Unwanted Advice from NPR

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by on December 13, 2011

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.

6 Responses to “Unwanted Advice from NPR”

  1.   Tim Bray Says:

    Thank you very much for making this statement to NPR and to school districts that limit use of social networking tools. I agree and have seen similar reasons for using Facebook and Twitter.


    •   Beth Still Says:

      I just don’t understand how there can be such huge discrepancies between districts when it comes to social media policies across districts. Some (like mine) are so supportive while others strongly discourage it. Frustrating.


  2.   Adrienne Michetti Says:

    Hi Beth,
    Thanks for posting this response to that article. I struggle with the same things you do. I don’t see it as being a nice black/white issue (rarely anything is, anyway!).

    I wanted to echo your comments re: Facebook in particular, and add a point, too. Not only are many responsible educators using Facebook, I would go a step further and argue that some of us NEED to be using Facebook. Our students have very few role models of how to use social media — Facebook included — responsibly. Few of them have parents on Facebook, and if they do, they may not be friends with them. I want our students to see how Facebook is used in a responsible way. I don’t send my students FB friend requests, but if they send me one, I add them. If they are still in secondary school, I put them on a list that has pretty strict privacy settings — they don’t get to see too much of me, but they do get to see the occasional status update, photos of my holidays with family, and a few links here and there. I post things there for them to see that are personal, but not private. I want them to see what it looks like! They also have the option of writing on my wall, and most of them use that at some point. I want them to see each other’s postings, and how we respond to one another in a context outside of school.

    Only once have I had something inappropriate posted on my FB wall that I did not want my students to see. I deleted it and sent a private message to the person who posted it — and he apologized profusely, saying he “forgot” that I was a teacher! (He is an old childhood friend.) That was several years ago.

    Lastly, I thought I’d mention that Rebekah Madrid wrote this great post about how using FB to connect with current and former students has enriched her life. I can’t agree with her more. It’s worth reading. :)


    •   Beth Still Says:

      Adrienne–I could not agree more. Students need to see people using Facebook responsibly. There are so many educators who don’t want to have anything to do with Facebook. I support people who make that choice for the right reasons, but I think some see articles like the one from NPR and cite nightmare scenarios as why they avoid social networking.

      I think the word “friend” has scared people as well. As you and I know the definition of this word has changed over the last few years. People I “friend” on Facebook may not be friends in the traditional sense of the word. However, there are so many who think that a line is being crossed when educators “friend” students.

      Thank you so very much for sharing Rebekah’s post. That was incredibly moving and serves as a wonderful example about how Facebook can be used to connect to students.


  3.   Ken Says:

    Beth ALL great points here. Seems NPR has drowned in the Kool-Aid of “when in doubt, cut it out.” Just because a few irresponsible teachers didn’t use their head when using social media, doesn’t give NPR or any other news media carte blanche to disrespect the professionalism and discretion of the vast majority of us. What next, “teachers should use email with students, teachers shouldn’t smile at students (at least not until Christmas), teachers shouldn’t share anything about their personal life with students. Where does it end? I think any of the teachers that are either suspended or fired have a very plausible case about Free Speech. In the case of the one teacher in New Jersey, has she posted her opinons as a private citizen, and made it clear that was her perspective, I doubt she would have gotten in as much trouble. Making statement like “warden for future criminals” while not a good idea, it is merely an opinion. Is she doing her job and a lack of admin support or even worse parental support fostering an environment in which she feels that way?!? Having taught in some of the tougher areas of Los Angeles, I can appreciate her statement. But this is for another post another time. I think the use of social media is an area that is not addressed enough and while schools/districts are quick to tell you what you can and cannot do, they are woefully inadequate when it comes to teaching the adults about responsible use of social media. Seems all teachers and students could use some of that!!


    •   Beth Still Says:

      As always you make some very good points. One of these days I’d love to sit down and visit with you more.

      You are right about most schools not addressing proper use of social media. They don’t address it enough with staff or students. This needs to be front and center, but where will it fit? I’m afraid so many districts would rather take the easy road and block it. We both know that isn’t the right answer!


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