Best Practices for Activities
- Two adults and always at minimum two youth during activities
- No community contact on own, always an adult present
- No private online communication between adults and students
No private online communication between adults and students
The most serious potential risk is educators failing to maintain proper boundaries or students misperceiving the online attention they were receiving as something more than educational and platonic. Of course, these concerns are also present in off-line communications between teachers and students as well both in and outside of school.
That being said, educators should definitely refrain from “friending” or “following” students on social media profiles they use for personal purposes (e.g., connected with the educator’s adult friends and loved ones). Clearly separating their work and personal lives is crucial. Toward this end, schools should consider developing a clear policy that establishes the professional standard for educator online presence and online student-educator interactions.
Another concern raised is that online communication environments can make it too easy to move from discussing school assignments to asking more “personal” (even if innocent) questions, sharing private world views or engaging in candid self-disclosure. Anonymity and geographical distance while online, coupled with feelings of loneliness and the desire to connect with someone when individuals interact through cyber communication, make inappropriate messages between educators and students a very real possibility.
This is even more likely when one considers private messages (DMs, Snaps, texts) that are one-to-one, outside the purview of any supervisory authority and kept secret between the two parties involved. A principal or other administrator is not being copied on these messages, nor are they archived for the future in case an investigation need arises. It is simply not worth doing anything that might have the appearance of impropriety.
Furthermore, it is important to know that educators who connect with students online have an obligation to intervene if they see inappropriate content or evidence of a violation of school policy or the law on a student’s profile. If there is discussion about a party on Saturday night that appears to include underage drinking, the teacher has a duty to respond. Imagine the serious consequences that could come from a teacher who does not take action if someone were to be seriously injured or killed as a result of behaviors at that party.
By choosing to interact with students online, educators, or any adult for that matter, must now respond to any illicit behavior or information that may put students in harm’s way. This may not be a responsibility that you want to take on, as it seems like an impossible mandate.
Outside of these points, being “friends” or “followers” with some students and not others may lead to perceptions of favoritism or bias. Perhaps a situation arises where a student who is friends online to an educator receives a better grade than one who is not. It may very well be a coincidence, but it could raise eyebrows as suspicious behavior that betrays a personal relationship rather than purely a professional one. Relatedly, if a student can see your posts, it is possible (depending on the social media) that their friends can also see your posts. This unnecessarily widens the circle which has access to your photos, videos and whatever other content you share.
You do not want to have to deal with selectively accepting or rejecting friend and follower requests from the parents or siblings of students (or other peers your student has from school, sports, clubs or community).
Photography & Video
Always get permission to take and post pictures and videos from those featured. Encourage everyone to feel comfortable speaking up if they feel misunderstood or not heard. Emphasize that you are operating and connecting in a safe space at all times.