The Mentorship Manifesto is a declaration of our responsibility to teaching digital citizenship to our kids. As parents, teachers, school leaders, or administrators, mentorship is the single most important commitment we can make to our kids.
The digital world has changed almost everything we do, and parent-teacher communication is no exception. You probably have more access to your child’s teacher than you ever did—and certainly more than our parents did. More access and more communication can be a great thing, but it comes with some hazards too. New modes of communication means new etiquette and new expectations.
For instance, a common issue is expected response time. You reach out to the teacher, and you don’t hear back right away. But how long is “right away,” exactly? People’s communication habits vary. So you send another message. Now it has potentially escalated into an issue—when it really didn’t have to.
Some teachers communicate their preferences and state an expected response time. But every teacher is different and many won’t state explicit preferences. I often recommend that schools protect teachers from this by having an expected response time as a part of their policy.
Everyone has a responsibility to one another in learning the new rules: Parents, teachers, and school administrators too! But let’s focus on what we as parents can do to set a positive tone and foster a good parent-teacher relationship.
- Start with empathy. Your child’s teacher has a difficult job—one that is often underestimated and under-appreciated. There’s new educational technology, new standards, new testing—all of which take time for your child’s teacher to learn and integrate.
- Let the teacher choose mode of communication if possible. Communication will be much more free-flowing it you make it as easy as possible for the teacher. Respect her communication preferences. If she prefers e-mail to phone, then e-mail it is! Of course, there are times when only face-to-face will do, but try not to pressure your child’s teacher about the way things “should” be done.
- Help if you can. Teachers are often under-resourced and overburdened. Are you super tech-savvy? Maybe you can support the class web page or blog. Your support is not only a nice gesture—it can help the whole class!
- Teach boundaries to your child. If your child is old enough to e-mail the teacher herself, then the child should also be aware and respectful of these boundaries and expectations. Just because you and your child can e-mail the teacher, doesn’t always mean it is a good idea. Before you (or your child) e-mails the teacher, check that the question can’t be resolved another way. If your child didn’t write down the homework assignment, is it available from a classmate or the learning management system? Your child should not make a habit of e-mailing the teacher instead of writing things down or knowing how to look things up. For more on how boundaries can help all of us in the digital world, check out my book: Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World.
- Have patience. The learning process can be difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes your child will breeze through a subject with great ease, and other times it will seem like a never-ending slog. Don’t blame the teacher…If possible, dig into the homework assignments with your child. Then, if you can see things are taking far longer than homework policies state, do communicate the specifics with the teacher so you can collaborate on a solution.
- Know the teacher’s tools. Is there a digital version of the textbook? Does the textbook—or the homework—require Internet access? If so, how much time? These are great questions to ask the teacher, so that you can mitigate distraction during homework time. If you know this, you can set up unplugged time for homework, or partially-plugged time (computer or tablet not connected to wifi).
- Adhere to school rules. Don’t make life difficult by sending your kid to school with devices when they are prohibited by the school. Despite good intentions, it will likely create a classroom issue. You may have a good reason, such as an urgent family matter or a particular health issue. If you need an exception, ask the school first.
- Too much access to communication is not always the best thing. Lots of schools now let you check your child’s grades on quizzes and tests as they are posted. Unless you are managing a particular struggle, this much access to information may cause more stress than it is worth! Same thing for texting your kiddo during the day to “check in.” If they aren’t supposed to be on their phones, don’t make it hard for them.
- Don’t assume the worst. Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, you can trust that teacher’s intentions are good. If they are not responsive by email they may be dealing with their own family crisis, a grading tsunami, etc. A completely unresponsive teacher does present a challenge that you may need to address with the school, but someone who doesn’t answer an email right away may be in the middle of reading your child’s essay, attending a professional development workshop, or eating dinner. Assume the best about your child’s teacher, not the worst. It goes a long way.
New technology and new methods can have an amazingly positive effect—if we handle them the right way. It’s all a great opportunity for us as parents to get more involved in our kids’ education. To be generous, to offer support to our teachers, and to do so with a light touch. It’s easier for the teacher to collaborate with you to solve problems when you approach communication thoughtfully, and with empathy.
Please share your most positive experiences and any challenges in the comments! How did you fix it? Do you have any best practices to share?
Devorah Heitner, PhD is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World and the founder of Raising Digital Natives a resource for schools and families wishing to cultivate a climate of digital citizenship.
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The new digital tools of the 21st century offer unprecedented opportunities to create. Our most innovative schools are transforming from sites where the “empty vessels” (our children) are filled with knowledge to spaces where kids co-create knowledge with the teacher serving as “Lead Learner.” Libraries are changing, too. They are becoming active learning and creation spaces—not just a place to check out books.
