Some people say ‘kids will be kids’… Some adults have never forgotten what it felt like to be a victim.

What can happen when adults are absent...

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

Principal Bruce Carabine and Technology and Curriculum Coordinator James McConville worked on some advice for educators who use Facebook. Here is what they came up with:

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.

As I mentioned before, Dave Sands does some parent presentations:

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?”.

26 comments on “Facing Facebook

  1. Hi David, this is a very thoughtful post. My thoughts were very much in the “Don’t accept students as friends” camp and I have blogged about this on my own blog in the past. The main reason for this is that students coming in to teaching receive very little guidance about online contact with children (a phrase which in itself sounds creepy) and what is appropriate. Many of these students will have stuff from student days and student friends on their pages which would not be at all appropriate for their students to view (hence your comment about privacy settings). Again I’m in total agreement with this. Your post has given me much food for thought and in an ideal world I agree with your approach in its entirety. However, until teachers have been given much more guidance on interacting with students via social networks I am still bound to say “tread very carefully…”

  2. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Dave. Once again you’ve nailed it: as Sands said, we have to be engaging students from inside these technologies. Not that we need to be present in every one of them, but if we wisely choose the ones that allow us to generalize the skills & attitudes of digital citizenship, we are on the way.

    Most of my Gr. 6 students use MSN. Only a few parents do. Facebook is just blossoming in this age group. I believe a few of the parents have FB but don’t let their kids yet. So the kids who do, don’t have models. My analogy is that it’s as if our children were driving cars and we, their parents didn’t know how, didn’t know the rules of the road, or how to turn on the headlights or use the breaks.

    I have a (largely ignored) FB account. The way I hope to engage my kids on-line is through blogging. I really like the guidelines you use–respect, inclusion, learning, and safety: those can apply in so many areas of life. I do expect mistakes. And also expect we all do a lot of learning.

    Final thing: I wish we had different language than bully and victim. Do you find these two absolutes get in the way of dialogue and learning? The terms sets up a polarity that leaves little room for understanding and change. Thoughts?

  3. Hey David,

    Another consideration is how much of their life the teacher wants to share with their students. Some teachers may already use facebook to engage with their friends and to socialise. And they may wish to keep that at least partially private.

    Facebook does have a groups feature, whereby you can control what particular groups of friends can see on your profile. It gets fairly granular, allowing you to determine who gets to see your wall, or you relationship status. Although it does not get granular enough for you to permit a group to only see wall posts by that group.

    I would recommend for privacy for the teacher:

    – Make a group to add your students into when you add them as friends
    – Consider carefully how much information on your facebook you want them to see
    – Accept the fact that you are probably also going to be educating your other friends about what is and what is not appropriate to send to/post to your facebook

    Strange thought: More and more I see and hear of teachers engaging with their students through social media. However these teachers often have a strongly established traditional life outside (eg. family and/or kids). They will often have either no “social” presence online (only professional) or a very tame social presence online (eg. are not into cos-play at gaming conventions, or are not a member of a dating site). I am really beginning to wonder how teachers who have an extensive “social” presence online are coping with social media in education?

  4. David, great post. We were just finishing week one, an Internet Safety, for my grade 6 students this week. Interestingly enough I am seeing more of my students keeping their social networking sites private. I will friend someone if they contact me.
    This social exposure helps with teachable moments. A pre-service teacher had an inappropriate comment on her FB.I messaged her and let her know that not only were college friends able to see, but also future employers. She hadn’t seen the comment and did remove it. I hope she tells all her friends about this and that it is a learning experience. That is why educators need to have a presence. Learning doesn’t just happen from 8-3, within the school walls, learning is everywhere, all the time.

  5. Dave, thanks for posting this – it’s much needed. I think often the negatives of social networking with students are often touted and this fear drives a lot of teachers to put their heads in the sand. It doesn’t help, and technology is not going away.

    I think that individuals should recognize that anything they post on the internet or write in emails has potential to be intercepted, replicated, edited, and misconstrued – whether their privacy settings are closed to students or not. I try to live by the rule: don’t write anything or post anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable having the whole world see.

    We live in a world of digital media, like it or not. Instead of focusing on the potential for disaster, we need to be literate in the ways to use these technologies for “good”!

