Facebook and Teaching: How They Can Work Together

How many times have you been in class with your laptop open, “taking notes” while surfing Facebook?  We’ve all done it at some point.  But, while you’re sitting in EDU classes, flipping through the profile pictures of your sister’s roommate’s friend, have you ever wondered what’s going to happen to your Facebook in 2-3 years?  What are you going to do with your profile when you’re a teacher?  And more importantly, what can you let your students see, and what do you want to keep from them?

With all the time we spend on Facebook, it’s unlikely that any of us is going to delete his or her profile on their first day of school and never look back.

So you’re going to keep your Facebook Profile.  Now, you have to worry about the content of your page.  We’ve all heard horror stories about the teachers like Viki Knox, who was investigated for offensive remarks she posted on Facebook.  Last year, NPR published an article titled, Friendly Advice For Teachers: Beware of Facebook, that warns educators about the dangers of posting offensive or personal things on Facebook.  The NPR article also talks about how posting questionable content online can undermine a teacher’s ability to teach.  If you post pictures of you getting drunk or partying on Facebook, your students WILL find them, which will paint a picture of you as something other than the role model that your school community expects you to be.

So as teachers, what can we do about Facebook?  Jeff Utecht, Education Consultant and author of The Thinking Stick Blog, has come up with a solution.  For Jeff, the answer is simple: create a Facebook fan page for yourself that students can connect with you on.

A screenshot of Jeff Utecht's Fan Page on Facebook

As Jeff explains in his blog post, A fan page on Facebook has many of the same features that a profile does: there’s a wall where students can write to you, you can post pictures and be tagged in them, and post statuses.  Once you’ve created this fan page for your “teacher self”, you are free to make your Facebook profile private only to friends, and everything can stay the way it is.  Jeff also talks about what to do when students find your Facebook profile.  When a student sends you a friend request on Facebook, he suggests responding with a simple message that says something along the lines of, “I’m glad you want to connect with me, but I’ve decided to keep my Facebook profile private to friends and family.”  Then, provide them with a link to your fan page and tell them to like that page to stay connected.

Elsewhere on The Thinking Stick, Jeff has posted about teaching High School students the difference between the “social you” and the “professional you”.  In The Social You Vs. The Professional You, Jeff simplifies the whole idea down to: Facebook is the “social you”, and it should be unrelated to the “you” you want colleges and other professionals to see.

As far as setting up a fan page on Facebook, it’s really easy.

The hardest part is really finding the link to a fan page.

It's all the way down at the bottom of the login page.

The next steps are really easy, Facebook guides you through them.  You get to select what type of fan page you want to create (whether its for a company, a band, a person etc.) and you can even specify that it is a fan page for a teacher.  Once you’ve plugged in all the preliminary information, you get to create your page and start inviting friends to become fans.

This is the Fan Page I created for myself

This is an excellent way for teachers to stay connected with students, because you can post links and statuses to your fan page wall, and students can read them and respond in comments or in posts of their own.  Especially with all the information that the newest Facebook Timeline has made available, it is important for us, as future teachers, to start thinking about the ways we are seen by the community so that we can be excellent role models for our students.

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21 Responses to Facebook and Teaching: How They Can Work Together

  1. Sarah C says:

    Alex, this topic and post are really interesting. I remember some of my high school teachers having facebook and accepting friend requests from students and I always thought it was unprofessional. Your post topic is something I’ve never though of before and is a great alternative to your personal facebook page that still allows you to keep in touch and to connect with your students. Great post!

  2. Elizabeth L. says:

    Alex,
    I agree with what Jeff Utecht says about the importance of a separation between the private and professional life of a teacher but in reality, can you ever really have a completely private facebook page? I think that teachers can still get in trouble for posting controversial things on their personal facebook, although the idea of a fan page certainly seems like a good option. Even though there should be a line between anyone’s professional and private lives, for teachers specifically I think that they are placed in a separate category, similar to doctors or politicians, as they are acting as role models for their students to follow. While they certainly have a right to have a private life, they also should set the standard for appropriate behavior so that students learn the importance of good values. Furthermore, there are ways that parents can indirectly find out about the private lives of teachers through mutual friends or events they attended. It is critical that teachers take this into account and do not assume that just because it is their personal facebook does not mean that it is not going to be seen by a parent or colleague.

