Teaching them to walk away…

This article is a reaction to the death of a bullied teenager in Ireland over the weekend. May she rest in peace.

I was a  Fifth Year-head in Portmarnock Community School around 2005 when I was beginning to have bullying issues raised with me by parents and students, around the use of BEBO, the then social-networking site of choice .

That year also coincided with my return to college to study for a Masters Degree in eLearning.

I immediately say the possibilities for enhancing teaching and learning through small, but well thought out strategies within the classroom and beyond.

I was always aware of the reality that youth engages with digital for different purposes and I am very influenced in some of my thinking by danah boyd. I particularly value her work with Mizuko Ito in Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media (2009).

Around 2010 I went online in two sites that boyd blogged about – 4 Chan and  Chatroulette (both are linked here to Wikipedia entries).

Chatroulette was an eye-opener. You handed over your web-cam to the site and every 30 seconds you got a chance to do what you wanted to do, to strangers and vice versa.

I never wrote about my experiences on it. I was uncomfortable with what I saw and the mix of ages, that were showing off their interests from the benign playing of music, to lets put it politely, sexual activity.

Yet I was learning a lot about the varied nature of humanity.

I was at one with boyd when she wrote (full article here)

” And so I simultaneously am amused by ChatRoulette and depressed because I realize that so many folks would prefer to keep themselves and their teens/college-aged-kids sheltered rather than giving them a way of thinking about systems like this and teaching them to walk away when things get weird” (my highlight).

I continued with my work and reflection on things digital regarding teaching and learning and by and large did not have to engage with issues around cyber-bullying in school.

Something however has changed in the last number of months and I believe it is access to the internet via mobile devices. Young students have unwittingly entered the nirvana of a form of ubiquitous computing that sees a seamless use of their device in all aspects of their lives. From €20 a month they have a smartphone with, in some cases all the data they can eat.

They can have their Ask.fm feed, linked to their Facebook news-feed, linked to all their online friends. Then, it just takes one comment, one slight, one mean remark  for it to start to start to get out of hand.


  • Who has taught the student to walk away?
  • Who has empowered the student to control their news-feeds?
  • Who had advised the student to put away their device and get more sleep?
  • Who has advised the student to use their smart-phone for positive and creative things?
  • Who has advised the student about the continued  importance of face-to-face?

Have their parents helped them with this? Some have, but not many in my experience.

Have schools? Some have scratched the surface, but not enough.

In Portmarnock, like all schools I imagine, we place all issues of bullying, face-to-face and online in the context of respect.

We always offer to talk to students – whenever – this is tighter this year with the cut-backs in Guidance-counselors but all students will be listened to.

We also talk to the students about using things digital, creatively. I have written about how this must be as much a part of a school policy about things online, as must a policy on cyber-bullying.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have developed a Draft (August 2012) Template for an ICT and Social Media Policy for Schools in the Republic of Ireland.

This is built on work that others developed. You may read and comment on it here.

I also wrote a short blog post recently on ground rules for social media  that got a lot of attention. It is copied below:
I was asked to give a presentation on Social-media in Education for First-year parents / guardians in the school I teach in, early last week. These students are twelve / thirteen years of age.

I pulled together a few slides, suggesting how their children might use digital applications for learning and alerting parents to some of the current issues especially cyber-bullying on the ask.fm site.

One slide in particular “Ground rules”, gained attention and was recommended by some who noticed it on Twitter.

It is essentially a very short ethical policy for students in their use of Social-media. This is it below…

The full presentation can be viewed here.


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