Always Treat Your Students…

….as if their parents were in the room….  -ToddWhitaker on Twitter

Three people on a bench dressed up as cell phones.The above statement has a lot of merit. Beyond the warning to be careful how you treat your students – sometimes parents really are in the room. Perhaps not physically but via mobile devices, classroom surveillance, and other tools available today parents have unprecedented access to the classrooms where their children spend eight hours of their day.

In online learning parents have even greater access. I purposely invite parents to the live sessions and encourage them to review student work in the asynchronous environment. Even if I did not invite them there is always the possibility that they are following the letter of their agreement with the virtual school and are actually sitting next to their students while I teach. From experience I know this is unlikely but the potential is there!

This is something to seriously think about. Teachers may have had a perception that their classrooms were sanctified private realms of learning but that is less and less true. These days students carry enough devices with them that a parent with a bit of tech skills might decide to “listen in” on a school day. It was only ten years ago that parents were installing “nanny” cams. Those same students are now in our classrooms.

Just something to think about during the school day. Big brother? Actually…she prefers Mom and he prefers Dad….


Online Education – Still Figuring Out Where I Think it Fits

Top of an infographic on online learning

Click the above image for a link to a detailed infographic sharing information about the growing demand for online learning solutions.

The article located here, by David Brooks, explains a couple perspectives with online learning. I think it does an okay job of taking a balanced look at online education. Currently my opinion on online learning and blended learning fits within the frame of the article; online education provides a mode of learning roughly equivalent to a regular classroom for motivated students.

They key part of that last idea, “motivated” students, requires a bit more explanation though. Many students choose online learning for great reasons, especially at my high school. They have experienced life style changes that no longer allow them to leave home as easily, they experience social phobias, local school bullies have made life too miserably, and other situations that make online learning a more convenient option. Other students choose the online school as an “easy” route to credits and a high school diploma. For the most part these students are not motivated in their regular schools and this has led them to needing an alternative. Personally and professionally I believe that alternative should not be online schooling.

If a students lacks motivation in a brick and mortar school moving to an online school will only exacerbate their problems. At a regular school students make one choice about attending or not attending school for the day and once they are there they are more or less captive. I understand many students skip class and walk off campus but this requires effort and sometimes quite a bit of planning. In an online school the students make that choice about attending every moment of the day. “Would I rather read up on Facebook posts or complete an assignment?” “Play that video game or add a response to that discussion.”

Even in online schools where the students participate in synchronous learning sessions they have the opportunity to make choices that lead their attention much further from their classwork than they can in a regular classroom. In a regular classroom a teacher can see students and visually assess their attentiveness. In an online session I have had students get up, go to their refrigerator for orange juice, turn on some music, welcome someone into their home, and play a hand of virtual poker. Were they paying attention when I explained that we use Astronomical Units as a way to measure distances within our solar system? Unlikely. In fact the student I am thinking of did poorly on that section of the exam. The only reason I even know this happened was because they accidentally left their mic on. Most of the time the instructor has little notion of student engagement except through polling tools, chat, and quick response buttons.

All of this makes me think that online education serves a useful purpose and, in a blended learning situation, provides greater tools and access to the best resoures. Ill-motivated students, on the other hand, will find themselves ill-prepared and likely fail in a virtual school environment. For online learning – motivation is key! Despite this one area of misgiving I think that online learning will continue to grow and that teachers and school districts should work to take advantage of online learning as a powerful way to connect students to greater learning.

Bully Movie

Several posts here have dealt with this topic already. I have no plans to rehash issues of bullying. What I do want to do is share the movie – out now – called “Bully.” Tomorrow night I will take some time and watch the film – if I am able I will post my reaction and thoughts regarding the movie afterwards.

If you are watching this movie or have already watched it I would love to see your comments.

Check out the trailer (excuse the advertising).

Equity and Reaching Out to the Community

Today I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Reiko Williams about family engagement. She referenced Joyce Epstein’s Framework of Six Types of Involvement as the model Portland Public School’s use to engage families. The Framework

Portland’s Statement on Equity:

A key strategy to closing the gap is cultural competency and race awareness training that Portland Public Schools is rolling out district wide. This professional development is offered in partnership with Glenn Singleton and his San Francisco based Pacific Educational Group, which helps education organizations nationwide understand and address the impact of systemic racism on student achievement. The training is built on what’s called Courageous Conversations.”

The dynamics in Portland schools are changing as families move and neighborhoods change. From 2001 to 2011 there have been huge demographics shifts. Keeping these issues in mind – communicating with families and the community is more important than ever.

One thing the speaker mentioned was that the high school engagement and conversations need improvement. By seeing kids by, “their every aspect,” teachers can work smarter and not harder. She also shared a few experiences developing relationships with families and specific ways educators and schools can develop this collaboration. For teachers to educate in the community they need these relationships that inform their teaching.

Editing Cyberbullying Out of Our Schools

First a definition:

[notice]Cyber bullying or cyberbullying: The use of the Internet and related technologies (mobile devices ie texting) to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.[/notice]

Another definition:

[notice]Cyberbullying is when one or more people repeatedly harm, harass, intimidate, or exclude another person using technology.[/notice]


Why am I talking about this on Ed Thought?

Every year I am asked to do some sort of presentation on cyberbullying, the internet and safety, and other discussions for parents, students, and teachers. Each year I try to stress the importance of parental and educator involvement in, and coaching of, students in their online explorations.

