DocSig 2.0- Principal's Principles

“Boy,” I’m Gonna Miss You

Sitting on my back deck tonight, I’ve finally made myself sit down and write a post I’ve been putting off for a long time. 18 years ago tonight, my wife and I went to bed like we had many times, but it would be the last time it was just the two of us.  As my wife showered prior to a doctor appointment the next morning, her water broke. By 3:30 that afternoon, my life was forever changed, as Alex Christopher came into our lives.

My "Boy"

My “Boy”

I’d planned to write this post before his graduation in May.  I couldn’t ever make myself do it. A part of me wants to put it off until he leaves for college in about 5 weeks. I know in my heart I’m just putting off the inevitable. I know there are thoughts I want to put down because a part of me worries that I haven’t told him all I want to tell him before I send him out as an adult. At the same time, I know he is so ready for the next phase of life. That being said, this post is for you, Alex. In it, I want to share some of my favorite memories and then a few pieces of advice. I hope you take them all with a grain of salt, knowing that many of these may make more sense a few years from now than they do today.

It’s hard for me to list just a few memories, there are so many good ones.  I’ll try to share a few that stand out to me, and I hope they are good ones for you, too.

Snorkeling, Cozumel, Mexico 2010

Snorkeling, Cozumel, Mexico 2010

1) Learning to ride your bike in the church parking lot. You were not what one would call a “daredevil”, but you kept at it and became more confident with practice.  Your sister was not so cautious, and I can remember rides with you calling out to her to slow down and not go so fast. I like how you still look out for her to this day.

2) For this one I’ll combine a few, as the theme of the memories are similar.  They are the first times I saw a competitive “fight” in you during athletic competitions. I’ll always remember a baseball game in King City in which you pitched in a close game and got a big strikeout, and you pumping your fist as you came off.  I can see it like it was yesterday. I also remember a summer swim meet in Kansas City when you were probably 11 or 12 and you won the 100 IM and almost puked afterwards. Or the time you tied for the last finals spot at KC Center and had to do a swim off, only to be beaten by .01. I saw you push through tough times in all of those situations, and I believe you got important life lessons out of sports in those instances. I loved watching you compete.

3) In 8th grade, you decided to do the play instead of track. I can’t remember the name of your character, but I got to see a whole different side of you as you played that part. It was cool to see the young man you were becoming and I just remember being really proud of you.

4) I could list so many swim memories- probably because we spent so many hours with you at meets. A few stand out in my mind. Your day at Mizzou your senior year was such an awesome day. It was a testament to your years of hard work and it was amazing to watch you compete at such a high level. I’m so glad Mom took that picture of me talking to you over the rail at the end of the meet.It’s one of my favorite pictures ever of us, and I’ll always cherish it.

After the MU meet

After the MU meet

Seeing you break the school record at Henley and the look on your face. Priceless.

After breaking the school record in the backstroke

After breaking the school record in the backstroke

And last but certainly not least, watching you at State your senior year. Watching you process the finality of it all, while I was trying to do the same. Swim has given us so many good memories, and you take with you that ability to focus and work hard towards a goal. I’m thankful you found that outlet for your talents.

Alex's tweet after State

Alex’s tweet after State









5) The variety show your senior year. If you had told me your freshman year that by your senior year you would be singing a solo and playing the piano, I would have been skeptical. You have grown in both talent and confidence as a singer, and I’m so glad you have had that creative “place” to share those. I love that your stress reliever is to play the piano in your room. That’s how your Grandpa Sigrist used to “wind down”, as well. It’s cool for me to see that pass on to the next generation.

Graduation Day

Graduation Day- Joel Goller photographer

6) Graduation. I’ve never been prouder to be your Dad. Being able to give you diploma to you was one of the moments in my life I will always cherish the most.  Thank your for being such a fine example of a scholar-athlete and representing yourself, your school, and your family in such an outstanding way. Thank you for letting me be part of that special day.