  6. Thanks for your comments!

    John, I love this point:
    “…students coming in to teaching receive very little guidance about online contact with children (a phrase which in itself sounds creepy) and what is appropriate. Many of these students will have stuff from student days and student friends on their pages which would not be at all appropriate for their students to view (hence your comment about privacy settings).”
    It goes well with my point that, “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.” And it serves as a reminder that we are digitally ‘exposed’, something Elaan comments on as well.

    I understand your point about ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ as polarities that may hinder learning, but I also think that it is important to use the same language on and offline. Cyberbullying is a horrible form of bullying because of the permanence of the damage as well as the ability for it to spread. It has active and passive bystanders just like in offline bullying situations too. If you can come up with alternate words that convey that, I’ll be happy to use them!
    Also, here is a link to the blogging rules Jan referenced.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post response.
    Here is a link to the specific post. As I mention in my comment to you, “I think there are instances where a teacher may have a profile that they don’t want to share with students, but that is their choice and one that I respect.
    For others such as yourself and I, this is just another digital presence and one where we can meaningfully connect and ultimately teach or at least model appropriate behavior in.”

    Rozp, (and Cheryl)
    Thank you for sharing the great advice, and I think you touch on a point John was also touching on: “I am really beginning to wonder how teachers who have an extensive “social” presence online are coping with social media in education?”
    An excellent question that will make me think more about what advice I would give new teachers! (Teachers like the one Cheryl helped out)… and yes Cheryl, “learning is everywhere, all the time.” What a great point!

    Your final comment really resonates with me, “We live in a world of digital media, like it or not. Instead of focusing on the potential for disaster, we need to be literate in the ways to use these technologies for “good”!” You are so right, the technology isn’t going anywhere, so sticking our heads in the sand won’t accomplish anything!

  7. Kia ora David!

    On my PC right now are the draft outlines of a cybersafety policy I’m working on for TCS. I have been mulling over its contents for some months now, attending a conference here, discussing with experienced educators there, reading heaps of material, books, and sites such as Becta among others.

    I’ll be finishing the draft this week. From what I’ve gathered so far, you are right on track.

    I have a teenager at home who is a wiz with Web2.0 – Hannah has a Bebo and a Facebook account. Her sister is not far behind her. From what I’ve learnt, she and I must have got it right, for we often help each other with ideas about our own sites.

    Until I went to the NetSafe Conference 2008, I thought every teenager was like her, and that every parent shared the time at the computer with their kids the way I do. Not so.

    I know! I’m must have been a bit naive!

    But apparently parental naivity is more likely to be of a type where the parents don’t have a clue what their kids are doing on the net, and perhaps don’t care either. There is a lot of that about. I call it lack of parental responsibility.

    There is a circle of responsibility that should include the child. The others in the happy ring are parents and school.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  8. Hi Dave,
    Great post – and I have to agree with your comments on responsibility. Parents are too often saying “I don’t know that stuff” and letting it go at that – or trying to ban their kids from using it (like that works!).

    The first time Dave Sands did his presentation at our District Parent Advisory Council meeting, I was blown away by the power of his message. The funny thing, though, was that so many parents walked away that night saying “but I didn’t learn how to use facebook!” They get stuck in thinking that they need to be experts and know all about the technology before they can engage with their kids!

    I’ve seen this kind of “I need to be the expert first” approach in teachers as well. Why do we all get stuck on this? I think we need to get comfortable enough to LEARN WITH our children, instead of thinking we have to TEACH TO! Actually, I’m often amazed at what my children teach ME – and how incredibly empowering that is for them!

    This is a path we walk together and we just have to keep talking about it, getting the message out and encouraging both parents and teachers to stay involved in children’s lives! Whether it’s face to face, over a telephone, via email or on facebook – it’s still a human relationship that needs to be nurtured!

    Thanks for the conversation!

