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 As a result of such highly publicized repercussions and out-of-date policies, even those teachers who would love to interact in their students online world not only avoid it on Facebook, they are also fearful of most any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.
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