Professional Boundaries: Should teachers befriend students on Facebook?

A Letter to ISR:

Dear ISR,  I’ve noticed that some teachers think it’s “cool” to befriend students on Facebook and post social pics and personal messages online. I think there should be boundaries between a teacher’s personal life and how much private information they allow students to access. I’ve seen some teachers posting pics of themselves with students at parties and in restaurants, and of course, students post social pics with their teachers.

Apart from being unprofessional, I feel it creates jealousy and a perception of ‘favored treatment’ among other students. Some teachers use this to manipulate their students and gain popularity through being overly friendly. Many professionals regard communicating with students on personal social media websites as inappropriate.

It would be interesting to know teachers’ opinion on this topic: How many schools have a policy on social media posting? Does your school monitor such activities?

Regards,
(name withheld)

Please Scroll Down to Participate in the Conversation

30 Responses to Professional Boundaries: Should teachers befriend students on Facebook?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Teachers using their free time to “hang out” with students ought to wise up, grow up and get a life. The benefits are minimal and irrelevant, given the potential dangers they expose them to by promoting communication with adults who are as good as strangers after hours. Teachers promoting teacher /student relationships outside of school is pretty reckless, good teacher or not. Beyond small talk and hellos, a teacher should be classed as a stranger outside the classroom. A teacher’s role is to do what he /she gets paid for, on site and for the hours that are set in the contract. Do the job and go home. As a parent, I’d throttle any teacher sending private messages to my son or daughter, let alone meeting up. Is it the business of a teacher to be going around acting like selfie clown? Perhaps, if they’re looking to play Counter-strike for real. I would have serious questions about any school that allows this.

    Like

  2. BP Rawlins says:

    I agree with the almost unanimous view here that use of Facebook and other social media exposes a teacher to all sorts of damaging accusations. The only time I have seen it to have some use was when a colleague in Tashkent used Facebook in an emergency to alert students and parents to the unannounced departure of a whole administrative team.

    Otherwise one must expect schools and professional organizations to take a dim view of communicating through social media. Witness this case study from the UK:

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  3. Anonymous says:

    It is inappropriate to use social media in your professional life, unless you own a business, but in academia it is in bad taste.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    With so many platforms out now such as Seesaw, Bloomz, Remind, and G Suite (which is now open to all email addresses) there is no reason why you should use your personal social media pages as a point of contact for students.

    Like

  5. JMS says:

    Facebook is my connection to family and friends who are far away. My two rules for ‘friending’ are:

    1. Only friend a person I know/have met in person, and
    2. Only friend a person who doesn’t live in the same city as me.

    Students don’t fall into these two categories until one of us moves away. Our school promotes technology as tools, so they have several resources to communicate with me if they need to, including walking to my office and talking to me face to face!

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  6. Dave says:

    I have a former colleague – young and clueless – who befriended all his students in grades 7-9 on FB and would add negative remarks about colleagues and post pics of himself doing out of school social stuff with certain students. He created negativity towards other teachers and was a bad influence on students who were flattered to befriend their foreign Canadian teacher. My policy on FB and students is a absolutely not! There are other more appropriate ways such as Edmondo and Wiki to communicate online with students.

    Like

  7. Anonymous says:

    As with many others…not until after the student has graduated, and even then only sparingly. I have used WeChat to create groups on student trips, but then deleted everything after the trip was done.

    Like

  8. mumof4 says:

    Slightly off the facebook topic but relevanrt here possibly. My boys were given home work ONLY through whatsapp. So all the class students have all the other students numbers. My youngest boy was trolled & spammed hundreds of times by fellow students who also bullied him face to face. The teacher refused to give the work any other way. Luckily it was time to leave the school for us., but it really upset my son. I am totally against social media for teachers/students. I don’t even let my colleagues on the staff see my facebook life. Social media should have boundaries. This was Finland by the way.

