creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Billy Rowlinson: http://flickr.com/photos/billyrowlinson/3515157369
 
I was talking with a coordinator yesterday and I heard a word that I hadn’t heard in quite a long time – proxies. A few years ago, around the same time as the introduction of 1:1 devices in the school, there was a spait of incidents involving students using proxies to access websites that would normally be blocked. The answer then was two fold: 
  1. It was explained to students the dangers of using such means in regards to viruses.
  2. Students caught lost their laptops for an extended period of time.
As time passed, it stopped being an such an issue. Less and less people were being caught out. However, what this recent situation highlights is that maybe it stopped being an issue for teachers, while for students the practise simply went underground. 
 
Whatever the exact state of play maybe, it left me searching for a better solution. For the case in question involved a student naively sharing with a new teacher how to access YouTube at school via proxies. What is interesting is that in some schools YouTube is open to students. However, there is a fair fear amongst staff that allowing students to access YouTube opens up a whole new can of worms. Like email, such applications and websites like YouTube add a level of responsibility that not all teachers are willing to accept. The irony though is that we end up dealing with such incidents online whether we chose to ‘accept’ them or not. 
 
For example, if a student was caught by another student watching an inappropriate clip at school and reported to a teacher, surely the answer given I’d not ‘that clip is not supposed to be accessed at school.’ Instead I would imagine that there would be discussions about why it maybe inappropriate to watch the video at school, whether this be because it may make others feel unsafe and is too often unrelated to what tasks are meant to be completed.
 
This is no different to when students bring issues associated with inappropriate online activity into the classroom. For although such incidents do not directly occur in the classroom, the fact that they inadvertently impact learning in the classroom means that we do need to deal with them. 
 
The question then that comes to mind is whether blocking access is the best solution? In an interesting interview that I seem to come back to again and again, +Alec Couros spoke about the importance of bringing social media into the classroom. He suggested that we need to be modelling with students everyday appropriate actions online. Yet, as I have discussed before in regards to taboos, for too many schools it is easier to ignore such issues as if doing so both absolves them of responsibility and means that they don’t exist.
 
I am not sure of the perfect answer, but I would like to say that simply blocking every program is not it. I would love to know your thoughts. Are websites like YouTube, Twitter and Slideshare blocked in your school? If not, what are the consequences, both good and bad, of allowing students open access? Please share below.

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Tonight was parent/teacher/student interviews. In between one interview and while awaiting the next, a parent of a past student came over and just had to thank me. I had taught her daughter five years ago in Year 8 and she was now in Year 12. The mother said that her daughter had asked her to thank me for challenging her all those years ago and that she was glad about it now.

 
It is not very often that you receive thanks in the teaching caper. Even more so when you work in administration. I believe that this is one of the most challenging aspects of education. Teachers are so often told when they have failed or should do something different. Very rarely do teachers get told what they have done right and if so, such celebrations often deny the complexities associated with such achievements. For example, the teachers of the dux of Year 12 may take some of the credit, but this denies so many other factors and influences, such as support from home and the effort of former teachers in laying the foundation for learning.
 
What makes student’s thanks even stranger is that at the time I was chastised about what I was doing. The class had quite a few successful students who were not really taking to the idea of writing an essay with a prescribed structure. So instead I pushed the students to explore the structure that already existed within quality examples of writing. This was contrary to what the other classes were doing, but having tried everything else, I felt that it was what the students needed.
 
The reality is that this is the truth of celebrations and success. Although there are times in life when we do get to gape in the glory, but more often than not, stories of success go untold. This is not to say that they do not exist, but that life just doesn’t always allow for them to be heard. Sometimes this is because they only come to fruition years later or we become too busy to tell someone.
 
Has someone thanked you lately for something that you that others were critical of? Also, when was the last time you thanked someone for what they had done? 

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For a while, denial worked for me. I treated it like some sort of solution. However, I’ve learnt the hard way that denial is a coping strategy, a way of masking a problem, a way of pretending everything is ok. The issue though is that at the end of the day everything isn’t ok and the problem still remains.
I was reminded of this recently with the death of my mum of kidney cancer at the ripe old age of 54. I remember when in the middle of last year that she first told me she had cancer and that it had already moved into her liver, I just thought that she would be ok. No matter that it would be incredibly difficult to operate, I just thought that she would somehow get through it. She overcame other challenges in life, why would this be any different? She didn’t and it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I truly realised the extent of it all. No matter that she hadn’t eaten properly for six months, that she had lost much of her weight. Like her, I was an eternal optimist. Not my mum, not my family, but as my wife so rightly put it, ‘cancer does not discriminate’. There are no rules about who gets it. Sometimes that is just life. The reality is, being in denial never helped me, especially at the end.
While reflecting on the matter, it occurred to me that denial pervades everywhere, especially in schools. Whether it be the denial that every student learns differently, that government tests and formal exams do not measure everything, that for some students there are greater concerns in their life than submitting a piece of homework or completing an assignment – there are so many examples of situations in school where it just becomes easier and more convenient to deny some things.
A really good example of this is the place of technology and digital literacies in school. In a recent post, ‘Choosing Not to Know‘, +George Couros spoke about the culture of fear that hangs over some school leaders in regards to implementing technology and social media. As he stated:
I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.
One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it. The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.
 
What stands out to me with Couros’ discussion is that it is not only a question of fear that leads to the locking down of social media, but also an act of denial. The world is changing, yet there are some in education who believe that social media is not significant enough to incorporate into the classroom. I understand that there are issues associated with opening up the classroom and providing more access access to social media, as Dick Faber pointed out to me on Twitter:
 
@mrkrndvs @EduTweetOz @gcouros we had it open,only to teachers @ students with tafe access, world of pain;from hacked tafe/tchr accounts
— dickfaber (@dickfaber) March 10, 2014
 
However, I would argue that this risk is not simply alleviated by locking schools down. This simply shuns some of the problems, but in doing so fails to resolve the bigger challenge, that of prevention.
I remember teaching at my first school ten years ago. We had a student who had a will to destruct, so he created a virus and progressively installed it on a dozen desktop computers via a floppy disk. Locking the systems down did nothing to stop this situation. Sadly, when there is a will, there is a way. Opening up the school to social media simply changes the possibility of those ways.
Instead of denying that social media exists, we should be asking the question, which application allows students to explore and understand more about social media, so that when students leave the classroom and the school they are more aware of the world around them and their place within it.
In the end what underlies so many instances of denial is the inability to recognise the change that exists everyday, around us. So often we lock our lives down to an idyllic representation of how things are. However, this notion of the world not only denies so many facets to make it possible, but also those aspects that change and evolve each and everyday. Associated with change is the inability to allow others to learn and fail. It can be so easy to hold onto an ideal, a perception of who someone is. As I have stated elsewhere, this failure to recognize change often denies who someone could be. Whether it be through errors in our ways or personal development, we are all constantly evolving.
I understand that sometimes it isn’t possible to fathom everything, that you can’t support the whole world, that a little bit of denial never hurt no one. However, on the flip side, it never really helped anyone either. Maybe the first and most important step is simply recognizing those complexities that we so easily deny. Although we may not be able to resolve all such problems, sometimes it is enough to recognize that complexities and chaos does exist in the world. In some respect, that is the biggest part of the battle won.
I would love to know your thoughts.

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