In this episode, we talk to our guest Gretchen Thompson of Gaggle. We discuss student safety online and offline, the challenges to keeping students safe during remote learning as well as the impact on those who are tasked with keeping our children safe from harm.
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[00:00:33] Ryan Cloutier: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the K 12 cybersecurity podcast. I’m your host Ryan Cloutier, Our next guest is the regional vice president of Gaggle. She has 25 years in education and is a former teacher and administrator in the Akron Cleveland area. Her Edtech focuses around student literacy, sped stem social emotional learning and safety in digital technology as an active volunteer. She serves on multiple boards for student mentoring, athletics and women’s advocacy and fundraising. She resides in Cleveland Ohio with her husband and two adult Children. Please join me in welcoming Gretchen Thompson. Good morning Gretchen, Thanks for joining us.
[00:01:15] Gretchen Thompson: Good morning Ryan, thank you for having me.
[00:01:17] Ryan Cloutier: It’s a pleasure. I always love talking to you. So you know, we uh you and I met each other. Oh gosh, now what, two years ago? Something like that?
[00:01:28] Gretchen Thompson: Yeah, two years ago, I think we were doing um uh an event, it was either in Wisconsin or Minnesota I believe.
[00:01:36] Ryan Cloutier: Yeah, it was, that was, you know, in the, in the before time when we would get together in person and do stuff that was a ton of fun and you know, and one of the things that I quickly identified when, when talking to you is is that you and I really share a passion and you know, any of the listeners of the podcast know that I try to have our guests that That do really have a passion for working in K- 12 and working with K- 12. Um because it takes a special kind of person to do the hard work. And it’s even more interesting when you, when you have a person working in an environment like you do right? And working with the type of of situations and technologies that you guys work with. Um so I totally wanted to have you on. I’m very excited to have you here today. Um we’re gonna dive in a little bit into kind of what you’re seeing. Um, maybe pre covid and then maybe post covid when it when it comes to, you know, the hard work that gaggle is doing to help keep students safe. So to that point, you know, what is the biggest pushback that you hear from districts when it comes to monitoring, you know, the school networks and the student devices for harmful content and communications?
[00:02:51] Gretchen Thompson: You know what? That’s a great question. I mean specifically, you know, where it comes into gaggle, you know, really protecting students digital technology. Um, you know, we’re we’re primarily looking at their email and their drive accounts and either Microsoft or google to best protect them as far as that internal communication, whether that is kids communicating in their google doc where they’ve created a chat room and maybe wrote in white sands, it could be a situation where a child is emailing another recipient uh, and cyber bullying or essentially, you know, sending a note indicating that they are struggling with their life. Um, and in those cases, you know, we are able to identify that a child is in crisis or on on the other end, identify that a child is really not in crisis and maybe they’re doing an essay of sorts, right and eliminate that. And so it’s really important, especially, you know, now with Covid, right? There’s there’s a lot more digital communication happening in our virtual learning environments and that involves hang out as well as teams communication and chat rooms, um, which gathers able to monitor as well. So, you know, our kids are working in distance learning virtual environments, um, you know, they’re struggling as well, you know, not seeing their friends and so we’re seeing a lot more of an uptick in that communication. I will tell you. Um, you know, things that prior to Covid that we’ve got a lot of pushback on were okay. You know, how many false positives are you going to send us, your gonna just be sending us a bunch of false positive with your machine learning algorithm and your proprietary point out pornography scanner. Um, you know, and, and so that was one thing that we would hear a lot about, you know, for us being this is our 21st birthday this year with gaggle. So it’s 21 years that we have been protecting students safety. Um, you know, that’s a great concern, right? People don’t want to get inundated with a bunch of things that are not true, Um, and run around and try to scramble to best protect their Children when really it is a false positive. And that’s something that gaggle is able to eliminate in the sense that we have a live 15, 7 365 days a year. That if all of a sudden there’s an alert that comes through, that could be, you know, a word for instance, it could be bombed, gun suicide kill. Um, that word is identified. It goes immediately to a live safety person to review and determine whether or not that is something that is cause for concern or or not, you know, and that also pertains to skin. You know, I always say to people, there’s a big difference between us getting an alert with a mother and a daughter getting a pedicure, um, versus a child, you know, in a trafficking situation for example. Um, so, so that is that is the stuff that we take a look at and we determine whether or not there is cause for concern, but a great question from the districts, you know, that is one thing that we’re able to do is