Cleveland Bans Teachers Friending Students on Facebook

September 21, 2010 · 19 comments in Social Media

I tweeted a news item announcing a Cleveland school administration forbids teachers from friending students on Facebook. I am not one of Facebook’s biggest fans, but teachers talking with students–in public–is a good thing for many reasons.

It makes kids familiar with a tool that is likely to be part of their lives. It teaches them they can access valuable sources online. Teachers who care can put in extra time. Students and teachers can share and learn from each other. Followup classroom question can be asked in a new and efficient way.

I was surprised that several people in my stream favored the ban. USNG Lt. Col. Daniel. C Mosqueda, who I wrote about in Twitterville, said a teacher had rebuffed his own kid because it showed “fraternization.” Someone who tweets from Florida as Whineaux observed that we live in a time when false accusations can ruin a career.

We have always lived in a time when false accusations have hurt good people. We have always had teachers who showed favoritism. In fact most of us show we have favorites in any group.

Times change. Issues don’t but the tools that get debated do.

A few years back, I learned about a case of a teacher who banned students from using Google to research a history report. The teacher thought it was cheating. Most people thought it was ridiculous. The teacher was encouraged to take her retirement on full pension.

Meanwhile almost everyone seems concerned that education on all levels seems to be antiquated. It is hard to keep education contemporary and thus meaningful for young people who don’t really remember a world without online social networks.

I believe the educational value of social media tools is immense and simultaneously off to a slow start. Teachers friending students? I’m sure there will be some inappropriate behavior in one direction or another. I’m sure some students will receive favoritism.

But those instance will be in the VAST minority. The social tools are new tools and the more they are vetted into conversations between students and those entrusted to educate them, the better off we will be or so it seems to me.


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Mihaela (Dr. V) September 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Very interesting stories and arguments – but the principle here is, when to regulate something through bans, rules, laws, etc. In a country that values freedom and steers away from government intervention, as a resident (but legal) alien, I am amazed at how many rules there are, about so many details of possible human behavior. If 2 percent of the population behaves in an unconstructive way, does this mean we need to create a rule to regulate the behavior of the other 98%? We need more education, better social media literacy, more personal responsibility, rather than put all social responsibility in the hands of various regulatory bodies. What I am seeing here is that we’re regulating for the lowest common denominator (the 2% above) rather than for a vast majority who would have stayed out of trouble anyway.

Dave F September 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I see where you are coming from Mihaela, and I agree in certain instances, but we’re talking about children. These people are supposed to be authority figures & role models. Being in their position, they should not be friends with students.

I’m not trying to silence them or say that social media should be disbanded, but it is smart practice. I am a Social Media Manager for many large brands, and a huge advocate of the technology, but I believe that the administration should put these rules in place. They will be held responsible if their staff does something inappropriate, so they should be able to restrict it.

On another note, I’m also not talking about just the poor action a teacher may take. What if that teacher sees pictures of the student drinking, should he/she report them? They are supposed to according to a lot of school guidelines. What if the teacher is talking about God on their Facebook page? Schools are supposed to be free of religion, this could cross a line. Since administrations will be held liable for this, they should put best practices in place.

There is no need for them to be friends when they can collaborate on Facebook Groups in a public setting, and still have no access to each other’s personal information.

Mihaela (Dr. V) September 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Dave, I think both you and I agree about the end behavior that we wish to see – just not the means to get to it. Sure, rules will be effective even if people follow them blindly – they will ensure that the desired behavior happens (or in this case, doesn’t happen). I prefer to educate people so they make informed choices about their behavior – not out of fear, but out of responsibility. In principle, I believe over-regulating society makes it easier for individuals to pass on education and responsibility. It’s a principle I can’t bring myself to agree with.

Dave F September 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm

See, this situation is different for me because of children. I do not think that this should a compromise, and that their safety (and the administration’s reputation) should come first.

Educating people is of course the perfect way to do it…if it was a guaranteed fix. Since it is not, and since it is just a matter of time before a situation becomes mainstream (over sharing by people is just a sad truth), they should regulate. Everyone will not say “we need to educate teachers better” if a situation happens, they will say “why in the world was that teacher on facebook with students, they should know better.”.

What is better, getting students to have a release form signed from parents to be friends on Facebook (with no guarantee of misconduct) or saying you can connect on Facebook, but in a public forum. We have a duty to protect the children and my only point is that they shouldn’t be Facebook “friends”. Not sure how savvy you are on social media, so maybe a lot of people don’t understand that there are other & better ways to achieve these goals on an open medium.