While those are great memories, I feel that on the day you can legally buy cigarettes (I suggest NEVER) and lottery tickets (I suggest great moderation) and can vote (pick the best candidate, not the party), I should give you a few pieces of advice that I hope you take with you to college and on into life.

8) Be nice to people. This seems simple, but so many people seem to struggle with this in life. John Wooden said something along the lines of you can never have a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you. Be nice, it’s a disappearing skill.  It really does come back to you.

7) Read. Read as an escape. Read to improve yourself. There are so many great authors (Wooden would be on that list) that can help give you perspective on life. I know it will be tough in college, but incorporate it into your life beyond school.

6) Call your Mom. Or text her. Not a lot, but once in awhile. While we know you don’t need us, we still WANT to be needed. This advice is the same whether you are 18 or 28 or 50.

Kimberly and Alex

Kimberly and Alex

5) Always love your sister. I’m so happy that you two have such a close relationship. Work to keep it that way. Some day Mom and I will be gone and it will be up to you two to tell the stories of how we did something goofy or just recall a good memory.  You will need each other some day. It may be just to talk to someone that isn’t your parent or colleague, or it may be to decide what to do with Mom or Dad’s living arrangements. You will need each other.  Love her. Always.

Alex and Ali Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 2014

Alex and Ali Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 2014

4) Find a girl who loves you as much as your Mom and I love each other. I know you’ve heard my mantra about the two most important choices in life: what you do for a paycheck and who you spend your life with. I’m not worried about that first one for you, you are going to have lots of options. Number two may be even more important. I hope we’ve been a good example for you of a loving family. That being said, there is NO hurry to find that girl. God will help you with that.  That leads me to number 3.

Puerto Vallarta Mexico 2014

Puerto Vallarta Mexico 2014

3) Go to church. Regularly. Don’t just be a “C and E (Christmas and Easter)”, but be there way more often than not. This may be even more important during college, when it may not be so easy to do, especially if your roommates are all sleeping in on Sunday. It’s vital to nourish your spiritual life as well as your physical life. Speaking of your physical life, let’s look at number 2.

Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

2) Take care of your body. Do not let yourself get out of shape. It’s not feasible to stay in the condition you have been in for the last several years while swimming, but it’s important to keep those good habits of regular exercise so you don’t gain the infamous “Freshman 15″ or whatever it is these days. This may sound trite, but those habits you form now will be lifelong. Take a look at the health of your ancestors. Do what you can so you can be healthier than all of us.

1) Go to class. These last 3 are especially geared towards your time in college. If you forget all the others, please remember these. I purposely tried to keep them simple. I really do believe if you follow those 3, all other things in college will fall in line.

Enough with the advice. You are ready for anything, and I’m confident you are going on to do great things. I can’t begin to describe how much I’m going to miss you. Recently, we all watched a movie one night (one of my favorite things to do with you), and I tweeted about how I knew there weren’t many days left like that. A friend who has gone through this stage told me that those days still happen and they are even cooler because the relationship evolves to something different. That being said, I will miss my “boy”, but look forward to watching the man you are going to be. Even if you aren’t my “boy”, I’ll always be your Dad and just a phone call or text away. I love you.

Prom 2014

Prom 2014

Me and the kids in the summer of 06

Me and the kids in the summer of 06

Print Friendly

Light ‘em up!!

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend my first national conference.  I attended “Ignite 14″, the conference for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).  Being a music geek, the theme “Ignite 14″ made me think of the song “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” by Fall Out Boy that has become so popular at sporting events (see “Mups have been lit”).

First off, let me say that I was blown away by the production value of the entire conference.  It’s amazing how they can bring so many “things” together and have it run so smoothly.  From the opening thought leader session with Carol Dweck and Daniel Wong to the closing session with Simon T. Bailey, it was a demonstration of fluidity of motion.  While the logistics of the conference were amazing, that wasn’t what made this such a powerful event for me.

