4 experts and 2 parents have answered
Frankly, this Guardian piece is rather confusing because it mixes two fundamentally different (although related) concepts:
Should teachers/students friend each other on social networks
Should schools encourage the use of social media to improve the learning experience.
On the first point, the answer is clearly NOT. Teachers and students should not socialise outside of school environments and teachers should not give students a glimpse into their private life. This would, at times, undermine their authority and position of 'role model' but most importantly, it brings a kid into an environment that is not suitable for his/her age (Unless we think that teenagers should be mingling with college students, for example - to this, my answer is that there is an age for everything.)
On the second point, schools better embrace social media because this resistance to technology in general and social media in particular, is a disservice to students and to education as a whole. There is absolutely not reason why teachers cannot have 'professional twitter or facebook accounts' specifically used for interaction with students and other faculty. Both Facebook and Twitter allow users to set restrictions on who can view/access profiles. So, to answer this question, yes, students should be allowed to follow their teachers on Facebook provided this is a professional and not personal account.
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This is a question which I'm frequently asked when I deliver training to schools. My response is usually that social networking sites are usually intended for social relationships, not professional ones. Teachers are not “friends” with their pupils, they have a professional relationship and therefore adding pupils (or their parents/carers) as "friends" on personal accounts can lead to professional relationships and boundaries becoming blurred which can leave children, adults and schools in very vulnerable situations. Childnet International published guidance regarding this issue here: www.childnet.com/kia/traineeteachers/social_networking.aspx
If there is a pre-existing relationship (e.g. a teacher has a child who attends the school or a parent is a sibling or close friend) then I suggest to staff that they should discuss the relationship with their line manger so that the situation is transparent. This means the school are aware that regular informal interaction will take place offsite and can provide the member of staff with guidance around expectations of behaviour. Sadly there have been all too many national headlines where professionals have posted content online which has been shared wider than intended or taken out of context which has led to concerns about their conduct or professional status, so it’s important that we try and steps to protect all members of our community.
If members of staff wish to use social networking for learning opportunities or pupil/parental engagement then I strongly recommend that they use a separate professional account, which has been risk assessed appropriately and that they have permission from their line manager or head teacher. I’ve worked with a few schools that use sites like Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their community and they can be very successful as long as they are carefully considered beforehand. We provide some advice to schools on this issue here: http://www.kenttrustweb.org.uk/UserFiles/CW/File/ChildrensServices/ChildrensSafeguardsService/esafety/UsingSocialMediaandTechnologyinEducationalSettingsOctober2011.pdf
If parents (or indeed children or staff) have concerns about any interaction taking place via social networking sites then they should speak with the schools child protection lead. Schools should have Acceptable Use Policies (which should be supported by regular whole staff training) which include clear boundaries regarding use of social media by staff which should set out the schools expectations regarding safe and appropriate conduct.
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I'd like to explore this from the perspective of the teacher…
My first career was teaching in primary schools. It was always fun at the weekends, perhaps out with my family shopping or playing in the park, when I bumped in to one of my pupils. The next day in school the pupil would invariably say, with a touch of pride and a big wide grin, "Saw you. Sir!" as if it was a great achievement like spotting a Pink Throated Reed Warbler! Yup - I'd been spotted, bang to rights, in the wild, in my native environment, being a Person!
Kids love to relate to the human side of their teachers. Especially the ones they like.
If I was still a schoolteacher now, no doubt some of my pupils would bump into me or even seek me out on the social networks I use. But I guess they'd be pretty bored if they did. I never post images of myself drunk at wild parties (or even merry at sedate dinner parties). I very rarely expose my family life online or even eulogise about my pets. I use the social networks as a professional medium to promote the projects I'm committed to, the people and organisations I respect, and to explore, and engage others in, the issues and ideas that interest me.
I would respectfully propose to all teachers that you manage your online lives as an extension of your professional lives, so that you need never worry if you are "spotted" online by a pupil (or a pupil's parent). I'd also advise you not to be an online friend to a young person to whom you have a professional duty of care and never to enter into a private conversation online with a pupil.
There is a solution. You can have multiple Twitter accounts. You can run a Professional account that can be openly followed by your pupils and, for your protection, your colleagues and employers. This could be an invaluable way to encourage pupils and offer help.
You could also run a Personal Twitter account which is barred to young followers and those in your professional care. In your Personal account you can make all your tweets Protected:
Only followers you have manually approved may see your Protected Tweets.
Here's how to grant or deny approval to followers:
- Sign in to your Twitter account.
- Look for the follower request notification on your homepage.
- Click the notification, and choose to approve or deny the request.
So teachers, you can have the best of both worlds – a Professional Twitter account for your adult friends and a Private Twitter account for your school colleagues and pupils.
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I think having a twitter account as a teacher could be HUGELY useful, especially for older kids interested in what the teacher teaches/studies it could be a lifelong source of information that could further their studies.
I think once people can get their personal lives in check and stop posting things so personal it would be bad for a kid to see this issue will disappear. I am not ashamed of what I post, I'm ok with my kids, their friends, and their friends grandma's seeing it. I think that it is good and if anything it gives the kids access to adults who care and can guide them through hard times when needed. Kids need a village and that isn't happening so much anymore, so creating one online would be a beautiful gift for the child.
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There are some great answers already here.
What I would like to add though, is that the idea of having 'professional' and 'personal' Facebook accounts may sound wise in theory, but in practice it doesn't negate some of the more serious risks.
The worst of these is the fact that teacher using a 'professional' account could still use the messaging function of that account to have private conversations with one of their students, and this most definitely blurs the relationship between being professional and personal.
At least with school email addresses and virtual learning environments there is some recall if an allegation is made against a teacher regarding inappropriate contact with a student. The same could be said of the Direct Message function of a 'professional' Twitter account.
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Nope. Keep public and private persona as separate as you can. Although Twitter can be used primarily as a public platform for your professional views as a teacher, it also runs the risk of getting intensely personal at the drop of a hat. Don't risk it.