Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Innovative Educator tries to change the mind of an administrator who “thinks” he disagrees with my stance on friending students online

When George Swain read my Tweet, “Told the mayor on his Facebook page, he was inappropriate for judging teachers who friend students, he replied with this:

georgeswain @InnovativeEdu Very interesting issue! I think I disagree with you. See my post to your blog. Thanks for getting me thinking this morning.

What I’m optimistic about is that George said, “I ‘think’ I disagree with you.” and he thanked me for getting him thinking. Clearly, George has an open mind, and I’m excited for the opportunity to potentially expand his thinking. From what I can gather in a quick peer into George’s life, he is a cool guy whose company I can easily see both me and my boyfriend enjoying. Me, because his bio defines him as an educator, he's also an administrator and he’s demonstrated that he is a thoughtful, inquisitive, and articulate one at that. My boyfriend because he would enjoy hanging with George because he’s an ultradistance cyclist and I’m sure they could both talk for hours about cycling.

On his blog, George quotes T.S. Eliot "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." -- T.S. Eliot

I love that quote, and so, now, I’m hoping George and other innovative educators and administrators will go on a bit of a risk taking journey with me into the world of social media and education.

George responded to my post, Mayoral "BANdates" are not the answer for preparing 21st century students for success with the following comment:

I get your point about the mayor mouthing off about something he admits to knowing little about. In system with a rigid and steep hierarchy like the NYC public school system, this must just drive you crazy as an innovative and creative teacher. On a more basic level, though I am not convinced that friending kids on Facebook is a wise choice for teachers or other educators. I am an administrator at a small independent school that requires students to use laptops in grades 7-12 and embraces digital technologies enthusiastically. We encourage students and faculty to explore and use all types of social networking tools to expand their learning. Some platforms, on the other hand, like Facebook, are rife with problems specifically because they represent the un-mediated social world of adolescents. I get that great schools will be the ones that prepare kids to be responsible digital citizens, but friending kids in their little social world of Facebook crosses a line between teachers and students that is problematic

I am friends with past students on Facebook and communicate with adolescents and teachers through a range of social media platforms, but you've not convinced me that the benefits do not outweigh the dangers with this one. Am I missing something.

I am not worried in the least that the teachers in my school will make inappropriate overtures to their students. What does concern me, though, is what teachers will do when they come into contact with inappropriate, dangerous and perhaps illegal behaviors on-line. For example, if you see something about a party where parents will be away and alcohol may be served flash across your news feed, do you call the parents? The police? Look the other way? If there is a car accident on the way home from that party, do you feel responsible? If you've done nothing, I think you are responsible on a moral if not legal level. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but I think that when adults enter the social worlds of children they cross a line. Of course we are open to aspects of this world all the time through the general work with and care for our students. They come to us with problems and we observe their social dynamics in front of us every day. On a parallel level, I would not encourage teachers to engage in their students' social worlds through other media like telephones or simply hanging out with them at the mall on a Saturday night.

When teachers friend their students on Facebook, they enter a social world that they may very well not be able to navigate. By the way, I just asked my 14 year old daughter what she thought and she said, "teachers friending kids on Facebook, that's creepy." Maybe it's just her, but do you really want to be a part of what's going on with 12-18 year olds on Facebook? You may find that you have more work on your shoulders than you can handle.

A thoughtful comment indeed. Rather than responding to George, directly on the post, I felt the conversation deserved it’s own blog post. Below is my response and attempt to push George’s thinking a little bit.

@George Swain, I’d like to know what you perceive as the dangers for an educator open to connecting with students in whichever environment they or offline. As an educator I am a role model for responsible behavior in my online and offline worlds and think the existence of adults in all environments of students is a good thing. My role is the same online as it is off line. I don’t behave as a student / child just because I am in a certain environment. Whether I’m in a classroom, playground, park, or in an online environment, I’m there to help students learn and ensure they are safe.

You share that you are concerned about what teachers will do when they come into contact with inappropriate, dangerous and perhaps illegal behaviors on-line...the answer is simple. The same thing they’d do if they come into contact with this face-to-face. I would hope you aren’t suggesting educators turn their heads. Our kids need us looking at them, stepping in and guiding and protecting them. A close colleague and guidance counselor I know shares that Facebook has become an extremely crucial platform in her effort to keep students safe and happy.

As far as your question about what to do if you find out students are having a party when parents are away, again, the answer is simple. The same thing you do if you heard students discussing the same thing at school. To answer your question, should you feel responsible if someone gets hurt because you’ve done nothing with information you had and this could have been prevented if you had done something? Well, I certainly would feel responsible if I did nothing when I could have done something.

There are educators and leaders out there who acknowledge that it isn’t easy being involved in the lives of students online, but they also believe that they didn’t take this job because it was easy and if they can help their student...the whole student in his or her life...then although banning is the easy way out, it is not something they morally feel responsible doing. You can see what I mean by reading principal Chris Lehmann’s comment on this post and principal Eric Shenninger’s post

I’m surprised that you say you wouldn’t encourage teachers to engage in students’ worlds through media like telephones. If I have a student that wants to speak with me, I want to be there. As far as a teacher hanging out with students at a mall on a Saturday night...I’m just not seeing that. Connecting with students in online environments, doesn’t mean that we’re hanging out with them any more than we are on the playground, cafeteria, or classroom. We’re together in these spaces and our roles remain the same.

As far as your daughter’s response, I understand her reaction, because it’s something that so few adults do, but when we assume the same role online as we do in the real world, it is no longer creepy. I should mention, btw, that most educators I know don’t request friendships, but accept them from students who reach out. My boyfriend is friends with both of his children on Facebook and he has the same role there as he does in real life. Like a teacher, when parents are in online worlds, they are more connected and safety and responsibility are ensured. As an educator myself, when I have an opportunity to offer words of encouragement, advice, and celebration to students online or offline, they appreciate it and I engage the same way regardless of the environment. Being friends with students also enables me to easily tag them in a post or note about something I think they might find interesting...and we have an easy way we can all chat about it. In fact that was exactly what I did when one of my students and I were featured in the NY Times in a positive story about Facebook being a great medium for students to tell teachers how much they’ve meant to them.

Thank you for commenting and hopefully allowing me to push your thinking and solidify mine.

So, George, I’m dying to know. How’d I do?

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