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A Connecticut school to its students: ‘We trust you’

Pure inspiration – both the message in the video and the wonderful student (and staff) faces and voices in all their diversity. To see what I mean, take a 2-minute break and go to this page at Mind/Shift, scroll down to the embedded YouTube video, and start at 1:55 into the video from New Canaan High School. Imagine what school would be like and what could happen – for learning, student activities, social life, work conditions for staff and faculty and school climate – if trust for students, not responsibility only, was foundational in schools everywhere. [Feel free to watch the whole 4-min. video, a school orientation aid for this year’s new students shot on the last day of school last spring.]

New Canaan High School has students bring their mobile devices to classes to use as “learning tools,” along with notebooks and maybe pens and pencils. “It’s not just a phone or MP3 player, it’s a mobile learning device,” says one of the students in the video. The school “allows students to use sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” but as learning tools, not just social ones. “That works because of a culture of trust and responsibility the school has developed,” Mind/Shift reports.

“Freshmen kick off their first year of high school with a rigorous, self-directed, collaborative [online and offline] research boot camp project. The project includes 101 steps to develop good research habits at the beginning of their high school career…. The library also has its own Google Voice phone number that students can text or call with questions at any time – “a message that learning does not stop after 3pm,” the head librarian, Michelle Luhtala, says. She adds that she’s “never ever had an inappropriate text.”

The headline of the article in KQED’s Mind/Shift blog is “Teach kids to be their own filters.” Not doing so is what Luhtala calls a “dereliction of duty.” That’s an important, invaluable position for a school to take in this digital age. It promotes safety as well as literacy for students. It also isn’t unique to New Canaan High School or even the US, but the connection between online well-being and literacy (digital, media and social) is not being made enough. In a 2010 study of 37 schools, Britain’s education watchdog Ofsted found that the best approach to students’ Internet safety was “managed” rather than “locked down” filtering, allowing students to take responsibility for their own use of the Net and teaching them the media literacy skills that support that responsibility. I hope that approach is working in the UK as well as it reportedly is at New Canaan High School. This is education that respects students as well as the technology and media they love to work with – a plus for, at the very least, school climate, student engagement and safety in digital as well as physical spaces.

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