A 2nd year teacher that I keep in touch with sent me an email yesterday:
“Hey Dave!How do you feel about adding students as friends on Facebook? I use my Facebook mainly as a communication tool.I don’t put anything up that I wouldn’t want people to see. In the evening, my students have trouble getting in touch with me via [district] email, so I’ve had a few messages via facebook (which they can do without being my friend.)I have had a few requests from legitimate students. There have been a few requests from students I don’t want on my list…and I have denied their request.”
Here was my response and a few points I’d like to make afterwards.
The fact is that I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, just because I’m already connected to so many people online and it feels like just one more place I have to go. Also I tend to get stuck talking to old friends and former students who just want to say ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ rather than having meaningful or learning conversations. That has changed a bit since moving to China.
– So yes, to answer your question, I do have students as friends on Facebook.
Something important to be aware of with Facebook and settings: When you join a group or a fan club etc. your profile becomes open to all the other members for a limited time, (I don’t remember the timeline or know if this has changed or not). This is a great example of why, if you are a teacher on Facebook or anywhere else you MUST be professional at all times. We don’t know when or why Facebook will change their rules like this? We don’t know what Facebook does with our records or how secure what we have said in the past will be protected in the future? They are a private company and have private motives.
On the point of being careful about what you do and say online, here is a great lesson for teachers and students alike: Check out my blog as of July 14th, 2008. I got this from the WayBackMachine on the Internet Archive. I cannot change anything on this permanent record! Digital text is (or at least can be) forever!
4. If I see something inappropriate then I say so:
Hi [Student Name],
I hope things are good with you and that you are enjoying [Secondary School]!
I’m not sure why you thought I’d be interested in joining:
“Support my cause, F*** The Police. Help by joining, donating, or inviting your friends!”
Not really appropriate. Hopefully you won’t be sending similar things like that to me because I can’t have that kind of stuff in my facebook community.
It is nice to stay connected, but if you wanted to remove me as a friend, I understand. And likewise, if I get invitations such as this then I’ll need to remove you as a friend. Hopefully this won’t be something either of us feel we need to do.
Good luck with exams, but first, enjoy your Christmas break!
Also, with kids that I don’t know that well, I usually send them a ‘Thanks for inviting me’ message:
Hi [student name], Thanks for inviting me into your network. Have a great weekend!
I always find it a bit strange when a kid I barely know invites me to facebook, with my rule #2 above, I accept them, but I send a ‘thanks’ message just so that I have evidence that they started the friendship. This might be a good idea to do with all student connections.
5. I do not erase any messages between me and students. If they want to quote me out of context, then I want to have a record of what that context was.
This does not mean that we get ‘chummy’ with our students online… we are simply a significant adult presence, modeling appropriate behavior, and connecting with them in a meaningful, respectful way. The internet is no place for an unsupervised playground!
Also check these other two posts out and read the comments on all 3 to see how differently teachers look at this.
“When a teen is engaged in risky behaviour online, that is typically a sign that they’re engaged in risky behaviour offline. Troubled teens reveal their troubles online both explicitly and implicitly. It is not the online world that is making them troubled, but it is a fantastic opportunity for intervention.”
Teachers and Facebook by Dana Huff
“One positive aspect of using Facebook is that nothing else is as quick in terms of communicating with students. I have often asked students to get together on Facebook and study or to spread a message I want to make sure they get. Because I am not friends with students who don’t request it, I can’t use it as a reliable method to contact all of my students. I created a Facebook page, and they can become fans of that page without being my friend, but again, it’s not something I feel comfortable requiring.”
“We” -meaning teachers/parents/adults -need to be on places like Facebook, but “we” as individuals have a right to choose: ‘Do I want to be on facebook?’ and ‘Do I want to be friends with students there?’ If the answer to both questions are ‘Yes’ then we must figure out what our comfort zone is with connecting with students in a meaningful and thoughtful way. And whether or not we choose to connect with students on sites like Facebook, we must be professional in our online conduct… always!
A few final thoughts.
I firmly believe that districts and schools have no right to tell teachers that they can not connect with students on social networks. It would be like saying, “As a teacher, I don’t want you going to the shopping mall at the end of the street and if you are there, you certainly can’t talk to the students that go there.”
However, I also believe that as teachers our professional code of conduct extends into the digital world and we need to be accountable and professional.
Also, as I said in the comments on Dana Huff’s post:
Personally I wouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom. I think there are so many good tools out there, like Ning networks for example, that I’d rather not take a site my students like to socialize on and somehow make that site ‘work’ for them.
Forcing kids to participate on Facebook, or insisting that they add classmates as friends or that they must become fans of a group is not an ideal way to create a meaningful learning space.
If we (educators and parents) don’t participate with students online, then we run the risk of having misguided or inexperienced friends, or worse yet bullies, becoming greater influences than us in their lives.
Students today will have a digital footprint. Are we going to let them figure it out on their own? Or will we be there with them, educating them along the way?