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2011 – 2012 Back to School Safety and Security Tips For Parents and Administrators

by CHWatch on August 17, 2011

With the school-year around the corner, there are a lot of things to do to get ready.  The usual school supply list, complete with pencils, pens, paper, cool backpacks, smart phones and iPads…you know, the normal list.

Have you noticed how the list has evolved through the years?  The school supply list used to contain a few items, mainly for the child’s desk or locker.  But, life changes and even in schools (usually, the last to change) technology starts to advance at a rapid pace.

Technology, itself is an amazing tool for schools, students, faculty and school administrators.  It can and has opened new doors of learning and is just starting to touch the surface of students learning in an engaging manner.  But the downsides of technology, once hidden away in someone’s home late at night are affecting children right now.

Here’s a quick disclaimer…this is not a post about whether or not your child should have a phone with them and at what age that should happen.  Families have different reasons for different decisions and no one has the right to cast an opinion.  But it is about what needs to be done in an age where we are all connected and “being mean” to people, isn’t just reserved for the bathroom stalls anymore.

As a former school administrator, I’d like to be able to say that “at our school, we implemented a ‘no phone’ policy, and that’s all you need to do.”  That would be a ridiculous statement, mainly because it’s naive.  We did have a “no phone” policy but were also realistic.

At one point, we only had to worry about high school students and their phones…then it was middle school students…now, its elementary students and their “for emergency only phones” (I’m really hoping the phones will stay out of the pre-school).

Schools are aware of the fact that students have phones and use them throughout the day.  But what can be hard from time to time, is how to teach students how to treat other people.  This goes for people with or without smart phones.  Bullying was once “Give me your lunch money”, being pushed down on the playground or the “mean girls” evil stares and snarky comments.  But that was before the bad behavior could be published…forever!

So what can be done?  WIll bullying and bad behavior ever stop?  Well, I’ve always believed that when the bad behavior stops with the parents it will stop with the children (another blog post perhaps :) .  The bad behavior will probably always exists, but there are some things that schools and the home can do to protect these precious children.

For Schools:

1.       Be aware of what is happening within your student body.  Phones and other electronic devices  are more of an appendage to a student than something just to     have.  Social media and its inhabitant believe this is there safe place.  So be aware that a large portion of your student body spends a lot of time in this space. As the old sports adage says, “You can’t stop it, you can only hope to contain it.”

2.       Be proactive about dealing with some of the bullying issues that may take place between Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and through texting.  Talk openly with your student body about the type of environment your school will have.  Let the students know that treating other people in the right way is the only behavior tolerated, no matter whether it is through texting, social media or on the playground.  Get the conversation going, not just through one announcement at the beginning of the year, but an ongoing, continuous conversation.

3.       Be consistent dealing with students who break the policy but be careful about having too many rules.  That may sound strange coming from a school administrator…don’t we love rules?  The problem with rules is trying to enforce them…too many, breeds inconsistency.  A recent administrator starting her first year as an Elementary Principal asked me about instituting a new bullying policy. She had received a rubric from another school that tried to take into consideration all possible infractions of elementary students on playground, in the hallways, cafeteria, etc.  A graduate degree was needed to understand the rubric, but more important, the people who would have to enforce it would never be able to effectively execute the plan.  You don’t need additional rules to enforce being nice to each other.

For Parents:

No one wants to see their child go through anything difficult.  Any parent would gladly take the place of their child when the teasing comes, no matter the form.  For parents, there are some ideas they should also be aware of:

1.       Be involved with your child.  Talk to them…talk, talk, talk.  I get the fact that it’s easier to do so when they are kids.  But the world is coming to them sooner and they need that openness with you at an earlier age.  So talk!

2.       There is no privacy in your home.  This may be a controversial one, but oh  well, when the safety and emotional well-being of your child is involved, there IS NO PRIVACY.  Know there passwords to everything…in fact, set them up together and let them know up front that you will be checking from time to time.  That means checking texts, Facebook and web history. Even though they may think they can get around you and that they are smarter, you’re the adult remember…there is no privacy.

3.       Print and keep records.  If you see a threat or a “bullying” action in a text, Facebook post or through any electronic means, print it out and begin letting ther authorities know.  As a school administrator, it was always difficult to make decisions based on here-say, but a printed record is much easier to work with.

Life in the regular world is tough enough, but dealing with your kids and the worlds they  may find themselves in cyberspace is a whole different issue. For both schools and parents, remember to have open dialogue and allow the students to be real with you.  If you, as the parent notice something, begin searching to find what might be the problem.  If there is an electronic record, print it out and take the information to the school.  Most importantly, if the school and the home will work together, more kids will be saved from the abuse that can take place when people are mean to one another.

“Randy Speck is a veteran school administrator who has spent his career building and turning around troubled schools. He has a passion for students to learn in a more effective way and for school leaders to lead in a more decisive way. He writes about leadership at RandySpeck.com and consults through his management firm, Samson Learning Group. He can be reached at srspeck@me.com

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