Teachers and Facebook

Several colleagues at work and I had a discussion today about whether it is acceptable to be friends with students on Facebook. I held the minority opinion that it was fine, but my colleagues’ fear is that being friends with students will potentially expose teachers to illegal or just plain stupid behavior on the part of students. What is the legal responsibility of a teacher who sees a photo of a student drinking on Facebook? I think it’s a murky area that hasn’t been tested well, and until a precedent-setting case is tried, I’m not sure there’s a clear answer. I do think that each teacher needs to decide paramaters for Facebook use.

I personally do not request friendship from students. If they connect with me on Facebook, I want it to be their choice. I personally feel that requesting friendship from students could put them in an awkward position: might they feel compelled to accept because you’re their teacher? What if they really don’t want to open their Facebook lives to you? On the other hand, if a student requests friendship with me, I accept. I do not reject some students and accept others. I don’t think that’s fair. Until they graduate, any student on my friends list can only see a limited profile.

One positive aspect of using Facebook is that nothing else is as quick in terms of communicating with students. I have often asked students to get together on Facebook and study or to spread a message I want to make sure they get. Because I am not friends with students who don’t request it, I can’t use it as a reliable method to contact all of my students. I created a Facebook page, and they can become fans of that page without being my friend, but again, it’s not something I feel comfortable requiring.

I think teachers need to be intelligent and remember that anything that is posted on Facebook should be something the teacher is comfortable sharing in a major newspaper or a billboard over the major city interstate highway. If it’s not, then don’t post it. Teachers can and have been fired over injudicious Facebook postings. I do not write about anything I think my students, parents, co-workers, or administrators would find objectionable, nor do I post pictures of the same.

We do have some way to go in terms of educating our students to behave as if Facebook were public. I personally don’t look at their pictures or profiles, even if they have given me that access, but they should understand that other people will.

Instructions for limiting your Facebook profile (these instructions came directly from Facebook Help files):

  1. Login and click the “Create” link that appears beneath the filters on the left side of your home page or your Friends page. Or, click the “Create New List” button from the “All Friends” tab of the Friends page.
  2. Type the title of your list and hit enter. I use the title “Students.”
  3. Add friends to the list by typing their names into the “Add to List” field or selecting them from the list.
  4. Select “Save List” to store your changes.
  5. Mouse over “Settings” in the upper right hand corner.
  6. A drop-down menu will appear. Click on “Privacy Settings.
  7. Click on “Profile.”
  8. For each area of your profile that you want to limit, click the drop-down menu.
  9. Select “Edit Custom Settings,” which will open a field for Except these people.” Adding a friend or Friend List name here will hide the information in question from these people when they view your profile.
  10. Select your “Students” list if you want to prevent them from seeing that part of your profile.

I think this Facebook group has some smart guidelines.

33 thoughts on “Teachers and Facebook”

  1. When I first started reading this and saw you said it was okay to be facebook friends with students I disagreed, until you pointed out all the great tools facebook has to limit people's access to our profiles. Also, the point about communication is valid. What about having a classpage that students can join so messages and help questions can be posted and shared easily. Guidelines, like not talking about a test until permission has been given to make sure everyone has taken the test, can be set up first. Really, facebook is replacing email for a lot of people. I personally send most private messages through facebook rather than email. It's the future, but we do need to treat it as if everything is public, even with the privacy settings.

    1. I'll be the first to admit it's a murky situation, and if you feel uncomfortable at all, then I say don't do it. There are other tools we can use to reach students. I do have a class page, but since we got Edline this year, I haven't really advertised it. A few kids found it anyway and joined it, but there's not much activity there. I think everyone has to decide for him/herself what the comfort level is, and we all have to be smart. It's actually a great opportunity to model appropriate online behavior for students, too, I guess, although I hate to always be "on" as a role model—I guess it comes with the territory.

  2. I want to be able to use Facebook. I would set up a separate account for my teacher personae. In a sense, it is much like being at an independent school where faculty live on campus. There seems to be great benefit to it.

    With that said, I don't see myself ever taking that risk.

  3. Hi Dana,

    You are friends with my alter-ego on Facebook. I've created one for my classroom persona, as Mr. McNamar mentions he would do if he were less risk-averse. My classroom mascot only accepts friend requests, and usually just responds to comments others make on his page.

    I've found Facebook useful for keeping in touch with students who have graduated, and for keeping my finger on the pulse of the student community. I'll post links that are of interest to me, and students can respond if they like. It's another way to interact with them, but I'm careful to maintain my teacher persona.

  4. I understand that it could uncomfortable to communicate and share with students given that there's little precedent as far as what to do with unsavory student content. I agree with the author of this post that I've decided to accept friend requests from students and to only post information that I'm comfortable in sharing.

    I do see a number of cool applications on facebook that could be super useful with students. For instance, I'm excited to use the Notes app with my classes. I also love that students are on facebook all the time and have felt very comfortable in asking homework questions and such using this platform. They do not use email. I need to meet them where they're most comfortable.

