SchoolCIO: 27 Talking Points About Internet Safety
11/1/2012 By: Scott McLeod
Most of us recognize that schools should be helping students learn how to do deep,
rich, technology-infused knowledge work that prepares them for future citizenship,
college, work, and other life needs. Many principals and superintendents, however, are
struggling to balance the need to technologically empower students with countervailing
organizational concerns regarding safety, respectful behavior, and the law. In my
conversations with school administrators about Internet safety and student technology
usage, I use many of the talking points below. Use some of them to spark a conversation
with your local educators and community.
1 Even though they may use fancy terms and
know more than you do about their domain,
you never would allow your business manager or
special education coordinator to operate without
oversight. So stop doing so with your technology
2 The technology function of your school
organization exists to serve the educational
function, not the other way around. Corollary:
your technology coordinator works for you, not
3 Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia,
YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and
whatever other technologies you’re blocking
are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them
and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools,
particularly when it comes to making policy.
4 You don’t need special policies for specific
tools. Just check that the policies you have
are inclusive of electronic communication
channels and then enforce the policies you
already have on bullying, cheating, sexual
harassment, inappropriate communication, and
5 Why are you penalizing the 95 percent for
the 5 percent? You don’t do this in other
areas of discipline at school. Even though you
know some students will use their voices or
bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t
ban everyone from speaking or moving. You
know some students may show up drunk to the
prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because
of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume
that most students will act appropriately most
of the time and then you enforce reasonable
expectations and policies for the occasional
few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s
the difference between DUI-style policies
and flat-out prohibition (which, if you recall,
failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire
schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight
in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing
entire student bodies because of statistically
infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
6 You never can promise 100 percent safety.
For instance, you would never promise a
parent that his or her child would never be in a
fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100
percent safety when it comes to technology.
Provide reasonable supervision, implement
reasonable procedures and policies, and move
7 The ‘online predators will prey on your
schoolchildren’ argument is a false
bogeyman scare tactic that is fed to us by
the media, politicians, law enforcement, and
computer security vendors. The number of
reported incidents in the news of this occurring
8 Federal laws do not require your draconian
filtering. You can’t point the finger
somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
9 Students and teachers rise to the level of the
expectations that you have for them. If you
expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.
10 Schools that ‘loosen up’ with students
and teachers find that they have no more
problems than they did before. And, often, they
have fewer problems because folks aren’t trying
to get around the restrictions.
11 There’s a difference between a teachable
moment and a punishable moment. Lean
toward the former as much as possible.
12 If your community is pressuring you to
be more restrictive, that’s when it’s time
to educate, not capitulate. Overzealous blocking
and filtering has real and significant negative
impacts on information access, student learning,
pedagogy, the ability to address required
curricular standards, and educators’ willingness
to integrate technology. It also makes it awfully
tough to prepare students for a digital era.
13 ‘Walled garden’ online environments
prevent the occurrence of serendipitous
learning connections with the outside world.
14 If you’re prohibiting teachers from
being ‘friends’ with students online, are
you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’
with students in neighborhoods, at church, in
volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other
15 Schools that have mindsets of enabling
powerful student learning usually block
much less than those that don’t. Their first
reaction is ‘How can we make this work?’ rather
than ‘We need to keep this out.’
16 As the lead learner, it’s your
responsibility to actively monitor
what’s being filtered and blocked and to always
reconsider that in light of learning and teaching
17 If you trust your teachers with the
children, you should trust them with the
Internet. Mistrust of teachers drives away good
18 If you make it too hard to get permission
to unblock something, you might as well
not have the option in the first place.
19 Unless you like losing lawsuits,
remember that students and staff have
speech and privacy rights, particularly off
campus. Remember that any dumb decision you
make is Internet fodder and has a good chance
of going viral online. Do you really want to be
the next stupid administrator story on The
20 When you violate the Constitution
and punish kids just because you don’t
like what they legally said or did and think you
can get away with it, you not only run the risk
of incurring financial liability for your school
system, but you also abuse your position of
trust and send messages to students about the
corruption of power and disregard for the rules.
21 Never make a policy you can’t enforce.
22 Don’t abdicate your teaching
responsibility. Students do not
magically gain the ability at the end of the school
day or after graduation to navigate complex,
challenging, unfiltered digital information
spaces. If you don’t teach them how to navigate
the unfiltered Internet appropriately and safely
while you have them, who’s going to?
23 Acceptable use and other policies send
messages to students, staff, and parents.
Is the predominant message that you want
to send really that ‘the technologies that are
transforming everything around us should first
and foremost be feared’?
24 Imagine a scale with two balancing pans.
On one side are all of the anxieties, fears,
barriers, challenges, and perceived problems that
your staff, parents, and community members put
forth. If you want effective technology integration
and implementation to occur in your school
system, it is your job as the leader to tip the scale
the other way. It is difficult to understand the
learning power of digital technologies—and easy
to dismiss their pedagogical usefulness—if you
are not familiar enough with them to understand
their positive benefits.
25 In a hyperconnected, technologysuffused,
digital, global world, you do
your children a disservice—and highlight your
irrelevance—by blocking out our present and
26 Educating is always more powerful than blocking.
27 Elsewhere in your state—perhaps even
near you—are school districts that have
figured this out. They operate under the same
laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that you
do. If they can be less restrictive, why can’t you?
Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., currently serves as
the Director of Innovation for Prairie Lakes Area
Education Agency 8 in Iowa. He is a co-creator of
the video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens).
Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology
leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and
Education Recoded and just completed his first
book, What School Leaders Need to Know About
Digital Technologies and Social Media.
Turns out that the most strident
support of online privacy and
safety are students themselves.
The problem? Most are illiterate to
what is actually private. A recent
survey conducted online within the
United States by Harris Interactive
on behalf of Microsoft proves the
• Students engage in the following
activities at least once a day: use
their personal email (87%), use a
school-provided email (64%), use
social networking sites (85%).
(Among those with respective
• Over two-thirds (69%) of college
students are unaware their online
activity may be viewed by their
• Four in five (84%) students don’t
believe their school should be able
to view their other online activities
outside their school-provided
e-mail, such as social networking.
• The vast majority of students
(90%) think it would be a violation
of their privacy if their school asks
for the password to their social
• Most students (93%) don’t think
their colleges should have access to
their social networking usernames
and passwords, and the majority
(59%) would support a law banning
schools from viewing social
networking activities via schoolprovided
Want to find out more about
student rights when it comes to
online activity? The Electronic
Frontier Foundation (eff.org) offers
plenty of resources to get started
(search for SOPA).