Social media that create communities without walls are also very good at breaking down necessary boundaries, schools find. Courtney Flynn of Voice News reports that Michigan high schools take different tacks in defining how teachers and students can relate outside of classroom hours.
Nearly all students and most teachers have personal accounts with Facebook and Twitter. Only a decade ago, email was the new medium, but schools can look back on those days with nostalgia. Email came only to one's computer and it left written records that included time and date stamps. With mobile devices bringing in not only email but also blogs, Facebook, Twitter and whatever new trend will suddenly arrive next month, students have outside social media always present in the school building. Social media also carry school relationships into after-school hours. Many schools have reported bullying problems that go on mostly, or entirely, online. One Wisconsin county recently moved to make cyberbullying specifically illegal.
Schools are facing additional problems when teachers use Facebook and Twitter for personal accounts but allow students to cross into this zone. Even if teachers maintain dignity in class, they don't always keep their social media accounts dull and respectable. In New Jersey, a school district threatened teachers with layoffs if their Facebook pages contained anything embarrassing that might get back to students or parents.
In Michigan, some school administrators interviewed by Flynn said that they had no official policy and felt comfortable with leaving the matter up to individuals, while others said their policies were very restrictive. Most took a middle line.
On the most restrictive side, L'Anse Creuse High School maintains a school Facebook page for official announcements but bans teachers from all social media and electronic communication with their students. Anchor Bay High School, on the other hand, just informs teachers that it expects them to remain professional. "Friending" students is discouraged but the principal said that he trusts his staff to make the right choices.
"I don't know that it's the media outlet that's the problem though; it's the person," he said of when inappropriate behavior is exhibited.
Armada High School tries to focus on educating students and parents about possible risks, while telling teachers to use social media only for purposes directly related to curriculum and school events. The principal points out to parents that since social media posts are technically public, they should not feel bad about checking on their children's online activity. So far, he feels the school's policy is enough.
Armada High School Principal Phil Jankowski said that to date no such incidents of "crossing the line" have occurred in the district and educators are focused on showing students there are consequences for their Facebook messages and Twitter messaging.
"In this day and age you want to explain to them what you put out there is permanent," he said. "You can't take it back."
East China High School told Voice News that they actively encourage use of social media between teachers and students. Instead of viewing electronic communication as a possible threat, the school's administration sees it as part of their integration of new technology into traditional teaching. Teachers use webpages, but they also depend on a social networking site that has been particularly designed for schools, called Edmodo. Since this site is restricted to use by teachers and students, it eliminates some of the problems that come with full exposure to international social media.