Advocating for Students: Responding to Parents’ Negative Feelings About Technology Use in School

In responding to the concerns of parents who have negative feelings about an increase in technology use at school, my approach would be one of advocacy for students – and, really, the combined interest of teachers and parents to provide the best learning environment for the children they care about. One of my favorite pieces of advice from the YALSA Advocacy Toolkit (Links to an external site.) is: “Listen, Don’t Just Talk” (2013). Some parents may have extreme negative feelings about Internet access at school. First and foremost, these parents need to be heard, so that each one feels like the school understands and even shares their concerns. Only then can the school work to build the parents’ confidence in the school’s technology program.

In the YALSA Advocacy Toolkit (Links to an external site.), YALSA gives the following advice for developing and delivering an effective message: “To be an effective advocate, you must present a compelling case. To do that, you must do three things. The first is to develop a persuasive message—one that touches your listeners’ hearts, as well as their minds. The second is to deliver it with conviction. Sharing your enthusiasm is the best way to get other people excited and motivated. The third is to use it consistently. The more you (and your supporters) deliver the message, the more people you will reach and the more impact it will have” (2013).

What message would I want to deliver? I am inspired by this passage by Barbara Endicott-Popovsky in “Seeking a Balance: Online Safety for Our Children”: “In our role within the school setting, facilitating the development of informed use policies offers us the chance to provide this guidance. Rather than Internet policemen, we should view ourselves as enablers of safe Internet exploration. We would not send our children off to school without teaching them first to look both ways before they cross the street. Why would we shy away from guiding their journey on the Internet? The teacher-librarian role is to empower students to stay safe online” (2009). This message, if delivered with conviction and consistency, should persuade parents to realize the benefits of school being the place where students are responsibly introduced to technology, under the guidance of expert adults who care about their safety.

Any school hoping to gain the support of parents for a new technology program, especially one that dramatically increases “screen time” for students, should first make sure that all faculty and staff are well prepared. This includes collaborating to write a technology program mission statement, an acceptable use policy (AUP), choosing and planning integration of a digital citizenship curriculum, and engaging in professional development about digital citizenship and classroom technologies. When my school embarked on a technology overhaul, we formed a “technology taskforce” comprised of faculty, staff, parents and outside experts, and used Common Sense Education’s 1:1 Essentials Program (Links to an external site.) to plan our new technology roll out. The 1:1 Essentials Program features numerous ready-made materials that made planning and implementation (including stellar resources for engaging parents) incredibly easier and helped us to consider details that we would not have thought about on our own.

We also adopted Common Sense Education’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum (Links to an external site.), a process that you can read about in these posts on my blog: Teaching Digital Citizenship: It’s Common Sense! (Links to an external site.) & ISTE Standards for Teachers 4 – Model Digital Citizenship & Responsibility (Links to an external site.).

Details about how teachers are preparing for the “upgrade”, the digital citizenship curriculum, and, of course, the AUP, should be shared with parents using as many access points as possible (email, newsletters, flyers, info sessions, back-to-school day/night, etc.). The more parents feel listened to and informed about school technology (and involved in the process), the more comfortable and supportive they will be.

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