Teachers can influence policy 

Photo by Todd Bloch

In July twitter was a buzz about pending legislative action mandating social media policies in all school districts. As a connected educator, I felt I needed to share how it could possibly impact state educators on my blog.  Fortunately for educators, the author of the House Bill 4791, Rep Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor desires educator input on this legislation.

After seeing my tweets of concern, Rep Zemke’s office contacted me to set up a time to talk to Rep Zemke. A day later we had a wonderful hour long conversation about the social media bill and my connected educator concerns. I was not speaking out only for my concerns but for the general concern of all teachers in Michigan who my be impacted by this bill and how districts might react. Not wanting to rely on one educator’s viewpoint Rep. Zemke asked if I could gather a group of educators to discuss this further with him.

On August 13, 2015 in Zeeland, Michigan Rep Zemke met with a group of seven connected educators from all over Michigan to discuss the intent and impact of this legislation. After a quick over view of the bill, the discussion turn to educator concerns. Rep Zemke listened and quickly took out a notebook and pen to record educator viewpoints. Everyone at the table knew the intent of the bill is to have policy in place to encourage positive social media use in our schools. Prohibition due to lack of knowledge was the largest concern.

At the end of the conversation, Rep Zemke asked for contact information of all educators and hoped to share final bill language with all (for input) when it was complete. I was impressed. This was the first time in 15 years as an educator I felt my voice was truly heard by a legislator. Rep Zemke drove across Michigan to listen to 7 teachers share their concerns, not one of which lived in his house district. Lansing and Washington, DC need more legislators who meet with people who are directly impacted by their policies.

Thank you Rep Adam Zemke, I hope our input on this policy helps create a bill accomplishes the goal on POSITIVE social media use in our schools. You did what all politicians should, looked for input and listened to concerns.

Educators if you have positive stories of Social Media use in your school please share them in the comments.

Need for Teacher Code of conduct ….

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Last night as I was reading my twitter feed, I noticed a tweet about House Bill 4791, that would require districts to adopt a social media policy for teacher and student interactions. This bill is being introduced by State Representative Adam Zemke from Ann Arbor, with the best intentions of making districts have a policy where many have none.  I quickly tweeted my hopes of having connected educators input on the bill, Rep. Zemke quickly replied that he would love to have input including his office phone number.

 

Having a Social Media policy sounds great in theory. This bill allows local control for districts to come up with their own policy. This is where I get scared for many educators. A simple policy that many districts could take is prohibition of teacher/student contract via social media. Teachers would lose a valuable tool for connecting with their students where they are spending most of their time. Connected teachers in these districts would feel like they are losing a huge part of their practice. Other districts will spend money on this mandate by having their legal team research a policy draining a part of already limited resources. Some district might even feel that a policy gives them licences to monitor teachers social media accounts. (This would be costly and invokes visions of George Orwell’s book 1984.) Leaving teachers feeling paranoid of any social media use. Is there a better path than having to pass legislation every time new tools come about for teachers to connect with students?

What if Michigan Department of Education in collaboration with ALL stakeholders created a “Teacher Code of Conduct”? This code could be updated by MDE when needed. It would be similar to Hippocratic Oath that Physicians take. This code would be published on all teachers certificates, reminding teachers regularly. The Teaching Code of Ethics would address all the concerns with those few questionable teachers. A simple line like:

I will have only professional interactions with my students (and former students until they are adults).

This covers social media, letters, notes, phones and verbal conversations in one line, without adding burdens to the 500+ districts to create new policies. Laws already exist to cover the underlying concerns with inappropriate social media contact.

Will district policy (proposed by this bill) or a teacher code  of ethics stop the few perverted minds that the bill intends to stop? History says, probably not. A teacher code covers the societal concerns with teachers and social media without mandating districts coming up with their own policy.

Next we will be discussing bills requiring districts to have auto use policies, physical contact policies (covering hi-fives and handshakes) to bill covering every aspect of teachers day. The teacher code offers a more sensible path to the same solution for all teachers in Michigan.

Thanks for reading.