How Teachers Can Help Create Cyber-Shields for Their Students

digital family

Did you catch this article about a theatre teacher explaining how she acts as a cyber-shield for students? It was written by Sue Scheff, author and parent advocate, and originally published on The Huffington Post. 

Today's youth are inseparable from their smartphones, computers and social networks. When our kids, especially teens, spread their wings into the world of social media, it's important for them to understand how to be upstanding digital citizens.

Recently, I explained how parents can prepare and educate children on the risks of what lurks online by acting as a cyber-shield. However, parents aren't the only role models in a child's life. Teachers must be active participants in teens' digital lives. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, students were less likely to bully others or send sexts if their teachers held discussions regarding responsible online and cell phone conduct.

With summer coming to a close, kids will be spending significantly more time in school. It's thus imperative that teachers integrate technology into daily classroom activities -- thankfully, many teachers have already caught on. I wanted to interview one of these digital-savvy educators, or "cyber-shields," about promoting cyberbullying awareness and cell phone safety among students. Caroline Younts teaches theatre at the Denver Center for International Studies, a 6th-12th grade public magnet school in Denver, Colorado, and shares her experiences on her blog:

Q. As a theatre teacher, what activities do you integrate in your lesson plan to educate students on the dangers of bullying and the means of prevention?

My passion with students is to spark "Theatre for Social Change." In my classroom, that means acting out real-life scenes. For example, students rehearse situations where one is in control of the other's movements and body placement, and then they switch roles. Afterwards, we reflect on emotions that emerge when power and oppression are expressed through the body, and how that connects to our feelings.

Another exercise with my students is brainstorming scenes where they feel powerful or powerless. This could be a scene where a student is a bully, a victim or a bystander. After the skit is dramatized, the students reenact the scene using suggestions from the audience of how they could alter the outcome in a positive way. Finally, we discuss how different choices we make in our own lives can solve bullying issues in and out of the classroom. My hope is that this empowerment also transfers online.

Q. How do you interact with your students on the Internet and social media? What are your goals?

This is my first year really embracing the power of technology, specifically social media, in my teaching practices. I previously worked at schools where not all students had access to computers at home, so there wasn't an expectation to rely on technology for communication outside of school. Now, my current school supports making technology accessible for all students.

I created a website for students and parents to access announcements, syllabi, assignments, upcoming theatre opportunities and learning resources. I also started a Facebook page to post class information, field trips and anything happening with the Theatre Department. My objective is to make students more aware of the theatre community in Denver, as well as within our school. I want them to ask questions and share ideas on the Facebook page so they become familiar with using social media for academic purposes, which will help prepare them to use technology in college.

Additionally, I use my blog to share tips on teaching theatre with other professionals in my field. I update frequently with lesson plans and ideas and news articles. It's still a learning process for me, but I'm excited about the potential.

Q. How do you connect anti-bullying lessons during the school day to your blog and the other platforms you use to communicate with your students outside of school hours?

Having started my blog, I added lesson plans around "Theatre for Social Change," which include activities that empower students to take a stand against bullying. I also post current events and other theatre programs that promote anti-bullying strategies.

Also, in the past, Denver Public School District has had partnerships with local organizations like Kaiser-Permanente and Colorado Shakespeare to bring in artists to schools to present anti-bullying campaigns.

Q. What can teachers do to encourage students to resist bullying on the Internet and on their cell phone, including sexting cases, both on and off school grounds?

New Call-to-Action It's important for teachers to be a resource and support system for our students in cases of bullying and stress prevention. We should be role models of using technology in a professional way for our students, such as managing email and calendars, proper use of search engines and creative endeavors (blogging, videos, and photography). These efforts exhibit the positive pathways that technology offers today; shying away from it for fear that their interactions will fuel negativity isn't constructive. We can also illustrate the dangers of using technology poorly and how careless conduct on smartphones and the internet can be a huge detriment in future pursuits of applying for colleges and jobs. Praising a healthy use of technology encourages teens not to "hide behind the keyboard" and use it in a demonstrative way.

Special thanks to Ms. Younts for taking the time to share her insights and tips with us.

Educators are key cogs in our children's development. I'm grateful for those that take into consideration that 9 out of 10 teens today have cell phones and make smartphone safety a priority. Teachers like Caroline are proactive in providing safe places for their students to turn to -- a cyber-shield on top of the one parents must carry to protect their children. For today's generation, learning about safe technology use is just as important as learning yourABC's.

Takeaway tips:

• Learn more about School Climate. It can help reduce bullying in your school.
• Teachers can encourage students to start anti-bullying programs in their communities.
#TakeNoBullies campaign can help schools with stickers and supplies to jumpstart or enhance their anti-bullying program.

The kids are back in school, are you prepared to talk about cyberbullying? Use our infographic, Back to School Cyberbullying, to get informed.

We are pleased to announce that Bark will be taking over where we leave off. The uKnowKids mission to protect digital kids will live on with Bark. Our team will be working closely with Bark’s team in the future, so that we can continue making the digital world a safer, better place for kids and their families. While we are disappointed we could not complete this mission independently, we are also pleased to hand the uKnowKids baton to Bark.
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