    I've asked my students to create alias accounts that're for school use only. I think that this will allow us to focus more on educational tasks when we're using this technology in class.

    Thanks for starting this conversation…

  5. This is one of the most realistic posts I've read concerning teachers accepting friend requests from students on Facebook. Of course, I'm a little biased and agree with you on everything you said. I only accept students who find me, and my privacy settings are set so limited for them that they can only see my basic information and profile picture. Nothing else. It may be a letdown for them since they think they get to see what I do outside of school, but it makes them stop talking about it in class 🙂

  6. My (independent) school this year announced a new policy that we are not allowed to friend current students on Facebook, and while some of my colleagues had to de-friend students, I had already decided that my policy would be to only friend past students (which resulted in a rash of student friendings in my direction right after commencement!).

    I think for me, it speaks to a quality of reserve in my own personality, but also, I haven't been teaching that long, and there are already students I hope friend me as soon as we can! When I was teaching college, I friended students and also made Facebook groups each semester for my classes– by far the easiest way to contact them.

  7. I have stuck by the rule that I won't accept friend requests from any students that are in my school. Once they have graduated past my school, then I accept them.

    It's the murkiness that gets me. I don't want to have to make decisions about what the students are doing outside of school.

  8. I shared my thoughts on Facing Facebook here: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/facing-facebook/ and the comments afterward were interesting.
    Personally I wouldn't use Facebook in the classroom. I think there are so many good tools out there, like Ning networks for example, that I'd rather not take a site my students like to socialize on and somehow make that site 'work' for them.
    The crux of my thoughts on Facebook is that it will be a 'playground where the bully always wins' unless we have an adult presence there with some good role modeling happening.

  9. I also accept students that invite me, and have found the ability to monitor students to be very beneficial.

    Sitting in the Doctor's office the other day I quickly scanned my account and noticed a student was writing inappropriate comments about another student during what should have been class time. I commented to the student that his words were not acceptable and also mentioned that he should be working…my reputation as 'One who sees all' has grown.

    I believe in transparency and openness, and model what I preach in class.

    However, I do wonder if being a rural teacher brings something different to this discussion?

  10. I only friend former students who have graduated. I don't want to have to maintain a professional persona on my FB page, (not that I'm posting anything too intimate, but still, I want to be myself), and I also don't want to get into a situation where certain students think we're friends to the extent that they can expect me to let them slide on stuff, you know?

  11. I think you have published something quite valuable here, Dana. I personally will not 'friend' a student (or former one) or a person who I know is younger than 18 or has not graduated HS–unless s/he is in my family. A lot of my daughter's friends have tried to 'friend' me and I've explained my policy. They have all been great about it. The few current or HS students that have found me also completely understood my explanation. I do have some now college age former students as friends. I don't post anything that I wouldn't mind people at my school seeing–even the Mafia Wars games. I will not participate in some of the other facebook games of questionable content (drinking, sex).

    I actually use the facebook settings to put my 'gaming' friends in a more restricted group than my real friends. I like your suggestions for the 'student' file, but for the foreseeable future, I'm going to keep my settings as they are…

    Hey, are you going to Philly for the conference this year? I'm hoping to be there!

    1. Thanks! I think a lot of folks have the same policy. I am really pleased at the thoughtful comments on this post. Unfortunately, I had much different responses from my colleagues.

  12. I'm currently a graduate student in a teacher preparation program and the future of my Facebook page has crossed my mind more than once. Are schools developing policies on this? I've heard many folks say that all things like facebook and myspace should be deleted before becoming a teacher. I don't necessarily want to delete my facebook account as it keeps me in touch with family and friends all over the world, but, would certainly do so if a job was at stake.

    And for those of you who use Facebook to create a group for you and your students, how do you integrate it into the curriculum? What sort of activity goes on?


    1. Stephanie, some schools have policies. Mine doesn't. Stephen wondered if being a rural school makes it different. I should think that it might be a different situation for any smaller, close-knit school (mine is). I would check the policy at any school you go to. I don't think you need to delete your Facebook or MySpace. Just be smart about using it. Never grouse about work or students. Don't post anything questionable. Err on the side of caution. Limit what people who are not your friends can see on your profile.

      We got Edline this year, so I am not doing much with my Facebook page, but it would be a good place for forums, study groups, disseminating information, but as David said, there are a lot of other tools out there that you can use to do all of these things (Ning comes to mind).

  13. In my role as teacher educator I ask (well, sort of require in a gentle way) my students to be my friends on facebook. I talk to them about the 'public' nature of facebook (even if they limit access to their accounts) and I point out that in saskatchewan as in other places in the world potential employers look for applicants' digital identities. All I tell them is to keep me in mind when they post pictures and other items. Being the 'fatherly' figure that I am (read that as a lot older than my students) it seems to have encouraged them to post fewer 'adolescent' type pictures. Occasionally I will talk to one student or another about what they have on their site but generally they stay benign. My presence on their friends list reminds them that their posts are public.

    1. What have you done when a student hasn't wanted to friend you on Facebook? Have all your students already had Facebook accounts? I know a few people who refuse to jump on the bandwagon – how have you addressed them?

