Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conduct Unbecoming?

Not only did thousands of teachers meet in New York City earlier this month for the NCTE Annual Convention, but many of them blogged about their experiences. Some educators and administrators might question whether they should have. Just last week, the Ohio Education Association urged members not to post personal information on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. eSchool News shared an excerpt of the warning message:

“OEA advises members not to join [these sites], and for existing users to complete the steps involved in removing their profiles,” the memo said. “While this advice might seem extreme, the dangers of participating in these two sites outweigh the benefits.”
News stories across the nation have identified instances of blogs and social networking profiles that resulted in problems for the teachers who composed them. The Edutopia site has posted a poll, with links to related stories of teachers and social networking gone awry. The poll asks:
Can pictures and writing displayed on a personal Web page qualify as “conduct unbecoming”? Or do teachers have the right to express themselves as they please outside of school grounds? Tell us what you think.
The Wired column “Sex Drive” argues that the answer is no. The column’s title makes the point clear: “Teachers Should Blog, Tweet and Flirt Online Like the Rest of Us.” Teachers should participate in any online communities that they desire, columnist Regina Lynn asserts, and they should follow the same general rules of behavior that they would in any other social context. Lynn explains, “teachers who understand appropriate relationships with students are not going to ‘friend’ teens on MySpace, text message youth about sex lives or hook up with minors in role-playing games.”

I have online profiles, blog entries, and twitters out there in cyberspace, so my position is probably obvious. Are personal blogs “conduct unbecoming”? If teachers mention going out to a bar with colleagues after convention sessions, have they stepped over the line? Would a blog post with a photo of friends raising a toast or hugging be inappropriate?

I say no. Forbidding teachers to use social networking and blogs distances them from the 21st-century literacy tools that students use and suggests that teachers cannot use mature judgment when they communicate with others. I’m not suggesting that everything included in the Columbus Dispatch article that reports the OEA’s memo is acceptable. But the solution is not silencing teachers either.

Instead why not provide some professional development for teachers that focuses on safe and savvy online communication? Ignoring sites like MySpace and Facebook isn’t going to prepare teachers or students for the future. Talking about the communication that happens on blogging and social networking sites is a far wiser and more pedagogically-useful step toward toward 21st-century literacy skills. Hiding from the technologies of today and the future is not going to make them disappear, but dealing with the issues of effective online communication actually could lessen problems that the Columbus Dispatch identified in their investigation.


Matt Skillen said...

I believe it is important for teachers to have an identity online, however professionalism should be maintained. If one posts pictures online that could lead the viewer to believe the teacher was acting inappropriately, he or she should be prepared to answer the questions from students, parents and administrators.

For more information on safe online communication, check out Wes Fryer’s Blog http://speedofcreativity.com. His site contains a wealth of information on safe online social networking and cool educational web tools.


Teri Lesesne said...

I have maintained blogs, web sites, and Facebook and MySPace pages for some time. I do know that what I post can be accessed by lots of people, many of whom do not know me personally. I am careful, then, to maintain some level of professionalism. However, I do see these sites as independent of the ones I maintain at the university. I do feel free to post personal information and to write in a more subjetive manner. ANYTHING can be misinterpreted, even more so online. I do the best I can to be conscious that there is an unseen audience out there.

I do think telling teachers to forego blogs and social networks crosses over the line, though. Our presence within communities where our students are comfortable connects us in new and fresh ways. Our willingness to embrace new technologies is also essential.

I know my blogs from NCTE were a sort of "you were there" experience for some educators who could not be there. I also hope it will motivate some new folks to come to San Antonio in 2008. Blogging and other web presences are part and parcel of what I do each day in my job.

Anonymous said...

I also maintain a myspace account and have several current and former students listed as friends on it. I do not think that is inappropriate at all becuase 1)I work hard to make sure that I don't post anything on there that might be taken out of context and used as an example of inappropriate behavior and 2) maintaining a relationship not only with my current and former students through online social networking allows me to get to know my students much better which helps me towards differentiating lesson plans and assignments as well as allowing me to know what appeals to my students.

Whether it's online or at the mall or at a restaurant, there's always a risk of being seen acting in an inappropriate manner no matter what you're doing. However, working hard to ensure that you're maintaining as much of a professional attutide as possible will minimize such risks. I'm not going to refrain from social networking but by acting professional as well as encouraging colleagues and students to do the same, I strongly believe that accusations of inappropriate behavior will continue to decrease.

Janet said...

I don't have a myspace account, but I do blog online, and the biggest concern I have about it is the way it can be interpreted in a job search. Prospective employers routinely check applicants' blogs and myspace pages for clues about the person's character and "fit" at a particular institution. It's vital to keep that in the forefront of one's mind when creating and maintaining an online presence -- professionalism is everything, even if you're not currently in the job market.

Jean Sherlock said...

I have both a myspace and a facebook account. Many of my "friends" are former and current students. I actually use my page to communicate homework assignments and to help students. I do not think there is anything wrong with having the pages as long as you maintain professionalism. My page is set to private which ensures that I approve everything and everyone who visits my page. It is irresponsible for teachers to place subject matter that can be deemed objectionable on social networking sites.

Anonymous said...

AS an educator, I believe that teachers need to possess expertise in technological matters; however, I do feel that the spaces on the internet are not appropriate. They have been used in my section of the country by sexual predatory educators. Such people are in our profession as they are in others, but it is viewed more seriously in our profession than in others. I regret that we have many educator in the profession today that do not take their role as supreme role models more seriously. There is something to be said about "the very appearance of evil" whether one wishes to be realistic or not. It is no wonder that the educational profession is not esteemed as highly as it once was. I know that my outdated stance will be viewed unpopular but at least it is practical for those who want to be teachers in the most sincerest meaning of the word.

Anonymous said...

I realize you recognize the dissension your post will cause, but it's not so much with your opinion as the final statement. Distancing ourselves from online communities is not practical nor does it signal we want to be teachers "in the most sincerest meaning of the word."
The world has changed. Saying educators should not be involved in online communities today is the same as saying 5 years ago we should not talk on our cell phone in public. Who knows what random students could overhear?
We do not have to conform to the norms of society or online communities, but we can use this as an opportunity to teach our students how to comport themselves online. In this world of rapidly changing technology, where employers, friends, family and strangers make decisions based upon individual’s online actions, this is an extremely important element of education waiting to be addressed.
The greatest benefit, though, is the opportunity to build relationships with current students and maintain those with past. To me, that's what makes teachers truly successful.

Joe said...

The person identified as "anonymous," who begins his/her posting with "As an educator..." brings out the real problem with writing in cyberspace--that teachers will show the true extent of their ignorance. A teacher who constructs such tortured phrases as "sexual predatory educators," and (shudder)"most sincerest meaning" gives us all a bad name. How can such a teacher be trusted to help our students improve their writing (you know, teaching, the job we're hired to do)? To me, this is the teacher who should be reported to the police, for stealing the public's money.

Trisha Senkbeil said...


Check out this article.

Anonymous said...

Your link didn't post. Would you mind re-sending it? I'd like to check it out...

Marsha said...

The world of technology has evolved into a complete and separate new world order, if you will. One can only trust that educators will maintain their professionalism in these online cyber worlds of new information. I believe that the younger teachers in education are more attuned to the Myspace and Facebook than those of us who are older. I have three childre. One is 29, an attorney; the other is 26, a licensened family therapist, and the "baby" still in college at 21. All three have a Facebook and Myspace site. They communicate with friends constantly and blog their own feelings and experiences. This is the world in which we live. Educators should have the same right to participate in the online cyber world while maintaing their professionalism. The recent bad publicity concerning mainly female teachers acting most inappropriately with students is in the "minority", of this I am sure. Do not judge all educators by the behavior of a few; nor should districts try and legislate "appropriate" communication measures. These are simply my opinions and should not be used against me in a court of law!

Trisha Senkbeil said...

Here is the article and link again:

Online profiles a factor in college admissions
Studies show that colleges are searching profiles of prospective students.