The Baby and the Bath Water

Recently, we have had some issues with social media and our students. Nothing horrendous or threatening, but certainly not behavior that would fall under the category of good digital citizenship. We have addressed the issue, and hopefully our students have learned a valuable lesson, but it did bring up the topic of social media and its place in our society again. It reminded me of a story from early on in my teaching career. Let me explain.

I started teaching way back in 1985 (yes, that makes me old). I taught Health and Physical Education in an era where chalk boards were the norm and technology consisted of one Apple IIC in a storage room that we used to create crossword puzzles that we then ran off on a mimeograph machine. You younger educators can Google that. We thought we were really advanced. One day, one of my students thought it would be funny to write something inappropriate (very inappropriate) on the chalkboard…in chalk. Needless to say, I was less than pleased, and more than a little bit concerned. The point of this story is not that a middle school kid made a bad decision (shocking, I know) or that something inappropriate was done (equally shocking). No, the point is how did we, as adults, react to the situation? I did not march into the Principal’s office and demand that we have all chalk boards removed immediately before some other transgression occurs using this classroom item. No. What we did was issue appropriate consequences to the student and then we took advantage of that teachable moment to (hopefully) make sure that student doesn’t do something like that again. Then we went about our job of teaching.

My not so subtle point to this story is that the same lesson applies to today’s more advanced technology. Because a student makes a bad decision does not mean that we eliminate the tools that were involved. On the contrary, we need to use the situation as a teachable moment and provide instruction on how to properly use the tools at hand. We are living in an era where things are not like the chalkboard. That was easily erased and forgotten about the next day. These days, it is imperative that we teach our children about the permanency of social media and what they are posting. But we also have to be realistic in the sense that, also unlike the chalkboard, social media and technology are a permanent fixture in our society, and in the future of our students’ life as well. Just as in generations past, throwing the baby out with the bathwater is never an option.

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About drellena

Principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. President of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.
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