Teachers and Social Media

Recently I have been finding some articles about social media websites and the dilemma that they pose for educators. This is a subject that I have had questions about for a long time.

The article “Social media poses dilemma for Western Pennsylvania teachers” describes exactly what I am unsure about. What are the boundaries for teachers with social media? As the article says, teachers have a life outside of the classroom and what they do on their own time should not be a concern of the school board that they work for unless their out-of-class behaviour is unacceptable. This poses the question about Facebook; should teachers be allowed to add students on Facebook? Should content on a teacher’s Facebook page be of concern to the school board?

In the article, a teacher was suspended from work for a picture posted on her Facebook profile page. The article continues to discuss a number of outlooks on teacher-use of social media from different school boards. “The laws really haven’t caught up with what’s out there,” is a quote from Steve Weitzman, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman, which is a large reason as to why I have a question about educators using social media.

When I was in high school I had some teachers who would be “Facebook friends” with a student once they graduated and were no longer a student in their school division, while other teachers were “friends” with students to pass along messages for extra-curricular teams and clubs, some teachers were even related to some students or had a connection outside of school that lead to their “Facebook friend” status. As I entered university, I was continuously warned about keeping my Facebook profile “professional” and that it could be the difference between getting a job and not getting a job. Some profs have recommended deleting Facebook, tightening up privacy settings, or just cleaning up inappropriate posts and pictures.

As I am quickly approaching my pre-internship and internship semesters, I am faced with the question of where to draw the line when it comes to social media? Over the past two years I have been an assistant coach at a local high school and have become “Facebook friends” with some of the players I have coached, who will still be in high school when I become a teacher. Should I delete these individuals from my friend list? Or limit the content that they can see on my profile? What about students I will be teaching in the future?

Where do current educators stand on this topic? Do you keep your Twitter posts public, or lock them? Do you add students to Facebook, wait until they graduate, or never add them at all? Should school boards have control over what teachers can and cannot post on their own time?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Teachers and Social Media

  1. These are great questions about teachers and social media Amy. I too, as a pre-service teacher am concerned with these questions, but more so for the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer for Teacher’s conduct. Facebook has become such a huge part of the way we connect, communicate, and share our lives with our family and friends, it’s hard to imagine a life without it (for me at least). I find myself very conservative with what I put on Facebook, as there is so much controversy over teachers using Facebook, but at the same time, I feel like there is a lot of overkill, and don’t see the harm in posting silly pictures with my friends. I have very high privacy settings on my profile and photo albums, and have adopted the motto that if I see you on the street, and would walk right by you without having a conversation, you probably don’t need to be my Facebook friend. I don’t think the dilemas of whether or not to add students, players, or younger kids you may know will be a clear cut yes or no anytime soon, so I think it is best to just air on the side of caution and use your discretion.

  2. I’ll try to answer a few questions. My twitter posts are public. My facebook is locked down pretty tight. I don’t have a wall as to avoid things that others may post on my page. I also have very few photos and information available on there for others to see. Even if you’re my facebook friend you only get to see me email address and a profile picture or two.

    I’ve added students from my internship that have graduated and those that I no longer teach. I may however teach them again some day. I’m not worried about what they see on my Facebook page. As I said, it’s locked down well. Using social media also provides me a way to stay connected with these students and continue forming relationships with them. One of my students from my internship last year, for example, is about to be in a production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I found out via facebook, messaged him about how to get tickets, and now I’m looking forward to attending. I love showing support for my students both in and out of the classroom. Facebook can be used as a tool to make things like this possible.

  3. courosa

    Amy – I’ve asked others to comment here, but this is something I’d really like to talk about in class. If I don’t, remind me – because it’s important to the entire class.

    Thanks for your post!

  4. georgecouros

    Here are my thoughts as a school administrator.

    I would not friend any “current” students, or would I friend them when they are in K-12 with my regular facebook account. However, I might add a separate account for students to connect with me but not sure I have the time to maintain both. We do however have a facebook page for our school where students can connect with their parents.

    Students have however messaged me through facebook which I consider similar to email. I have no problem with this as it is good for students to be able to connect but I never email first.

    I have read some tweets saying that it who wants to know the bad stuff going on in a kid’s life so they want nothing to do with facebook. I don’t think this is a good reason. Facebook can happen but you have to be very deliberate in how it does, in my opinion.

