When You Realize Punishment Without Learning Is Worthless: Shifting Your Digital Mindset

As instructional coaches for schools in secure juvenile justice facilities, we come across a lot of policies in need of a redesign. Last year, when training a group of teachers and their principal in all things digital citizenship, we casually asked, “what happens to students when they break the rules with technology?” Teachers shifted in their seats on Zoom, visibly a little uncomfortable for a few seconds. The principal then spoke and explained that students’ devices are immediately removed, and students are barred from accessing any technology for the rest of the time they are at the facility–access may even be denied if they return to the detention center in the future.

We were shocked. Didn’t this principal and her staff realize they were working with students who have already proven to have a proclivity for making mistakes?

We specialize in working with alternative schools in the most secure spaces in the U.S. Keeping students safe is our first priority, but we also want them to have access to high-quality education which includes technology. Our job is to ensure students have access to technology and stay safe at the same time. We are sure you can relate.

We focus on four key elements to ensure students can use technology in the classroom and stay in a safe environment. The first element is digital citizenship. Many of our students have not been exposed to a digital citizenship curriculum, let alone shown these through modeling. Instead of thinking about overhauling a whole curriculum map to include digital citizenship, we encourage teachers to instead include smaller lessons as a bell ringer or exit ticket one day a week, or as a launch activity to a lesson where digital citizenship tenets can be applied. Implementing a stand alone lesson on digital citizenship often makes students’ eyes glaze over, but incorporating the ideas, tenets, and positive behaviors into already-created lessons makes the content more engaging for students and practical in real-life environments. In addition, teachers modeling positive use of technology for students promotes a healthy digital balance.

Implementing a stand alone lesson on digital citizenship often makes students’ eyes glaze over, but incorporating the ideas, tenets, and positive behaviors into already-created lessons makes the content more engaging for students and practical in real-life environments.

The second key element is purposefully creating and using Responsible Use Policies (RUP). We strive to help teachers create an environment in their classrooms where students feel safe and are all held to the same standards. Do you know that multiple-page document everyone signs at the beginning of the year, usually called an “Acceptable Use Policy,” that’s written with fancy words only lawyers understand– such as “phishing,” “circumvent,” or “merchantability?” Have you tried to explain “merchantability” to a kindergartener? It’s tricky. Even more, the lackadaisical attitude of the “just sign it” mentality creates a system of faulty trust in students, making them more comfortable signing up for content in the future without fully reading the terms and conditions. A Responsible Use Policy, on the other hand, is a version of that document but in kid-friendly language and designed specifically for use in a classroom. Everyone has a say in the creation of a RUP including admins, teachers, and students. Once created, everyone is then held accountable to the same set of standards. RUPs are unique to the specific needs of each space. Click here and here to see a couple of example RUPs.

Our third key element is Classroom Management. How teachers manage technology integration and access is essential for establishing successful student outcomes. We want to set the classroom up for effective technology use, but also prepare teachers to handle technology glitches and disruptions as they happen in the moment. Our most successful strategy to combat technology glitches and disruptions is to create a space where students are recognized for their positive digital behavior. Teachers shift from acting as digital detectives, searching for offenders, to digital cheerleaders, highlighting and rewarding great technology use. Digital cheerleaders recognize the positive digital behavior of students. One example of being a digital cheerleader is to have a digital citizenship student of the week. Another example is to offer incentives like a headphone pass during independent work time to students who are exhibiting positive digital behavior. Lastly, classrooms can have a Best of Wall where teachers post examples of positive digital behaviors witnessed in action.

We want to set the classroom up for effective technology use, but also prepare teachers to handle technology glitches and disruptions as they happen in the moment.
students working on computers in a classroom

Last, we know that things will go wrong–a student will use a proxy, go to an unauthorized website, or print 112 colored copies. So, teachers need to accept that making mistakes is a part of the learning process. If we remove technology as a whole, and take students out of practice for too long, they will never learn. As such, our fourth key element is empowering students to learn from their mistakes in order to earn back their digital privileges. For example, we may ask a student to complete a lesson which correlates with their mistake and share their work product with students and teachers to discuss how they have repaired their behavior.

Remember the principal from earlier who took away the technology forever? We were able to help her staff replace their response to student behaviors with restorative practices. Thus giving students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and make better choices in the future. We know our students will leave these secure spaces and arrive in classrooms all over the U.S. It is our responsibility to make sure they have the tools to learn in today’s classrooms once they return to the community. What is your responsibility to the students in your own classroom?

To learn more watch our on-demand session, Punishment Without Learning is Useless.

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