The rise of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has helped many of us to connect with distant friends, long lost relatives, and even our favorite celebrities. And that is certainly one of the advantages of social media: it connects us with all sorts of people, many of whom we wouldn’t usually connect with in real life. However, one important relationship has come under fire. According to Boston.com, education authorities in a local school district have officially banned teachers from friending students or accepting friend requests from students. The measure is designed to encourage teachers to maintain separation between their professional and private lives, thus protecting students and the teachers themselves from any possible problems in the future.
The ban comes on the heels of recent incidents involving educators and their inappropriate use of social media: three educators in New York City were let go after interacting with students on Facebook and an administrator in the Cohasset school system was asked to leave after criticizing the town on Facebook.
School officials, however, are adamant that this policy is not reactionary. Instead, it is a preemptive measure. Superintendant Patricia Ansay, who proposed the policy, wrote to Boston.com in an e-mail that stated, "There was no incident that prompted this policy. It is an effort to keep our staff members and students safe while using new technologies, especially in light of recent incidents in other communities."
These actions on the part of the Norton school district are also interesting considering the recent efforts on the part of other schools to better incorporate social media into the educational system. According to a recent article on Education Week’s Digital Directions, New Milford School in New Jersey is offered as just one example out of many that educators can see value in linking students, teachers, parents, and schools to each other. The principal of New Milford School, Eric Sheninger, said in the article, "I used to be an administrator that blocked every social media site, and now I’m the biggest champion. I’m just someone who is passionate about engaging students and growing professionally."
Given these conflicting messages heard from school administrators, how then should students handle social networking in relation to their schooling? The best advice for high school and college students is to always think carefully about how you use Twitter and Facebook, and to know your school’s policies concerning social networking inside and out. Don’t post anything online that could get you in trouble. Don’t seek out needless connections with your professors and teachers, unless that connection is an official and school-sanctioned one. In other words, if you must ‘friend’ your professor or teacher, be sure that it is in direct relation to a school project. For now, the best thing to do is to follow your school’s lead.
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