Montgomery County School District (MCPS), located just north of Washington, D.C., is the largest school district in Maryland. Covering nearly 500 miles, it includes parts of the DC Metro Area and communities including Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Rockville, and many others. 

In 2014, MCPS began a multiyear plan to get all students access to mobile computers and cloud-based learning. It began with the deployment of 40,000 laptops and tablets and has grown each year since.

In 2016, MCPS also began implementing digital citizenship, starting with middle school and expanding to other grades over the next three years. In 2018-19, all 206 K-12 schools in the district received digital citizenship education.

Statistics:

  • No. of students: 165,267 
  • No. of schools: 208
  • Ethnicity of student body:
    • African American: 21.4%
    • Asian American: 14.1%
    • Hispanic/Latino: 32.4%
    • Multiracial (not Hispanic): 4.9%
    • White: 26.9%
  • Economically disadvantaged students: 33.3%
  • English-language learners: 17.5%

Plan

Assess needs 

In 2012, MCPS leadership noticed two troubling trends. First, on the district's website, which should have been an open forum for community-building and problem-solving, interactions had started to become not only contentious, but uncivil. Adults and students were regularly making comments toward each other that were inappropriate and hurtful. Second, schools in the district were seeing -- and struggling to resolve -- more and more incidents between students that had originated outside of school, on social media and on devices. Recognizing that both of these trends undermined the district's vision of a culture of respect and community, they knew they had to act to change these situations. 

The district began by bringing together stakeholders from across their district to form a task force. The task force met regularly to begin developing a set of solutions to address the issues they were seeing. It was composed of members from across the community: law enforcement, legal representatives, teachers, central office staff, parents, and other stakeholders. 

The task force divided people into subgroups to surface concerns and begin outlining solutions. The task force identified that the solutions couldn't just involve schools and students; parents and caregivers also needed support. Keeping up with the pace of technology and the impact on kids was a challenge, and parents and caregivers needed guidance, skills, and strategies -- on internet safety, media balance, and other important topics related to digital citizenship.

Align to initiatives

MCPS identified several points of overlap with its existing initiatives. The district worked with curriculum supervisors to identify connections to Maryland's Common Core Standards, and to their existing health, English language arts, and social studies curricula. Digital citizenship was also aligned with the work their school counselors were doing on the social and emotional well-being of students. Finally, their library media specialists -- the leads for digital citizenship at each school site -- connected the work to the American Library Association (ALA) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. Though some specialists found it challenging to take on a leadership role at their site, and to get buy-in from teachers, the district was able to support these specialists through targeted professional development and on-site support.

Get buy-in from key stakeholders

MCPS's approach to getting teacher buy-in and training has been to go through the library media specialists at each of their school sites. The library media specialists are "fully released" each day and have the freedom to attend trainings, plan, and deliver professional learning to teachers. They also already attended district-level professional trainings and participated in online professional learning communities. Because each school differs somewhat in organizational structure and how roles are performed, each school implemented digital citizenship differently. 

Implementing Digital Citizenship: Montgomery County Public Schools

Implement

Teach students

MCPS's initial focus was on the digital citizenship topics Relationships & Communication and Cyberbullying & Digital Drama because of the cyberbullying incidents that were occurring, particularly in middle schools. Later, they expanded into other areas like Media Balance & Well-Being and News & Media Literacy.  

MCPS's instructional plan requires schools to teach a certain number of lessons to each student. Schools can decide for themselves on which lessons, when to teach them, and through which subject or class. Schools have tended to follow the digital citizenship implementation models of Library or Media Lab, Core Subject Embedded, and Health, Wellness, and SEL.

MCPS also takes an incremental approach to digital citizenship, which increases as students get older. For grades K-5, students must receive at least three lessons; in grades 6-8, students must receive at least four lessons; and in grades 9-10, students must receive at least five lessons. They are currently in the process of integrating Common Sense's digital citizenship lessons into their math and English language arts (ELA) curricula.

Train educators

To support LMSes, MCPS hosts at least three centralized trainings each year. They also run a shared hub of resources and strategies for addressing common challenges that sites face, and offer additional in-person support when specialists request it.

The library media specialists at each school site create digital citizenship teams that include representatives from the different stakeholders on campus, such as teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents. The librarians then organize and lead site-based professional learning for teachers on digital citizenship. 

There are also several other individuals who support the work of the library media specialists. The superintendent and each of the school-based administrators play key leadership and implementation roles. The curriculum specialists help map out the curricular connections with health, social studies, and English language arts. Parent academy organizers and classroom teachers lead the development of family engagement. The district's communications team was key in the initial launch of the program. Each of these support persons also receives direct professional development from the district at different points during the school year.

Engage families

Something that MCPS has recently added to their requirements for schools, to align with Common Sense School recognition, is engaging families in at least three ways each year. The district has created a webpage, Your Characters Count, which schools can utilize to help them with parent engagement. Some schools offer parent academies, which offer parents and caregivers digital citizenship workshops at least twice per year.

MCPS has a diverse population and includes families that speak a multitude of languages. To support these families, MCPS has utilized Common Sense's parent materials in Spanish and other languages. MCPS also shares Common Sense resources through their parent academies, via Twitter, and at Parent Teacher Association (PTA) events. Classroom teachers are also asked to send home Family Tip Sheets, which are included with each digital citizenship lesson, after teaching each lesson. 

Teaching Digital Citizenship: Digital Drama Unplugged

Evaluate

Define and measure impact

Currently, MCPS is focused on measuring digital citizenship implementation, to ensure that all students are receiving the lessons (at least three lessons in grades K-5, four in grades 6-8, and five in grades 9-10). Successful integration is also evident in the shared responsibility of digital citizenship where staff (library media specialists, school counselors, classroom teachers) work together to deliver instruction and where families have the resources to provide guidance and reinforce students' learning. The library media specialists use a site-based road map to capture which lessons are being taught, by whom, and to which students. These road maps are then shared with the district.

MCPS also captures and tracks success through classroom observations and reporting of shared successes. The district formed a digital citizenship project team in 2019-20 consisting of three library media specialists at each grade level, who will be analyzing, evaluating, and refining the curriculum program.

Celebrate achievements

MCPS celebrated by earning their first recognition as a Common Sense District in the 2017-19 school years, and has held their recognition status since then for their work training educators, teaching students, and engaging families. MCPS has had many of its schools participate in Digital Citizenship Week to showcase the learning happening at their schools. The district provides customized banners to schools who receive Common Sense Recognition, and those schools are also highlighted on their Your Characters Count website. The district also sends out a memo each year to all principals highlighting what schools have accomplished and reminding them about the expectations for digital citizenship for the upcoming year.

Reflect on progress

MCPS recognizes that they would like to focus on a more formal way to get families involved in their children's digital citizenship education, and to get them to connect that learning more strongly in the home. The district hopes to engage and develop a cohort of parent leaders through its district-wide Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that can create and sustain relationships with additional parents throughout the district.