Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Vexation

In Education School--and in a lot of the school management trainings I've attended--you'll hear about relationships. You've got to have relationships with the students. General school climate, discipline, academic performance and so on are all better when the adults have good relationships with their charges. That too pithy saying about "they have to know you care before they care what you know" reflects the need for relationship.

On the other hand, my school district got a 5% discount on its liability insurance once all staff got a 'boundary invasion' training, the sum total of which was 'be smart, don't do anything that could even be construed as social, rather than instructional, with your students.' One of the most unnerving and risky places to interact with students is, of course, the web, particularly on social networks. The official suggestion today--don't be Facebook 'friends' with current or former students until they're 10 years out of school.

(As an aside, we should be clear that the purpose of these fancy PowerPoints from risk management consultants is to allow the district to say they did their part to instruct staff about 'these issues,' whatever those might be. So if a staff member does get in some sort of trouble, the district can distance itself from the offending staffer.)

Well, hours after our conduct bracing up, I got a magazine called Teaching Tolerance in my box. One of the articles in this addition, "Your Students Love Social Media...And So Can You: Want to engage students? Meet them on society's newest public square". A psychologist cited in the article says this, From my perspective, this new technology is all a very positive thing. Social media has totally changed the communication model. This is so empowering.”

Wow! ALL positive? The new technologies are empowering, indeed. But this expert seems to neglect the all too evident empowerment for negative inherent in these technologies. Every technology and the institutional arrangements it creates offer opportunity for both good and evil. If by saying the above she means, 'it could all be so good, if we just used it right,' that's different...and unrealistic.

I am sure, for instance, that there are things teenagers know how to do with these technologies that their parents (and other adults) don't even realize are possible or available.

I'd like to be 'in relationship' with these students, so that I might be able to give some insight into decent and right conduct (electronically and otherwise), and so that they might have another person to hold them to account, at least in some degree.

But risk management says I shouldn't. And the bottom line of our in-service today...'protect yourself.' The leadership wants to manage away the risks that necessarily attend being involved in a relationship with another person. I understand their logic...and hope takes it on the chin again.

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