When I landed in Dallas, the weather did not want to cooperate. While my trip to the hotel was an interesting story by itself, it wasn’t enough to prevent great things over the next few days. There were so many amazing sessions, my head was literally full by the end of the three days. It was an awesome opportunity to learn from some of the smartest leaders in our country, many who I have “known” from afar through Twitter, and others that I had never heard of before.

Have learned so much from Todd Whittaker

Have learned so much from Todd Whittaker

The best part of the entire event was the ability to connect face to face with educators I have admired and respected for years.  At dinner on Thursday night, it was a veritable who’s who of rock stars on Twitter. Among the people in the room were authors (Todd Whittaker, Annette Breaux), National Digital Principals of the Year (Eric Sheninger, Daisy Dyer Duerr, Dwight Carter, Derek McCoy, Jason Markey) and National Principals and Assistant Principals of the Year (Laurie Barron, Jared Wastler). At one point at dinner, I looked around the table and had to grin at the compilation of great lead learners all in one place. It was a bit humbling to be at the table. Just sitting and listening was a PD that you could not put a price on.  Thanks to Jimmy Casas for getting that set up (even though Jimmy was unable to attend because the weather delayed his flight from Iowa).

Dinner with some of the great people who put our kids first!

Dinner with some of the great people who put our kids first!

As the conference continued, I was able to connect with more and more educators from Twitter.  Brad Currie, the “Godfather of #Satchat” was at dinner that first night and I was also able to eat with him the next night. Brad’s cousin is a speed skater on the Olympic team and we had a cool moment at dinner as we saw him enter the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies.  Brad and I were “adopted” by the Iowa gang and I enjoyed spending time with friends from Iowa including Matt Denger, Aaron Becker, and Lucas Ptacek. The day started with a session from the Bettendorf, Iowa group, a group of leaders I was fortunate to get to know this past fall and have tremendous respect for. If your child goes to the Bettendorf schools, your kids are in great hands with Kim Hoffman, Kristy Cleppe, Joy Kelly, Colin Wikan, and Jimmy Casas. I can’t put into the words the admiration and respect I have for this group of people. Thank you for allowing me to learn from you. Not only are these people smart, they are fun to be around. And as Annette Breaux said during the conference, “If there isn’t a big kid inside of you, there isn’t a great teacher coming out of you.”

Iowa adopts New Jersey and Missouri

Iowa adopts New Jersey and Missouri


Final night dinner with the gang

Final night dinner with the gang






The final speaker, Simon T. Bailey, really spoke to me, even though by late Saturday I was mentally full and really ready to be home with my family.  He talked of the difference between average and brilliant leaders.  Average is no longer acceptable. He also talked about taking care of the “people who will cry at your funeral.” That hit home to me. I know that I have worked very hard to be a “connected educator”, but it also makes me stop and take a moment and realize that disconnecting now and then may be the most important thing I can do. I hope there are  many at my funeral, but I am sure of three that will be crying (or at least I hope). I am working to make the three of them know they are the most important people in the world to me. That is probably the most important thing I got from this conference.

The three most important people

The three most important people

There were many others I was happy to connect with for the first time, Paul Vieira, Chris Stogdill, Leslie Esenault, Darrin Jolly, Carrie Jackson among them.  I was also glad to see and spend some time with my Missouri friends, Jason Eggers, Jim King, Phil Lewis, Matt Lindsey, Dave Steward, and John Faulkenberry. I’m sure there are others I have left out; it seems like a blur. I do know that I head back to my own students with Fall Out Boy singing in my head, because this event did “ignite” me, in fact, “I’m on fire!!!!”. Thanks to the many people who made it a great adventure.




Print Friendly

DocSig’s Indian Info 9/26/13

Information about iPad roll out for Freshmen.


DocSig Podcast 9_26_13

Print Friendly

DocSig’s Indian Info 9-10-13

DocSig Podcast 9-10-13


A little information about the week ahead- tweet me @DocSig if you have suggestions!