“Screen time” is not what it used to be. For most of us, the concept of “media” is deeply rooted in broadcast media. And why not? We grew up with TV and radio—that is to say, with professionally-created content distributed in a one-to-many format.
The Internet changed all that, and what we see today is a much broader definition of media. Today’s digital natives don’t think of media as one-to-many. They think of it as participatory, not passive. That’s not to say that they won’t be happy perched in front of a TV program—it’s just that their view of media is not limited to that conception.
The Creativity / Consumption Continuum
When we lump everything into “screen time,” we fail to make a crucial distinction between creativity and consumption.
In actuality, it’s not binary—really, it is more of a continuum. For example, watching a TV show is clearly about consumption, but what about when your kids are tweeting along to a live broadcast? Or texting in their vote on American Idol? That’s a different relationship with the screen, to be sure.
What about watching a YouTube video about how to play Minecraft vs. making a “how-to” video on YouTube about Minecraft strategies? Even though they are employing the same platform (YouTube), the activities are completely different (passive vs. active).
There are also shades of difference in what they are creating, too. For instance, your teen might have a Tumblr blog (also known as a Tumblelog) with mostly reposted content—a collage, if you will. Or she could be writing her own original content rather than just curating others’ works? These are all shades in a rainbow of engagement.
So, what can you do you to foster this kind of creativity?
Setting Different Parameters
If kids are using their screen time for creativity over consumption, that makes you think differently about imposing limits, doesn’t it? It’s not passive “zombie time,” it’s learning and stretching their imaginations. What I recommend is rather than hard and fast “screen time limits,” consider the context. If your kid is composing a song on Garageband, maybe you might make that exempt from your family’s time limit rules. That would be very different that binge-watching a Netflix series. Though even binge-watching can have its place (out sick from school, the polar vortex like we have in Chicago at the moment, etc.), you can see how you might set different time limits on these different activities.
Writing and Creating
One way to help make the transition from passive to active is to encourage them to create their own books, music, and videos. There are so many great tools out there that are easy to use, and it might even be an activity that you can do together with your child. For instance, your kid can create her own book using Book Creator. Or how about a video of your favorite family activity using simple video editing software such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie? Post it to YouTube, and it’s something your whole family could enjoy—even aunts, uncles, and grandparents!
Designing and Programming
Many tech folks idealize programming in Scratch or other programming languages as the ultimate in creativity with technology. As I have said elsewhere, programming is great! But only some kids will get excited about it—and you can’t force it. If your kid gets pumped up about designing houses, cars, fashion, or even a new kind of animal from within an app—those are all fantastic creative endeavors. But try not to value that over “simpler” creative projects. Using a drawing app to create original artwork is still creativity at work, and a offers a different level of engagement than simply scrolling though other people’s content?
Thinking Critically and Making Improvements
This is another great avenue for teaching important skills to your kids. How can you teach them to make assessments about existing content and/or products? Try to look at how kids are engaging with the world. You could have them create a parody of their least favorite TV show—why don’t they like it—and what they could do to make it better. Or maybe have them try to improve one of their video games. For kids not ready for actual video game design, they can prototype with pen and paper. This is a great way to get them thinking about how to make something better. Have them iterate different versions. You can introduce them to the idea of “user experience testing” if they seem ready to take that on. So many great possibilities.
Contributing to a Community
For many of us, social media is about consumption, but if used properly, it’s a great way to teach your kids about belonging to—and contributing to—a community. What are your child’s favorite hobbies? I’ll bet there’s a community out there for each of them. It could be crafting, knitting, cooking, playing guitar, soccer, video games—you name it. There’s a lot your child could learn about each of those activities. But even more importantly, it’s the opportunity to learn about the idea of making a contribution to that community. That is Digitial Citizenship for sure. You can model the idea of healthy participation, whether it’s in a digital or real-world community.
I hope this helps you think differently about your kids’ screentime. Anything strike a chord with you? Are there other things that you are already doing with your kids? I’d love to hear it—in the comments section below, on my Facebook page, or good old e-mail.
I am so glad to see Super Awesome Sylvia, getting some major press.
Everywhere I go, I recommend her show to parents and kids.
I met Sylvia and her Dad at DML 2012 and was so moved by their collaboration. It is so great to see a child and parent make media together this way. Imagine how much better kids media could be if more families made their own, awesome shows. Plus-just as doing science is a great way to understand science, making media enhances your understanding of how media works. I’d much prefer to see kids creating media then only consuming it–and kids who create media can be much more sophisticated consumers and critics of media.
I love the Super Awesome Sylvia because:
a) Kids making media for other kids
b) Girl doing science
c) kids doing “dangerous” stuff and LEARNING
d) something from a screen that prompts viewers to do things in real life.
e) She makes the show w/ her dad.