Chicago Public Schools takes the first step toward controlling social media and digital communication between students and school employees.
At the beginning of this school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) updated their student-employee communication rules to incorporate digital communication. The new CPS Policy Handbook states: “Students now cannot call or leave voice messages on the personal mobile devices of CPS workers. Students are also largely prohibited from communicating directly with those adults via text messages, and cannot interact with school-based workers on personal social media accounts. The school system’s teachers, coaches, vendors and volunteers are largely subject to the same restrictions. They can’t communicate with students via personal mobile devices, texts, personal email addresses, non-CPS social media accounts and instant messages.”
We at Bridg-it applaud the Chicago Public School System, one of the largest school systems in the country, for going forward with this necessary policy to protect their students and teachers. However, we believe it still needs to be further defined and improved and look forward to the interpretation of the policies by the leadership at CPS. We are most curious as to how it will be monitored and enforced given the constantly changing digital communication landscape and the legal constraints of the First and Fourth Amendments. And, without proper alternatives, how will these policies hinder healthy, positive communication between teachers and their tech-savvy students?
Can schools really put the social media and the digital communication genie back in the bottle?
Let’s face it, digital communication technology dominates the majority of human and student communication, and it is daunting. To provide some context, InternetStatsLive estimates that so far this year we humans have sent over 58 trillion emails, Google searched over 1.4 trillion times, watched over 1.5 trillion YouTube videos, tweeted over 168 billion times, and uploaded over 17.8 billion photos to Instagram. To add to that, Pew Research estimates we will send over 8.3 trillion texts in 2018 alone, with 2.1 trillion in the US; Americans send over 6 billion texts each day.
In 2010 the average teenager was sending over 3,300 texts per month. That average is now estimated to exceed 4,000 texts per month. So, in a school with 1,000 students and 150 school-based workers, there are over 4.6 million texts sent per month, and over 828 million during the school year. And this represents only the texting volume of a single school community. What about Instagram posts, tweets, Facebook messages, etc.? Given the sheer volume of digital communication, how will schools really enforce communication policies to protect students and teachers?
The Digital Communication Dilemma
The importance of student-teacher communication in the academic success of students.
A very wise educator once told me that if you cannot connect and engage with your students, they will not learn from you. In the U.S., students spend half the year in school and are required to receive approximately 1,000 hours of instructional time per year. Students tend to excel academically when a student and teacher develop mutual trust and respect; to do this they must feel free to communicate. Teachers tend to have more success engaging students academically when they are creative and culturally up to speed. Studies show that students feel more comfortable texting than talking. So, how do we reconcile Chicago’s new policy with the need for students to connect with their teachers? And how do we isolate this need from turning into inappropriate relationships, student grooming and sexual misconduct? This is the digital communication dilemma: the “need for” versus the “danger of”.
The danger of student-teacher communication in the academic, social and emotional success of students.
Every year in U.S. school communities, municipalities and their insurers end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars in legal settlements related to student grooming and sexual abuse. Student grooming is defined as befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a student, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse.
Let’s run through a potential student grooming scenario.
A male music student builds a strong and trusting relationship with a female teacher. The teacher and student spend considerable time together after school and on social media. Favors, gifts and praise are showered onto the student. Over time, as trust builds, communication becomes more and more personal in nature. At some point in the relationship, the student and teacher begin to cross legal boundaries and become involved personally. The relationship finally evolves to a sexual level, a criminal level.
Scenarios such as the one above, are even played out — in an all too normal manner — on popular television network series such as Riverdale, which draws millions of young viewers each season.
A nationwide survey of 8th – 11th grade students found that nearly 3.5 million students experienced physical sexual contact from an adult, most often a teacher or coach. This ranged from unwanted touching to sexual intercourse. Imagine what hundreds of millions of dollars saved would do to improve the quality of safety and education in schools.
How do we prevent students and adults from engaging in inappropriate relationships?
Inappropriate relationships and student grooming in schools can be prevented by using a combination of preventative strategies and digital tools to change the risk-metrics of it happening in the first place. Chicago Public Schools took a reactionary step toward reducing such incidents in their schools. However, the policies are not enforceable and ban social media rather than reapply it for good. We suggest CPS and all school districts consider implementing the following approaches:
- Compliance Training: Schools must continue to train teachers and staff on what student grooming is, how these relationships form, and what the disciplinary and punitive consequences are. However, compliance training is sporadic in nature and we humans tend to forget most of what we learn in just a few short months. So, additional steps must be taken to reinforce acts of self-discipline.
- Monitored Private Social Network: Implement a completely transparent digital communication platform where students and teachers can safely communicate. A monitored network of communication is a proactive risk amplifier and driver of self-discipline. The benefits of this type of network satisfies two primary organizational needs. The first is to satisfy the individual student need to safely and respectfully communicate with other students or staff. The second is to satisfy the organizations need to reduce legal risk and related financial liabilities caused by harmful digital communication.
- Positive Reinforcement Tools: Rather than avoid social media, schools should provide students and teachers with a safe social media platform to reinforce and reward those who engage in healthy, positive digital communication.
A school’s own private social network, with all the familiar communication tools, provides the following benefits:
- Creates and constantly reinforces appropriate social boundaries between students and teachers, which is crucial in preventing grooming and sexual misconduct.
- Distributes teachable moments and safety resources at the moment of greatest need – when a student or teacher is compelled to act.
- Is customizable to meet the needs of individual community members and organizational needs.
- Reduces risk and the fear of being falsely accused of wrong doing, especially as it relates to the costly instances of grooming and sexual misconduct in schools.
Bridg-it’s platform technology helps schools easily implement a safe social network for their students and teachers.
Bridg-it School provides a safe and monitored platform for student and teacher digital communication. As we have established above, digital communication is the primary form used by everyone and is not going back into any bottle. Bridg-it makes student-teacher and student-student communication easy, transparent and fun. It creates accountability and self-discipline, so students and teachers can more easily develop an ideal learning relationship.
Most importantly, Bridg-it’s analytics technology is able to consistently map at-risk behaviors over time. It is designed to identify early on, those students who are being groomed and deter those teachers who might be tempted to groom a child. This strategy both serves to prevent and mitigate student harm. This is the only scalable way to significantly reduce sexual abuse in our school communities and reduce the current negative trends.
To see if your school system is participating in Bridg-it or to request a referral, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a demo, please Click Here. If your school is not signed up, you can reach out to your school’s Superintendent, School Safety Officer, or Principal and request Bridg-it be launched in your school.