Print Friendly

Where Have I Been? Where Has Time Gone?

It’s taken me a long time to start this post.  I’ve not blogged in a VERY long time.  There are a lot of reasons, but they are really excuses.  And just like I was told as a kid, excuses are like rear ends- every body has one and they all stink. Truthfully, I feel like I’m coming out of a funk a bit and that may be what is bringing me back to writing. I probably should have been doing it all along, but even the therapeutic benefits of writing weren’t enough to get me here.  Nevertheless, I am here, writing again.

To help you understand why I’ve been gone so long, I have to share some personal bits from last year.  Last year may have been the most difficult year in my professional career.  That’s not really true.  The word “may” leaves open the possibility there may have been a harder one.  Last year was without a doubt the hardest year.  It was a year of turmoil and of change, two things that I don’t generally seek out.  Our superintendent resigned, as did our assistant superintendent, and our director of assessment took a job in another district. Our district eliminated our technology specialists positions causing a long-time friend to leave the district, a friend who had actually lured me to this district 15 years ago. My building principal, someone I had been an administrator with for 10 years, took a position in another district.  Succinctly put, many of us felt unsure of where things were headed and had no idea who would be leading.

Once my building principal took another job, I was then again disappointed when the district chose another person to lead our building. It was a difficult time, and I’m sure as hard as things were for me, they were harder for my wife and kids at the time. I am confident that we have moved beyond that, and I am enjoying a great relationship with my new principal. Our new superintendent has implemented a few new ideas that match my philosophical beliefs, so he has been an easy person to follow and respect. Honestly, I have a new-found sense of renewal this year, and I’m sure my attitude and performance are improved from last year.  It was a tough time- but it’s in the rear view mirror.  I’ve often told my son as he practiced swimming, that the discomfort he felt when he was pushing really hard, that was when  he was experiencing true growth. I’m not sure I ever want to experience so much “growth” at once again.  I hope that I was able to provide a life-lesson for him on how to deal with disappointment and turmoil. Maybe we are all better for it.

Speaking of my son, that may touch on another reason why I’ve been hesitant to write again.  My son is now 3 weeks into his senior year. I know that this year will be filled with many “last times” as the weeks rapidly click by. I know that in roughly two months,  his high school swimming career will be over. I’ve tried not to think about how my time with him is running out. I know he is ready to move to the next step in life, and I am confident his mother and I have done all we can to prepare him- and I think we’ve done well.  That doesn’t make this next step in life any easier. As an administrator, I’ve often worried or felt guilt that I’ve taken time from my own kids to spend with other people’s kids. Jimmy Casas and I recently had a brief conversation about that. I pray that my kids have never felt like Dad wasn’t present for them. I just know that I need to appreciate every moment of this year with my son.  I hope that he has an amazing senior year and that someday when he has his own kids, he will be able to comprehend the love I have for him. With that being said, I close this long-avoided blog with this quote about time:

Waste your money and you’re only out of money, but waste your time and you’ve lost a part of your life.

Michael LeBoeuf

Print Friendly

DocSig’s CHS Indian Info 9-6-13

DocSig Podcast 9-6-13First podcast.  Let’s see if this works.

Print Friendly

Are We Losing the “Civil” War?

Recently, there has been a lot of press attention generated by a tweet sent by a Kansas high school teen regarding Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. While on a tour of the capitol, 17-year old Emma Sullivan tweeted the following:

“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

In what was probably an overreaction, when Governor Brownback’s staff saw the tweet on Twitter, they contacted the organizers of the event who in turn contacted Sullivan’s school principal. Her principal scolded her and suggested she write a letter of apology, something she initially considered doing. Then the story hit the media, and suddenly, a wave of support came out for Sullivan. She decided not to write an apology. Her Twitter followers jumped from a little over 60 to over 3000 in a short period of time. In my opinion, that’s when the issue got a little twisted.

