Schools continue to struggle with social media. In particular, teachers’ online interactions with students via Facebook and other social-networking sites continues to be problematic. Some school districts have been successful in adopting social-media policies. New York City, for example, recently implemented social-media guidelines for teachers and staff. But school districts without social-media policies for staff are facing challenging times.
The Democrat and Chronicle.com, for example, reported one such story involving a teacher named Shari Sloane. According to the article, Sloane has no qualms about communicating with students and former students via her personal Facebook page. Some of her colleagues think the practice is unprofessional-others call it unethical. I would call it dangerous.
Another Rochester-area school district, Churchville-Chili Central, adopted a social-media policy in March. The policy prohibits communications between students and teachers other than those that are for “educational purposes only.” Although I commend any school district that recognizes the importance of addressing social media, I do have reservations about the policy.
It seems to me that teachers should not be discouraged from communicating with students. It’s more important that there be a mechanism in place to prevent inappropriate communications from taking place. Thus, there are competing interests–preventing inappropriate communications while, at the same time, without restricting communications that benefit students, even if they’re not purely education-related.
One way to manage these interests is with a policy that prohibits “secret” communications. In other words, a teacher should be able to discuss non-educational subjects with students, provided that those discussions are known or knowable to school administrations and parents. As with most things in the word of social media, transparency is key.
That’s why the New York City policy is a better approach. That policy, according to the N.Y. Times, prohibits teachers from communicating with students via personal Facebook and Twitter accounts but does not impose a general ban on teacher social-media use. Instead, the policy expressly provides that teachers may use social media and recognizes the educational potential of social media. The policy simply says that any communications must be done through district-provided technology. An excellent balance, it seems to me.