16 March, 2012

A teacher librarian social conversation

OZTL was having a nice chat about Social Media the other day and, as I often find, there were some nicely hidebound folk who were happy to shout out about why we shouldn't. (oh, and sic. In fact, fully sic).
Teachers "befriending" students on-line is a bumpy road leading to a crash. A treacher should be friendly and approachable but never friends or approached. This has always been the case, no matter what the method of cxommunication. "Social Networking" still contains the word "Social"...
...I personally have reservations about invading students' personal and
social spaces. It has always smacked of the business or marketing push
that is prevalent in education today - ie get at them 24/7 in as many
spaces/ways as you can...
...ensure that any communications with students outside the school environment must be totally open and observed. Was it not Caesar who said,"Caersar's wife must not only be fault, she must be seen to be without fault."...

So I wrote a reply (less snarky than some I send to the list, but really guys. I snark because I love). Following my reply I got...
Love your recent post on OZ_TL net on social media policy. If it was a blog post I could share it with my students...
Oh, you could? Well, I am nothing if not a servant of the people. So here it is.

Social media is a tool being used by the current generation of students. They will talk homework (amongst other things) online of an evening. It seems to me therefore that there are many benefits to teachers (and librarians) being linked in to this network.
Certainly when I was a uni librarian I didn't mind being friends with students and I would occasionally have a question pop up of an evening when I was online (sometimes I would ignore it, hell it was my time, other times I would take the moment to pass on an appropriate link or a research suggestion).

In a school, yes there is the possibility that things might get a bit fraught. But, how can we promote the idea of responsible digital citizenship if we isolate ourselves from that world? So...
where you are not prevented by rules and regulations from doing so, I would say...
go for it! Be a fb friend, but... keep your personal and professional separate. Lock down your personal page so students can not see you sleeping face down in your own vomit during uni O-Week (not a hard task). Then, create a 'fan' style page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php
A fan style page, will let you connect online with your students while creating a level of buffer between you and their full online life.

There are several ways you could do this. Market yourself as a public figure or perhaps create a page for each class (or year) so you link your students together. That way they can (if they wish) do some of their after school "what were we doing with the French verbs" discussions in this public space. That allows you to watch (and spot the areas where you are not giving adequate instruction. Well, if none of the kids knew what you meant, whose fault is it?). It also allows you to pop in and redirect the discussion a bit (if you, like me are online much too often and have a surfeit of opinions).

Being online and visible should also make it easier for a school to monitor the "St Mujer Barbuda Preparitory Scool Sux" or "Ms Pfaffernaff is the wurst english teacher ever" groups which may spring up from time to time. It could make students less likely to create those groups (fb is suddenly somewhere there may be teachers) and it certainly makes it more likely students may let you know such groups exist.

For those of you who feel facebook is automatically 'fraught' let me ask you to imagine being a teacher in a country town. Population, mmm, lets say 1300 people. In this environment, do we expect the teacher to avoid social interaction with students? No, we don't, we accept (often hope) that the teacher will be playing on the same football team as the older year 12 boys. We know that the teachers will see the students out and about, attend the same churches and sometimes the same dinners. Down at the pub, the teachers will be drinking in the front bar, while the students are playing pool in the back bar and from time to time, they may even talk to each other. To some degree, fb is forcing us all to move into a modern version of that country town.

For centuries, teachers and students have managed to live like this, it is really a very recent thing to have teachers and students living completely apart other than during the school day (and, to my mind, it is a bit of a symptom of a modernist malaise). As a student, I am glad I grew up in a town where I saw my teachers down the pub of an evening (and sometimes for a counter lunch). I am glad I was friends with their kids (and went to parties in their houses). Now I work in a school, I am glad that when I am at rugby training there are kids from my school training with our juniors. I am not exactly glad, but in a strange way thankful for the rugby game when I kicked our school captain in the face (he was diving for the ball as I was trying to kick it). Not just because I kicked the opposition halfback in the face, but because it was an amusing way to meet his father. Only recently I attended the funeral of that same father, a sad occasion but I was one of about 15 current and former staff there all of whom would tell you that it is possible to be a friend without degrading the student/teacher relationship.

An online relationship is not even a small percentage of the interaction you have with students if you live in a small town (or even a small city). But, to dismiss it out of hand because of some notion that we should not be friends with our students seems bizarre to me. Especially when, with a few digital twists of the wrist, we can make sure that our online interaction is "totally open and observed".

And, to finish off...
a nice infographic on what your staff should know about social media (from a corporate perspective, but still worth some consideration).