Being unpopular and saying things people don't want to hear isn't fun. Neither is admitting you're wrong. Perhaps that is why this 5 minute speech I felt compelled to give was so hard for me.

I'm convinced that we've isolated students in a world without teachers on social media and every day we are reaping the consequences. We need to rethink this now so we can move forward to a better tomorrow.

Sometimes unpopular, uncomfortable things need to be said and positions should be reversed in order to do the right thing. Ultimately, my students said that I needed to give this one. I had at least eight kids who came up to me afterwards who said it was what educators needed to hear.

A teary eyed young man moved me most:

“My Mom died this year, I had a teacher who helped me get through it. I couldn't have lived without my teacher. Literally. We students need our teachers and sometimes we need to talk to them on social media. We need a way to do that sometimes.”

Yep. These kids are worth fighting for and if the only casualty is my own ego in the process, that is indeed a very small price to pay.

This is truly an issue where both sides are right. We have to face the truth of the consequences of what we've done. We have to come out with some sort of workable answer in the middle.

What is my new policy?

I tell my students that if they choose to friend me, I will friend them back but they need to know that I'm relating to them as a teacher. Anything they communicate to me is as if I am at school.

They can unfriend me at any time and refriend me — just as they wish, no questions asked. If they communicate anything to me, I keep screenshots (with time and date stamps.)

Don't headlong disregard your school policy. I would never ask you to do that. I do ask that you discuss:

  • How would you feel if a student at your school reached out to a stranger because nobody at your school could connect with them?
  • How would you feel if that student got bad advice or was harmed because no one at your school was allowed to help the child?
  • Do you think many bullying incidents and other things happening on social media would be less likely to happen if students thought teachers might be connected?
  • Do you think more incidents would be reported if students could friend and unfriend teachers?
  • What would an educator “certified” or “allowed” to communicate with students via social media look like? Could this be a new role of guidance counselors?
  • What do we need to advocate for from social media companies to allow such interactions to occur safely?

Be Somebody Because Nobody Won't Do

Best wishes, I hope you have a great day and I hope you'll be that somebody for your students. I also hope we'll consider if we've inadvertently isolated kids from those who can help and forced them to chat with strangers because we've given them nobody. I think we need a new age and new type of educator at each school and new ways to communicate with a generation who talks differently than we did.

Courageously consider if we've made mistakes. Discuss and good luck with this one.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Why I Now Friend My Students on Social Media

  1. Hi Vicki,

    I am entirely resonant with what you are saying here, and I share the desire to be able to connect with kids when they are reaching out to us. At the outset of my career, I was the teacher who gave out his home phone number, and that was waaay before cell phones, and before Internet. It was during that time I intervened with more than one suicidal student because a friend had my number, so my heart is certainly with you.

    Our world has changed, though. Currently, a local physics teacher is serving time for seducing and raping female students, and his primary mode of communication was Words With Friends. Not long ago in our area a local teacher had to be hospitalized, and her Facebook-based classroom help group became flame central to the point one of her students was afraid to come to school, with everything happening out of sight of the teacher who had (legally and effectively) extended the teaching/learning space into the back channels of a medium that was undiscoverable and unsupervised. She had unintentionally left her classroom without a teacher present, and the potential consequences of vicious online bullying are too well known.

    Federal and state statutes have defined our responsibilities in terms of how student information, student-teacher communication, and learning spaces connected to terms of employment are to be managed. What you would like to see as possible has been overtaken in drastic measure by FERPA, state Education Codes, and board policies which seek to limit the liability of education systems when things go wrong.

    In the past, teachers were able to use their discretion when meeting privately with students, and while there have always been bad apples among both teachers and students, teachers generally knew which students were not trustworthy behind a closed door, they knew when to leave it open with a colleague not far away. This has been particularly true for male teachers. Commercial social media, however, has made the risk of covert back-channel communication high risk for all because any teacher who connects online in undiscoverable (as in invisible and unverifiable) channels is exposed to great risk of unfounded accusation, and the law has done much to protect minors in those same spaces.

    What you are hoping to see in the way of reform would require major retooling of many statutes to restore the freedom of discretion we once enjoyed, but because of the actions of a few spectacular exceptions, this is highly unlikely to occur any time soon. I think our best strategy, at least until the current spasm of social media over-protection has run its course, is to make sure our students receive education and socialization that recognizes the necessity of quality face-to-face relationships so that social media is not their only option when life goes sour.

    • I get all you are saying. I still think there has to be a better way. This instance both sides are right. There should be some counselors who can connect. I think we are making a mistake and reaping the consequences of cutting off kids and teachers.

  2. This post makes me so torn about “friending” my students on social media now! While I think you raise some excellent and thought-provoking points, I’m also in the boat with previous commenter, Bill — I don’t want ever want my actions to be misconstrued as something unprofessional or inappropriate.

    I do like that you take screenshots — what do you do with those? Save them somewhere “just in case”? (If so, how do you organize them? How long do you keep them?) Forward them to admin? Screenshotting is a good way to help protect yourself, but I’m not sure that it’s foolproof. So many things can be taken the wrong way in writing because we can’t hear the tone of the writer’s voice! That makes me really nervous because I feel like the public, as a whole, doesn’t respect teachers (probably due to all the bad apples they’ve seen displayed on the news! Can’t say I blame them…), and I feel like they’re just looking for reasons to report something. NOT that I would give people a reason to report anything, but I guess I’m just too nervous that someone would try to twist my words and make me SOUND unprofessional, even if I had the best intentions.

    I guess it doesn’t matter for my current position — all my students are under 13, so I can’t and won’t encourage them to sign up for a social media site. But it does make me wonder if there are other online venues my classes could use. Really, I guess your “friending” students on social media is no different than me connecting with students on a class Edmodo!

    How do your students react to the fact that all interactions online will be treated as though they are in the classroom? I’m not sure my little ones would understand that, but I’m curious how that’s working out for you in the upper grades.

    This is almost too deep for me to think about at 6:00 am. 🙂

    ~Candice from Innovate. Motivate. Educate.

    • This is a tough one.First and foremost- FOLLOW DISTRICT POLICY- I would never advocate otherwise.

      I just explain to my students that online and offline are both real world and the student teacher relationship is a special one for many reasons.

      If I had something being communicated to me I would likely give all the screenshots to a person on campus. But realize this– this is RARE. It is a door they may use to tell me something they want me to know as their teacher and has happened once since I changed my policy.

      It should be rare. We shouldn’t really need or have a lot of communications unless a crisis has happened. A kid has a wreck, a death, a big problem.

      If they are under 13 then you don’t have this as an issue.

      Finally- we need to advocate for social media companies to help us with this. We need an app or a tool to help with the unique needs- kids will be safer and teachers will be protected as will districts. Things need to change so when crisis happens someone from every school can help a child who needs it. Not everyone- someone.

      For now we have to follow our policies and rules.

      Vicki Davis
      @coolcatteacher Blog
      Host – Every Classroom Matters Show
      Author – Reinventing Writing

      *** Sent via mobile device. Please forgive my typos. ***