Some people say ‘kids will be kids’… Some adults have never forgotten what it felt like to be a victim.
What happens when adults are not present?
Sometimes kids do things they shouldn’t do. Sometimes kids make choices based on what their friends do rather than on what they know is the right thing to do.
Sometimes the bully wins:
It happens on playgrounds, in cafeterias, and friend’s basements, at parties & school dances, and yes, it happens online too.
Parents supervise their kids on playgrounds, and teachers supervise students in our schools…
Who supervises these kids online? Whose responsibility is it?
Whether it is a responsibility to be present online or not, what right do we as educators have to be online? Should our role change what we do on sites like Facebook? On a more personal note: Who are my online ‘friends’? Should I be ‘friends’ with my students online?
Here’s what I think:
When facing the issue of Facebook,
our students are there,
and we should be there too!
I am not advocating for necessary presence, and I am not advocating for us taking on a burden of responsibility. I am saying that we should have the choice to be there and we should have the choice to interact with students on social networking sites such as Facebook.
Some educators will choose to be on Facebook, some will choose to interact there with students, some won’t. My concern is that I’m hearing instances of student teacher faculty advisors, teachers and principals, and even districts telling educators that they should remove their Facebook profiles.
This really happened:
- Student A created an “I hate Teacher X” group on Facebook. The students in the group start saying really nasty things about Teacher X. Student B joins this group, however this student is ‘friends’ on Facebook with another teacher, Teacher Y. So, when Teacher Y goes onto Facebook she sees an update informing her that Student B has joined this “I hate Teacher X” group and she reports it to her Administration. Teacher Y also gets the group shut down. How far could this have gone?
- Student C decides to create a “Student D is a Fag” group. Student D has no idea this exists. Teacher Z finds the site and shuts it down when it only has 3 students in it and 34 unanswered invitations to join the group. How far could this have gone? How many students were taught a lesson when they clicked ‘Join this group’ only to find that the group was shut down?
- Teacher W sees that Student E has joined the “National Skip Day” group. In the hall the next day Teacher W says to Student E, “I hope you aren’t planning to skip my class on that day”. Guess who shows up to school on National Skip Day! How many of Student E’s friends were influenced by this decision?
- Mr. Truss gets a video with inappropriate language put on his Funwall by a former student who is still in High School. He sends a private message politely asking the student why she thought that video would be appropriate to send to him. The former student replies very apologetically, and although she has not sent any other videos, she also did not ‘unfriend’ Mr. Truss. Do you think that she is now ‘more aware’ of who her audience is on Facebook?
I wrote this in the reflection section of a previous post:
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. Gordon Neufeld calls it ‘peer orientation’ in his book: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. 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!
That said, as educators we are professionals and we have the need to be professional in our interactions with students… everywhere.
Be sure your profile is set-up in such a way that it is private. Only those you invite to be your friends should be allowed to view the content of your profile.
Make a decision about who is going to be in your friend’s group. If you are including current and former students, it’s a good idea take a conservative approach to the content of your page. Imagine the parents of one of your student’s were looking through it. Would they be comfortable with what they saw?
Perception is everything. You may want all of your students to be your friends on Facebook. Don’t be the one to invite them. Wait until they invite you to join their Facebook as a friend. Also, when they invite you, send them a ‘thank you for inviting me message’ so that you have a record of who invited whom.
Don’t download pictures of current and former students onto your hard drive.
Monitor regularly what others write on your wall. If there is anything that is inappropriate, remove it promptly. Be sure you deal with those who put questionable content on your site. Repeat offenders should be removed from your friend’s list.
We are thoughtful and intentional in our engagement with students in our schools and our classrooms… and we should be thoughtful and intentional in our engagement with students online.
The one thing that I’ve avoided so far is the idea of responsibility. Who is ultimately responsible for student behavior online? First and foremost I believe the answer to be the students themselves. Next in line should we want to take the ‘blame’ approach would be their parents. But I’m not interested in blame. I’m interested in students being respectful citizens in all of my communities, on and offline. I also choose to accept some responsibility and care for what goes on in my communities.
The presentation delivers a number of key ideas: Technology feeds student needs. Technology isn’t going away. Parents need to figure out what they value, and they need to understand and engage with the technology their kids are using. If parents want influence with their children, they are far more likely to get it engaging from the inside rather than policing from the outside.
Take note educators… we too are far more likely to engage students from the inside rather than policing from the outside!
The irony of it all is that I don’t really like Facebook, and I don’t really use it that much. I choose to show students a limited, and rather boring profile on Facebook. So the reality is that since I have a large digital footprint, students can find out a lot more about me in many other places besides Facebook.
What I do like about Facebook is that it has allowed me to have some really amazing interactions that I may never have had otherwise: Students sharing something they have learned with me; A former student that I was really worried about reconnecting with me, and thus I’m able to see him doing well for himself; A former student telling me that as a teacher I made ‘ the biggest difference in her life’.
…And I’ve been able to teach some impromptu lessons about appropriate online behavior along the way. So far, every time that I’ve mentioned something that I thought was inappropriate in my Facebook community, I have received an apology or removal of the inappropriate content, and not once have I been removed as a friend as a result.
So I ask you… should we be told ‘as educators’ that we should remove our Facebook profiles? Is this something we should fear? Should we engage with our students online? Or should we just police the bullies and support the victims after the fact?
*Update: I followed up on some of these ideas in my post Facebook Revisited which was inspired by a teacher asking me “How do you feel about adding students as friends on Facebook?”.