  9. Hi David,
    I find myself in disagreement with you on this issue, the trouble with technology is it has begun to blur the conventional lines of social acceptability. Facebook is primarily a social networking site….hence somne many young people choosing to have one. Your claim that a teacher presence on these types of sites would prevent bully and inappropriate behaviour etc may be true, but my opinion is this ….if these kids are typing these things openly on their profiles they are in effect, bluffing for the most part. My issue is the subversive stuff that may be bubbling just under the surface that may be pushed way down deep and lead to more extreme behaviour because kids become aware that teachers are policing facebook.
    Ultimately, whilst the thought of teachers preventing all kinds of ghastly things happening to kids is a great one, eventually responsible for their online bahaviour has to reside with them.
    In conclusion I believe the biggest threat to children online is not each other,but online adult predators posing as kids, teachers etc on places like facebook and in chat rooms. I would love facebook…which both my children have … to be a place where kids can network freely and responsibly….but until human nature is free of imperfections the incidents you describe will continue happening whether teachers are there or not.

  10. I use FB with my friends and have several students who are on my friends list. While it is fun for me, I am very careful about what I put out there because there are students watching my content. I also use Web 2.0 tools to help my own children be safe. I want to model for them the proper way to behave online, while watching for ways they can be harmed and do my best to keep my kids away from them.

  11. Good post David, these things need serious attention, but not in a big brother way, of course. In a nurturing supportive way. I would also venture to guess that misbehaving kids (bullies) are more a reflection of their families than their friends. If we go upstream far enough, we can find the sources of disharmony and dysfunction and handle it there before it gets further downstream and avert reclamation activities. So I guess that I am saying that rather to focus on policing (let’s focus there too during “cleanup” and I know you said that we should be there by choice not requirement, good stuff!) that we should go back a few steps and start addressing the real root societal issues that lead us down this path.

    Dysfunctional activities are born of some hurt or unfulfilled frozen need from the dark reaches of one’s past…. rarely connected to the present situation, but of course impacting it. So our responsibility as educators does much deeper than dealing with just the present reality.

  12. Thanks to everyone for the great comments!

    I’d like to take a moment to respond specifically to Silvana’s comment:

    I’m not sure that teacher presence on Facebook will prevent bullying, rather that it will encourage more appropriate behaviour in a very public place. It will also give students some role models that they can look up to and perhaps even turn to if they are bullied.

    I’m not sure about ‘bluffing’, but I know that in schools we encourage friends not to push and shove each other in our halls because it can be misinterpreted as bullying and can lead to more open aggression… And so if a kid is ‘bluffing’ online, I’d rather get rid of that public behaviour as well.

    I am not advocating for outward ‘policing’ of Facebook, but rather that teachers have a right to be there, and a right to accept students as friends (if they are invited and if they choose to do so). That said, if we are there, we have a responsibility to act appropriately and deal with behaviour that we come across and deem inappropriate.

    As for adult predators, I think this is an issue that we should all warn students about and we can do that best with an online presence ourselves. Again, if we are online, and parents are too, then students (our children) may not be afraid to discuss online concerns with us. If they are there behind parent’s backs and behind teacher’s backs, they certainly won’t look to these adults when they have an online issue.

    I’m not pretending that teachers being on Facebook is going to rid cyberspace of bullying or other issues, but I am certain that if we aren’t online engaging meaningfully with students, then we are counting on their peers to lead them… and that’s when online safety becomes a legitimate concern.

  13. Having anticipated this response( not saying that Canadians are predictable or anything) some issues need to be seperated…firstly are you on face book because you feel you should be there or because your managers tell you not to be….secondly if it is not appropriate for a 40 plus man to be “friends” with a teenage student offline why is it online? If you are claiming that the definition of friends on face book is different from real time, you are out of touch with your studentts After a series of debates online and off teenagers tell me explicitly that its the same thing for them… adult reality is not their reality, hence the student sending you what she sent to lots of her friends…she was not making the distinction either.
    You really think teachers online are role models hmmmmm I think if anyone actually did some research they would probably find that teachers online can only affect the students they know. Technology blurs everything and aids miscommunication of all types.
    On a personal note I have been on this internet long enough to see plenty of teachers behaving in a far more unpleasant, and inappropriate manner than any student. I do not think you can assume that because one is a teacher one is automatically a “good person”
    I am not saying teachers should not be on facebook, socialiy networking. I am saying it does not appear prudent to socially network with children, for whatever reason. Finally your examples of teachers tackling cyber bullies occurred after the fact, just as it would in real time….in effect you cannot police facebook…..unless you take total control of the system…..
    ….I think we will always disagree on this…

    can I also take this opportunity to apologise for my typos on the previous post. I decided quite a while back that I would only ever multi task on here, that is do several other tasks not just sit in front of a screen….so yes my point, I was cooking dinner, doing the laundry and writing class notes, as well as responding to your post so hmmm typos happen!!!!