act as the insurance, um, to that information in order to make sure that we’re best protecting those districts with when we really reach out to them and say, hey, there’s cause for concern. There certainly is. Um, so that’s one thing that we hear, obviously data privacy um is a huge concern and that’s something that we take very, very seriously as far as proposed that a couple compliance, um, we have all that information, We’re happy to sign any sort of a data privacy agreement with any district in order to best protect their Children based on their acceptable use policies that their parents actually sign off on um, in their digital technology usage. So that’s another one that we hear a lot about. Um, you know, and I think, I think the biggest one Ryan that’s really interesting is is we have districts come back and say, you know, I think that You really aren’t going to find anything in our district digital tools. Our kids are good digital citizens, they’re not going to be communicating within our digital environment and email and drive. They’re gonna use their own personal accounts or social media to do just that. And that’s just not the case. Um, we see 76% of most concerning incidents in a student’s um dr account in google drive and so that’s something that I wanted to point out as well because it’s really important that districts really identify that these kids are actually communicating with their friends in their digital environments. Um, you know, it takes an email, a password to get onto an app for an account, whether that be twitter, facebook instagram and a lot of the time they use their district email and password to go on those accounts because that’s the only, you know, email and password that they have, especially at the younger ages. So those are some of the things that we see and you know, that we’re able to help protect. And so that was a great question. I just wanted to say kind of give you some good bullets on that. Yeah, no, that’s
[00:07:21] Ryan Cloutier: it. That was a great answer to, I mean really detailed and thorough. Um, and I appreciate the background on gaggle. You know, I just assume people know this stuff and I probably shouldn’t. Um, so you know, one of the things you mentioned in your answer that you know prompted me and one of the things that I like about how your organization does this is that you do have that human component, you do have that, you know, that actual human responder that verifying and validating and that leads me to my next question that obviously is very tough work. Anyone that, that is exposed to, you know, uh illicit materials, you know, that that works with, you know, Children that are potentially involved in trafficking, you know, they’re really exposed to some, some very awful stuff and it’s, it’s a very hard job to do. Can you talk a little bit about the type of support that you provide to your staff, um, to help them cope with, you know, being exposed to some of this content. Um, you know, and obviously some of its, you know, ugly illegal type of content, but even still being exposed to, you know, um Children every day that maybe are, are struggling emotionally or having a rough family life like all these things and imagine take a, take a toll. So how do you, how do you help your staff to cope? And what kind of support are you providing too? Let them deal with the consequences and the feelings that they have, you know, doing this kind of work.
[00:08:51] Gretchen Thompson: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, we take it super, super seriously. You know, we have over 100 people that are actually um monitoring and keeping an eye out for for these kids safety and these districts, um, safety and liability. I will tell you um, the most remarkable team that you will ever meet. You know, I wish Ryan especially you could come into our offices and meet some of these folks, you know, they are former educators, um suicide prevention sociologists, psychologists, you know, former military, you know, first responders, these are the people that are actually working for us to know what they’re looking for. And so they have that background and they have that experience as example and I will tell you, um it’s pretty remarkable what our company does from a wellness standpoint. We annually have a team of professionals come in for wellness training that is very similar to what law enforcement and first responders received. So we take it very seriously. We make sure that our team is able to um be involved in that and obviously, you know, based on what we do, you know, we are supportive as far as any counselling or what have you um as we see fit and as our employees see fit, so we take it very seriously and I will tell you it’s been interesting, especially in this change, right? Um we’ve really had to adjust our schedules and the team schedules because we’re seeing a lot more content come in overnight and on our weekends. And so, you know, our team is so committed to saving these lives, just like our partners, just like our district. And so, you know, we’ve had to move schedules around um in order to be able to cover the different uptick and what we’re seeing. Um and it’s actually been really easy because at the end of the day, we just want to make sure that we’re adjusting to be able to protect these kids. Uh I will tell you that we’ve seen um recently more family issues at home. Um certainly kids being significantly depressed, missing their friends. I talked about earlier um writing and journaling about that, an unbelievable amount of increase in nudity and sexual content that’s being distributed.