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  9. Ian Harrison says:

    Social media is for exchanges between friends isn’t it? So ask yourself ‘is this child actually my friend’ and if the answer is no then it’s pretty obvious that you wouldn’t become friends with them on Facebook. Being friendly towards the children in your care is fine but you do have to remember they are your ‘clients’ and someone is paying you for your professional services towards them, that’s what defines your relationship so sorry, no Facebook or anything else.
    I have seen examples of teachers and parents forming social groups on Facebook and Whatsapp etc to share info about the class but as this happens outside the normal communication channels of the school it can be risky. Schools have channels for a reason and if you cut the school out of your relationship with parents and children you really are out on a limb if you hit a problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous says:

      No, social media is not restricted to friendship. It is used by for-profit business, non-profits, governments, NGOs, and other purpose-driven organizations and individuals alike. Social media are tools for communication and connection.

      And, of course, communicating with clients outside of school-provided channels can be risky. I don’t think that idea is being contested.

      Like

  10. Anonymous says:

    According to many of the comments, the basic argument against this is that student-teacher Facebook connections allow students access to the teachers’ personal lives, which somehow is confused with privacy. To me, this suggests social-media illiteracy. Social media is definitively not private. It’s called SOCIAL media. If that’s not enough, take a minute to look at Facebook’s business model. Agreeing to Facebook’s usage terms permits Facebook to sell all of a user’s data to third-parties and to use a user’s data in any way Facebook wants. That fact alone should deter users from sharing any sort of a private information: photos in bathing suits, photos in bars, political opinions, religious opinions, those god-awful bleeding heart posts. If a teacher posts a photo or comment on Facebook, any ill-intentioned person (not just students or parents) could use that against the teacher. And with that in mind, there’s no logical reason why teachers should be banned from social media connections with students or parents. To ban something for everyone because a few people don’t know how to manage their social media presence limits collaborative opportunities for those teachers and students who do know how to be responsible on social media. But then again, banning things because of a small percentage of uneducated adults is nothing new in the history of humanity.

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  11. JCM says:

    I follow the sentiment of a) after they have graduated, b) very few of them and c) if I had a genuine connection with them. Being connected has allowed me to visit when we are in the same place, meet their babies and celebrate their lives and gives me a sense of how I did effect the lives of my students in positive way.

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  12. ElleDubs says:

    I really value my privacy and I have my Facebook security set so high that even my colleagues can’t find me if we don’t have any mutual friends. I told my students from the get-go that I wouldn’t accept friend requests from them until after they had graduated, and even then not until they had finished their first year. Many of my colleagues don’t have the same policy so I was constantly fending off friend requests throughout my first year at my school and had to set who could see me to even tighter standards.

    That being said, my school basically couldn’t function without a certain Asian social messaging app and I have a tonne of students on there because they simply don’t use email. I block a lot of them from seeing my social posts on that platform and I generally try to limit my contact with them to group chats instead of private ones. All my students know that I won’t answer messages on the weekend and will selectively answer them outside of school hours during the week (and never after 10 pm) so I think we’ve established a pretty safe and somewhat healthy set of expectations in terms of our digital relationship. I’m so used to the messaging communication now, though, that when I wind up at another school in a couple of years and they don’t have the same policies regarding it, it’s going to be a real adjustment.

    I find the idea of being Facebook friends with current students troubling. Are they really your friends? They’re children, regardless of whether they’re in grade 6 or grade 12. How much could you possibly have in common with them if you’re a gainfully employed adult in a position of authority over them? The only time I’ll party with my students is at Prom, and I’m a chaperone so I’m not actually partying.

    Like

  13. Judy says:

    I will only allow students parents to friend me after their child has left my class and if we have an actual friendship. My students have to wait until they are in high school and I have to have their parents permission. This just saves me a lot of headaches.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Having current students as friends on Facebook poses a pontential risk to teachers exposing their personal lives. Using Facebook groups where you do not friend students could work as long as it is kept professional and used for an educational purpose.