  14. I think we will need to agree to disagree on this point Silvana.

    My experience with students’ ideas of ‘friendship’ online is that Grade 6 and under seem to relate it to real-life friends and as students get older they see it simply as a connection. There is some teaching that can go on here, isn’t there?

    I don’t consider myself any closer to Facebook friends that are students, and while I totally agree with you that the student sending the message to me did not make a distinction that time, I have not received an inappropriate message of any kind since… lesson learned?

    As for the bullying being caught ‘after the fact’ you are correct, yet without an adult presence how far would it have gone before an intervention? In my first two examples the bullying could have been considerably worse if teachers were not there… and how many more students would have been drawn into the mud-slinging because there was no one there to interject? It goes back to my cartoon, often when the adult is unaware, the bully wins.

    So yes Silvana, we must agree to disagree. I know that there are teachers and other adults that do not act appropriately online, but in my eyes, if we aren’t there too, then they are the ones that get to influence and lead by example. Computers and the internet are not going away, so I think we should be there role modelling what is appropriate, just as we do in school hallways, and shopping malls and other public places.

    Your busy schedule makes me more appreciative of the time you have taken to comment and respond. No apologies necessary.
    Thank you!

  15. awwww shucks you are just too nice a guy…….you sure you are Canadian.?…just kidding!

    ps Classroom 2.0 is not what I thought it would be…funny how you idealise what something will be like only to find the reality is something completely different….I blame that on computers…..
    it is 7.30 pm here cold and raining…

  16. Great article, David. Each year I provide lessons on Internet safety to the incoming gr. 8s. I have a Facebook account so that I can walk students through setting up the privacy settings on FB. It concerns me that:
    – at least 1/2 the class say their parents consider the child to be the computer expert in the family.
    – at least 1/2 have no idea that the privacy settings exist in FB let alone use them. They truly believe that only their friends can see their pages. They don’t understand how the network works.

    I also show them the section of the user agreement that states that while you own any content you put on FB, FB asserts the right to using it pretty much any way they see fit.

    I ask them how they would feel if their grandma were to see their FB page. I stress that ‘what goes online stays online.’

    One activity I do is to pass out current news articles about Internet safety or cyber bullying and ask the students what the problem in the story is and how they could prevent it from happening to them.

    For the most part they are eager to hear what I have to say and many comment that they will change the way they present themselves online.
    I don’t accept students as friends on FB. I really don’t want to put myself in the position of having to do something about an activity a student may reveal online.

    Last year in our school the counsellors reported that the #1 problem that students came to them about was cyberbullying. Scary!

  17. Wow Lesley,

    It is always great to hear about teachers addressing networking and safety in their classes, and doing so in a meaningful way.

    When an un-knowledgeable student is the expert in the family, that’s a bit unsettling… but what I find even more unsettling is when that student, as the expert, has full reign to do what they want online, and there is no dialogue between them and their parents.

    Your final comment about what a concern cyberbullying is solidifies my stance that we need to be online with students. That said, I totally respect your informed decision not to ‘friend’ your students on Facebook… We don’t have an individual obligation or a necessity to be there/everywhere online with them, and you probably have more of an impact in educating your students about online safety and cyberbullying than most teachers and parents do.

    Way to go Lesley!

  18. Hey Dave,
    Just came across this post while looking at some of the new stuff on your blog, which, by the way is excellent and is making me feel overwhelmed with all of the things that I would like to do.
    I just want to say that I agree with you that it is important we have interactions with our students in an online environment yet ensure that our private lives remain exactly that – private.
    To that end, as you may or may not remember when we had this conversation, I have set up a second student-only profile. I keep the privacy settings high and really do not put anything up on this site. I don`t even post photo`s of myself. The only photo`s of me are one`s that students have taken. I am also in full agreement that we should not solicit student friendships – if they want to add us as a friend that is ok.
    Again I think it is useful as I had a student last year who had put up her mom`s credit cards as a profile pic – obviously without thinking of any consequences. It is for instances like this and others described in your post that we should instruct our students on the appropriate uses of technology and sites like this.

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