why did you block my pen pal network?

"Hey, I double-checked everything ahead of time for the professional development and you know what I saw?" I ask the district Administrator of Safety and Security.

"Clearly I do not.  I have no psychic powers," he responds.   

"The pen pal networks are all blocked," I explain.   

"Thank you for describing what I already know."  

"But we need them for my professional development today."  

"I assure you that it has nothing to do with your professional development. It is an issue of student safety.  We decided to block all the pen pal networks."  

"But a pen pal network is a valuable tool for teacher collaboration.  It's part of growing a PLN."  

"I don't doubt that one bit.  Indeed, there is great collaboration that occurs over a pint, but I have no intention of allowing alcohol in school, either."

"Yes, but alcohol guarantees impairment.  We have more control over our use of pen pal networks."

"Look, it's my job to keep kids safe.  There might be sketchy people on pen pal networks. Unless every person has a background check, I'm blocking it."

"True, but there might be sketchy people who attend a band rehersal or a baseball game.  Do we background check these people?"

"No, but we create gates to prevent the outside influences from harming our students. Consider this another wall for student safety."

"Look, I don't deny your intentions are good, but walls and gates designed to keep people safe end up creating a prison.  Every time you lock people inside of an area, you create a ghetto.  The very thing you are designing to keep people safe is what makes them feel unsafe. I say this knowing that I do the same thing with my own students."

I expect a confrontation, but instead he explains, "I'll tell you what.  What you said about extracurricular activities is true.  Your professional development is during your shared meeting time after school, right.  So, why don't I allow access to the pen pal networks after school?" It doesn't seem like a big deal, but I realize that he is taking a risk here.

Sometimes I get into a place where I rail against system administrators and I miss the deeper reality that they have various values and demands on them as well.  What often seems like illogical politics is simply a clash in values.  And what I tend to forget is that I am dealing with humans who are as complicated and broken as myself and the amazing part is that the very broken people are capable of selfless acts that require sacrifice on their behalf.


  1. Why should professional development be shifted to afterschool?

    Professional Development and Student Learning should be happening at the same time in the same place with one another.

    I realize it takes some imagination, but really now... is Tom so compassionate towards an archaic concept of what 'Prof Dev' is/has-to-be that he's actually gonna start spewing this semi-nostalgic/Romantic drivel on a regular basis?

    - Shelly

  2. I assure you that our professional development time is forced to be after school. It's not my choice. Every day, we have a meeting from 3:00 to 3:40. Every day. It's not a point of "shifting," as you put it.

    I agree that professional development and student learning work well together. However, there is a value in teachers meeting together. If it's forced, then we ought to at least make the most of it.

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