Trust in education

Trust in the school context, especially around the use of technology.

I trust you not to go on Facebook in my class

My son received a detention for being off-task during class.  He was using his laptop to visit Reddit.  His friend who received one around the same time was checking the basketball scores.  The rule at school is that you don’t use websites in class that are not related to the work you’re doing so I think it’s fair enough that they got  detentions.  They knew the rules and chose to break them.

It was what came next that bothered me.  In addition to the standard letter sent home to parents when a student is given a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning detention, an email  was sent to my son by the Head of Department expressing her disappointment and her belief that he was not “a man of integrity”.


Of course he’s not a man of integrity.  He’s 15 years old and subject to the same struggles to control his thoughts, actions and impulses that every 15 year-old faces.  As a “How Stuff Works” article explains, it is “the combination of that prefrontal cortex and a heightened need for reward that drives some of the most frustrating teenage behavior”.

An adult’s prefrontal cortex is more likely to curb impulses and our brains are more able to delay gratification.  If the likely negative consequences outweigh the positive benefits of our impulses, we can generally manage not to give in to them.  We can wait until a more appropriate time to check our favourite social media sites or the basketball scores but if we’re honest, many of us would admit that we find it tempting to stay on Farmville just a minute longer, to visit just one more internet store before we go to bed, to just check our personal email or Facebook before we get down to work.

How can we expect students whose brains are still developing to do more than we can manage to do ourselves?  And how can we condemn their characters when they fail to live up to expectations many of us can’t live up to?

Of course class time shouldn’t be a free-for-all to do anything you like just because you have the technological ability in front of you.  Every classroom needs routines and management procedures that help it to function efficiently and allow learning to occur.

But how about we use students’ non-serious misdemeanours (the checking the basketball scores-type misdemeanour as opposed to the inappropriate website-viewing-type misdemeanour) as an opportunity for learning – for us and them?  For example, we can help them to learn that multi-tasking is a myth and that it is possible to develop self-control.  We can learn that something about our class is not engaging them enough to stay on task.

And if we build students’ trust in us to support them and help them learn from their mistakes, we can perhaps build enough respect that they will want to try to honour our requests and obey our rules.

photo credit: <a href=””>The Poss</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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