Peacock Tales • Fall 2010

The New Age of Social Networking

By Stephen Curry

The back-to-school season has come and gone. For students that means less time communicating with friends on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the countless other social networking websites that have inundated popular culture. For school districts that means re-evaluating policies and procedures, including how teachers can use social networking websites as part of the curriculum and how students can use them in the classroom.

The media has provided many examples of how social networking has played a negative role in the lives of teenagers. Positive examples of how this technology advances literacy skills and developmental growth, however, are not so readily reported. Our school leaders, teachers and parents have an opportunity to play an active role in educating students about the positive benefits of social networking in teen lives.

For example, more than 500 public libraries have Facebook pages. The New York Public Library posts daily messages on topics ranging from job interview tips, to adult literacy programs, to announcements of celebrity guests who plan to read to children and discuss their favorite books. Each branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh maintains a Facebook page which links to magazine articles, information regarding teen summer reading programs and book recommendations. Many authors maintain MySpace accounts as a way to keep in touch with teen readers by discussing ideas and writing.

To ensure the safety and protection of our schools and students, teachers and administrators who utilize social networking technologies for entertainment or education should keep in mind several basic rules. The teacher-student relationship is a professional one based on the educational process and it must not be compromised. Therefore a teacher should never “friend” a student on Facebook or MySpace. Teachers should inform their supervisors if they plan to use social networking sites for work purposes and they should never use school equipment to access such sites for personal use. School districts should establish social networking technology guidelines in order to help employees and students understand what they are, and are not, permitted to do, rather than learning by trial and error.

Our advice to school districts on matters of social media usage by students and employees is:

  • School districts should adopt a written social media policy that clearly explains what speech it deems to be potentially disruptive of its educational mission.
  • School districts should educate its teachers about the potential professional dangers they may encounter when using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
  • School districts should investigate all complaints that school employee’s use of social media is inappropriate with regard to the student-teacher relationship, undermines relationships between employees or interferes with the educational environment.
  • School districts should clearly communicate to school employees that there is a limited expectation of privacy when using district-issued computers, e-mail, internet service, etc.
  • School districts should discourage school employees from using district equipment to store or send personal e-mail, electronic files, digital images, etc.

And remember; never post anything online that you wouldn’t want your boss, prospective interviewer, parent or child to see. And remember further, that even if you have taken every security measure available, there is probably someone who knows how to bypass them.

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