    Twitter, Instagram and others are also social media sites are very open and if you are not careful could prove dangerous to teachers too. I use twitter professionally to connect with other educators. Our school uses twitter and Instagram to post often random tweets or pictures. We are encouraged, by our school, to post pictures of school, student activities on both. I just don’t think everyone is aware of how to use hashtags properly and have pointed this out but some people have not taken this advice.

    Just be careful people. There are people out there ready to catch teachers out and you could find yourself in a very tricky position.

    Like

    • Ian says:

      Very true indeed.FB friendships between teachers and current students are a ‘no go’ areas and should be written policy in all school for some of the stupid and clueless teachers out there who think they are “cool.”

      Like

  15. Michael Rossouw says:

    In most schools at which I have taught, Facebook contact with students is discouraged. There have been reported cases of lawsuits i.r.o alleged sexual harassment, which have backfired on teachers with disastrous consequences. Teachers would need to be very selective in the contacts they do make, however, once students have left school and gone on with their lives, that’s a different matter.

    Like

  16. Susan says:

    This is so not “cool” are every school should ensure their are appropriate boundaries especially relating to social media.

    Like

  17. Thurston Thistertinton says:

    I think it is a bad idea. The only information teachers and students should share online are class notes, assignments and past exam papers in my opinion.

    A former colleague of mine (emphasis on the word “former” ) was under the impression that he was “friends” with his grade nine homeroom only to have personal information leak out across the school. The guy had a nervous breakdown and quit.

    I don’t even have a Facebook page for that matter. Teachers have been sacked for posting raunchy photos that then circulated around a school . At our school we have a “morality clause” in the contract, that technically prohibits these types of interactions though there are teachers who tread a thin line.

    I think first and foremost teachers should not forget “in loco parentis”.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Could not agree more with you. This is the difference between professional teachers and non-professional. Same goes for schools. Our clueless school allows it (although I do not personally). There was one recent pic of a scuba diving teacher in her bikini with comments from the kiddies.

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      I think it is ok and are necessary at times as I do to post class related videos online, deadlines, reminders, general school information, school field trip information with students, and some other things, beyond the aforementioned class notes, past exams etc. Those are not the only information teachers should share. See my list above also, especially if you wish to make effective use of IT.

      Like

  18. Shirley says:

    No. Just no. Not even parents of students.

    Like

  19. Julian says:

    Personally I think this is a very dangerous route to go down. Teachers who do this put the students in a difficult situation where they have access to personal information about their teachers. I just don’t think that it’s worth opening this door.
    I have some former students on my Facebook list but really not many and only those who I would be happy to meet up with for coffee.

    Like

  20. Happily Retired says:

    I friended my students after they graduated or I left the school.

    At small and medium-sized international schools, friendships spanned graduation years and I sometimes taught grades 8-12. It didn’t work for me to wait until I wasn’t their teacher anymore because until they graduated, I could be their teacher again.

    Now happily retired, I enjoy having my former students who are studying in the US visit us during breaks. With the current xenophobic environment in the US, we think it’s important for our former students to have a “safe house” and have put the word out on Facebook to let our students know we have their backs.

    Like

  21. David says:

    My school doesn’t have a policy, but I have a personal policy not to add students on facebook, twitter, etc until after they have graduated or I have left the school and am no longer their teacher. I wouldn’t say I think it is “cool”, more so there are some students that I think will become interesting grown ups. I have had other students seek me out for advice during college or their job search to ask advice. I feel like my current students through daily interaction and email have enough access to have their questions answered.

    Like

  22. Anonymous says:

    My school does not encourage it, but neither is it prohibited. If teachers have a social media connection with students, then the teacher assumes the responsibility for exposing personal information to those students who are connected.

    Having a social media connection to students has its benefits, though. My tenth grade has a Facebook group where they regularly share information about the class. Teachers can also post reminders or class material in the group. It works well.

    I do realize that alternatives exist in educational technology. Our school uses G Suite. We can’t, however, utilize the Classroom app because our students do not belong to the school email domain and despite many efforts to make this happen, well, it still hasn’t happened.

    Like

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