Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Friending Students on Facebook

I recently received this friend request from a student on Facebook.
Hey Ms. Nielsen, I had to find you because you made a wonderful impact on my life. Me and my sister were talking about you and I knew I had to find you. I'm glad that you responded. If people only knew how great of a teacher you are... I know its been at least 10 years since you took me under your wing.... Let's talk gotta a lot to say! xoxo To A True Educator, and A Cool VBall Champ!
I stopped teaching students directly in the days before most people had cell phones or email and before Google, blogs, wikis, and social networking were even words or concepts. Those were the days when people were only reunited with their past by some crazy miracle or "This Is Your Life" type TV show. It was also the time when in my school, PUSH, now ten years later, an Academy Award nominated movie called "Precious," was the most popular book among my middle schoolers. And, those of my generation know this was only ten short years ago yet it seemed like a whole different world back then.

Back then, if you left your job you usually lost touch with those there, always wondering what ever happened to...

There were no Tweets to follow, or decisions about whether "To Be" or "Not to Be" a Friend of a student or colleague on Facebook. While you may have kept in touch for a little while, one change of address, often severed all ties eternally. Even in the off chance that you saw in passing a student/colleague or their sibling, parent, or family member, would you react fast enough to exchange contact information by the time you realized you had seconds to do so before the light turned red, the elevator stopped, the subway doors closed????

Today online media provides a terrific way for teachers and students to stay in touch yet sooo many teachers are afraid (rightly so) of what they may see if they are friends with students. Many adults won't interact in those worlds because students may have inappropriate language, photos, etc. That fear is fueled with stories of educators for whom there were repercussions because they were photographed drinking wine on vacation, using an explicative, or because of schools or districts forbidding digital contact between students or teachers. As a result of such highly publicized repercussions and out-of-date policies, even those teachers who would love to interact in their students online world not only avoid it on Facebook, they are also fearful of most any digital contact...email, text, etc. Today, the online tween/teen world is relatively devoid of an adult presence and as a result we've protected the adults. Unfortunately, both the adults and the students are losing out.

The adults are losing out on the ability to take advantage of the amazing 21st century opportunity to connect with students who need (and yes, want, us there) and who we need to peak at and poke every so often. Students are missing out on having that wise and caring educator comment on a status update, or provide a private word of advice on how something might be handled effectively. But, most importantly, when we are not friends with our students, we both lose touch with those who can impact us the most. We move on in our lives without the wise insight that only a student can provide to a teacher and a teacher to a student.

How different might Facebook be if every adult knew that their students /children were their friends noticing them as role models? How different might it be if students knew adults, parents, family, teachers were their friends? We might both make each other better and it would be so fantastic for us to be and stay connected in a meaningful environment.

More importantly...

How differently might a student/child's life have turned out if a trusted teacher, mentor, adult been in their life? How might an adult's life been enriched if they knew there were students who were looking to them in their online life?

For some educators, like principal Chris Lehmann and many of his teachers this will never be a question. He and his staff accept friendship requests from their students, follow their tweets on Twitter, email, and text message. Why does this administrator support this? "Because it's there," Chris says. This is how students communicate today and if we're not Tweeting, texting, emailing, commenting, then we're not communicating with our students in their worlds which would not make a whole lot of sense.

As for that friend request at the beginning of my post, did I accept it??? You betcha.


  1. Thanks for this post, Lisa. I was one of those educators who feared this type of communication with students. I changed my mind when students reached out to me on FB after I moved from Florida to NYC. I was the head of school of a very small school for 5 and a half years. The toughest part about making the transition was leaving the students behind. These were kids I had known for years. Many had made great transformations right before my eyes. When I received the first friend request from a student, I was a bit tentative. But, this was a student who was very sad when I left, and I did not want to hurt his feelings; so I accepted. I am happy to report that I now regularly get little notes and updates on students' lives. They will even chat if they see I am online. At first I did it for them, but now it is really for me. It is such an amazing feeling to actually be able to see the impact you have had with kids as they grow up. Educators who are denying this form of contact are robbing themselves of finally truly understanding how important their work really is.

  2. I wonder if you make a distinction between friending current learners and learners who have graduated and moved on?

    My policy is that I will not friend any current learners, but once they have graduated from high school then I will accept any friend requests. That is how I balance the possible repercussions with the desire to keep in touch.