Also, don’t get me wrong, I am against over regulation, and think it is out of control, but some things (some) need regulation.

Marvin Tumbo September 22, 2010 at 10:45 am

Though I do not support the ban, I must acknowledge that “lines” can be crossed and which then calls for creative ways of resolving them.

Let me not mention the extension of teaching beyond the class but the issue of morality and whether teachers can or should – for lack of a better word – “police” the activities of their students beyond school and whether they can/should reprimand students based on what they put up in social networks?

People share incredible – in a bad way – stuff on facebook and some idiot may feel the urge to tag you in some shameful photo. When students share illicit images or videos with each other on Facebook or any other network for that matter, what does a teacher who is a friend do? That is the question I feel should be addressed. I have cautioned my friends that I will not entertained being tagged in various type of content. What can teachers do?

That said, there are social networks out there that are built with interactions between teachers and students in mind like http://edublogs.org/ in the UK and http://www.obami.com/ in S.Africa.

Point is, there are better ways this can be handled. If there are problems that have or can arise with friending someone, shouldn’t focus be on using these rare occurrences as case studies.

Jim Spath September 22, 2010 at 10:05 am

Shel:

This is an interesting dilemma. I face similar concerns in my role as a volunteer in the Scouting program. The youth are much more comfortable with Facebook than are the adults. We’re guided by principles of Youth Protection, and there are specific Scout handbook sections on avoiding “cyber-bullies”, though the media seem to evolve faster than guidance can be discussed and shared.

Some Scout units use Facebook for scheduling events – it seems easier, faster and more open than emailing a list.

I make it a point not to “friend” any youth (under 18), though I will accept if they ask me. I would avoid private chats with youth, however, to avoid any awkward situations. Posting on their wall seems a safer choice. A parallel situation is with merit badge counseling. When we meet with Scouts, it is in a public place, and they bring a buddy (or their parents). Avoiding any appearance of impropriety, and eliminating any chance of false accusations of misbehavior just seems common sense these days.

Jim

Dave F September 22, 2010 at 10:40 am

Jim,

I am sure you understand far too well that even though occurrences are extremely rare, they must be taken into consideration for best practices.

With that in mind, I do have a few suggestions. A Facebook group would be a great way to keep conversations private from public (fear of outside predators) but out in the open (talk is infront of the whole group). Parents can monitor the conversations, other scout masters, and scouts can partake. You can setup events that can be RSVPd to, and send updates and communications to the group.

I think the ability for all communications to be monitored by parents makes it a safer approach. This way you do not have to worry about communicating with scouts and what parents may think about it.

Everyone needs to remember, this is just a precaution like any other safety one. We do not put these in place just for what is happening, but for what could happen.

shelisrael September 22, 2010 at 8:46 am

It disturbs me that some of you would ban all teachers from talking to their students out of fear of what might be. Of 550 million users, few cases of teacher-to-student abuse seem to exist. The worst case, cited by Whineaux, involved a 41-year-old teacher sending lewd photos of herself to a teen student via email. Facebook had nothing to do with it. As I tried to state, there will always be some abuses, but to just ban a new form of communications because your afraid of what might-or might not-happen just doesn’t seem logical to me.

Dave F September 22, 2010 at 9:28 am

You’re missing a huge key element to what I said. I’m not saying to ban communications on a new form of communications. I’m saying to go about it in a smarter way.

There is no reason for them to be Facebook friends when there are so many other ways for them to collaborate. If infact the reason is to work on school related stuff, it would be more collaborative, safer, and smarter to use a Facebook Group or Fanpage. Other students can interact with questions, topics can be started, and no personal information or pictures are distributed.

Yes it is not common for teacher/student relations to occur, but how common is inappropriate Facebook messaging/pictures? How many parents would be comfortable with teachers and students being friends outside the classroom? What about when they find out they are friends online and that teacher has access to pictures of their daughter/son? It’s just good practice to take this on preemptively.

Dave F September 22, 2010 at 7:34 am

Sorry, but I have to disagree. There are too many lines that could be crossed. Youth shares a lot of information, often times too much…is a teacher obligated to turn in the student for drinking underage? What if they knew and that student wrecks, are they liable? Sure, you may say the student shouldn’t friend in that case, or share, but what if.

What if the teacher wants to share about a date, or man, or partying (which they can do), this is not appropriate to share with students. There should be boundaries, and there are too many whatifs. Administrations should be worried about the potential for lines being crossed with comments, pictures, videos, jokes, religious & political views being shared, and more (from both sides).