[00:10:50] Ryan Cloutier: Yeah. That, and you know, it’s kind of, I hate to say I kind of expected that to happen in all this. Um, but just like we saw an uptick in cybercrime right with, with the world being disrupted and disturbed the way it was, It’s almost certain that we were going to see some changes. So you know, that kind of segues me to the next question. Obviously you’re seeing a change, um, in the time that you need to be monitoring and you’ve seen an uptick as you mentioned, um, what other impacts has covid had monitoring? Are you struggling at all with districts that um, maybe don’t have the best network topology. And so maybe some of the student devices aren’t actually on the network or are there other covid related specific things that are making it harder or easier to kind of monitor capture and respond to these events?
[00:11:48] Gretchen Thompson: Yeah. I mean, I think, I think in general and Ryan, I’m sure that you’re saying this a ton, you know, there’s just so much internet activity. It’s who has access and bandwidth to be able to, you know, across the country, everybody’s working, you know, in virtual learning environments right now, right? And there’s so much going on with video and et cetera. You know. Um, I think, I think that the biggest thing that we have seen and we are very, very blessed gaggle and the fact that we have great advocates and partners that really referred gaggle to other districts, larger districts that we’re not actually utilizing us but had known about us and you know, when this happened, um, we had so many larger districts to reach out to us and say, look, we just need to get started, you know, because you were looking at a lot of additional funding that was coming in to support, um, obviously digital learning for these Children. And so, you know, the majority of the school district had to get one the one devices out, um, to their students as well as make sure that they had that internet access. And so for me personally having such great relationships, some of these, um, leaders, cto superintendents are some of my best friends, um, in the country. These are people that, you know, I would vacation with, um, who I also do business with because we’ve been in education for so long and build those relationships. And I will tell you, my biggest concern was, you know, listening to them say we need to get them internet access so they can learn. And that just broke my heart not being an education anymore. Um, specifically not being there as a teacher, right? Um, or as an administrator to be able to understand what they’re going through. I mean they’ve never experienced anything like this. And so, you know, the other part was, you know, just making sure that these kids were fed and that they were located, you know, there were so many Children that they were not able to identify where they were living or where they were located, they hadn’t heard from them. Um and that is heart wrenching, right? So besides the learning part is that you want your kids to be safe, you want your kids to be fed, you want them to be in a good environment. And the big change Ryan is that, you know, the safest place for our Children to be is in our schools. And I know that we hear often that that might not be the case and that people worry about intruders coming in or what have you, but at the end of the day, that is the safest place for our kids to be, and that is where they actively learn best and it’s because there are boundaries, right? It’s within the brick and mortar, there are rules being shared with these kids. There is a plan, there’s an agenda, They know what their daily routine is and they have that daily routine broken and have districts all over the country, you know, really have to map out in a reactive response for the majority of them. Um, you know, hey, we’ve got to do something to be able to get these kids actively engaged was really, really tough. You know, I always say that March nine was my day that I sat back and said, Okay, things have gotta change for real and education and how these students are going to be learning um in and outside of that brick and mortar and and that was exactly the case. I mean, no, I completely
[00:14:42] Ryan Cloutier: agree. I mean, you know, we saw that, you know, the homeless population, you know, we don’t, we don’t think about homeless students, I know I do and you do, but most people don’t realize and so
[00:14:55] Gretchen Thompson: understand, they don’t understand because it’s not talked about right, correct.