  3. Interesting timing! I just got a friend request from one of my students that I had as an elementary teacher many years ago. It's so nice to see her grown up and know that she is doing well. Also I'm glad to see she remembers me, as I remember her fondly. I am toying with the idea of befriending her. I think I will as she is an adult now. I agree that the great thing about tools such as Facebook is that it provides us with the means to stay connected even though our lives have taken different paths. And as Glenn mentioned above, there is a distinction between friending current students and those who have graduated and grown up, at least in my mind. I wouldn't friend her if she was my current student. I would use another tool for that type of online communication with my students, not Facebook.

  4. I agree. I wrote of a very similar experience and conclusion drawn from it in my blog - back in 2008. You may be interested to read that to see that there are a number of us who have this opinion: http://bit.ly/5Do5IY

  5. I agree with what Glenn said - I will not friend current students due to the possible repurcusions any kind of friendship between a teacher & student may induce. But I have no problem friending them once they graduate - at this time they are adults, they make their own decisions and I make mine. My state has currently banned teachers of state schools from any contact with students via social media. While I think this is a bit excessive, I do feel as though social media is less private than say, email and it may be more appropriate for a student to contact a teacher on facebook as opposed to email. But we do what we're told!

  6. I guess what saddens me about the direction this is taking for most educators is that adults are not engaging in student digital media in the places and at the time ("while" not "after" they are a student) that they need us most to be there. I would be very interested to really look into the impact this has on the online behavior, responsibility, and social/emotional connections students at a school that condones interacting with students online verses schools where this type of teacher-student interaction is banned.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Lisa, while I agree with everything you wrote, I am also torn slightly with regard to keeping appropriate boundaries. I agree with principal Chris Lehmann that there should be use of social media and social networking between teachers and students, but I'm not convinced (yet) that parents and students and other adults know how to be appropriately networked. I believe this is where the "work" is today; teaching ourselves how to be connected appropriately and effectively. I would love to hear other stories about this balance between the personal and professional; between the teacher and the student; between the parent and the teacher; between the child and the adult.
    aka Joelyn Katherine Foy

  9. Just got my first friend request from former student... he is now a senior in high school. Yes, I friended him. We are now starting to talk about his future/ college (lack there of) plans. I don't know what his relationships with his current teachers are like... but it sure seems that he needed someone to start putting these ideas in his head. I had not talked to him (before last week) in 8 years. I am sure that without facebook I wouldn't be speaking to him now. I believe that I can now continue to support his learning and growth, despite 3000 miles distance, via Facebook.

  10. As above I only accept students that have graduated from school. Not that I have anything inappropriate on my page, but since I can not control what is added by others it seems a wise move. I agree with what you are saying and wonder if creating a teacher page (group) could accomplish such a goal. Any thoughts from someone who has more experience in running such a page on facebook...

  11. For me, I want to be part of the discussion if my students want me there. I never friend kids first, but I always accept them. I think that kids need mentors in this space... they need adults they trust who can help them figure out how to present themselves online.

    There are moments when it makes it uncomfortable because it creates more moments of "What do I do with this information?" But in the end, it makes me more human to my students and my students more human to me.

  12. What a relief to find this post!
    I agree with Chris' sentiments 100%. I never friend kids until they ask me and quite frequently I suffer from the 'what to do with this information' problem, but at the end of the day the kids tell me they feel safer knowing I am part of their 'space'. We cannot ostrich about online communication and use the 'out of sight, out of mind' argumant just to protect ourselves.

  13. It is interesting to read other people's thoughts on this topic. I have to admit that I do accept current and former student requests and I teach high school. One rule I do use though is that I keep students (still in high school) in a separate category so they can not see my posts (or only those I don't mind them seeing) and any pictures I do not want them to view. There is still a lot on my FB page they can see and I like the idea of being able to chat with students if they initiate a conversation or see what they are up to via their status. I have been doing it for well over a year and none of the students have posted anything that I needed to go to the principal because I was worried about them. Very lucky that way and I hope it never does happen.

  14. I agree with Chris and Lisa. Students need help negotiating their digital lives and being FB friends allows us a platform to assist them as they leave their digital footprints.
    I have been out of the classroom since 2002, and as an elementary school teacher my former students are now in high school, college and beyond. I live in the neighborhood where I taught and often have the opportunity to see and catch up with former students. In fact a couple of former students babysit for my children. FB has allowed me access to many others. I have had to have a couple of difficult conversations with one former student/FB friend in regard to the content of her general posts. While those are uncomfortable I still think the online connection is important.

