Mhairi Hill, a teacher from Ballyclare High School, explains how working with Childnet has empowered pupils to enjoy the benefits of technology.
Given their age, our pupils are very much risk-takers by nature. Recent studies tell us that the area of our brain that allows us to pause long enough to take stock of a situation is not fully developed until our early twenties, thus leaving adolescent pupils at a greater degree of risk when navigating their way through the ever-connected digital world.
There are many external organisations - both charities and businesses - who have responded to the need for resources and programmes designed to support young people in becoming 'eSafe'. When I initially became eSafety Coordinator at Ballyclare High School, I began searching for materials that would help our staff deliver messages that were balanced and positive.
I wanted our pupils to feel empowered in this exciting, ever-changing complex world of social media, online learning, crowd-funding and collaboration. I wanted them to be able to tell me how to report abuse, how to block a user who made them feel uncomfortable, where to go if they were being bullied online, and what really would happen if they clicked CEOP. I wanted to dispel the myths, reinforce the facts and ensure they were equipped to manage their digital tattoo.
Working with Childnet helped us to focus our eSafety provision on the rights of the child. In 2014, we celebrated Safer Internet Day with the launch of our pupil eSafety group and, in September 2014, they embarked on an exciting programme with Childnet as Digital Leaders. As part of the Childnet Digital Leader programme, pupils studied six modules, blogging at https://digitalleadersbhs.wordpress.com and tweeting from @BHS_DL. On completion of their training they delivered a peer-education session that reached all 187 pupils of our Year 9 cohort during dedicated curricular time as a whole-school initiative. The Year 9 pupils evaluated the session, with one pupil commenting,
“I learned that we all have a digital footprint this really surprised me. I thought that as it was deleted for good that was it away but that’s not the case. I also learned that you can never be too careful online and you should only accept people you definitely know not just someone you think you know and as soon as someone or something is starting to annoy you block them.”
By establishing a core group of Digital Leaders, we were able to keep pupil voice at the heart of what can typically be a paper-heavy policy consultation process. In addition, their training has not only equipped them to educate their peers, but they have also been instrumental in educating other key stakeholders by holding a Social Media Workshop for parents and creating a video encouraging others to ‘Make the Right Choice Online’.
Working closely with Childnet, our pupils have had the opportunity to develop their leadership skills whilst becoming safe, responsible and considerate users of social media and emergent technologies. They recognise that they have an online platform on which they can positively establish themselves in this ever-connected digital world, as they move beyond the confines of the classroom walls.
Mhairi Hill has written this blog as part of our 20th anniversary celebrations. To read our 20th anniversary report visit: http://www.childnet.com/what-we-do/20-years-of-childnets-work