This thursday I had the privilege of attending the iEARN2010 conference. The organizer and co-lead of iEARN Canada is a colleague of mine Jim Carleton. He encouraged me to come and see what it was all about. I was of course, thoroughly impressed. The energy in the building was amazing. It reminded me of Educon, where educators and students were all together learning from each other. Those are pretty much the only two conferences i’ve attended to date with that energy.
Our Student’s Council has had a Facebook group for a couple years. It is used mainly for and by the students to share information about events. The SC advisor became an administrator on the group so he could remove anything inappropriate. Only one comment has had to be removed and it was because it contained an inappropriate word (while commenting on how F&$*’N awesome an event was).
This year a teacher created a “PSS Class of 2014” to post photos from our Grade 8 fun days. As Student Success teacher I was made an administrator for the group. At first I was highly uncomfortable with this. I was a little paranoid and kept checking my profile as someone who wasn’t “friended” to ensure nothing could be seen. It wasn’t what I said that worried me, but what my adult friends say! What a turn around! 🙂
I used the group to promote transition activities and events. We got good turnout. Over 2/3 of our incoming Grade 9 group has joined. We have had nothing but supportive, positive comments on the page. Kids asking students from other elementary schools to “friend them”. Or, asking for “Julie, who I met during the tug-of-war game” to friend them.
On the last day of school I got my first FB message from an incoming grade 9. I’ve had FB messages from a few Student Council students usually about getting help on a project they are doing, but this was the first from a student I didn’t know personally yet. The student had questions about their timetable and how to understand part of it. Then came the message about our summer transition program. Then the one about volunteer hours. And lockers. All of a sudden when Grade 8 officially finished these students started thinking about high school as a reality and had questions they didn’t ask in front of their 30 peers when I was in class with them. As an administrator on the Facebook page, I was accessible. My principal and I are incredibly impressed with this great use as a transition strategy for our incoming Grade 9’s. We are being very careful and keeping a close eye on the page, but are very happy to date.
My one question is – is it better to use my personal FB profile and not “friend” any students (which I don’t, I always explain that I can’t until they are done school for a bit), or to create a teacher Facebook profile, put a few pictures of my dog and family members on there, update it periodically and friend parents and students. Is this the way to connect with students? Or, do I really want the responsibility of knowing what they put on their profiles? Because, it’s not just for my own protection that I ask this question. Even if my Facebook profile was my “teacher” and appropriate personality, I could in theory access the profiles of any student who “friended” me. Seeing the pictures they post from parties would be the downside. On the plus side, I’d certainly know who to support as a Student Success teacher. For example, a few years back we had the unfortunately tragedy of a suicide within our school community. I joined the supporting Facebook group and began to notice who was really struggling. We ensured they were personally invited to counselling services.
Any input? As educators we have three options.
#1 – avoid Facebook
#2 – keep one, personal profile and avoid friending students and parents
#3 – keep two profiles, one personal and one professional
I’m torn between the benefits of connecting with students through this media and how beneficial it has been for me in my Student Success teacher role, and the hazards. With this group of incoming grade 9’s we are making a concerted effort to focus on digital literacy and citizenship. I believe that by seeing me on Facebook, modelling appropriate behaviour and communication it helps teach this. In this theory, I should be able to friend them with my personal profile, if I really had nothing to hide. I’m not ready for this, not sure I ever would be. I personally need to maintain my level of professionalism at all times and youngsters at 13 years old often misinterpret adult humor. So, i’m back to my three options above. Your thoughts?