Expanding a digital citizenship program from a classroom to an entire school district can be a challenging, time-consuming process. Beginning the journey with a few tips from those who have made the trip can mean the difference between failure or success.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is a library consultant who leads trainings on digital communication, media literacy and online safety. She is also founder of Digital Respons-Ability, an organization that provides student, teacher and parent education on topics such as as online privacy, self-regulation, tech trends and prevention science.
Rogers-Whitehead knows that expanding a school program can be a frustrating experience. To manage the frustration, she offers the following advice to all educators who dream of scaling up digital citizenship in their district.
1. Have patience
School systems work with long lead times. Because taxpayer money is the primary source of funding, there are many checks and balances in place. Districts make plans months and sometimes years ahead of time and those plan move through multiple layers of staffing. Change and implementation takes a long time.
Sometimes change is about being at the right place at the right time. District decision-makers may be interested in expanding a pilot program, but first must address a long list of competing priorities. They often have to tend to challenges such as building issues, new state laws and a host of other things. Be prepared for the long haul when planning to take digital citizenship districtwide, Rogers-Whitehead, says.
“I look at change as planting seeds. You have the conversations, you build the relationships and then you wait for them to grow,” she says.
2. Have conversations
Rogers-Whitehead says it is important to have conversations about digital citizenship with communities both inside and outside of schools so everyone shares the same clear concept of what digital citizenship is and what the district’s program will accomplish. These conversations and the relationships they build are key to creating a cohesive and comprehensive program, she says.
There are numerous organizations that share relevant information and resources about digital citizenship. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Taskforce, are useful organizations to have conversations with because they understand the importance of digital citizenship. ICAC helps state and local law enforcement agencies develop an effective response to technology-facilitated exploitation and internet crimes against children. It also provides awareness and prevention programs for students and teachers.
“Law enforcement, while not typically housed at a school, or part of those school conversations, is still part of that school community -- and they do get involved in digital citizenship issues,” says Rogers-Whitehead, whose organization provides schools with prevention training and related events through its partnership with ICAC. “We have different methods we employ, but we’re both trying to address the same problem.”
3. Have partners and advocates
Schools that already have a digital citizenship program, nonprofits or even parents can serve as valuable partners and advocates. Groups like these provide role models, resources and insight as a districtwide initiative works to get off the ground. While it is important to have both partners and advocates, there is a key distinction between them. Understanding the difference can affect how well a digital citizenship program will grow, Rogers-Whitehead says.
A partner organization or school might offer a training, host a parent night or encourage teachers to get involved by way of a digital citizenship week or online safety event. Advocates raise awareness of digital citizenship and work to make it a mission priority across the community. This might include school board meeting presentations, calling elected officials and sharing resources with other stakeholder groups, Rogers-Whitehead says.
“Advocates stick their neck out more. This may mean they donate, fund, speak up, share, organize, etc.,” she says. “If you really want digital citizenship to happen, you want partners who practice and promote digital citizenship, but you also want advocates who help bring in outside community members, raise awareness, funding and outside support for the cause.”