  3. Hilary S. says:

    Alex, I loved reading your post. I found I could easily relate to the topics discussed in your post, and you gave a lot of really helpful tips. I like that you used a lot of screenshots to help guide the reader. One thing that’s important to remember with Facebook is how public it can be. I remember finding my teachers Facebooks and judging them harshly. I love the idea of the fan page alternative, I never thought of making one of those! Thanks for sharing all of Jeff’s tips and your own, I enjoyed learning more about how to use Facebook professionally!

  4. Sydney B. says:

    I agree with Elizabeth. It is very hard to create a completely private profile. However, I think that there are many other points to this post that I really like. The fact that students can connect to their teacher outside of the classroom is great. It reminds me of when I was a student in elementary school and I’d see my teacher at the grocery store and freak out! I was so shocked that he or she had a “real life”! It helped me connect with my teacher better. I feel like this is that “grocery store experience” for the students now. They can see their teacher in a new light. Also, if students have questions about homework, they probably aren’t the only ones! Students can post questions and the teacher can respond to them quickly. Overall, this is a great way to stay connected to students in many different ways.

  5. Holly G. says:

    Alex – thanks for posting about this! I have heard plenty of stories about teachers losing their jobs because of pictures they’ve posted and things they’ve said on Facebook, which has only made me more nervous about having mine as a teacher. While it is already private so only my friends can view it, it still makes me wonder if my students would somehow be able to access the information I’m wary of them seeing. I never thought of making a fan page for myself, but I like the idea. It makes me wonder though – what’s the difference between making one Facebook profile for your friends and family and another for your students? I know people who make two profiles – one personal, one professional. What’s the advantage to making a fan page instead of a second profile? Still, your post made me feel little more comfortable with using Facebook as an educator.

  6. Maddy R. says:

    Alex, I really enjoyed reading your post. As soon as I saw the title, I was intrigued. Facebook is a huge aspect in our lives. It is even becoming more and more popular with older generations, especially in the work force and “real world”. I am always reading and hearing stories about people being fired or not being hired because of the content that they post on their page. Your post gives teachers like us great advice on how to use Facebook as a teacher while still keeping our private and professional lives separate. I never thought before to create a new page, or better yet a “fan” page, that can be accessed by my students and their parents rather than them trying to search and find my private page that deals with me outside of the classroom. Even now my page is completely private, but people somehow can still access my content even when I have tried to make it so they are not allowed to. So, I find it very helpful to be able to have this option for my students and for myself so that my private life will not interfere with my life as a teacher.

  7. Emily D says:

    Alex, this was a great topic to blog about. It is so relevant to our generation of future teachers, in addition to the fact that so many of us network with friends and family via Facebook. I actually knew a few teachers to have fan pages on Facebook, as I also knew plenty of teachers who allowed students to friend them on Facebook. You raised some very important points, and I am glad that you provided the specific example of Viki Knox. A teacher in my area got fired for having photos on Facebook of her and alcohol, and this is something that everyone should be aware of. Prior preparation is what is going to save us from having our private photos and thoughts made public by our students and our students’ parents. Being able to still connect in some way with students over the fan page is a way of keeping that relationship professional with the students.

  8. Katie R. says:

    Alex, what a great subject to talk about! I haven’t even thought about the affects that Facebook could have on our jobs in the future. I have never heard of a teacher creating a fan age, most of my high school teachers just would not friend students or would have their account set up so that no one could search for them until after graduation. Looking back, I do view my teachers differently than before because now that I have graduated, they have befriended me and I have seen photos of them partying and acting like college students which is a little awkward. I think the idea of a fan page is a great way to use Facebook as a medium between students and teachers in order to promote a healthy relationship within social media. Good job!

