A Letter to Parents

Dear parents and guardians,

I’m really excited to begin teaching and learning with your students! We are going to have an amazing year of growth. In our classroom, your child will be participating in a learning environment that is partially online. 

The Internet is a powerful tool. The Internet, and the many apps that connect people to each other online, allow teachers, students and parents to have unprecedented freedoms. It provides unbounded possibilities for what you’re allowed to view, what you’re allowed to say, how you’re allowed to present yourself. The Internet provides unparalleled access to information and limitless potential for self-expression. This powerful tool can be an invaluable aid to a child’s learning. It can provide great opportunities for self-discovery and self-direction.

We use online technology to enrich our knowledge, to make work easier, to connect with our environment and each other, and to reach out and help people we’ve never even met. As your child’s teacher, I intend to allow them every opportunity to use this tool - in which some of them may already in some ways be more knowledgeable than I am! - in ways that aid their growth, stimulate their curiosity and increase their awareness of our world.

But: these powerful tools can be and often are abused to lie and mislead, to waste time, to ignore our actual surroundings, to divide each other, and to hurt each other. Cyberbullying, obscenity, abuse based on race, sex and class, emotional and physical exploitation are very cruel but sadly very real components of the online world.

As your child’s teacher, I care about their emotional and intellectual well-being as well as their physical well-being. It’s my job to provide a safe learning environment for them. Students should cultivate good habits of responsibility over what they view, what they say and how they present themselves online. 

First of all: the same rules that apply in my classroom, also apply to all online activities that occur within my classroom context or on school devices (even at home).

  1. Be safe. Keep hands, feet and objects to yourself. Don’t hurt others.
  2. Listen actively. Keep eyes and ears open, mouth closed, body calm when others are talking.
  3. Be respectful. Say only kind things, and treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
  4. Be responsible. Do work. Treat stuff gently. Leave space cleaner than when you came in.

How does this look in an online environment?

  1. Be safe. Only visit sites you trust. Don’t respond to strangers. If it looks wrong, don’t click!
  2. Listen actively. In meetings: keep your cam steady, body calm, mute when not talking.
  3. Be respectful. Post only kind and helpful things. No putdowns, no bullying, no gossip.
  4. Be responsible. Limit online time: only 2 hours every day. Use your online time to work.

There will be positive consequences - fun online activities and games - for a class which keeps these rules. Saint Filaret Drozdov, Bishop of MoscowLikewise there will be negative consequences for disobeying these rules online. I may ask for written reflections on how their behaviour reflects on themselves and impacts other learners, or I may restrict access to online interactive materials, activities and games until safety, responsibility and respect are demonstrated. Repeated behaviour may result in referral to Citizenship.

A classroom is not free unless all of its members are comfortable learning and taking on challenges. That means every single student needs to feel safe, included, respected and heard. If everyone just did what they wanted without thinking about anyone else, the classroom would be less free.

As Bishop Filaret (Drozdov) of Moscow once said,

Freedom [doesn’t mean] to do whatever one wants… [this is] inner slavery. True freedom is the active ability of a person to choose the better, and bring it into actuality.

If everyone chooses to be better, and acts on that choice, then everyone is freer. This is every bit as true online.

I’m glad that your child is going to be learning with me this year. Online and offline, I hope that your child has an enriching, challenging and enjoyable time in my classroom! Let’s work together to make sure that everyone stays responsible, respectful and safe in both the physical and the online classroom.


Matthew Cooper

Helpful online resources for parents and guardians:
Common Sense Media
Screen Time and Family Share tools for Apple devices
FAIR: How to Detect Bias in News Media (and in other online resources!)
NBC KARE 11 interview on parenting and educational technology
ISTE Standards