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Montreal Families

West Island school board lauded for digital citizenship program

When Kelly Gallagher-Mackay set out to write her latest book, the author and academic wanted to explore the question of how schools can prepare children for the future when the only thing that’s certain is change.

Gallagher-Mackay and co-author Nancy Steinhauer set out to uncover success stories from Canadian schools to provide examples of new techniques that appear to be working well. They discovered a plethora of inspiring examples from coast to coast.

“We really underestimate how good Canadian schools are,” Gallagher-Mackay said. “We don’t tend to see ourselves as one of the world’s top-performing school systems.”

In Pushing the Limits: How Schools Can Prepare Our Children Today for Tomorrow’s Challeng (photo right), the authors highlight innovative teaching methods and inspirational examples of schools that are wrestling with some of the stickiest challenges of our time. One example highlighted in the book is the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), which has pioneered what Gallagher-Mackay calls a “brave” approach to protecting children online. Its Digital Citizenship program begins in kindergarten and focuses on coaching children to be aware of risks and to take responsibility for their behaviour online, rather than blocking access to the Internet. The program doesn’t just tell kids to avoid risky behaviour, but also encourages them to think about creating a positive digital footprint that represents who they are, and how to show their best selves online.

“I think it’s brave to tell families that we’re going to give your kids unlimited access to the web at school and we’re going to teach them to keep themselves safe,” Gallagher-Mackay said.

She noted that it’s impossible to prevent kids from finding offensive, mature or even dangerous information online. Filters can be subverted, fake accounts created, and passwords hacked. By speaking openly about problematic content, such as cyberbullying, pornography and fake news, teachers and parents can lend support to help children learn to think critically about what they see — and coach them to reflect carefully before they share or post information online.

“[The LBPSB] got really strong buy-in from the parent community,” Gallagher-Mackay (photo right) said. “It would be nice if more school boards would be brave enough to do that. Weirdly enough, you want your kids to take those risks in semi-controlled environments rather than get upset that kids were exposed to something online.”

Pushing the Limits covers more than just digital citizenship and online literacy issues. The book also tackles questions like how schools are encouraging innovation, problem-solving, socio-emotional skills and community engagement, as well as specific ways teachers are boosting math comprehension, cultivating creativity and using technology to broaden the parameters of learning.

“If there’s one thing we know about the future, it’s that we don’t know much about the future,” Gallagher-Mackay said. “That means we need to be supporting kids to take risks, and helping our educators to support kids in taking those risks.”

An excerpt from the book highlighting LBPSB’s Digital Citizenship approach has been posted on pearsonnews.lbpsb.qc.ca/post/digital-citizenship-pushing-the-limits.

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