3 Conversations to Follow in 2024#Leadership
by Lindsey CannyRead time:
The evolving mental health & behavioral crisisIt’s hard to imagine a worsening mental health crisis, but here we are. Alongside the constant menace of anxiety and depression, teachers and administration are now fighting a new, destructive mutation: the viral behavioral crisis.
To call this a single conversation to follow is a bit of a misnomer, given that the crisis is so multifaceted. Start with the repercussions of social isolation, which has steadily increased over the past two decades, but gone critical during the pandemic years. According to the Surgeon General’s advisory on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation, the time 15-24 year olds spent in-person with friends reduced 70 percent from 2003 to 2020.
It's clear digital social contact does not provide the skills students need to thrive. In-person education establishes social and societal norms: sharing, kindness, manners, natural consequences, and even necessary social ostracization for harmful behaviors toward the rest of the group. Instead of learning these lessons in a natural progression alongside peers, student development has been disrupted by isolation. Behavior trends are following suit in an explosion of inappropriate, often violent, interactions with peers and even teachers.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports worrisome observations from school leaders, 84% of whom say the pandemic negatively affected student behavior. In the new year, we’ll continue to grapple with the ways schools care for students and staff alike.
Cybersecurity roles and responsibilitiesThis is the part where we say that cybersecurity is everybody’s responsibility and that we all must do our duty to keep our district safe, right? Well… While that is technically an accurate statement, leaving the conversation there leads to a cybersecurity bystander effect: everybody will assume that somebody else is solving the problem, so no one actually takes care of it.
Maybe we need to go a level deeper and ask the question of why cybersecurity is everyone’s issue. Consider the WWII poster phrase, “Loose lips sink ships.” Everybody knew that what would really sink a ship was an enemy submarine or destroyer, but the onus of security was on every person who could poke holes in the wall of security with careless talk.
What does that mean for 2024? Any administrator, teacher, staff member, or student has the potential to leave holes in a district’s data protection, allowing a bad actor to breach the hull.
A 2023 survey by the Consortium for School Networking shows that most districts without a dedicated cybersecurity position spread those duties across multiple jobs. That leaves a lot of cracks for bad actors to exploit. In this case, cybersecurity pros must lead the conversation about a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to cybersecurity in the years to come.
AI in classrooms (and everywhere else)Don’t worry—AI hasn’t gone rogue and taken over the schools just yet. But it’s worth continuing the conversation into 2024 about the role it plays in schools—and it does have a role. People used to freak out about calculators taking over classrooms (even going so far as staging a protest against them at the 1986 annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), and some thought Google would make schools obsolete. Food for thought: neither of those things happened.
AI tools such as ChatGPT are the new calculators for this generation. Almost literally—generative AI is essentially a word calculator meant for quick and easy computations. But like math education aided by calculators, the kids still need to be able to show all of the work that went behind their writing. At this point, though, the conversations of whether AI is a force for good or bad, how it might be the next cheating machine, and whether or not to ban it already feel passe.
In 2024, these conversations continue with deeper questions: now that everyone knows AI is pervasive and growing, what skills and thought processes are still necessary for humans to retain on their own, and what can be given to the machines as intellectual busywork? Can we imagine a logical growth arc for AI (everyone does have a calculator in their pocket today, as algebra teachers of yore admonished against) and build a framework to get the upcoming generations there smoothly? What are the mid-21st century skills students need when AI is no longer a novelty, but a necessary, routine aspect of everyday life?
Fostering top-to-bottom mental health, maintaining proactive cybersecurity, and integrating our favorite digital sidekicks in your district are not tasks that can be tackled overnight, and probably not even in the entirety of 2024. It's okay to let those questions simmer in your mind for now, but not for too long. The future starts now.
|Lindsey Canny Edtech Thought Leader