Defenders of the First Amendment were suddenly coming to Emma’s rescue, stating that she was being attacked by the Governor’s office and her principal. The issue suddenly became about the First Amendment, not about whether or not the behavior was appropriate. If she had shouted those words out while Governor Brownback was talking, would we view it differently? Would people all over the country be so quick to line up with her and defend her right to say anything she wants without any consequences? To me, that’s where so many have gone off course; they equate freedom of speech with freedom to say anything without consequence.

As a high school principal, I deal with issues similar to this every day. Students will often claim that they have freedom of speech, so it’s okay for them to say whatever they want. I often give them the example of what would happen if I cussed at my Superintendent, or addressed the school board as a bunch of idiots (I don’t think that by the way). I wouldn’t be arrested (I have freedom of speech), but I would have consequences. Somewhere as a society, we are blurring the lines and losing that perspective. It’s created a situation where we don’t feel we have to be civil with each other, because it’s my “right” to say whatever I want.

As my wife and I discussed this issue at breakfast, we pondered the ironic part of this in today’s society. If Sullivan had said something similar to this to a classmate, she might be accused of bullying, and possibly be facing consequences. If the student she said it to had hurt feelings, and did something to hurt themself, the public outcry would be directed toward her, not in support of her. The arguments of freedom of speech would not have been so loud and fervent.

A few things cross my mind as I summarize this issue in my brain. First, if you want to be in politics, thick skin is pretty necessary, and I think in retrospect, Governor Brownback knows that. He has issued an apology to Sullivan, and I’m guessing his office will be less fervent about monitoring social media, especially comments made my teenagers. Second, I’m troubled by this bastardized notion that so many have of freedom of speech. I would be suprised if being able to call names or make any statement, no matter how uncivil, was what the forefathers had in mind. They were pushing for the right to be able to disagree without being thrown in jail or worse. Finally, what would it have hurt for Sullivan to apologize? Maybe not for the statement so much, but for being disrespectful. People can have differing viewpoints and politics, but that doesn’t mean it has to sound like some reality show where every 4th word is bleeped out. Speech is protected, not disrespect. Free speech doesn’t have to be uncivil speech.

Print Friendly

Twitter, One Year and Counting

The other day I noticed on my mobile app on my phone that I joined twitter on September 16, 2010. I was surprised that I had been on that long, and at the same time was surprised that it had only been a year. Our district brought Will Richardson in for an inservice for administrators about a year ago to discuss the usage of different types of media, including twitter. I really didn’t get it at first, but I gave it a shot. My first tweet went something like this: “So I’m tweeting, now what?” It took a little time for me to see the value in twitter, but a year later, I have a different perspective. I felt like sharing a bit of what my one year journey has been like.

One of the biggest impacts I feel that twitter has had for me is my ability to share information about our students and their activities in a timely manner. Any time we can put more information out there about what is going on with our kids, I think that’s a positive. I’ve developed relationships with local media and community members based upon our sharing information on twitter, connections that were not there at that level a year ago. I like to think that sharing that information makes their job easier, and that it makes it easier for our kids to get recognition. It’s also a quick, efficient way to share lots of information WITH students, as many students follow my twitter account.

Twitter has also given me an outlet to share some free stream of thought, although some people who follow me probably hate that part. In my own mind, I think I am funny. I like to share my (somewhat) funny thoughts. Twitter makes it so that my wife isn’t the only person subjected to my brand of humor. Twitter makes me want to watch award shows just so I can comment. Twitter has also enhanced my sports experience. I interact with tons of Royals and Chiefs fans and it has made me feel more connected with those teams- maybe a closer connection with the Chiefs isn’t something I want this year, time will tell.