Inevitably one parent or teacher stands up and announces that we should just switch it all off. Switch off the internet. Take away student’s mobile devices. Remove the tempting objects and throw them out the window. Each time I want to ask the technology defenestration (throwing things our a window but much cooler word) expert what they plan to do about the rest of the world. And I am serious. Follow my thoughts on this:

A student receives harassing wall posts on their Facebook page from another student. The reaction above would be to delete the Facebook account. Okay. The other student still has Facebook up and the comment likely already circulated to a portion of the student body before the account deletion occurred. Due to this the beleaguered student receives a taunting text about their Facebook account deletion. This continues until the parent or teacher removes the cell phone. Even if they took this a step further and removed the offender’s phone from their possession and somehow they were never able to obtain a replacement (and with $20 pay-as-you-go phones this is unlikely) the abuse can still continue behind the curtain of a thousand firewalls.

So removal of accounts and phones does not work. At least not for the persistent abuser.


In general – at this time I share stories of cyberbullying that horrify and draw pity. At the third story or sometimes the fourth for the emotionally stolid, someone invariably asks where the situations started, or more commonly, how it ended.

Megan Taylor Meier 1992 – 2006
Ryan Patrick Halligan 1989 – 2003
What really works to deal with cyberbullying?

Believe it or not – there is a government website with useful tips. The foremost among them – BE INVOLVED!

Check out for full details – here I am going to go over my interpretation of a school’s role in cyberbullying. Yes – they have one.

The School’s Role: and if they are not doing this they are failing.

Assess Bullying – Schools should survey students, faculty, and community member continuously on cyberbullying. The information help inform school’s of widely recognized acts of aggression and also help school authorities understand where students, faculty and community members may be “unschooled” in recognizing bullying behaviors. Informed by these surveys, administrators and counselors can help narrow the focus for school climate campaigns and staff development tremendously.

[important]One last note – these surveys fail when they are a one-shot deal. Polls on different aspects of bullying should occur frequently to stay on top of issues and to broaden awareness.[/important]


Involve Community, Parents, and Students – This is perhaps the hardest part of an anti-bullying campaign. The benefits are tremendous however. By involving students schools make them feel safer. Involving the community and parents extends that by helping the school with awareness of broader issues, potential resources for help, and extending the blanket of safety beyond the school grounds. As long as the participants all feel valued and productive things like a school safety committee provides a powerful ally to school principals. In fact – they tend to be the group I speak with most often.

A safety committee does not serve as a forum for specific students or their activities as this violates FERPA and other statutes and policies.


Rules and Policies – Rules and policies help staff and community members (including students) understand how they should treat each other. Most schools already have effectively worded policies in place such as “Be Safe, Be Respectful” and other short – easy to remember student rights. The simplicity of these statements makes them effective.

There are several additional things that can be done to extend the effectiveness of these rules. Educating staff and faculty on how to recognize and respond to violations of these rules helps. Giving students an active role in protecting and upholding these rules increases student adherence as well. The final piece that I find the most influential however is the way in which cyberbullying is reported.

There are a variety of methods but the one that I see the most often and feel is the least effective is the student complaint form. Usually this form allows students to “report” incidents “anonymously” yet these forms are typically located in the counseling center or front office – highly visible places – and the turn in is usually a person – often the same person who follows up on the reports. I would encourage schools to try an online form accessible from a computer, mobile phone, or other device. Post the QR code or shortened URL conspicuously and in areas where bullying happens more often. The chances for reporting increase both with the perceived anonymity ease of access.


Finally a Safe Environment and Education – Wait – A safe environment? Education? When schools block or lock down social sites and prohibit students from using them during the school day they seem to think they can also avoid teaching students about these resources. Like reading – technology literacy and even more to the point – teaching positive behavioral norms for life online is an often neglected responsibility of the school. It should be integrated into every classroom!

WAIT!!! What do you mean the school’s responsibility – integrated into every classroom?

Well – yeah. You don’t expect students to magically know how to behave online? Their parents? Who wants to lay odds on the parents knowing more about teen culture and online social media than the teens and teachers who deal with it everyday?


Too Simple?

Does all this seem too simple? If it does you have been overthinking it. And honestly it is not all that simple. Implementing this takes time, dedication, and involvement from many different groups and areas. Actually – defenestration seems much simpler – it just does not solve the problem.



Roosevelt High School – Building Success

A school of survivors.

In my last post I contemplated what it takes to change a school’s reputation. Since then I spent some time researching my example school – Roosevelt High School in Portland, OR – and found that they are working hard to adjust perceptions and in some cases succeeding.

Below are a few snippets from newspapers about Roosevelt High:

A dramatic turnaround at Portland’s Roosevelt High School – Oregonian

Student succeeding under pressure and difficult situation.

Roosevelt High School made its 2012 Rose Festival Court – Oregonian

Young woman inspires others with her success.

Roosevelt High troupe prepares to make school history at Oregon Thespians state conference – Oregonian

Getting their artistic, competitive, and community groove going.

So what does this get the school?

Unfortunately not a lot has changed in the greater Portland perception. Locally though – the school offers a beacon. Perhaps this is the first step towards changing a school’s reputation? I think they could use a well placed social media campaign to help illuminate the school’s successes to the rest of Portland and the state as well. They are doing amazing things on a daily basis – if only I heard about it via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+…