[00:14:59] Ryan Cloutier: And so I think, you know, one of the things that that I really, um I am growing in my learning around, but I have started to develop a strong passion is this this idea around the social emotional learning and how important that is right now, you know, to two things you mentioned earlier and and you know, the, the internet is full of, of research studies now that show, you know, we are seeing an increase in suicide, we are seeing an increase in mental health issues, we are seeing an increase in domestic violence. We, you know, this, this covid thing has really, you know, mess things up, mess people up. Um, here in Minnesota, um Our neighbouring state Wisconsin, their Supreme Court struck down the stay at home order and within 45 minutes it turned into the wild west. And so we’ve got people here in Minnesota jumping the border for a haircut. I mean, it’s just it’s it’s insane the lengths people are willing to go to, to get a haircut and that’s if everything is going well. So I can only imagine, you know, what these students are going through and you know, it was first brought to my attention by a teacher who reached out to me to ask about video classroom norms and did I have any safety recommendations for doing video class? And what prompted that question was that there was a homeless student who didn’t want to be on camera from inside the tent and there’s other students who live in houses that are less than clean, you know, clean. Um, and maybe their, their bedroom is the only clean spot in the house. And I know that might come as a shock to anyone who’s had Children to, to think that there could be a home where the child’s room is clean, but it is, you know, part of that social emotional learning, they don’t want to, you know, necessarily expose themselves or their peers, you know, to their at home living conditions and, and so that that isolation just increases further. So I think it’s, it’s really important. So I’m glad that you’re focusing on that as well and I’m really glad to hear, um, that you guys are thinking about those things because I’m very concerned, right? I’ll
[00:17:11] Gretchen Thompson: tell you, Ryan, we had a ceo a couple weeks ago who is a dear friend of mine state to me. Um, you know, I have to get my car today with the guidance comfort and I’m going to a house because I believe in my heart that something is terribly wrong with this child and we can’t get a hold of this child. And I’m literally getting in the car right now. I’m going to that house and we’re going to knock on the door until I can see that child’s face and I said, wow, it’s amazing what we are doing now versus what we signed up for in getting our degrees and going into education, what have you. And he’s like, yeah, well you and I that do the right thing, right? Sometimes you just need to do the right thing versus analyze it and become political about it. Sometimes you just need to do the right thing and do everything in your power to protect that one life. Right? And I even used, that was huge to those because to get in the car in the middle of a pandemic and decide that they’re going directly to the house when their brick and mortar is not open. You know, he said, I’m not going to be on my watch. I’m going there. You know, and it was pretty incredible. It really changed my day. Um, in the way that I was thinking about things. Um, just in that moment, right? It’s been,
[00:18:18] Ryan Cloutier: Yeah, it’s been so eye opening for me, you know, and obviously I work, you know, primarily in K- 12. Um, but I’m on the tech side, right. I’m, I’m more of the administrator side. I don’t necessarily get to interact a lot. Um, day to day with the teachers. But what, what has become very clear to me is that our schools have been providing services above and beyond learning. I was so shocked when my, my local school and I’ve talked about this a couple times. I live just a few blocks away from the high school in my area. And when Covid first hit, they had their free lunch program and you know, this is the neighborhood I live in is considered, you know, middle to upper middle class. Uh, there were cars lined up around the block. I was just shocked to see how many community members in my own community, we’re in need of that support and, and then, you know, to find out that, you know, a lot of times the school is the only place that this child has an adult who’s willing to listen or show care or concern for their, for their issues or challenges. And the more I dove into it as Covid kind of got deeper and deeper, the more it dawned on me that, you know, teachers are doing everything up to and above educating the students right? There’s so much, I’m hearing stories about, you know, supplies that the teachers are, you know, buying supplies for the kids out of their own paychecks to, to, you know, uh, cover shortfalls of funding and just all these other things that are, you know, coming to light so the shiny side of the coin I guess is that it’s nice to see that we do have a lot of compassionate people out there that are stepping up to do the right thing. Like, like that gentleman, you just mentioned that, that went to do that welfare check on that student. I think that’s fantastic. The not so shiny side of the coin is I hope we see this as a wake up call and can come together as a community and as a society to do more to support our educators do more to support the schools, make sure that, you know, when this happens again because let’s be honest, just like cybercrime, this is probably not the last time, uh, in the next couple of years that we go through some kind of shut down. We’re already seeing early reports out of china. I just read an article today from Bloomberg that 100 million chinese are now being put on quarantine in lockdown to try to stem the second wave. So as we start thinking about the fall as we start planning for, you know, what does school look like next year? The reality is, is, it probably looks a lot like it does right now. There’s, you know, while the brick and mortar. Um, some districts are opening for certain specific on site things like welding, right? If there, if the student is in a vote tech class or something like that, you can’t really do remote welding doesn’t work. So they’re kind of opening up for some of that stuff, but their general classes, they’re kind of keeping closed other districts are thinking about going to a, a B model. So, you know, monday the half the school comes in and then Tuesday, the other half comes in and they kind of alternate to keep capacity, um,
[00:21:44] Gretchen Thompson: when I think, right, and they’re just trying to, you know, it’s interesting cause I talked to a lot of administrators as well, you know, in the last 10 weeks, Right? And at this point, um, you know, there’s a BNC plan, right? Everybody keeps saying we have an A B and C plan because I just don’t think they all know what’s going to happen either. Like we all just don’t know. And it’s, you know, one day, one week at a time essentially is what we’re saying. And so, you know, it’s remarkable that they’re actually planning as effectively as they are to have a plan. Um, you know, and a backup plan based on the change. You know, that’s the one thing that I’ve seen that’s been pretty incredible is how much these districts have really rallied, um, to, to plan for the best case scenario for these kids and to continue their learning because we just don’t know.