  15. As a college student going into the world of education, I do have to say that it means the world to me when past teachers will comment on my status updates. It's still nice to know that I'm doing good work, or just to know that they think about me, just as I think about them. These were truly amazing, and influential people in my life and I'm so glad there is such a convenient way for us to stay connected.

    I really like what Ms. Blasioli said and it is really a smart thing to keep in mind, particularly because I am also going into education. I think it is smart that she keep students still in high school in a separate category so they can not see posts and pictures that aren't necessary for them to view. Particularly because those are students that are still interacted with on a daily basis there is still a professional responsibility.

    Chris also makes a good point. Teachers never friend students, it is always the other way around. Teachers are part of their students lives only if they want them there, and many time students do because they feel "safe." I think it's important to remember that some students safe outlet is school so in a world where that is the case, it's nice to have a teacher watching over you on a social networking site such as facebook.

    I am really glad that I stumbled upon this site and was able to read up on what everyone thought. As a future educator and a user of facebook it has been nice to keep in mind what is appropriate communication between students and teachers, teachers and teachers, etc. If anyone else would be willing to give any more advice on this particular topic that would be most appreciated, thank you so much!

  16. I will always accept friend requests from students however I will not send them out to students. That means current students, former students etc. If you accept friend requests from current students I believe you must accept them all. I don't believe it is right to friend some and not others. Finally, on the issue of boundaries--I have never had an issue concerning Facebook friends. I firmly believe that if the boundaries are well-defined while in the classroom, then those boundaries will extend into the online social world as well.

  17. The problem I have with this is the presumption that we are to be our students' friends. I am their teacher, a parental figure, and an authority figure. That precludes the traditional idea of "friendship." I am also not my children's "friend," either. The blurring of boundaries makes it more difficult for adults to do their jobs and it makes many kids believe they operate on the same plane as adults. That's not how it's supposed to work. Too many boundaries have been removed from kids' lives due to permissive mores. Kids have to know their place.

  18. I believe that social media like facebook are inappropriately blurring the necessary boundaries between teachers and students. Teachers are not supposed to be their students' "friends." We are authority figures and our ability to be such would be compromised if the students didn't understand the expected boundaries between child and adult interaction. If we really are about teaching them about "real life," then robbing them of the valuable lesson of "knowing your place" would be doing them a disservice.

    Really, in this overly litigious society, where looking at someone the wrong way can be cause to file a lawsuit, why would any teacher wish to communicate with ANY student in ANY venue outside the parameters of their job?

    Sorry, but the downside of social media usage in schools far outweighs any possible advantage.

  19. What makes someone a friend is the fact that you share with them a relationship based on mutual respect and trust in which there is an equality of power. Friendship is all about the way you relate to someone and not at all about the arbitrary terminology a website designer uses to group information! Just because Facebook places everyone you know into a list it calls “friends”, doesn’t make them all friends in the real sense of the word. I think that if facebook used the term "contacts" instead of "friends" there would be less angst about it.

    if you are interested, I have a longer post on this on my own blog at http://andrewdouch.wordpress.com/ as it has become an issue in Australia too. The comments readers have made there are worth reading too.

  20. just started to read a few of these 'friending students' posts. my suggestion: create a facebook TEACHER PAGE. the student and you can interact and both of you can have privacy; works for current and past students.

  21. Thanks for your blog post about friending students on Facebook. I have had many discussions with teachers about whether to friend or not friend and your post put things in perspective for me. I wrote about this decision on my blog (http://www.coetail.asia/nconnor/2010/12/10/to-friend-or-not-to-friend/) quoting your post. However, as often happens, once I had made the decision that I would friend students, my school came out with a ruling that we cannot! I appreciate Chris Lehmann’s comment that students “need adults they trust who can help them figure out how to present themselves online.” I think this is true of all of us. We all need people that help us to become better versions of ourselves. I also think that it is a privilege to have a student ask to be Facebook friends. Conversations I have had with students indicate that many are desperate for adult input into their daily experience.
    A couple of people wrote about setting up a separate “teacher page” on Facebook to keep students separate from friends (used in a more traditional sense of the word). However, students have told me that they find both pages of their teachers. Does anyone have a way to truly keep these two Facebook pages separated? Unfortunately I must admit to being very naïve about the world of social networking and am therefore very interested in hearing how people handle this.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...