Social Media and the Student/Teacher Relationship: The Pros and Cons of Establishing Connections with a Grade School Student
The student/teacher relationship must always be treated with care. While being open and available as an instructor is beneficial, boundaries are just as important. So when these delicate relationships and social media collide, what is the best course of action?
Some teachers see the educational potential of social media; they use the platforms to continue important lessons beyond the reach of the classroom. But less carefully coordinated interactions leave both the student and teacher exposed as their personal and school-based lives intertwine in unexpected ways.
In some cases, interacting with students on social media may be controlled by the school. If the rules of conduct ban the activity, then the question becomes a non-issue. But even if an outright ban is not in place, it is important to consider the potential risks and rewards before moving forward.
Before you decide to friend or follow your students on social media, consider these pros and cons based on the grades you teach and the institutions for which you work.
Most social media sites expect users to be at least 18 years of age. However, younger students often still have pages. In some cases, the activity is predominantly controlled by parents, serving as a way to document major milestones in the child’s life and making their growth accessible to friends and family members regardless of the physical distances involved.
In some cases, connecting with younger students on social media may seem safer. It can provide an avenue to keep the adults in their lives apprised of current subjects of study and creates an opportunity to share the child’s triumphs. In that regard, it can be helpful to reinforce the learning in the classroom and can help build a kid’s self-esteem.
There are risks with these relationships as well. Depending on your level of involvement with each student, there may be questions about favoritism. Additionally, not all parents may allow their children on social media. This can create a point of contention between students and parents. If an online relationship is established, it is important to keep these things in mind. And, when in doubt, it may be more appropriate to communicate in other ways.
At a minimum, it would be wise to communicate with parents if you are open to connecting via social media. That way they are fully aware that the connection is being made, and they can choose to deny the request if they prefer.
By middle school, social media accounts being managed by students is more common. That means the activities taking place on the pages may have less oversite from parents than when the children were younger. You could be incidentally privy to intimate details in the student’s life during what can be a confusing time. It is also possible to witness activity that may leave you concerned, such as signs of bullying.
Whether having this level of insight is ideal depends on the situations at hand. In that regard, it is important to proceed with caution. Since many middle school students are under 13, parents should be informed if you are open to connecting with students through usual social media channels. Again, this is about connecting openly and allowing a parent to intervene if they prefer the student/teacher relationship remain solely in the classroom.
However, you can use social media to support current lessons. For example, if you are a science and math teacher, you may choose to follow notable publications that speak to the subject, like National Geographic or The Science Channel. Students who follow would see the information that posts to your feed and may get them interested in something new based on the posts they see. Alternatively, you can use it to send out messages to relevant links that support the subject being studied.
Once children reach high school, they generally meet the age requirements for maintaining their social media accounts on their own. But this increased autonomy doesn’t make the relationship any less precarious. The ability to share information that supports the topics being taught still exist, so that benefit remains. It can give you an avenue to connect students to current events that are relevant to their education without the delay involved in waiting for the next class.
But, just because the children are older, that doesn’t make the relationship less precarious. In fact, the risk of maintaining a somewhat social relationship may increase. Whether a connection is deemed appropriate may be in the eyes of the beholder. And a few negative stories in the press about inappropriate student/teacher relationships may color how others view the connection.
The Take Away
Social media provides an avenue for connecting with students outside of the classic school day paradigm. However, maintaining a social relationship with a student must be treated with care. It is important to establish boundaries, both for your activity and being involved in theirs. Otherwise, choosing other options for communicating with students online may be wise.