  9. Emmie C. says:

    Alex, I found your topic extremely interesting. I enjoyed reading about creating a Facebook fan page, something I had never thought about. In fact, I hadn’t even gone that far to think about what I would do with my Facebook once I become a teacher. But you discuss not only how you can keep your Facebook page, but also create an alternative for your students, a fan page. It is so true that if you post inappropriate pictures of you on Facebook, either your students, or someone in your work force, is bound to find them, resulting in extreme consequences. A fan page is a perfect balance – enough information to share with your students, but nothing too private that you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with them. I will definitely consider making this for when I become a teacher, because it is a great way for students to get to know you, and the more they know about their teacher, the more comfortable they will feel in the classroom.

  10. Christiana C. says:

    I think this is a really interesting topic to blog about. Facebook can be very controversial in the teaching world, and it is something that can put a teaching career in jeopardy. I really like the idea of using Facebook to our advantage. By creating a fan page teachers can keep their students updated to the minute because Facebook is something that students are checking constantly. By creating a fan page and making your Facebook profile private you can eliminate the possibility of students friending you and finding things that would be deemed inappropriate. It can be awkward when students see photos of teachers in their days before becoming professionals so I think this is great way to avoid any embarrassing situations while creating an way to stay up to date with students.

  11. Meagan W. says:

    Alex, this is a great topic to blog about! My mom has been reminding me from the day I got a Facebook, everything you put on the internet is “out there” no matter how private you may think it is. I have thought about what I will do when I become a teacher (and even sooner) and knew that I couldn’t go cold turkey and just delete my profile. The fan page is a great alternative! It allows you to still connect with students but in a public, professional way. I hope I don’t have to worry about receiving friend request from my students, as I want to teach at the elementary level, but there will always be parents and faculty members to be aware of. Being able to connect with students over social media is great, because that is what they all relate to, but it is very important to remain professional at all times. Great post, it has me thinking about everything on my Facebook right now!

  12. Rebecca S. says:

    In high school, I had a few teachers who were Facebook friends with a few of my friends or classmates, which I always thought was awkward and unprofessional. Other teachers told us that they would not be our Facebook friend until we graduated, and others still refused to let us see their profiles. This seems quite confusing and a lot more complicated than it needs to be. From reading your post, I now know that using a Fan Page to be “friends” with your students offers a happy medium! Students can feel like they can easily access you, while you keep your personal life private. At first I thought that this may not apply to Elementary teachers, especially those in the lower grades, because (hopefully!) their students will not have Facebooks. However, their parents might! You could let parents be a “fan” of you on Facebook so that they can feel connected to you and your classroom, but they will not be able to see pictures you are tagged in from last weekend or the comments your friends might write on your wall. I think this is a great idea that can help keep everyone (parents, students, etc.) stay in the loop!

  13. Kaitlin L. says:

    I love that you chose to talk about this, since it is a subject so close to our generation’s heart. I have been told several times that as a future teacher I should just “not have a Facebook,” but I thought you proposed a great way of both having Facebook while still keeping it professional. As far as people accessing my “private” page (and I have pretty high pivacy settings), my motto is that if you really don’t want anyone to see it, don’t post it. I am friends on Facebook with my Mom, Grandmom, and Pastor – their eyes keep my FB clean. 🙂

  14. Hannah D. says:

    Alex, I think this is a great post! I agree with Sarah about it being unprofessional when teachers accept friend requests from students. Its true that Facebook is a big part of our lives, and its hard to think about your future jobs when writing a status. It’s not the first thing that pops into my head! I think it is difficult for a lot of people to just not have a Facebook, so I think a fan page is definitely a great idea. I think people should definitely be careful about what they post on Facebook, but this is a great way to work with the paths that we have already started.

  15. Patrick C says:

    Alex, this is a great post! This year I had just started thinking about what to do with my Facebook profile when I graduate. A lot of people have told me that I should delete my Facebook which is something I cannot see myself doing. I have also heard the horror stories of teachers being fired over controversial things on Facebook. Teachers at my high school did not accept friend requests till after the student graduated. I like this idea of creating a fan page because like you said you are able to still be connected with students without the fear of having something on your personal page threaten your career. I really enjoyed reading this post.

