Monday, May 20, 2019

Reflection ... and a Look Ahead ... You Can Do

I had an unexpected conversation last week that led to some great thinking and sharing. In order to explain, I'll need my "soapbox" ... in honor of Jake Miller of the Educational Duct Tape podcast.

I was returning a repaired Chromebook to a 4th grade classroom at the end of the day and I ended up chatting with the teacher for a bit. I had just spent time with two of her classes. We had been cleaning up their Google Drives in preparation for them to move to our middle school this fall. (This is a great opportunity to teach them some digital organization: the 2 views of Drive, how to keep/remove "Quick Access", make folders, delete/move items, etc ... but that's a topic for another blog.)

I asked the teacher if there was anything else she would like to cover or anything she wished we could do. She mentioned her wish that students couldn't change their backgrounds. I paused for a minute before responding. [This isn't the first time I've encountered this wish.] And I simply asked, "Why?"

She proceeded to tell me how students spend a lot of time changing the backgrounds and some aren't super appropriate. She also feels it's just a time sucker. I agreed - because it can be a time sucker - and having knowledge of the Google Admin Console, I know full well we can restrict this. I met her eye and told her this was in fact possible. She looked slightly surprised, so I quickly continued. 

Ahem .... enter ..... my soapbox ......

We live in a digital world and in our district, we are 1:1 with Chromebooks from 1st through 12th grade. (We even have a mix of iPads and Chromebooks in our kindergarten classrooms.) We provide them with digital accounts and access to various programs to enhance their learning. We want, no - we expect our students to use them. We want them to create using them. We also expect the students take care of the devices. And we know full well, that long after they stop coming in our doors, they will be employed in a job that can almost be guaranteed to use a device of some kind. 

So this leads me to the following ...

Should we restrict everything? 

If not, how much do we restrict?

Is this in their best interest? Or ours?

Is this a good philosophy to utilize? 

Do we do this to maximize learning time and minimize distractions?

OR . . . do we use this as another teaching and learning opportunity? 

We would never expect a 1st grader to read and understand a book written by Shakespeare or solve complex physics problems. In that same thinking, we can't expect them to understand how to do (or not do) things on a device until we scaffold and teach them and provide time and opportunity to practice.

I proposed to her the following idea ... We want them to want to take care of their Chromebook. So, what if, next year, they allowed students to change their backgrounds? [Imagine her surprise! ... but let me continue ...] I reminded her students spend a LOT of time on their Chromebooks and we want them to feel some type of ownership over them. I suggested she decide a time frame she (ideally, along with her team) is good with, and set aside time to allow students to change their background during that time. It doesn't have to be long, 5 min per month is plenty! I offered to be available to help with this. 

And when the time comes, remind them THIS is the time to change backgrounds. Therefore, if they change backgrounds at other times, it's not ok and they can handle that the same as when students don't follow other rules.

I also told her she has every right to deem backgrounds appropriate and inappropriate. In fact, this is a conversation I hope they have with their students. Often! I went on to challenge her to stop and think about it. I said I was willing to bet the vast majority of  the backgrounds ARE school appropriate. (She agreed.) And just like anything else, if a student has an inappropriate background, she can instruct them to change it and if they change it to an inappropriate one again, treat it like any other discipline infraction. (I even suggested that if a student violates this too much, change their background to a very generic one and then if they are caught with anything else, additional discipline will be incurred.)

The final thought I shared was this. If she has these conversations now this hopefully can translate into a long-lasting positive impact on them as they grow up. I said the likelihood of her 4th graders choosing something SUPER inappropriate was small, and she can use this as a teachable moment. We can't talk to our students enough about what is and is not appropriate in this digital age.

Now, as I step down off my soap box, I hope I have shared a little nugget for you to ponder. Will YOU be the teacher who dares to talk with your students about appropriate and inappropriate digital actions? Will YOU be the teacher who allows students to make small mistakes and learn from them before they are huge mistakes with REAL and strong consequences? Will YOU be the teacher who decides one conversation isn't enough?

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at


  1. Thank you for this post, I faced the same issue this year. We decided to try something different the last few months by looking at Chromebook backgrounds as communal student real estate and we have had very positive student and staff feedback so far. We turned the student backgrounds into a student art "e-gallery". I got permission to bring this concept to the art teachers on an institute day and they ran with it. They came up with a schedule and a format for artwork submission. Every week, I drop their submitted student artwork into a Google Slide with a unique wallpaper background, cartoon frame and name plate with student first name, last initial, school, grade and title and save as a .jpeg which I load into the student OU in Google Admin/Chrome Management/UserBrowser Settings/Wallpaper. Also directions on contacting the art teacher to find out how to become the next "background creator". So far so good and in reply to the few teachers that have emailed with complaints that students have found a way around and changed their backgrounds, I replied very similarly to what you wrote, great, harness that enthusiasm for problem solving in a class demonstration of some sort and apply those skills to a critical thinking lesson in class. I am planning on making a website to post past wallpaper creators as an online art museum of sorts for next year since this has been going so well.

    1. Wow!!! That is an awesome idea. What a great way to share student work. The backgrounds can have such a powerful statement and this is a cool idea. Thank you far sharing. I hope you do make that website and share it out.

  2. I totally agree. My philosophy with what is seen as digital misbehavior is generally to find a way to legitimize it in an appropriate setting. (i.e., "if you feel you must chat in a Google Doc, we're going to do a project in a week or two where they only way you can communicate with your partner is via chat, so hang tight, we're getting to it!") I like your idea of setting aside a particular time frame to do it, and @congena, I love your student art gallery idea! So cool!

    1. Agree! Legitimizing is a great word to describe this. Taking the "mystery" out of these things for our students can open some pretty big doors to digital responsibility and creativity.