thanks for giving Matt Gomez's issue a wider audience, George. I was just as curious and affronted as you seem to be when I read about Matt having to shut down a successful line of communication with the parents of his kindergarten children. As a secondary teacher, I also like to "push the boudaries", try new strategies to engage middle years students and give them opportunities to use technology as adults do. I am lucky that my principal is supportive of innovation and allows me to take risks with teaching and learning. Although Facebook is blocked at school (it is a productivity killer!) I have closed groups for my senior students and pages for posting links to relevant articles, videos and other resources. I honestly believe that if there were more responsible adults as role models on FB, it would be less of the ghetto it is now.

  • http://dakinane.com/blog David

    Traditionalism fears the new, "The shock of the New" The loom breakers the Luddites, technological innovation shunned for the familiar, history is littered with these examples, we have seen it before, history always shows these movements up as errors of judgement. But when innovation stifles teacher enthusiasm and potentially disengages students, then we really have to think. How long will Matt stay in education if he is encouraged to take risks to innovate? A sad outcome and speaks volumes of the political nature of education, the inertia and fear.

    • http://dakinane.com/blog David

      Meant to say "How long will Matt stay in Education if he is not encouraged to take risks and innovate?"

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  • mrsenorhill

    I think the key shame here is that Matt's work seemed to be authentic communication with the families of his students. It was an always open, ever-present, public forum/platform for the relationships every teacher seeks to build with their parents.

    I teach in Missouri, which has recently been in the public eye over the outlawing of teacher/student facebook relationships. The problem with the discourse however has been that the people who "get it" (mostly teachers and some families) and the people who "don't get it" have conducted two separates debates regarding the validity of facebook in the classroom. One group speaks of "openess" and one group speaks of "safety". The problem is that these aren't conflicting viewpoints, and as folks on this thread have alluded two, those who speak of openness value the safety of their students very highly. Those who argue on the side of safety want the same quality learning experiences as educators, they just don't make the connection between social networking and education.

    Unfortunately the discussion regressed to "midwestern idiots" vs. "liberal perverts", which got us nowhere on this issue, and nowhere towards crafting a strategy for true safety in an open digital world.

    The opposite end is that our school has a facebook page only used as a "web page" of sorts. It is uni-directional, not open to comments or posts form community members. The school posts information, but information is not able to be shared with the school.

    This is even more short-sighted than not allowing facebook into the school community. It justifies facebook as a marketing tool, but does not justify the ability of family members to communicate with the school itself. It's the difference between hearing and listening.

    Social networking is a disruption. It will continue to make headway. Implementation grows each day, and it will continue to. It's our job (as a community of everyone interested in the education of young people) to ensure that it is used in the most constructive way possible, with safety AND exploration balanced as best possible.

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