To me, the most important aspect of what twitter has given me is the professional connections I have made in the past year. I get lots of professional development in small bites, picking and choosing articles to read that others have linked, and often in short frames of time that I have available (sitting at a ballgame, waiting for a meeting, etc.). I have had the ability to learn and interact from people all over the country and world that I would not have interacted with. I have made personal connections with authors that I admire (Todd Whitaker, @ToddWhitaker) and feel like I have gained friends who share very similar views of education and how we make things better for students (Bill Burkhead, @northeagles) and people who are not educators, but are doing great things to improve their communities (Trish Brown, @TB101163).  These are just a few of the smart, talented people that I count as part of my PLN, a phrase that I was not even familiar with a year ago. I debated if I would list any in this post, because there are so many that I admire and respect in my PLN. I look forward to participating in chats like #edchat and #leadershipchat and being able to get so many different perspectives in a concise format.

As I look back on the last year of twitter (and the slightly over 4000 tweets I have sent), I’d have to say my viewpoint is much different now. I feel that I am more globally connected, but able to act locally with the information I am able to access. Someone once said smart leaders surround themselves with people smarter than they are. Twitter has become an invaluable tool for me to do just that. So I’ve tweeted, and now I really DO know what.

Print Friendly

Just Another 9/11 Memoir


Ground Zero by Damian Brandon

With the 10th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 attack, I felt compelled to pen a few lines about my thoughts related to that day. I”ll be honest, I don’t know how much of the news stories, documentaries, and witness accounts I’ll be able to watch. It is interesting to me, but disturbing, and I honestly tend to just get a little overwhelmed with all of the coverage.  It’s like picking at a scab that never quite heals over; it doesn’t consume my thoughts, but it’s still there.

Like most, I remember exactly where I was when I found out. I was on my plan period that morning as a science teacher at Lafayette High School in St. Joseph, MO.  I saw on Yahoo that a plane had hit the World Trade Center and walked across the hall to tell my colleague, Butch James. I figured it was some random accident, and went about my business.  I flipped on the television in my room just to see some of the updates and footage. Not much later, I looked up at the TV to see that a 2nd plane had hit. I walked over to Butch and told him that he may want to turn the TV on in his room, that something must be up with the 2nd plane hitting. I remember the rest of the day pretty much as a blur, trying to have some semblance of class, but with all of us pretty much glued to the television coverage that I left on in my classroom.

Terrorism by Idea go

I talked to my wife that morning to just make sure things were ok with her. She said that my son (now 15) came walking in to her from watching Good Morning America and said, “Mom, a plane just flew into that building”. I’m not sure how good his memory of the event is now, or if the memory has almost been created because of the number of times we’ve relived that morning. I remember people were slightly panicked, and I know that evening we sat in line at a gas station because everyone wanted to fill their tanks up to make sure they had gas. The unknown was literally staring us in the face. Uncertainty was the overwhelming emotion most of us had.

C-130J-30 Hercules by Tim Beach

I don’t have a lot of specific memories of the days that followed, but lots of general ones. I know I had a feeling of wanting to do something, probably wanting in some way to fight back. I had served in the Army National Guard from 1989-98 and it was all I could do to not go to a recruting office and rejoin. I remember the skies were so quiet. A few days later, I was on a ladder working on a storm window at our house, and I heard a plane flying over. It literally scared me for a moment. I then saw it was a C-130 from our nearby Air Guard base. To this day, the sound of them flying over is a comfort and a reminder of the men and women who protect us daily. I remember going to a Chiefs football game not long after 9/11, the first one after the attack. The security was so amped up, and the there was a nervous feeling in the air. I remember the flyover and the national anthem and the feelings of patriotism that day. I remember that it was silly, but something as simple as attending a football game in a big crowd was our way of saying “we won’t live in fear”.