  16. Erin M. says:

    Alex- I think you did a great job with this blog, because it could not be more relevant to us as current college students and future teachers. Just last week my sister deleted her facebook because she began applying for nursing jobs and thought it would prevent her from getting any callbacks. I am not sure how she did that so easily, because I have all of my pictures and memories posted for the last 6 years of my life and am truthfully a little too attached to be able to just as you said delete it and never look back. I think the fan page is a really great idea to allow students and teachers to connect using a tool that we are all so familiar with. I think that by openly asking students to communicate with you in an appropriate way via facebook, you would avoid having to deal with uncomfortable friend requests and photo searches. My only concern in what you said about being able to simply keep your social facebook but just on private, is that I have been told that many companies and programs have software that allows them to break through the privacy settings and access your information. I am not sure how accurate this is, but it’s something I think we all have to think about.

  17. Hollyz says:

    With Facebook becoming such a part of our society this is a really important idea to think about. Since it seems Facebook will be sticking around for quite a while this is an issue that we as future teachers really need to think about. Especially with the lens that is on teachers these days we need to be especially careful about what we put on the internet. The idea of making a fan page for students is an excellent idea! This way they can still contact you without a lot of personal information being revealed. Even if you teach younger grades there are still always parents on Facebook. Being able to have an appropriate way for students to contact you on Facebook is a great idea that avoids any kind of personal information being leaked. This post really is important because even if we keep our Facebooks private, nothing is truly private, and as teachers our community holds us to higher standards. This was a great post that really got me thinking about what I put on the internet and how that can reflect me as a teacher. Great job!

  18. Kate H. says:

    I have always wondered when would be the appropriate time to delete my Facebook, especially considered, as Holly mentioned, that teachers are held to a higher standard. In high school, my physics class found my teacher’s Facebook and all friended him at once. He told us that he would accept us after we graduated. After reading your post, Alex, I think that a fan page would be much more appropriate than a Facebook friendship, even if the student is no longer a student. It allows the teacher to have a personal page, but also still keep in contact with their students or parents of their students. Since Facebook is so big in our society, it would be hard to completely eliminate your own access, afraid it would alter your professional life. I agree with Erin that I wouldn’t want to delete all my photos and memories at the click of a button. My concerns are also parallel with Erin’s. I have read and heard that companies have the ability to see past these privacy settings. Even though this seems unethical, the possibility of risking your private life leaking out is not a pretty one. In my professional life, I will most likely clean up my Facebook, even if it is private, and I will definitely utilize the fan page option Alex offered.

  19. Riley K says:

    This is a huge issue with many teachers now a days. I remember finding my teachers profile’s in high school and having them tell me they would not accept my friend request until after I graduated. Sometimes pictures got out of a teachers profile and the pictures were not flattering. It is important to keep your personal life seperate from your work life especially when working with kids. This is a perfect response to a student’s friend request “I’m glad you want to connect with me, but I’ve decided to keep my Facebook profile private to friends and family”. Making a fan page can help acknowledge facebook in the classroom. It allows your students to connect with you in the way you want them too. By posting assignments and helpful notes the students can interact through chatting too which is just another great facebook brings into the equation.

  20. Anna K. says:

    This is something I have worried about for a while now. I did not know if I would need to delete my facebook once I got out of college and started applying for jobs especially with working at a school because the kids would have facebook and want to friend you. The fan page is a great way to stay connected with your students in a similar way that they connect with their peers and will help them feel closer to you. The students at my high school once found a compromising picture of one of our teachers on facebook and it makes me realize that you really have to make sure everything is private from your students and from anyone who is not your friend. It is also a good way for parents of students to look you up and make sure you are a good role model for their children.

  21. Kendall C says:

    I really like your idea of making a Facebook fan page! I think it’s interesting and would work well in classrooms because, like you said, our students do use Facebook, and we’re also young enough to use Facebook, but need to separate our private and professional lives. I think making a Facebook fan page could even be taken a step further into making it somewhat like a class website in the sense that it can be a place where course material is discussed. In other words, students could post questions about assignments, upcoming assessments, discuss group projects, etc. It may be a good place to have these conversations since so many students are already online on Facebook anyway. Also, it allows teachers to connect with students on a personal level without compromising their professionalism, like you were saying. If the Facebook fan page were made and was a class site sort of deal, then it could be something also incorporated into the class curriculum and be something students could refer back to when reviewing or learning information. This was a really cool topic to explore, Alex!

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