Monday, October 18, 2010

Facebook Doesn’t Get Teachers Fired - Inappropriate Behavior Does

Today’s New York Post story, "Teachers fired for flirting on Facebook with Students” chronicles three educators who were fired for having inappropriate dealings with students on Facebook. The Post plays up the sensationalism of the story by making it seem, the tool is in part the culprit, further spreading the fear so many adults already have of the digital worlds in which their students thrive. While ,”They threw the Facebook at 'em!” makes for a nice headline, it was the teacher’s behavior, not the medium that is at fault.

According to the article, one of the teachers had been cut loose because of the social-networking scandal. The reality, is this is not a social networking scandal. It is an inappropriate conduct scandal, like all the others we’ve seen for years...pre-social networking. These teachers would be fired regardless of whether they were acting inappropriately online, on paper, through email or via face-to-face conduct. In fact, in most cases, these teachers also engaged in inappropriate activities off line as well.

The problem here is that the media is confusing the issue and policy makers and school administrators look like they’re doing a good thing when they take the easy way out enforcing bans and mandates in the name of child safety. The reality is that when we remove the ability of adults to exist in children’s worlds, we are doing just the opposite of keeping students safe. Enabling students to operate in online environments devoid of the watchful eye, guidance and advice of adult family members, teachers and mentors, is not in the best interests of children.

These teachers weren’t behaving inappropriately because of Facebook. There have always been inappropriately behaving adults. Facebook, in the case of these adults, didn’t cause their behavior, it just made it easier for them to get caught. The danger we run in to when we ban the tool rather than address the behavior is that without teaching students to appropriately harness the power of communication and technology tools available today, we aren’t preparing them for the world in which they live and not only survive, but also thrive.

We all know that the U.S. President wouldn’t be in office had he not had social media savvyness. Don’t we want our children to be educated in a way that would prepare them if they one day wanted to run for office, start a movement, change the world? You betcha! And, adults shouldn’t fool themselves that one must be of a certain age to harness the power of social media to make a difference. Kids around the globe are using social media to affect positive change today.

Fortunately, more and more adults see past the media hype and are not falling prey to the sensationalism. Instead they are harnessing the power of online media to connect and engage with students in important ways. In fact, I was recently mentioned in the New York Times after they came across a post I wrote about Friending Students on Facebook. In the piece they shared how Facebook enabled students and teachers to make meaningful connections with each other. Or, take for instance first grade teacher Erin Shoening who helps her elementary students harness the power of Facebook. You can see how she and a colleague do this in the below video.

The answer is not to follow in the footsteps of reactive states like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Ohio who have ordered or urged teachers not to "friend" students on social-networking sites. While it may be an easier solution for schools, it is not what is best for our students. If we want to ensure students are empowered to successfully communicate, operate, and make a difference in the world, we need to stop trying as The Post suggests, “to find policies that address teacher-student communication on Facebook” and instead enforce policies that address appropriate and inappropriate behavior regardless of the medium. That doesn't mean removing adults from the online worlds of students. It means ensuring that adults and children interact in safe and appropriate ways regardless of the medium that empower them to be self-directed, globally-connected learners and leaders.
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