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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Looking to create a social media or BYOD policy? Look no further.



Editor’s note: I have received about a dozen requests for advice about policies concerning social media, BYOT, and cell phones. This is a hot issue. I hope this post will help address the concerns of others who are grappling with this topic.

Many schools and districts are putting in place policies about gadgets and media rather than people and behavior. In many cases this work is being guided by outdated policymakers and lawyers who don’t use the media or gadgets about which they are making policy. If they did, they’d realize this makes no sense. Imagine in their day if people made policies about telephones, televisions, books, films, pencil/pen/paper. It simply doesn't make sense and is not necessary. there are forward thinking schools and districts that get this.

Patrick Larkin and Eric Sheninger are both principals who understand technology and digital media and have put in a common sense policy to address it. Larkin explains that “at Burlington High School they do not have separate policies. They are all integrated into one.” Sheninger goes on further to say that “At New Milford High School our expectations for device and social media use are all interconnected. There are no long, drawn out policies for BYOT, cell phone use, or social media. Each of these tools and their use in a learning environment are reflected in our Acceptable Use Policy.” Sheninger adds that “as the building leader, he can adapt policies for the students at his school as necessary.”


New Canaan High School is another school that doesn’t have policies for cell phones or laptops or BYOT or BYOD or social media etc. They have ONE responsible use policy that encompases everything. Unlike the policies of these other districts it is only two pages with a one page sign off for students and parents / guardians.

These schools get it. They realize that tools and media have no intent...people do and the policy is made for people. Real people with real language that can be understood by parents, students, and teachers. And, guess what? It works! At New Canaan high school they are guided by principles and provide a message to all incoming students from the teachers and students who stood before them. That message is: “We Trust You.”

When schools and districts put in place top down policies they fall short exactly because they are top down. Effective policies are developed with stakeholders, not just lawyers and policymakers. Parents, students, teachers, and school leaders should be brought together to discuss and create such policies. Additionally, district policies should allow room for school-by-school customization that works best for the students in each community.

In this post, Scott McLeod does a great job of providing a breakdown as to why one top-down school-district’s social media policy is so misguided. Did they listen? I hope so. In this post and this compilation, Michelle Luhtala explains why it is not in the best interests of children for districts to prevent teachers and students from being friends online and explains from personal experience at a school that encourages online relationships, the problems with such a directive.

If your district is dead set on making a policy for every single type of gadget and media than I suggest taking a look at the following guidelines that Steve Anderson created in collaboration with Facebook in his Edutopia piece: How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School. In it he lays out seven steps (and a roundup of valuable reflection questions and resources) you need to help bring social media in your classroom. His guidelines are directed at social media, but can really be used for any media or tool.

1. Examine Your School Culture

This is extremely important and the reason that districts should allow schools to customize policies.

2. Organize a Team

What is important to note here is that students and teachers are included and respected in the development of the policy. See how one school did this here.

3. Research Phase

Research the existing policies in your district or school as well as the policies in other places that share your values.

4. Draft Your Document and Incorporate Feedback

This should be transparent, ongoing, and not done only after the document has been created. Let stakeholders connect and interact with one another in the feedback stage. You can do this by using tools such as a wiki or Google docs. Do not ask stakeholders to email into a place where they and no one else will ever know if their feedback was seen, considered, or incorporated.

5. Make Sure the School Attorney and School Board See the Draft

Your attorney will need to approve, not drive, the policies and process. If you have a school board, they should be incorporated as well.

6. Introduction to the School Community

Educate teachers, students, and parents about what the document means to them.

7. Review Periodically

Technology is always changing and policies should be updated accordingly.

Like it or not, technology and the internet are not only here to stay, but they have become necessary for our existence and success. Let’s stop making multiple, restrictive, device or media-specific policies that work well for lawyers and policymakers and let’s start making policies that are in the best interests of our kids.