      1. Stephanie, I don't think you can make them be your friend on Facebook. In my opinion, they should choose it or not. What you can do, if you want to use social networking as part of your class, is sign up for a classroom Ning. You can even get ads removed if you e-mail and explain it's for education. If you want to make Facebook a tool for students, I think it's find to provide a page and allow them to become fans of it or not, but due to the more social nature of FB, I would be careful about requiring its use. I hope that helps.

  14. As a newbie to this Web 2.0 world and MySpace, I am left questioning online communication with my students. It is actually graduated students' accounts that concern me more than my current students. I find the students in my classroom guarded about sharing certain personal information, which they well should be, and I, too, do not invite them, only accepting request. However, my students who have graduated and entered the real world are bolder, and though I do not share anything unprofessional, I worry about the mere visual association which is obvious on my site. When a student gives themselves a name like "Sexylady" for example, it somehow just does not look appropriate on my site. I am also concerned that their boldness could influence my current students. Now I am left with the dilemma, I know these people are really "ok" however, is this appropriate as a professional? What would my parents think? I can probably hide my contacts, but being a "newbie" I am just learning the ropes, and I am sure someone could find them anyway. I realize this article concerned Face book, but I also know the ramifications are the same.

    1. Ann, I understand your dilemma. Just last night, a former student of mine, who is one of my Facebook friends and who is under 21, created a status update that was clearly an inside joke about margaritas for some of her college friends. I passed on remarking upon it. I think we need to give ourselves permission not to be responsible for the things others share online. Our students who are over 18 and who have graduated may indeed still make some foolish choices about what they share. Heck, one of my oldest friends in this world, a guy I have known since second grade, is a Facebook friend, and I am not interested in pictures of him drunk or in various states of undress. I think we are within our rights to unfriend someone who posts content that bothers us on our own Walls or sites, and we are able to delete it with most social networks I can think of. My experience has been people tend to post the foolish stuff on their own sites, and for that, I can only shake my head and wonder what they're thinking, but I can't be responsible for the over 18 set. They may need to learn tough lessons themselves about the public nature of this information they choose to share.

  15. Folks following this conversation might be interested in this news story. It's a good argument for adult presence on Facebook. Like David Truss says in the post he linked, how much more quickly could this have been stopped and how much damage prevented if just one teacher had seen it and stopped it?

  16. Thank you, Dana, for following up with my question. I am always looking for ideas on technology integration to use in my future classroom! I look forward to checking out these other tools you have mentioned.

  17. Having a bit of RSS serendipity this morning, Dana. Have you seen this thoughtful post by Bud Hunt yet? Like you, I've wavered quite a bit around all of this. His post really has me thinking, though.

  18. Hi,

    Fantastic blog.

    I'm a fellow teacher of English and expect to check back often.

    (BTW, I follow the "after you graduate" rule for Facebook friends.)

  19. I have some of the older students as friends on FB. However, in my state in Australia, there is advice not to be on FB at all if you are a teacher, and discussion about forbidding teachers to friend current students. Some even say not to friend ex-students.

    Students have used it to contact me about school work and also sporting commitments.

    I also ended up being confided in when two students were self-harming (attempting suicide). I was able to intervene, support, and get them to appropriate help – they are going much better now. What would have happened if they had not had an adult to confide in then?

    The reason cited for banning FB for teachers is that teachers can 'groom' students for sexual abuse.

    I honestly think if any teacher is going to 'groom' students they will do it anyway, FB or no FB. They will probably ignore bans anyway.

    The technology in and of itself is not bad. It can be put to bad uses, but it also has a huge potential for good uses. Banning it outright ignores the potential for good.

  20. Facebook must be a nightmare (or potential nightmare) for teachers. For me it's great to talk to students but sometimes I get inappropriate or awkward messages/comments that I could do without…
    I motivate students with what I do and my latest blog "kids don't come with batteries" you can read on http://www.thebigpicture.eu.com/blog

  21. Dana,

    I wish I would have found this earlier, I would have referred to it. I will provide something on Twitter in a moment.

    Thank you for commenting on my recent post of the same topic. I agree with your approach of not requesting, but accepting all. I do the same, and tell my students periodically of my policy.

    All the best to you.

  22. Quick question: Is it alright to add students after they graduate high school? I do not add students while they are in high school, but I have accepted them after they graduated. Would this be ok, or is it too risky? I figure that once they are no longer affiliated with ____ High School, it would be ok. Too soon?

    1. I think most people believe it's fine to accept friendship requests for graduates. I seem to be in the minority in terms of accepting them while they're still students. I think it depends on your school—our school is a small, community school.

  23. After reading this, I wonder if our school has any guidelines about accepting students’ facebook. I think this is something every school should be clear about. I worry about how a parent or student may interpret posts. It is easy to take things out of context or misunderstand the authors intent in the facebook environment.

    1. I do think every school or district should probably have guidelines regarding the use of social networks. It would definitely take out some of the ambiguity regarding what is acceptable.

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