Talking to your child’s school about technology

A friend recently asked me about Google passwords. Another student in her daughter’s 4th grade class, she explained, had figured out her daughter’s password and had been posting junk on some of her documents.

My friend spoke to staff at the school, the password was changed, and the problem seems to have stopped. But there were some lingering questions about the password policy–and the ease with which kids can figure out each other’s passwords.

As a teacher who has had hundreds of conversations with parents over the past two decades, I’m always a little surprised by a couple of things.

First, how many parents are still quite intimidated by their child’s school or teacher. And second, how much trust many parents put in us.

They assume we have the answers and always know why we do what we do. They trust us implicitly with their kids well-being, both physically and mentally.

As a parent, you obviously want what is best for your children, and to get that, you must work together with the school staff to ensure the best environment for your kids while they are at school.

The school gave my child a device. Now what?

The introduction of personal technology devices into the schools has made it even more challenging for parents, while many of us are still trying to figure out how to manage the devices and internet access at home. With most schools moving towards a 1:1 (a device for every student), parents now find themselves with a house full of devices…at least one of them provided by the school.

The school may have provided some training for parents in the form of a beginning-of-the-year, informational meeting, but the truth is most schools are struggling with just getting the teachers well-trained on how and when to use the technology to better instruction. Parents often get relegated to an FAQ page on the website.

If you feel like you’ve been left out of the technology discussion, you need to step up and ask the school the right questions about technology.

But you need to do it the right way, too.


Who to ask

Not everyone in the school or district is fully versed on every aspect of tech. Sometimes, the principal has no clue even how the passwords are setup or created; sometimes, he or she is the one who manages them all.

The best thing to do is start with someone you know. Most likely, that’s your child’s teacher. Ask them who you should contact that could answer your questions. Otherwise, ask the school secretaries: they know everything!

And be specific when you start searching. Especially in larger districts, responsibilities get divided up among the overworked staff. Some may manage passwords, others may handle all the breakage issues on the devices, and still others handle all the training and teaching of students and staff. For example, in some schools, all the cyberbullying issues are handled by the guidance office.

So, don’t ask “who should I talk to about technology?” or you’ll likely get referred to the first person they can think of that has “technology” in their title.


Be objective

One of the biggest challenges of parenting, especially when dealing with an issue that affects your kids, is to keep your Mama Bear/Papa Bear in the cage. It is so easy to let emotions do the talking. Instead, stay focused on the problem or issue itself.

To maintain objectivity in conversations (email or face-to-face) with school staff, try this:

  • Explain the problem or issue, clearly and concisely. Don’t develop an epic saga, full of all the drama. Go a little Joe Friday: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
  • Objectively explain how it has affected your child. (“He really felt like the kids were bullying him, and he was upset all weekend.” Instead of “They were bullying him and do they have any idea how mean and cruel they are acting.”)
  • Make a specific request. What would you like the outcome of this conversation to be? Do you want some clarification on a policy? Are you looking for some helpful resources? Would you like a password changed?


Positive manner

That little gem “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” holds true here, too. As much as you may want to let all those bottled-up frustrations out or bite someone’s head off, don’t. It won’t get any positive change done, and you will become one of “those parents.”

Approach the conversation in a spirit of collaboration. You are asking something of the school, but you are also willing to do your part at home. Acknowledge that your child has a responsibility in this problem or issue, too (even if it’s “she knows now that she should’ve come to you sooner about this.”)

Assume that teachers, administration, and staff really do want the best for your child. Assume that the problem may just be an oversight caused by a stretched-too-thin technology staff. Assume that they are willing to work with you to make a better situation for your son or daughter.


Follow up

Just like you, school personnel are busy people. If it’s not an emergency (a cyberbullying issue, an online threat, etc.) it may get pushed back by the hundreds of other fires that have to be put out.

After a reasonable amount of time (a few days to a few weeks, depending), follow up with the person you spoke with. Acknowledge that they are very busy with other important things and ask, “Is there someone else you would prefer I talk to about this?”

Offer to help, if you can. Can you come in and assemble materials for a student packet about safe technology use, or research some websites or people that would be good resources in the future, or some other mundane task that someone would love to have taken off their plate. Just be sure that your request isn’t also creating more work for someone else, too.

The village is now digital

Parents and teachers, in general, have always had the best interests of their “kids” at the heart of everything they do. But technology is a new equation that we’ve all had to figure out as we go. Just as we communicate and collaborate about the physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being of our children, we must now do the same for their digital well-being as well.

What has worked for you in approaching your child’s school on technology issues? Add to the discussion in the comments.

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