Message to the community from Dr. Jill Gildea, Greenwich Schools superintendent, November 2017. Originally published on the Greenwich Schools website.
I ask all parents and community members to please read and think about the following points the next time you decide to post about your child’s school, school district, or elected and voluntary, Board of Education members on social media.
Board members run for election as individuals and are then charged with working as a team. They must have strong, effective working relationships in order to lead us in realizing our aspirations for public education and the Greenwich Public School District.
Who will be willing to serve in this volunteer capacity if they, as individuals or as a group, become targets of negative articles, blogs, and posts online?
Just because it is in print, does not mean it is true
It is easy to write, print and publish anything these days, but is it true? Take the time to look into sources and facts that support what you are reading. Just because something looks professionally produced does not mean that it’s accurate. Please do not forward or publish information that you have not verified as true. Model digital citizenship and media literacy skills. Please remember that the children are watching.
Helpful communication channels
Over time school districts have established channels of communication and have also embraced newer ways to reach out to the public. The best source of accurate, authentic and factual information comes from district and school produced documents on school related matters. This does not mean that a curious public should not question and ask for more information. It does mean that official communication channels remain the best way to learn about the goings-on in the school district. Please verify information before forwarding or reposting news.
Set a positive example
The age-old axiom of “children become what they see” is as true today as ever. Every single time you take to social media and comment, you’re sending your child a message about the kind of person you expect him or her to be. Many of us have seen or have been the target of absolutely vicious personal attacks on social media. Cruelty is the lowest form of human behavior and the meanness witnessed by those around us does not promote a healthy community or society. Our schools are a reflection of the communities we serve. Take a moment to consider the tone, tenor and message that you are sending out to your community and the world. Please remember that the children are watching.
Respectful and courteous discourse
Our schools and communities are filled with hard-working, well-intentioned and dedicated public servants, and I would like to request that respect and courtesy guide our interactions. There is no need to use foul language or make threats. This does not mean that disagreements will not occur from time to time. After all, having different viewpoints and working through them respectfully is a hallmark of our democracy. When you resort to attacking the messenger and not the message, you have already lost. Negative comments at the end of online news articles do not support positive or forward momentum in our community. Please remember that the children are watching.
A fine line between venting and being toxic
As citizens, our community members absolutely have the right to make public comments about what is going on at the national, state and local levels. This may include the right to comment upon our school system. We would never want to suppress that right or prevent the free exchange of ideas. That is not what we teach our students, and it would be truly un-American, yet I would like to remind our community that there is a fine line between appropriately sharing a frustration regarding a situation and using that situation to unload on someone or something. Please remember that the children are watching.
Don’t trade in rumor/half-truths/lies
Winston Churchill once wrote, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” We have seen this happen time and time again on social media. A lone person will make an inaccurate statement with no support or truth, other people will pick up on it, spread it via their accounts, and all of a sudden what was untrue has now become a “viral” part of the public conversation. Not only does this type of falsehood damage the individual, but it can also do irreversible harm to the morale of a community and district. Who would want to be part of a community where there is such vile discourse? Please remember that the children are watching.
As an educator and educational leader, I recognize both the benefits and liabilities of social media. It can provide important information quickly, share the great work going on in our district and serve as a tool to promote positive social change.
Today, with the easy access and instantaneous reach of social media, students and families are in a continuous loop of information. However, this same benefit could potentially become a tremendous liability to the work of the district and/or a community, causing unnecessary distractions, and spreading misleading information.
In closing, we must remember that any tool is only as effective as the way it is used. I ask our families and communities to use the megaphone of social media to lift up our schools, our leaders, and our Board of Education and not to tear them down. We have an incredible community and school district. Let’s keep the positive momentum going.
Yours for excellence in education,
Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent