For teachers today, using Facebook can be one of the biggest double-edged swords. On one side, it can be a great and useful tool in reaching out to and communicating with children and teenagers. On the other, it can put teachers at great risk of impropriety with children, teenagers, their families and administrators.
Recently, there have been a few teachers who have made headlines by engaging in improper relationships with students. In each of these cases, they used social media and text messaging to cultivate the relationship.
Because Facebook is the leading form of social media, it has become the target of school administrators and lawmakers. States have attempted to pass laws banning teachers from using Facebook, like the recent law that was almost passed in Missouri, while others have attempted to control teachers’ use of Facebook.
For example, one teacher’s aide in Michigan was fired for refusing to give up her Facebook login information to administrators after they suspected that she had been using it improperly.
These instances have culminated into New York City Public Schools developing a policy that does not ban the use of Facebook and social media, but limits contact between students and teachers. According to the new policy, teachers may not use their personal Facebook pages to contact students, but may set up class pages and groups to contact students.
This is the exact policy that all school districts should take. However, they should go one step further and provide social media training to the teachers to help them know how to properly use it.
Facebook can be the fastest way to contact and inform teenagers. E-mail is quickly becoming a relic of the past as teenagers are quick to check their Facebook pages on their laptops and phones, while neglecting their e-mails.
At the same time, Facebook has developed different tools that can facilitate discussion and communication not only between student and teacher, but between student and student. Facebook groups and pages allow students to not only receive information from the teacher, but to post items of interest like articles and videos on the board as well.
If a social studies class teacher were to set up a group, the teacher could ask students to find articles and videos on current events and then share them with ease.
To help educators create these educational groups, Facebook has even created a new tool that would allow educational groups to be created using school-sponsored e-mail addresses. This would keep non-students from joining and potentially disrupting the class.
The potential upsides to the use of Facebook should be enough to have any teacher celebrating the opportunity to create a great educational community. However, because of the double-edged nature of social media, every teacher should take certain steps to ensure student safety, as well as their own.
First and foremost, if one were to decide to use Facebook, the first thing that teacher should do is check with both the school and the district for any policies concerning social media. If there is none, then take the opportunity to develop one.
The next thing that a teacher can do to properly use Facebook is heed the recommendations from the New York City Public Schools. Do not use a personal account to contact students, and do not ‘friend’ students.
There is no reason a teacher needs to be friends with students over Facebook. Students can join groups and participate in them without being friends with the creator. By not ‘friending’ students a proper teacher-student relationship can be maintained in the classroom, out of the classroom and online.
The teacher should create a group and maintain that any online contact with students should be through the group and nowhere else.
Ultimately, when it comes to using Facebook as an educational tool, it comes down to common sense, professionalism and proper training. While teachers should know the difference between correct and improper behavior, districts should provide the training needed to help them properly use this great teaching tool.
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions