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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why Teachers Should 'Friend' Students Online

Education is still trying to figure out this Internet thing.  Someday, I hope they will.

This week, an educator friend (Georgia) of mine tweeted that he was being told to 'unfriend' many of his Facebook friends...because they are students.

As I responded, another IT educator friend (Texas) of mine said someone from ChildSafe (no link ever for them) made a statement that teachers 'friending' students was "stepping over the line." The implication was that pedophiles and molesters go to where children are, and teachers should not make online relationships with students for fear that they might be considered child molesters.

Yesterday, another educator friend (Nevada) of mine tweeted that his child's friends were 'friending' him on Facebook, and the 'kids' thought it was cool.

Well, as Popeye said, "I'VE HAD ALL I CAN STANDS, AND I CAN'T STANDS NO MORE!"  Give me some spinach!

Beginning Thought - Have you ever considered that children are friending teachers they trust, because they are looking for an adult to watch out for them while they are online?

Let me get to the things that bother me the most:

  1. I resent the fact that someone who makes their living off of "scare tactics" in the name of child safety lumps my profession in with pedophiles and molesters. Facebook did not create the molester. Pedophiles, moelsters, and abusers have no specific career. 
  2. Teacher-bashing is the newest thing in political correctness.  It is always the teacher's fault when anything goes wrong with kids. If I didn't have students read what I write, I would use some other language at this point, but because I know they do, I refrain. See the power of online accountability!?
Now, if you are still with me, let me make my case.

Assumption #1 - Children are on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other social sites.
Assumption #2 - Molesters can be found on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other social sites.
Assumption #3 - Schools should care for the well-being of their students, which includes teaching them online safety.

If each assumption is true, one has several options to protect children.

  1. Prohibit kids from getting online and joining social sites.
  2. Teach kids how to protect themselves in a classroom setting, where most likely the sites are blocked at the school where you are presenting the lesson.
  3. As an adult, do not join social sites so you can hide from the activities that take place there.
  4. As an adult, join the social sites, model and monitor the activities of the children you care about.
There are more, I'm sure.

Option #1 is not going to happen.  Kids are online, and we will not stop this from happening.  Get over it, and move on.
Option #2 is going to be mocked and ridiculed by the kids you seek to protect.  Like telling boys 40 years ago that "girlie magazines" were terrible, it only peeked interest.
Option #3 is a dominant approach. Bury our heads in the sand, and que sera, sera. Then badmouth the online communities to demonstrate personal piety.
Option #4 is currently feared, but is the "best practice" model available to help guide young people through the online world.

Anecdotal Evidence:
 
I know you researcher types may not consider anecdotal evidence to be reliable.

To you I say, "It is time to spend time with young people and move on from Excel number-crunching, and beging to make a difference."  [I told you earlier, I can't stands it no more.]

In August of 2008, my son's best friend died while running a short road race in Chattanooga, TN. He was a college distance runner, who had just had his physical, and was in great shape.  It occurred a few days before his high school class was returning to their respective colleges.  There were hundreds of young people (under 20) who walked through the visitation. 

I stayed behind the family, and thanked every young person who came to support the family, and receive support from each other as well.  I was there for five hours.

It was during hour three that it happened. Three girls and two boys came up to me (former students) and asked why this happened. They were heart-broken, and wanted (needed) someone to talk to...someone who would listen. They were heading back to college in two days, and didn't know what to do. One of them asked if I was on Facebook.  I told them I was.

I also told them I would not friend them, but I would accept their request for 'friendship.'  By the time I was home (about 3 hours later) I had more than a dozen requests on my Facebook page...all former students.  That's when the power of Facebook hit me. It is about relationships, not technology.

The next day, I had a big decision to make.  I had younger siblings of these former students who started requesting friendships...they were in my classes, and in my school.

Choices - Friend them, and be accused of "crossing the line" or IGNORE them and run the risk of hurting their feelings, or worse yet, telling them I wasn't interested in them or their hurts.

I friended them, and told no one but my wife and sons. If anyone asked, my character would provide the answer.

I did not start conversations with them. I did answer them when they had questions. I did encourage them. I also told them that we all had to support each other.

A year later, on the anniversary of John's passing, I sent a message to many of his classmates that I was thinking about John, and about them. It was a difficult message for me to write, but the replies I received settled this argument for me.

The question - should teachers friend their students? - was answered.

I will not quote them exactly, but I will tell you some of the content of more than 45 messages.

  • Thank you Mr. Murry. 
  • You really made a difference for me.
  • I thought teachers forgot about us when we left their classrooms.
  • You are the only teacher who listened to me.
  • [From a current student at that time] Mr. Murry, my brother told me you were cool, but now I know why...you really helped him through John's death. Thanks.
CHILDSAFE PEOPLE - Do not ever...ever...ever make a statement that I have crossed the line, or I will cross a line with you. [Perhaps I just did]

I still do not friend my students, but I never IGNORE them when they ask.

I create Facebook Quizzes for my kids. I communicate with their parents through Facebook. I have class discussions on Twitter. I teach 7th graders.

My question: How can adults be so heartless as to deny or accuse teachers who care about their students of crossing a line? 

It is NOT Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, or any other online community that is the problem. It is the people who are out of touch with today's youth.

I will go this far - teachers who are not online, communicating with their students and the parents, limit their effectiveness as a teacher.  I'm not bashing them, just sharing my experience.

My online conversations are public.  There is a record of my actions, words, conversations, and goofiness with my kids. I think it is modeling for my students. I refrain (most of the time - perhaps not here so much) from voicing anger.  Knowing my students read what I write have made me a better person(ality) online. I think my students show restraint, knowing they have a teacher(s) who see their posts.

Without giving too much away, my school has developed Fan pages, class pages, and we follow each other.  I don't know of anyone who asked permission to do so. Students can't get to Facebook on school-networked computers (but they do on their phones). I've seen Facebook used as homework reminders, group discussions among students, and picture-sharing of ballgames, band, and school life.  All of our principals (4 of them) are on Facebook too. Kids talk about who to friend for school stuff.

By not discussing "how to do it" our school is sneaking into the educational use of Facebook. The students like it. The teachers like it. And we are becoming a very close community for 1600+ people in our building. I know what is going on with peers I never get to see. I have students follow me that I don't teach.  They take my class quizzes. It's very cool.

Can you see why I'm upset over the practice of guilting, litigating, and/or forcing good teachers to 'unfriend' students?

Final Thought - Have you ever considered that children are friending teachers they trust, because they are looking for an adult to watch out for them while they are online?

I feel better now.

Posted via email from Murry's World

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