A restorative approach to digital citizenship

I’ve been on social media with my students for nearly 5 years. Overwhelmingly the interactions are positive.

I spend a lot of the time at the start of the year looking at quality interactions online, modelling, guiding and co-constructing quality commenting.

However, sometimes children will forget.

The intent might not even be malicious, but a poor choice of words can sometimes render a positive connection into a negative one.

For the risk-averse, the first bad comment is often all the reason needed to shut down online interactions.

Do we the same when a child makes an unwise decision in class?

Of course not!

We remind children of the boundary and help them to put things right.

Even with the best classroom culture and co-construction of norms, mistakes and muck-ups happen.

In the online world, these are the teachable moments of audience and purpose,  community norms and digital footprints suddenly come alive when a comment that breaks boundaries show up. Using a restorative approach renders these conversations into a learning conversation.

  • hearing what went wrong (making sure everyone is heard)
  • exploring who has been affected  (explore the harm)
  • putting things right (repair the harm)
  • moving forward (what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again)

In the case of the badly worded comment, without naming the children I printed out the comment and had the class do a ‘chalk talk’ looking at the comment through lens of the peer, the teacher, the head teacher and parents. The child then talked with the class, myself and the head teacher about the impact and actions they could take to fix the harm.

This was not an easy process for the child involved – tears were shed and criticism was taken to heart. Other members of the class felt guilty not realising their reactions were being taken to heart – a further conversation about the importance of how to react to comments which break community guidelines. It also underscored to the whole class  how easy it can be to forget there’s a person staring at their words after they hit publish.

This week the child independently asked me to check comments before hitting publish. I patted myself on the back for handling the teachable moment well, behaviour had changed.

Nevertheless, I still worried.

The children get enough online scare stories out in the media, from schools, and from their parents.  A small mistake shouldn’t make a child so risk adverse that they grow up fearing to publish and needing to turn to an adult for reassurance.

The beauty of this week’s ‘It’s Monday what are you reading’ padlet was for the children in my class to see this picture.

 

Image by @klbeasley
Image by @klbeasley

A smile as a result of their words and stories.

Their sharing.

The child who broke the boundaries glowed seeing the ‘other side’ of digital citizenship – their words making a stranger smile.

The internet has irrevocably changed childhood.

It is our choice how we use that change for learning.

Will our lessons be ones of fear and banning or one of optimism with a healthy side of respect?

One fundamental thing I’ve learned about digital citizenship this week it that it is imperative teachers are having the conversations with a child at 8 when the audience is limited and the stakes are low than having the same conversation at 18 when university admissions and futures are on the line.

Postscript, my class on viewing the padlet decided it was such a great idea that we’ve organised a school-wide version for book week next.

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