Article originally published in School Library Connection Magazine, January/February Issue.
I recently reached out to a neighboring school to get insight into their cell phone policy for middle school students and whether they found it helpful. Their response was surprising but perhaps not shocking. They noted that their cell phone policy at the middle school level was working just fine: students place their phones in plastic holders upon entering each classroom and retrieve them when class is over. However, the cell phone situation in their preschool community was not ideal. Yes, you are reading that correctly: their preschool community! Teachers had a hard time getting children out of the car at carpool because young children did not want to leave their devices and head to school to learn and socialize in real life. Hold the phone! Literally, hold the phone.
Online behaviors influence privacy, security, safety, and mental well-being. Technology usage has infiltrated home and school life. In fact, a study published in 2015 by the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that "Young children in an urban, low-income, minority community had almost universal exposure to mobile devices, and most had their own device by age 4. The patterns of use suggest early adoption, frequent and independent use, and media multitasking" (Kabali et al.). As evident from this data, we have a responsibility to teach children and teens to establish boundaries with technology. These boundaries include limiting the time spent online and the sharing of information while generating awareness of how the consumption of online content impacts one's mental health. Knowing what we need to do is one thing, but feeling like we can is another. There are several reasons why educating students to become wise online inhabitants feels so daunting. One significant obstacle that co-educators experience is that while they tend to work hard to teach their students well, there are plenty of households that undo that work once the child returns home and the rules and expectations are different. In this article, I will explore strategies to bridge digital citizenship learning gaps between home and school.
Start by working with administrators and co-educators to consistently implement a shared vocabulary across the learning continuum.
Digital citizens are defined as individuals who know how to positively engage with and respect the rights of others when online while protecting themselves from online dangers (Usidhr.org 2022). Understanding this definition relates to the first strategy: As the school librarian, help create a culture of awareness with intentional actions at school that families are made aware of for the home. Start by working with administrators and co-educators to consistently implement a shared vocabulary across the learning continuum. A shared vocabulary should establish the importance of creating boundaries, being safe, protecting privacy, mindful communications, and information literacy. Working as a team to create a shared vocabulary with the help of resources, like Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship), can encourage support. Example phrases and techniques are provided in the table below.
Pause for People
Suspend technology usage to be present for people
Be Aware of What You Share
Think about information that should be kept private before interacting online.
Helpful or Harmful?
Consider if an interaction will be helpful or harmful prior to engaging online.
Notice the who, what, where, when, and why of an information source before assuming its credibility.
Digital Health Check
Pause to consider how online behaviors are impacting one's mental or physical health.
Communicate to families the school's intention to prioritize cultivating digital citizens and emphasize their partnership in this implementation. Back-to-school nights, email blasts, and parent-teacher conferences are great touch points for educating the larger community about these efforts.
It may seem obvious, but it is incredibly important to continue reminding colleagues and families that digital citizenship cannot be taught in a silo. Colleagues cannot expect that digital citizenship education be uniquely the librarian's or school counselor's domain just as parents cannot expect that "teaching digital citizenship is the school's job" for the learning to be effective and for positive behaviors to stick. Therefore, digital citizenship education must be integrated into all areas of formal education as well as considered a component of overall personal hygiene, both at home and at school. Preparing our minds and our bodies for positive online interactions is a responsibility no matter the why or where of the technology usage. Rubrics across each grade level and subject matter should incorporate digital citizenship components. This includes accountability for copyright infringement, source evaluation measures, and positive online communication in collaborative projects. Host a rubric revision workshop for teachers to ensure digital citizenship is integrated into teaching and learning. Some independent schools require that parents attend a minimum number of parent education sessions on the topic of digital citizenship hosted by the school.
Whether it is contractual or optional, family outreach is a significant component in cultivating partners in digital citizenship education. Creative programming can capture the attention of families seeking guidance on how to parent Generation Alpha, or those who do not know of a time when social media did not exist. Leaning into programming opportunities, I have been able to strengthen relationships from within the library with our larger community by demonstrating that we are all on the same team. For example, I have enjoyed empowering our students to become leaders in technology usage and given them the stage to demonstrate their expertise. Upper elementary students can apply to be part of an author podcast program. Student participants are trained to research visiting authors, craft courteous questions based on their research findings, and then, using learned body language, including intentional eye contact, they interview guest authors in person or via video-conferencing. They work as part of a small team to gain the technical skills to mix and publish the podcast, while learning about royalty-free music and avoiding copyright infringement (https://tinyurl.com/authorpodcast).
Upper elementary and middle school students can also apply for a leadership opportunity known as Tech Pioneers. This group affords them unique learning opportunities, on and off campus, by giving them the opportunity to serve as technology travel guides for our younger learners. Using "passports," younger students travel to a variety of destinations with their expert technology travel guide. Each destination introduces a new cultural understanding centered around positive technology usage and concludes with a stamp to document their learning journey. In my experience, parents believe this is an incredible activity for their children, both the younger student and the older student. I have witnessed parents rearranging doctor's appointments for their children to avoid conflicting with this learning journey.
Enlist students to host Parent and Grandparent Hour of Code (https://hourofcode.com/us/learn). This can be replicated by any school library free of cost with technological devices or unplugged activities. We kick off this event with students sharing a coding project that they are proud of completing. This empowers students to reframe technology usage as a problem-solving tool that contributes to individual and global progress as opposed to something for home entertainment. Students then circulate the room supporting family members as they work their way through various Hour of Code activities.
