I recently read a story called Friendly Advice for Teachers: Beware of Facebook on the NPR website. Ironically, the only reason I read this story was because it was shared on Twitter.
There is little doubt that many educators have found themselves in hot water for something they have posted online. However, it isn’t the medium that got them in trouble, but rather it is what they said. The story on NPR did not do a very good job explaining this. In fact, it did just the opposite. The following advice from New Jersey teachers union appeared in the story.
“Don’t ever friend or follow your students on Facebook or Twitter, never post during work hours or using materials such as a school computer, and certainly never post anything about your job online, especially that is about students.”
Really? I should never friend my students on Facebook? I should never follow my students on Twitter? I should never post to Twitter or Facebook (or other social network) during the work day?
I have some issues with these points and I would like to take this opportunity to share why I’m respectfully telling NPR they can keep their friendly advice to themselves.
I have been active on Twitter for three and a half years. Twitter has provided me with the ability to connect to 6500 teachers which is equivalent to about a quarter of the total number of teachers in my state. Many of these people have had a tremendous impact on me. They have pushed me and challenged my thinking and as a result have had a direct impact on who I am as a teacher. I am better and smarter because of the vast network of teachers on Twitter.
Each year we are required to write goals. Two of my goals, initiating important activities to contribute to the profession and seeking out opportunities for professional development, rely on the use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. I am incredibly fortunate to work in a district that supports the use of these tools.
The next point has to do with friending students on Facebook. I don’t believe that there is a right answer to this question, but I definitely do not agree with the advice provided in the NPR story. I do friend students on Facebook, but I have a separate account for this reason. I share things like pictures of my family, trips I take, and feel good posts that I think my students might enjoy. In the last four years two students have used our connection on Facebook (and MySpace) as a method to get back into school. There are also other students who have used social media channels to talk to me about personal issues that they don’t want to discuss in person. If I taught at a different school I might not friend students.
Now about posting during the work day using school equipment. I have no qualms about posting to Twitter during the workday. And yes, I use my school issued laptop. As I stated earlier, two of my goals relate directly to using social networking. During the day the vast majority of my posts to Twitter are professional in nature. Once in a while I engage in friendly banter or a personal conversation, but that is really no different that personal conversations teachers might have at school. I also do not tweet while I should be teaching. When I can I use my network to find answers for students. I rarely use Facebook during the workday. While many of my Facebook friends are colleagues, I use it more for fun than for work. The notable exception to this is when I am posting something on our official school Facebook page.
My issue with the NPR story is that it made it seem like the answer to using social media is cut and dry. As with everything in life, the answer to how and when to educators should use social media is not black and white. The story could have promoted the responsible use by educators, but it didn’t. It could have discussed how we can be role models for its use instead of making it seem like teachers who use this medium of communication should be persecuted, but it didn’t. Pointing out how Twitter and Facebook can be used incorrectly and irresponsibly is probably necessary, but showing the flip side is important, too.