For most of us, social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become staples in our lives. However, the blending between our personal and professional lives is an art many of us are still struggling with. One profession in particular has caught my attention recently: education.
I came across this article about the Ridgefield Board of Education and its new personnel policy designed to limit staff communication with students through social-networking media like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. It got me to thinking: Is this really the approach we want to take? Members of the board interviewed for the article seem to have conflicted ideas of the correct approach to the new policies. For example, one board member stated:
“I’m wondering why we wouldn’t want to encourage the use of social-networking sites to communicate with students,” John Palermo said.
While I completely understand the need for a policy to help teachers understand limits and boundaries, should we really eliminate the use of these new communication tools altogether because we’re afraid teachers won’t be able to use their own good judgment guided by the school’s policy?
The most controversial cases of social-networking use by school staff come from the lack of any protocol from the higher administration on what is OK and what is not. Once those parameters are put in place it gives teachers the ability to utilize the communication tools without having to worry that they will cross an ethical or moral line.
And it isn’t just teachers who will suffer if policy and procedures are not set. A recent report in the Huffington Post details how six middle-school girls were arrested over a Facebook invitation that was sent to other students with the title “Attack A Teacher Day.” The school decided to make an example of these 12- and 13-year-olds. While I completely agree with the need to take these types of situations seriously, does the blame lie solely with the students? The girls claimed it was a joke and they weren’t serious about the invitation. My question is: Would these girls have carried out this act if they clearly understood that it would result in serious consequences?