Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Restrictive social media policies don't prevent inappropriate relationships

Last week NBC news announced that some Colorado school districts are creating tougher social media policies for staff in hopes of preventing inappropriate relationships with students. While banning staff from connecting with students is certainly the easy way out, doing so not only fails to prevent inappropriate relationships, but it also fails to prepare students for success in the 21st century.  

The problem with such policies is that they are based on the premise that social media causes inappropriate behavior. The reality is that social media doesn't cause inappropriate behavior. It catches it. Policies like this don't address the real concerns a district may have about inappropriate behavior. It just drives it underground while also criminalizing teachers.

The policy also shows a lack of understanding around how social media sites like Facebook and Twitter work. Districts with an understanding of social media know that teachers and students can interact using social platforms without friending / following by using strategies such as creating groups, pages, or using hashtags.  

This is important because our students need role models like teachers to guide them when it comes to responsible use. When students and teachers interact online that is exactly what happens.  

Districts like New York City get it. Not only do their policies allow students and teachers to interact online, they provide social media guidelines for both students and staff to do so. What's more, the student guidelines were created for students with students. Parents, teachers, and administrators also contributed.  The guidelines don't stand alone. They are accompanied by a parent and teacher guide which include professional development. The student guidelines have teen-friendly infographics which were created because that's how teen's say they prefer getting information.  

This approach seems to be working. As reported in DNAinfo,  Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, general counsel for the NYC DOE shared this:
“We were getting so many complaints from parents: ‘My kid somehow accessed a teacher on Facebook and saw a picture of them on the beach with a beer [Teachers] weren’t expecting their students to see their pictures of family and friends. Principals were calling my office daily, saying, ‘We welcome social media but we’re scared.’”The social media guidelines for educators have been effective, Jackson-Chase said. 
“My phone doesn’t ring anymore," she said. "We’re not getting the same angry, concerned phone calls.”
While districts in Colorado proudly highlight teachers who don't see a place for social media in the classroom, places like New York City have a more enlightened approach. They are celebrating staff and students who are using real-world (not just school-based) social media to make global connections, engage families, develop learning networks, and build a positive digital footprint.   

As schools and districts across the nation consider their own policies and guidelines, it is up to innovative educators to ensure decision-makers are armed with models like New York City that empower and prepare rather than ban and block students and staff from making the connections they'll need for success in the world.  

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