Football Stadium by arkorn

I know I was fortunate. I didn’t know anyone who was personally affected by the attack. The closest I can claim is that I know someone who was in the Pentagon when the plane hit and that I played Little League baseball with someone who would have been in the tower, but was late for work that day. I know the world really did change that day. My kids have never known just walking up at the last minute to get on a flight or telling someone goodbye at the gate. My good friends tell the story of driving to the airport late one Friday night with an overnight bag and driving up and saying “where is the next flight going?” Wouldn’t happen after 9/11.

Just as I was nearly 10 years ago, I will be at a Chiefs football game this Sunday. I look forward to a patriotic scene once again. My life wasn’t affected as much as it was for others  by the events of 9/11, but I know it will never actually be quite the same for any of us. I pray that inspite of the political infighting that goes on in our country, we will never need something like this to draw us together again.

American Pride by Carlos Porto

Print Friendly

It’s the Apple That’s Rotten, Not the Barrel!

A bill that passed in the Missouri legislature was recently signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon. It has grabbed nationwide attention for educators in the state of Missouri, and not necessarily the kind of attention we hope for.  I tend to stay pretty up to date on many legislative issues that affect education, and was aware of this bill, but became much more involved last week as I was interviewed by both our local media (KQTV2) and by for stories.  If you ever want to quickly become an expert in something, agree to go on camera, it makes you cram like you would before a very important test.  Before going on any more, let me lay some ground work for those of you unfamiliar with the subject here.

Court Icons by digitalart

The bill (Senate Bill 54) is also called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and additionally creates a task force for the prevention of sexual abuse of children.  Amy Hestir (now 40) was abused by a teacher when she was 12. In summary, the bill requires schools to share information about district employees who are terminated or allowed to resign due to sexual misconduct involving a student.  This part of the bill is not very controversial, in fact, I applaud it.  My heart aches for the pain that must have caused her in life. Nobody can justify those actions. I’m sorry that she suffered through this. Schools (and other employers, for that matter) have become afraid of saying anything about a former employee for fear of a suit from the released employee, many following a policy of only confirming dates of employment.  This bill allows us to share that information, and in my opinion, do what is right for children.  I detest the thought of any educator (or adult for that matter) engaging in that type of behavior with a student/child.

The controversy that has been created lies in a section of the bill, Section 162.069, that states the following:

“By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

By January 1, 2012, each school district must include in its teacher and employee training a component that provides information on identifying signs of sexual abuse in children and of potentially abusive relationships between children and adults, with an emphasis on mandatory reporting. Training must also include an emphasis on the obligation of mandated reporters to report suspected abuse by other mandatory reporters.”

In essence, to combat inappropriate behavior, Senator Cunningham has chosen to attack the media used, not the behavior. In a time when many teachers are working to connect with students in forums that they are comfortable learning with (and to prepare them for the technologically-driven 21st century), teachers are being mandated to cease using any forums that might possibly create an instance where there would be exclusive communication. I am relatively new to some different forms of social media, and the two that are most commonly discussed related to this are Facebook and Twitter. Facebook communication only happens if you choose to “accept” a “friend request”. I have long had a personal policy that I don’t “friend” students (and spend a good deal of time in my office encouraging students that are fighting on Facebook to NOT be friends there, but that’s a different story for a different time). My “friend list” on Facebook generally consists of people I grew up with, went to college with, and a few former students that have been out of school for years (some as many as 18 years). Twitter is generally an open forum in 140 character bites. Direct (or private) messaging is only available if you are being “followed” and you are “following” that account back. I don’t generaly follow student accounts, so again, this shouldn’t be an issue for me. That is not the case for many educators that are using electronic media in very legitimate ways.

Our student government recently started a Twitter account. They follow me to keep up with items that I tweet about (scores of games, upcoming events, etc.) and I followed them back to stay up on what they are sending out as representatives of our school. They had a question the other day and sent me a DM (Direct Message). Under this new law, I would be in violation. Many educators use sites like Blackboard and eCompanion, which allow for online

Social Network by renjith krishnan

discussions about class. Students can turn in papers digitally in these platforms and also receive feedback. Anyone that has taken a college class in the last 5 years will tell you that the days of turning assignments in as a hard copy don’t exist any more. Our students need to be familar with this type of interaction and platform to be prepared for continuing their education. Just as a teacher wouldn’t discuss and evaluate a student’s hard copy paper openly in class, a teacher wouldn’t post in an open forum the revisions needed on Blackboard or eCompanion.  There is real value in being able to have a conversation that is between the student and teacher. This law forces districts to create policy that will forbid that.