In regards to the argument that it opens up communication between them and questions….blah! That is a cop-out, a teacher can just as easily set up a Facebook Group for students to log in and communicate with the class, have discussions, and ask questions. I say good job heading this off before a situation arises, b/c if they waited until after the fact when there is a lawsuit or charges, everyone would be wondering how the administration thought it was a good idea.

-Dave

Mihaela (Dr. V) September 22, 2010 at 12:34 am

Although I personally don’t friend students on Facebook, I agree with you, Shel, that this ban is a bad idea. It is based on a host of assumptions about how people use Facebook – but these behavior patterns may not be true of everyone, and they will change over time. Ultimately, Facebook is a communication channel, and I find it inappropriate for an organization to tell me what communication channel I may or may not use to communicate with students.

Re: all the bad things that Whineaux’ comment talks about, I don’t doubt they happened – but the solution is education, not burying our heads in the sand by banning the behaviors that caused trouble.

I have research data to show the beneficial impact of social media in education (although it’s not about Facebook) – can’t wait for it to be published so we can talk about it more.

Mike Sansone September 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Abuse of a thing should NOT warrant non-use, but argues for correct use.

Too many times, organizations (esp. education) close communication channels. Rather, they should be engagement principles and guidelines laid out with opportunity for modeling communication skills.

I know of several teacher/student conversations taking place, and almost always centered around learning and development.

Putting bars on the window will only motivate poor usage. It borders on lazy leadership.

Whineaux September 21, 2010 at 3:12 pm

You have a very Utopian view about how students and teachers would use Facebook. If that was the only discourse that would go on – I wouldn’t support a ban. But what used to pass as common decency is gone. Teachers friend students then post their pictures from bars wearing clothes the student’s shouldn” see them in and doing things the student’s shouldn’t see. Students say things online to teachers that cross the line. It’s infrequently helping with homework.

If people automatically realized what is and isn’t’ appropriate — this wouldn’t an issue. Unfortunately everyone has a different idea of “appropriate”. What you think the teacher can say to your kid and what your neighbor thinks are likely not the same.

Our society is litigious and blameful. I think that the school was trying to limit liability for the teachers and itself.

Free speech is the myth that you can say anything without repercussion. That’s never been true nor will it ever be true.

Accepting any employment comes with limits on behavior. Physicians are not supposed to date patients or treat family. Is that a ban of freedom? Absolutely! Does it make sense? Absolutely!

There are many ways a teacher can communicate with student’s online. Facebook blends personal life and professional life in a way we’ve never seen before. Students and teachers shouldn’t be hanging out after school as friends, nor should they be Facebooking. IMHO

shelisrael September 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Let me remove my rose-colored glasses for just a minute. You cited some really awful stuff has happened. So, if such stuff has happened can you site a link. And if there was such an incident of a teacher posting a photo in a bar, was it one incident or is this a common practice.

In fact, I’m confused as to you observations involve anything that has actually happen or they are examples of what you fear may happen?

Whineaux September 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I’m not going to out someone by name. That’s the entire reason I support the ban. I will say I saw it first hand and saw the teacher fired. I also saw my son’s education in the subject suffer the entire school year.

But you don’t need me to out anyone, read the news, Google it. Google Melinda Dennehy.

Dave F September 22, 2010 at 7:45 am

Really, you can honestly think there has never been a teacher that posted a picture from inside a bar or with a drink in their hands? Please try to remove the blinders a little bit, what about teachers having sexual relations with middle school students, is that a myth?

I am not saying that schools should ban social networking, what I am saying is they should not be friends. They do not have to be FB friends to have classroom conversations. They can create groups for classroom discussion and fully embrace social networking.

Robertson Frizero September 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm

The idea of students and teachers being friends on Facebook may be shocking to some because their image of the teacher and his role on nowadays society is still of someone who has the knowledge and transfers such knowledge to students in a single direction. And the world nowadays is multidirectional, people teach and are taught at the same time, roles in school are frankly changing towards a open perspective of education. But changes like this take time and imagining students and teachers as friends online may sound for them as a rupture in discipline and hierarchy.

On the other hand, here in Brazil we have had several cases of teachers who are victims of cyber bullying from their students. So I understand when a teacher refuses to become friends with a student on the social media.

Anyway, I do believe that forbidding such kind of contact between teachers and students is uneffective and counterproducent.

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