Bullying is not a new phenomenon but an evolving one. Most of us can remember either knowing a bully, watching a bully, or being bullied. As adults working in schools, we have seen our share of bullying. We now have entered the world of cyber bullying. The bullied remain the vulnerable ones. Those who feel marginalized, living on the edges of our programs, not feeling welcomed or accepted. They are not the football captains or the prom queens. They may not be engaged in activities at all. They may belong to a minority in our schools; the white students in a school with a majority of students of color, the LGBTQ students, the students new to the district, the overweight students, the students who appear different from the perceived majority of the school. The prevailing practice, until being recently educated otherwise, focused on the bullying behavior. The bully was warned, counseled, and disciplined. Often we paid little attention to bystander or enabler behavior, not because we didn’t care, but because somehow, we didn’t know. As we begin to understand the power of the bystander and enabler, legislation is holding us accountable. Of course we care deeply about all of our students. Keeping them safe is paramount.
A 2011 Education Department Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies reported that 46 states had anti-bullying laws and 41 states created anti-bullying policies as models for schools. Many states included cyber bullying and off campus behavior as the responsibility of the school.
Although disregarded by many as a place to find out what restaurant friends are frequenting, Facebook is considered by many as the bastion of bullying behavior for our students. However, like Twitter, Pintrest, and hundreds of other social media vehicles Facebook has become mainstream. Businesses have Facebook pages. Facebook offers educators direct access to Professors like Chris Dede at Harvard, Nicholas Negroponte and Mitch Resnick at MIT, Scott McCleod at the University of Kentucky, public school educator, Peggy Sheehy at the Ramapo School District in NY, or technology guru Alan November, just to name a few. As educators we can share our interests, concerns, resources, and updates with those we allow as friends, or open to anyone.
Students use Facebook to talk with each other. Here we have an opportunity. When a digital vehicle, like Facebook is used, most times, when used incorrectly, there are students who reveal that conversation to an adult. It is captured in print. This gives us the opportunity to intervene and teach behaviors while holding the facts in our hands; facts that cannot be denied. The problem: the students took off in a media environment and are partially misusing it while most of us lag behind and don’t really have a good sense of how to use the media properly at all. When we communicate our disapproval of its use, it gives the students a sense of a safe place to behave without adult intervention. It is like giving them a nightclub that we won’t enter.
We have a professional obligation to keep our students safe. We also have a professional obligation to teach them how to do the right thing. This is not a new concept. Aristotle taught that the future of the empire was dependent upon the education of the youth. He also taught that youth learn virtues by imitation and practice. If we don’t take advantage of any opportunity to teach how to behave virtuously and offer the opportunity for practice, we are missing the boat.
There are districts that proudly announce they have blocked Facebook. Students who bring their digital devices to school, and use the school’s computers are unable to access Facebook, right? No! Unblocking Facebook is not difficult, so another sense of “the grown-ups don’t understand the world I live in” is created as an unintended consequence. Those with smartphones do not need access provided by schools and can use their smart phones to access Facebook. Even if they couldn’t access Facebook in school, in many states now we are responsible for those behaviors outside school. We certainly cannot forbid the use of Facebook once they have left the building.
This challenge is not new. The introduction of the digital environment may seem different, but at the bottom of it all is the issue of morals, values, integrity, and courage. The medium is what is new, not the behavior. The Journal of Values Based Leadership quoted John Ragozzine. “Ours is an age of inordinate moral confusion. Every day’s headlines report big-picture dilemmas with no clear solution: international terrorism, regional warfare, global warming, energy shortages, corporate scandals, nuclear proliferation, and endemic corruption. At a more granular level, this bewilderment appears in a litany of national and local ethical lapses, where values are subverted, integrity is abandoned, and moral courage is given short shrift.”
Therefore we must:
•learn these new technologies in order to make sensible leadership decisions.
•step into these digital environments in order to be familiar with the world our students are already living within.
•be sure the policies we put in place are enforceable.
•consider the effect we have when we shun the digital environment as some modern inconvenience.
•continue to teach our students how to grow as morally courageous citizens.
•give our students the opportunity to watch us act upon our morals and values with integrity and courage.
•give our students the opportunity to watch us, emulate, and practice these behaviors.
•honor those children who exhibit these behaviors and not spend so much of our time lamenting the behavior of those who do not.
We need to reframe the question from “How do we block students from using social media while in school?” to questions like the one asked by Charles Kilfoye in his Kappan article, “At what point does concern for protection of students become a barrier to effective teaching and learning?” or questions like,"How can we transform their use of social media into an opportunity to capture and share space with our students?” and “What is the effect on our schools if we continue to proudly identify ourselves as digital immigrants?” Understanding the role social media plays in the lives of our students, and its potential for teaching ethical behavior is imperative for today’s leaders. There is no other option.
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.