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In Loco Parentis: Independent Schools At The Intersection Of Technology And Relationships

[October 19, 2012] After spending 24 hours with dozens of talented, dedicated Heads of School at a conference earlier this week, I have been pondering the themes that emerged during that conference, which seem to me to be interwoven under the rubric of in loco parentis.

One educator at the conference prefaced his remarks with the following observation: relationships distinguish independent schools from other educational options.  He opined that boarding schools and elementary schools are particularly adept at forming and cultivating strong, abiding relationships.  Prior to these remarks, a Head of School had commented to me that elementary school heads are a “special breed” with a higher proportion of women, who are “taking care of people’s babies.”  Clearly, the relationship foundation is essential to the independent schools’ role in acting in the role of parents – and, in today’s culture, that is an increasingly challenging and emotional job.

Another educational leader observed that today’s students are the iGeneration: focused on interacting with each other, and with the world around them, through the iPhone and the iPad.  This iGeneration culture frequently clashes with the relationship-oriented focus of independent schools.  Teens’ relationships can be premised on electronic interactions, potentially leading to a host of devastating consequences.  Many educators are striving to implement iPads and other electronic devices in school curricula – but perhaps as a homework device rather than a classroom tool, so that they can engage students in the learning process while preserving the essential classroom interactions.

And, finally, one inspirational Head of School at the conference shared a guiding mantra: “confrontation is the hallmark of caring and the soul of honesty.”  (He attributed this phrase to a mentor, not taking credit for coining it.)  This mantra stitched it all together for me.  Why?  Because it elegantly summarizes the essence of the in loco parentis role of independent schools at the intersection of technology and relationships.

Fostering these essential school-based relationships is achieved, in part, through teaching the iGeneration to communicate openly and honestly – and respectfully – with each other: to discuss the nitty-gritty of life in person, not through texts and Facebook.

Consider this: how do we feel about teens texting during dinner? About 9 year olds on Facebook?  How do we respond to sexual abuse cases emerging from 10, 20, and 30 years ago – by confronting the past with transparency (confronting the ghosts) or imitating an ostrich? How do we respond to 8th grade girls sending naked pictures of themselves to the entire football team?

As a true believer in independent school education, my professional passion is protecting independent schools, their students, faculty, staff and campuses: to prevent problems whenever possible, and to resolve and get through (thoughtfully, practically and lawfully) the sticky wickets when they present themselves.

As we sift through the daily onslaught of challenging issues on our campuses today, we should consider filtering each through a refined lens, incorporating these three themes: preserving the essential and enduring relationship-based essence of our schools, accepting the challenges of the iGeneration and crafting solutions to the novel issues that arise, all the while encouraging our schools, their faculty, staff, students and parents to confront the difficult issues in the name of honesty and caring.  In loco parentis.

Bring Your Own Device Programs

[September 27, 2012] For years, faculty members and school administrators have largely discouraged students from using their own personal electronic devices in the classroom. However, increasingly students and faculty members at independent schools are bringing their own electronic devices to campus and using them in the classroom. This month’s Net Assets Magazine highlights some of the legal issues that schools should consider when adopting Bring Your Own Device programs. Comments by Schwartz Hannum attorneys are featured in the Net Assets article available here.  Sara Goldsmith Schwartz, the President and Managing Partner of the Firm, will also be presenting on this topic at the Fall Business Conference of the Association of Independent Schools in New England.

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If you need any assistance with Bring Your Own Device policies or programs, please do not hesitate to contact any of the members of the Firm’s Education Practice Group.

Note: This article was originally published in the September-October issue of Net Assets magazine, published by NBOA.