Teach, Not Ban: A Digital Leadership Philosophy

I had the honor being nominated for the SVCUE Outstanding Emerging Teacher Award.  It seems a waste of thoughtful writing to not give my application essays a more public audience. Therefore, here's one of my responses about how I teach students to be good digital citizens. 

There’s an old saying that “those who can, do, but those that can’t, teach.” However, I’d argue that we’re all doers, and we teach through our actions, regardless of our profession. Since people are always watching our actions, I am intentional in the way I teach students to embrace and lead in the digital culture.  As our world grows increasingly dependent on the digital space, I must teach students to be outstanding social, ethical, and legal digital citizens.

At San Jose Christian, we have a technology mantra: “Teach, not ban.” This philosophy, influenced by Jaime Casap, Senior Education Evangelist at Google, is fueled by a poignant question: “If we don’t teach them, who will?” As I plan my lessons, I take the time to teach and reteach different skills my students need to be productive digital leaders in how they inhabit the digital world. 

As my students research, I teach them to find Creative Commons Licensed media and to cite every source they use, even if they don’t quote it directly. As we talk about the legal regulations and ramifications, we also discuss the ethical implications associated with these tools. We enter into great class discussions, debating questions like these:

  • How would you feel if someone used your hard work without giving credit?

  • Would you want other people to use your work? Why or why not?

  • When is it appropriate to charge money to use your work?

  • How can we add to the community by producing quality work that others can use?

As we participate in these discussions, students gain a deeper appreciation for the purpose of these laws and, in doing so, have a greater desire to fulfill the legal requirements (and not just because their teacher said so).

Further, just like children need to be taught to play well with others, we need to teach students to be a positive social presence in the digital space. As learners at a Google Apps for Education school, my students are chatting and emailing constantly. We talk about how our written communication reflects things about us as people. I teach email format and will not answer questions in a student email until he/she writes it properly. I set high expectations for chatting and model those expectations by chatting with my students. Since they are just entering the world of social media, I constantly share with them my Twitter activity, showing them the possibilities social media allows. However, we also discuss how communicating things digitally has lasting effects (positive or negative), just like things said face-to-face.

To me, the biggest way to teach these responsibilities in a positive way is to give students a real audience. A real audience brings real possibilities, real purpose, and real consequences. In that environment, my students go to great lengths to be positive citizens and leaders of the digital world, all while accomplishing one of my goals for them: to be “well Googled” before they reach college.