“Netiquette” Agreements Support Positive Virtual Learning Environments
Y4Y is always interested in hearing how programs incorporate student voice and choice. So naturally we wanted to know more after Rina Serrano, Coordinator of Student and Parent Support Programs at California’s Hayward Unified School District, mentioned to Y4Y a netiquette agreement in their Youth Enrichment Program. She put us in touch with Candace Walker, Operations Supervisor, who was kind enough to grant us an interview on their brainchild. [Podcast]
Y4Y: On the subject of establishing virtual learning etiquette, Y4Y was intrigued to learn about your netiquette document. Can you describe it in broad strokes?
CW: We wanted to address the following needs in our new virtual environment: the need for safety, building community and improving student engagement. We developed this policy and tool to help better equip staff with the skills they needed to model and teach digital citizenship and netiquette to their students. The ultimate goal was to have students help define these concepts and create their own kid-friendly community agreements. Our focus was on replicating our afterschool community-oriented environment while recognizing the shift in the presence to our online format.
Y4Y: What were the mechanics of incorporating student voice in this official policy?
CW: Due to the distance learning format, it was essential that students play an active role in establishing their community agreements. This meant that we needed to train our staff to facilitate engaging conversations about what digital citizenship and netiquette meant to us as an organization. As a team, we defined what it meant to us in our meetings. We then needed to educate our students by providing them the space to acknowledge their feelings about this new platform and where they stood within it. We also needed to play the role of facilitator in these conversations, guiding our students while having the students ultimately drive these conversations where they needed to go. In previous years and including this one, we have incorporated student leadership and leadership training into our program model.
Y4Y: When it came time to implement the netiquette document, did your frontline staff report better compliance from students, knowing they had some ownership of the policies? What kind of feedback did you receive, on the whole, on implementation?
CW: Feedback from our staff was very positive. Collectively we saw these policies being adopted and implemented program-wide. Each site was able to tailor its virtual program space to fit the needs of its students, which allowed for some variation in how these policies looked at each site. One of the coolest aspects of implementation was the visual support of these policies. Sites created slides, visual backgrounds, and virtual classroom banners with important norms and positive affirmations to help remind students of their promises. Overall, it was great to see the customization of how these messages were broadcast to our student population.
Y4Y: My bet is that this decision was an extension of Hayward’s best practices of incorporating student voice and choice in out-of-school time, and not a brand-new idea to you. Can you describe best practices before the pandemic that involved your attention to student voice and choice?
CW: We believe that students deserve a seat at the decision-making table for our program. We have created several ways in which students can play an active role in helping shape their afterschool programming. We offer space for students to share their ideas. Some of those ways include classroom policies, youth leadership opportunities, peer tutoring, and service-learning. We have a program for student leadership called Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) where students work on a year-long project focusing on school, program improvement, and service learning. We host multiple student leadership conferences where these are further developed in the areas of leadership and research.
Y4Y: Are there any changes or adjustments to your use of student voice and choice that you envision for your programs once everyone is back to fully in-person programming?
CW: It would be great to incorporate a student facilitator training program when we return. We saw a rise in students being offered and taking the initiative to help lead the program during distance learning. It has been great to see students help lead peers in activities such as mindfulness, guided drawings and physical fitness activities. It would be great to help students cultivate these presentation, communication and leadership skills.
Y4Y: What advice can you offer programs that are trying to fold student voice and choice more actively and intentionally into their program design?
CW: It’s important to incorporate student input from the very beginning of creating these policies that assist in incorporating student voice. We brought in several different trainers to prepare our staff in incorporating student voice as well. This helped better equip them to facilitate and train students. Ultimately it needs to be a top priority that is embedded into your program’s mission and vision.