    Just my thoughts.

  5. I too have struggled with where Facebook fits in education and I have come up with a few things. I personally would never “friend” a students past or present as I think that that is a professional line that I just don’t want to cross. My personal Facebook account is my social place for my friends and I do not want to cross that line. Plus, there are things about my students that I do not want to know.

    Having said that, right now I am experimenting with a school only Facebook account from which I can communicate with my students regarding only school related material (i.e. homework postings, links related to what we are studying etc.) and I quite like it. I block their wall postings and updates because as I said before, there are things that I just don’t want to know.

    Another thing to be careful of is the views of your future employers. Do they have a policy? Guidelines? Recommendations? If nothing, it is likely that they do not know what to say about it but do not support it. Find out how they feel and stick with it.

    Good luck! Hope that helped a little.

  6. Steve Kabachia

    I’ve been teaching for over ten years and have seen the entire evolution of social media through a “teacher’s” lens. While I have facebook locked down pretty tight, that’s because of my own desire for some privacy, as I use it primarily for communication with family abroad. My twitter feed and my blog postings are wide open, and fairly carefully edited to maintain a level of professionalism that I’m comfortable with sustaining, regardless of the views of administrators or superintendents.

    To address the broader question of how much control school boards may attempt to exercise over their teachers’ online presences, I think school boards are making the same mistakes teachers and administrators make with students: those in a position of authority who don’t understand digital citizenship are afraid of the potentially bad outcomes and do their best limit exposure to such by banning social media. If school boards understand digital citizenship, they can help their teachers become good digital citizens, something we need to be teaching our students anyway, and social media can become a healthy part of teaching, a teacher’s life, and another tool for communicating with students.

  7. Val Mulholland

    I agree with Mike Wolf. As a teacher, you must exercise good judgment in all areas of your life, because like it or not, you are judged by the community. Why set yourself up for unnecessary problems by engaging in inappropriate conduct, virtual or otherwise, with your students?

  8. Many of us think/reflect about these questions and I am asked similiar questions by staff. Will Richardson was recently interviewed here http://tinyurl.com/27c2e7t and he shared that it was important for educators to be “googleable” and have a visible presence online. It’s important to be findable so you can learn from everyone and build networks. My twitter posts are public and this is one of my greatest sources of learning. My facebook page is locked down and reserved more for family and friendships. Although, I have many friends who crossover and I find the lines are very comfortably blurry for me. With respect to this question: should school boards have control over what teachers can and cannot post on their own time? I find with anytime, anywhere, anyplace learning, learning and living, it would be very hard for me to define “my own time”. It’s all my own / our learning time whether it be 9:00 am, 5:00 pm or later. The world clock is key for me now as I network and learn all over the world using social media. I think the key is to model how you value learning today using social media. Lead by example. That’s how we build trust, openness and transparency. Creating a culture of visibility where being connected maximizing the use of social media is okay, in fact, it’s the preferred and expected way of learning with each other.

  9. Thank you very much for the comments everyone! They have all been very insightful and have answered a number of my questions.

  10. Natalie

    It is up to the teacher – or any user of social media – to manage what they share and with whom. Though of course it is not always that simple: we cannot control others who may post more publicly or forward a privately shared item. It will be interesting to see how the notion of groups takes on in Facebook. From my own point of view, I post and share only items that won’t be a problem even if shared beyond my chosen audience.
    I think some people see Facebook or similar profiles as a default directory listing; being a Facebook friend is simply a convenient way of being able to contact someone. There are always filters to unclutter notifications.

  11. Mike N

    Good questions & discussion. I do not lock my Twitter account, but Facebook is locked up and I only use it for family. If I was still in K-12, I would not friend students. I think this is a personal decision, school boards should stay out of this decision, trust teachers to use the technology wisely & provide P.D.. I do see value in schools having a Facebook page that students and parents can be fans of to get updates and news, such as special eveners or storm days. Regardless, a teacher has a responsibility to model appropriate behavior.

  12. Lynn

    In spite of all the positives, it takes only one hostile student (or parent) to burn you. And you know how a tech savvy person can manipulate and/or spread things beyond all belief. Think very hard about what you put out there that students can see, and how it could be manipulated to your detriment.

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