Student-led Lunch n' Learns position students as experts and gain the attention of their families. Serving Up Innovation is one of my favorite themes in which our students showcase the transformative ways they are using technology to learn. Following this, they teach the audience members how our school uses social media to connect with other educators and global experts, collaborate with other classrooms, get inspired, and practice netiquette within the safety of the classroom and with the teacher's guidance. Once the audience has witnessed the value of social media for education, students explain social media terminologies, such as the definitions of a hashtag or handle on Twitter. The students conclude by offering hands-on instruction on how the attendees can connect with the school on different social media platforms.
Technology competitions are another catalyst for changing how parents value digital citizenship education.
Technology competitions are another catalyst for changing how parents value digital citizenship education. While not to be mistaken for parent homework, encouraging students to participate in a technology fair project that is completed at home but presented at school reinforces the home and school connection of positive digital technology interactions. With a sample judging sheet and rubric, students are required to address copyright permissions for the content used in the creation of their projects, demonstrate positive communication skills, and execute the appropriate privacy settings for video submissions about their projects.
Create the space for parents and caregivers to form a communal knowledge base. One of the most comprehensive sources of information for guidance on extending digital citizenship education into the home is Savvy Cyber Kids, Inc., a nonprofit devoted to empowering communities to use technology thoughtfully. Savvy Cyber Kid, Inc.'s founder, Ben Halpert, a cyber security professional, an advisor to law enforcement, and a concerned parent of three children, says that there is not one digital monitoring tool that can substitute for parenting. To support families and educators, the organization's website contains impressive resources to help decide what works best for each family and help regulate technology usage at home (https://savvycyberkids.org/). They offer daily topics for parents and families to "get the tech talk started." Mr. Halpert contends that conversations focused on digital citizenship should be as common as "What did you do in school today?" As the 21st-century learning coordinator and a media specialist at my school, parents often turn to me for technology-related advice. This is a tool that I not only use myself but that I also recommend to parents to help establish the framework of expectations prior to introducing new technology in the home. I recently used the website's "Technology Bill of Rights" along with added customization to instruct my son when receiving his first smartphone.
The Savvy Cyber Kids website has recommended lists of digital monitoring tools, such as BARK to monitor social media usage, Quistodio to establish parental controls on devices, and web-filtering browsers like SPIN Safe Browser. Additionally, the website has free parent and grandparent guides on supporting children to navigate technology usage while keeping them safe. The Digital Parent's Guide to Technology is also available in Spanish. There are specialized guides to gaming and eSports too. While these resources are available for free, educators and families can work together to fund communal workshops that focus on cyber safety and ethics, as well as an informal program that Mr. Halpert calls a Cyber Salon, in which parents, children, and/or educators can gather at someone's home to discuss security, privacy, digital strangers, bullying, screentime balance, technology addiction, sexting, digital reputation, body and self-image, and specific family and community concerns. Leveraging non-profit organizations devoted to strengthening communal expertise reinforces educational ownership of digital citizenship both at home and at school.
School librarians are often the individuals responsible for disseminating student computers and encouraging the use of digital tools. As a component of this job function, establish the infrastructure to host workshops or seminars that capture teacher and family interest about the need for prioritizing online safety. Working with parent volunteers to arrange for external experts to share information and safety strategies can offset some of the time required to arrange logistics while fostering communal enthusiasm. The FBI's Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force consists of special agents that, time permitting, can help educate the larger community about the pressing need to prioritize this topic. Local field offices have community outreach programs that offer cyber security-related activities, mentorship programs, and expert presenters. Find your local field office at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices.
…any opportunity to create an open forum that allows conversation for input and guidance is valuable…
Host an expert panel that consists of teachers, students, administrators, and perhaps an external professional to attract a larger audience to engage in digital citizenship education. Sharing advice from varied perspectives in a communal setting reinforces the importance of practicing positive digital citizenship habits across ages and roles. In fact, any opportunity to create an open forum that allows conversation for input and guidance is valuable: When is the right time to allow a child to have a cell phone? How do we best monitor technology usage at school and at home? How do we most effectively hold kids accountable for the misuse of technology? As a facilitator of these educational opportunities, it is important that we, school librarians, differentiate between when it is appropriate to use a scare tactic, such as shocking statistical data, as a way to hook an audience versus consistently educating about digital citizenship from a place of fear. While there are times when fear is an effective way to grab the attention of those you are trying to reach, too much emphasis on the bad things that can happen online can backfire and result in avoidance.
Balancing the good and the bad in digital citizenship instruction is not easy. And yet, by leaning on each other and our larger communities, it can be done. Commit to the digital citizenship cause with ongoing open dialogue, especially as technology continues to evolve rapidly. Encourage creating a safe space for learning and mistakes to happen both at home and at school. As with any complex topic, it often takes a village to solve for the best outcomes.
Kabali, Hilda K., Matilde M. Ingoyen, Rosemary Nunez Davis, Jennifer G. Budacki, Sweta H. Mohanty, Kristin P. Leister, and Robert L. Bonner Jr. "Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children." Pediatrics 136, no. 6 (December 2015): 1044–50. doi:10.1542/pedS.2015-2151. Usidhr.org. "What Is Digital Citizenship and Why Is It Important?" US Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights, May 26, 2022.
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Brown, Stacy. "A Partnership to ProTech the Ones We Love: The Home and School Connection." School Library Connection, December 2022, Content/Article/2294195.
School Library Connection, December 2022, Content/Article/2294195.
- Davis Faculty