One of the problems I have with this legislation is that there is an underlying tone to it that assumes that teachers are predators, just waiting to strike if they can find a way to privately communicate with a student. I thought maybe my own personal bias was just reading that in on my own, until I read the following response to an email that a young man sent to Senator Cunningham’s office:

Excerpt from email reply sent to Cameron Carlson by Senator Jane Cunningham’s legislative aide, Sandra Allen, on August 3rd (was posted to the Facebook Page Students, Parents, and Teachers Against MO Senate Bill #54, Sec. 162.069):
“First things first – I need you to educate yourself to the magnitude of the sexual abuse of students by educators. It is of epidemic proportions both locally (Missouri) and nationally. Just a quick Google search brings up pages. Unfortunately, this heinous crime has gone grossly underreported because the school districts didn’t want to deal with it – now they have to or they will be held liable and culpable for the future abuses perpetrated by someone they just pass to the next district. Senator Cunningham recognized the need for these types of laws to protect innocent children from being taken advantage of by someone in authority.
Second, what I am hearing you say is that the 1st amendment gives educators, who by the way would be the only adults allowed, the right to any all unmonitored private conversations with minor children? If so, I find that extremely unnerving and a lot like the adult child pornography proponents.
No adult – teacher, doctor, police, judge, Senator, Legislative Assistant, mechanic, etc., etc., etc. has the constitutional right to private conversations with children under 18 without a legal guardian and/or parent present or that has not given written permission.
I also find it strange that it is the male educators who are the loudest critics – interesting don’t you think? The female educators recognize the need for these types of laws. The ones who have contacted Senator Cunningham have wanted to make sure they stay within the confines of the new law.

I had to read this response more than once. Did this person really imply that educators are similar to proponents of child pornography? Did she really claim that male educators are the only ones bothered by this law? Finally, does she really think that this law will prevent private conversations between teachers and students? Numerous private conversations happen daily between teachers and students, they are integral to the relationship-building we work so hard to develop. While she claims that teachers are asking for some exclusive right that others don’t have, this law actually makes teachers the ONLY group that would not be able to have this type of communication with students. Parents in your building could privately interact with students electronically, but teachers would not have that same ability. Should youth pastors be prevented from this type of communication with children, after all, there have been cases of abuse in this situation? (Note- I am NOT advocating pastors be grouped in here, only making a point). Should legislators be prevented from responding to a private email from a student? It makes one ask where do we draw the line?

I don’t think this is the end of this issue, I think it will continue to be cussed and discussed, and that’s a good thing. Healthy debate can bring solutions to complex issues. Seeking out the view points of those who disagree with you can be a good thing. My hope is that from this we realize that it’s not the means of communicating that is the problem, it’s the message. Inappropriate conversations or comments are inappropriate in any forum, whether it be by email, a private message, a tweet, a text, a phone call, a note, or a smoke signal. And we should focus on that, the inappropriate behavior. In discussing this with educator and author Todd Whitaker the other day (one of the smartest people I know-and in a Twitter DM no less), he said, “Idiots already know what they do is wrong . . . tough to legislate appropriate behavior with creeps”. Immoral people are in all walks of life, sadly, even in our field. We can’t legislate morality either, as much as we might want to. That being said, we can’t just make the assumption that ALL educators are immoral, to do so is damaging to our profession, and in the long run, to our children. The target should be on the rotten apple, not the barrel holding it.

Scary Green Apple by Tina Collins

Print Friendly