[00:22:34] Ryan Cloutier: Yeah. And you know, well I’ll just have to wait and see together. Um It’s it’s interesting I know that you know from the cybersecurity front, I can tell you that schools are more at risk now than they’ve ever been. Um We’ve seen multiple thousands of percent of increase in phishing attacks in targeted cyberattacks. And you know, we know that schools have always been a soft target and that’s not going to change the differences now, it’s not just the school facility, it’s now also at home. Um and that segways me to my last question for you, what are the three things that every parent should know to help keep their Children safe in the digital world?
[00:23:22] Gretchen Thompson: Um So the first thing I would say is any parent that thinks that their child is and on multiple apps that they’re telling them about is imaginary. Um We need to be realistic, our Children are curious, our Children, our digital learners um we want our Children to be good digital citizens. So the first thing that I always encourage with parents is to say to them, you know, the more you have conversations with your child about what they’re doing and not react, the more you’re going to know how they’re communicating what they’re doing so that you can get ahead of it. So for example, you know one thing that I always, you know, I I work with a lot of high school students and and I collaborate with their parents as well as far as best practices and you know, um best communication with their students and, and it’s interesting because I always say them, you know, if you had the rule of no matter what you tell me, you will never get in trouble. It’s always flexible. But the minute that you lie to me, we have a problem. They will tell you the truth. As long as you don’t react right? Have those healthy conversations with your kids so that they are sharing with you and they can open up about something that might be on their mind or might not feel safe to them or might be something that’s scaring them about a friend. Um you know, and, and have those conversations, you know, we always hear, oh, you know, everybody needs to have dinner together. We all need to have dinner together and talk. Well, it’s actually really true if you can find 20 minutes a day where the family can get together and just be um that’s a really important thing because you’ll learn more about your kid. I used to say that I love getting trapped in the car when I was taking my son to a baseball game. Um, you know, every parent doesn’t want to carpool, right? It’s kind of a pain in the butt, but it’s some of the best memories that you make because it’s the only time that you get to have your child in the car, either sitting in silence or having kind of discussions that you wouldn’t normally have because nobody can escape that, right? And so if you can actually figure out a way to have those conversations with your child and be a really active listener, um, you’ll learn more than you realize about how to parent better and how to keep your child safe. So that’s, that’s one thing. The other thing I would say is um if you have access to their phones For their 1-1 device and you’re paying for that 1-1 device, I think it’s important to be able to have guidelines and rules so that everybody is on the same page. I mean we have a ton of free resources as far as different apps um, and scenarios that you can see online. Um, Ryan, I know that you have a ton of that as well to be able to better help parents identify what their kids are looking up and how they get into a certain apps or um, or other resources, you know, look for those free resources, learn yourself, you know, digital citizenship for your child is an education in itself. So go back to school parents. Um, you’ll be amazed at what you find out and how resourceful you can be. Um, and you won’t be challenged in a child saying, well this is how it works and you don’t understand, you want to be able to understand and have that conversation because at the end of the day, you’re their leader, right? You’re the person that they look up to your, their mentor. Um, and they learn from you. So you know, definitely be active in that. And then the other thing I would say is you know, make sure that when you’re, you know, working with your schools, you know exactly what different resources are being provided to them as far as that digital technology, Understand how their 1-1 device works, understand what you need to look for as far as inappropriate communications. You know, if your child is taking that 1-1 device and going in their bedroom and spending four hours