How Schools Deal with Teacher/Student Social Media Interaction

Today, with the proliferation of social media, teachers and students have greater access to one's personal history than ever before, writes Ryan Lytle at US News.

While social media adopters in education argue that connections between students and teachers on networks such as Facebook and Twitter are harmless, Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif., believes social media can potentially be a gateway to sexual misconduct and illegal relationships.

"Any one-on-one private relationship out of the classroom begs for inappropriate behavior to begin," Lieberman says. "It's almost like being at a bar. It's a place that's conducive to socializing [and] not something that is related to school."

Some experts also believe developing these connections in social media will tarnish a teacher's authority in the classroom. Iris Fanning, a family-counseling provider with more than 20 years of experience for school districts in Albuquerque, N.M., says major concerns arise when students begin to see teachers as peers.

"When I entered education, there was a clear wall of boundaries between students and teachers," Fanning says. "You still have to have those boundaries, and I think we've gotten away from that ethically in teacher education. We, as educators, are supposed to be mentors and teachers—not friends."

Some school districts are now taking steps to limit extracurricular dialogue between a student and teacher, in response to some of the potential threats of social media.

In Toledo, Ohio several school districts have advised teachers to only communicate with students through social media when a topic applies to school-related matters.

Most recently, in Missouri, the state passed Senate Bill 54, which bans students and teachers from having any contact on social media networks, regardless of the nature of the conversation.

The bill was created to protect children from entering into inappropriate relationships with teachers. As a result, students with questions related to work assignments will be unable to contact their teacher via Facebook or Twitter—among other networks— once the new bill goes into effect Aug. 28.

Dave Childers, principal at ACEL Fresno Charter High School in California, says it's disheartening to see legislation that restricts the ability for teachers to connect with students through social media.

"I definitely think that [social media] is one of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal as educators," Childers says. "It's always sobering to see giant steps backward where we once again confuse one tool for problems that are actually bigger societal problems."

Since the majority of educators in Missouri are facing consequences because of the potential for misconduct, Childers says that teachers' actions on social media should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Childers points out that the argument against social media as a gateway for inappropriate relationships is hard to swallow, as "virtually anything" could be a gateway for something inappropriate to occur.

"We could go as far as saying teachers shouldn't be allowed to coach sports or advise a club, because when you do that you have extra contact and stronger relationships," he notes.

All four of Richmond VA's largest school systems say they are reviewing ways to add guidelines to their policy manuals or are using existing employee ethics policies to control social media activity, writes Zachary Reid and Jeremy Slayton at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"You can't say it enough: Once you put something out there, it's there," said Henrico School Board Chairman Lamont Bagby, an active social networker.

"It's not going anywhere. It's going to be found."

Richmond school system spokeswoman Felicia Cosby said that in back-to-school seminars and training sessions the topic of appropriate social media interaction between teachers and students will have to come up.

"It's something you have to be concerned about," she said. "It's something we want our staff to be aware of."

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
09 6, 2011
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