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Expectations for School Staff With Technology Use, Incident Response and More with Catherine Allen, St Rita's College

As Deputy Principal at St. Rita's College, Catherine Allen oversees the mental health, student online safety, and wellbeing efforts at St Rita's.

In this episode of Saasyan's Wellbeing Wednesday Series, Catherine shares the expectations she has for her staff then it comes to student online activity and technology use as well responding to online safety incidents in her school. 


As a principal, how do you manage the benefits of leveraging technology for learning with the potential risks to student online safety?

Well, technology is a part of life. So I think that an understanding of it is an integral skill and it's needed to be understood both for staff and students.

If you look at social media and AI, use can be both harmful, impacting privacy and authenticity, but there's also use that can offer efficiency and personalised tuition at a student’s pace, as well as feedback for teachers and data, and all of that.

So I'm not someone who subscribes to banishing. I think we all need to learn and embrace positives that come with technology, and its respectful use is important to learn and to use and for students to witness. 

Like all things, moderation is key. It's also important to keep up to date with technology and teach critical thinking skills for adaption and use of technology.

What are some policies you have put in place to keep your students safe whilst online?

Well, we have an information technology use policy and it covers photography, social media, videos, access of the school system, et cetera.

It's explicitly covered in house group each year and it's signed by both the students and the parents so there are no surprises at the other end. And we also have a number of age appropriate presentations in year level assemblies, and that covers online use and safety and the development of a healthy digital footprint, and ways to manage and report concerns if they're on the other side of misuse or abuse of technology.


How has the use of technology impacted overall student mental health, and behavioural issues at your school?

Yeah, that's a big issue across schools and actually there was something on the news last night, where there's increased research saying how it can impact the brain similarly to some drugs.

So it is something we all need to be very mindful of and I guess that comes in education and understanding as it does any substance abuse. So games and social media are the big ones that I've read about, and of course we use games in some teaching, so I think that's a space that we need to be mindful as teachers. Does that fall into entertainment? As opposed to information gathering, sharing and education...

While it's lovely and they're engaged cause it's releasing endorphins and dopamine, it's also contributing to the development of them craving another rush. So that's where the drug similarity comes in.

We monitor the use of the students and what they're accessing and then that’s sent out as a report. And then we do directly have a conversation with those students, and sometimes the parent and carer.

Because we have had some students who we’ll look at, and each and every class they go into, they're misusing our system. But I think teacher understanding of if you're allowing a student or wanting a student to focus on a laptop, we then need to skill ourselves up as to how to present classes and present information in ways that doesn't allow them to sneakily be off focus.

And I guess, like all addictions, you think you're in control, but you don't realise the addiction is actually taking control, so it's a difficult conversation. And of course, when teachers are talking to students, it's like, “well, what would you know?” You know, there's that distance in age and understanding that they believe exists.

We strongly push that we work in partnership with families. So we do ask parents and carers to be involved in those conversations. And sometimes the reality is that we'll have those conversations and kids will say they spend 4 to 5 hours a night on social media and gaming.

And often parents are unaware of that as well. So they think they're quietly in their bedrooms doing work, but they're not. So I guess that's as much at home management as it is for the schools.

It certainly doesn't do anything for healthy relationship building and certainly when phones which we have, our policy is that they're locked in their locker, but we don't frisk the students to see that they are, if they're seen, they're actually confiscated, but often they're up their bike pants or something like that.

So we're not aware that they're carrying their phones. So kids become very adept at moving their way around different rules. The big thing that I've heard about is that then kids just bring in burner phones. So it's a space that’s continuing to work to outsmart us, and us trying to outsmart them.


What expectations do you have for your staff when it comes to managing their digital learning environment?

We do expect them to be mindful of student use of technology and their pedagogy should naturally incorporate lots of changes.

While they're using the school network, we can monitor the use. and we would like alerts to go to the teacher, rather than the alerts go to a head of house or someone else, because we don't want the dob effect, like you were being dobbed on because you weren't hot managing your class well enough, so that's something we're hoping to introduce next year.

Basic good pedagogy does mean that teachers observe a student’s behaviour and interactions. And not just for technology, but it might be simple things like the old fashioned laptop lids down can be enough.

I think it's breaking continuity, and I know there are spaces where you like much longer spaces of continuity in the senior classes.

Kids are so adept at sensing that someone's coming and whipping away the screens, so it is a bit of a learning curve for teachers and it is something that we need to accept as teachers, we need to make it a bit more front of mind in our management.

I think the ability to open and lock off sites that teachers can do is a great opportunity, so I guess that's something we want our teachers to do a lot more of.

So within a class if they can say, well, we're looking at this and that's all they can access during those lessons.

We're about to roll out an SEL; Social Emotional Learning based survey across all new levels from 5 to 12, and that will allow us to get some baseline data and it will then inform our planning for our year level assemblies, and best learning environments for everyone. 


Have you ever had to respond to an incident dealing with misuse of technology or adverse online behaviour?

I have had to deal with a number of those sorts of things, and I'm working at a school where the students are pretty diligent and the practice I think of the teachers is very good.

But one example recently was of a student filming and recording a teacher and other students, and the teacher noticed the little green light on the laptop, that's how it came to our attention.

The content wasn't offensive, but it did breach a number of things. It didn't request consent, which is something that we explicitly ask the kids to do in that information use technology policy. And that is where the vulnerability of the teachers sometimes becomes involved because, as they said, well, you could take out a piece of what they're saying and edit it, and use it differently and then misrepresent the teacher. It's out of your control, like all things, once it's taken, it's out of your control.

But we do expect our classrooms and schools to be a safe environment for all. A restorative conversation took place with that student. I actually sat in with the teacher and we went through the laptop with the parent knowledge and approval because it is BYOD.

And there were a number of teachers who were either you could hear them and some on occasions you could see them. Everything was wiped, letters of apology were written and reviewed by the Head of House before being given to the teachers.

The student was surprised at how upset and offended the teacher was, but I think that was a good learning curve.