in their bedroom, you know, it is not your responsibility to say, okay, I’m not allowed to interrupt them. It’s your responsibility to say, hey there in our family and I need to go and check on what’s going on, that’s okay. Um, those are some of the things that, you know, I highly recommend and, and also, you know, this is my fourth thing I guess. But I would save, you know, have guidelines with the technology, You know, the most effective parenting icy and the most um, social, emotional healthy Children I see is when the parents actually take away their device At 10:00 at night and say, Okay, we’re done for the night. Put it in the basket downstairs in the kitchen for example because you need those Children to be healthy night’s sleep and Children do not mind saying whatsoever, Oh my parent is being a jerk. They took my device away to a friend because every friend is gonna be like, yeah, your parents and jerks, you know, allow them to blame, you, allow them to blame you for that fault because they’re going to get a good night’s rest. They’re going to be more able to learn the next day And they’re better capable of being able to have healthy conversations and making good decisions based on not being inundated with that technology all night long. 24 7. Well, and I think
[00:28:04] Ryan Cloutier: that’s, I think that’s good advice for the parents to, I mean we gotta unplug every so often. You know, it’s so important. And you know, I, I love that you highlighted, you know, several key areas, uh, we talk about it as know your risk, right? I think a lot of parents are in the dark as to what the risks actually are. Unfortunately, the cell phone manufacturers do not give you the appropriate user guide that says, hey, warning this device can be addictive, dangerous. Um, you know, here’s how to use it safely. Um, there’s no good guidance on, you know, giving a four year old an ipad, right? There’s no, there’s no real good guidance around that myself. My personal opinion is just don’t um, myself, I waited until my son was, he was 16 when he got his first cell phone. And it was some flip phone from the early two thousands that we dug out of a junk drawer and so he could text people by pushing multiple buttons multiple times. Um but no, no camera, none of that stuff. Right? And he thought we were a bunch of luddites um because he’s like, well, how come I don’t have a smartphone? And I gave him,
[00:29:18] Gretchen Thompson: he probably thanks you. Now that’s my kids, now that they’re adults, right? I’m really president, let us do that. And I was like, yeah, well you brought me to the meal, but you know, I said to my kids, I’m not your friend, you guys, I love you dearly, but I’m not your friend. I’m your mom. Job is to get you to be a good citizen and get you to be a healthy adult.
[00:29:36] Ryan Cloutier: Honestly, if you like me before you’re 25, I’m not sure I did everything right? But that’s my take on it, right? Um so we’re getting close to time here. How can people get a hold of you if they want to learn more about you or learn more about gaggle? What’s the best way for them to go about getting a hold of you?
[00:29:53] Gretchen Thompson: Oh sure. You know, I would definitely recommend that they email me. My email is Gretchen G R E T C H E N at gaggle G A G L E dot net. You can certainly go on our website as well. Um there’s a lot of great information, testimonial case studies. We’ve been doing a ton of webinars um so you can find a lot of good resources um in your individual states and certainly connect with me and I can pass you on to the right person to get you some additional in pro um you know, Ryan, you know me, um I work a great deal um to support these Children. Um I wake up every single day excited to go to work and make sure that I’m helping these districts and these kids, so I will get you and put you in the right direction to who you need to speak with from our company
[00:30:38] Ryan Cloutier: and that’s what I love about you. It there’s just again, like I opened with, we, we share this, this fiery passion for trying to help these kids and, and ultimately the communities and parents um get better at this stuff so I really appreciate having you on today. Uh and listeners thank you so much for tuning in. Um feel free to email us uh and and let us know um alright actually tweet us so you can get us @studiosecurity is the twitter, let us know if there’s certain topics or guests you’d like to see featured uh and you can follow me on twitter @CloutierSec. It’s been great, everyone looking forward to talking to you all again soon, have a good one.