Setting boundaries for mobile communications

How to keep teacher-student relationships appropriate
By: | Issue: January, 2019
January 3, 2019

With social media and connective technology, news is communicated instantaneously and millions are a few keystrokes from the megaphones of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Anytime, anywhere connections mean teachers and students can routinely text about everything from homework to changes in sports schedules to study topics. But cell phone use by students can blur personal and professional lines when it comes to interacting with teachers.

Have you considered setting boundaries for communications with students to address social media usage? Now may be the time to think about it.

Caution when connecting

Students and staff don’t always make good communication decisions. Any one of us could be a degree or two of separation from a tech-related scandal—from posting questionable photos to sending inappropriate texts to oversharing. Many HR departments, unfortunately, have experienced such issues.

Have you thought about how to handle texting and social media boundaries? Here are some ideas to ponder:

Stick to school-related communication. Messages related to assignments make boundaries easier to maintain.

Send messages at reasonable times. School and evening hours are good times to communicate, but late night and very early morning hours are questionable.

Remember the lack of context. Messages are what they mean at the time they are sent. Context might be lost in time or in isolation. How would your text look or sound if read aloud in court?

Consider perceptions. The interpretation of a message is based on the perspective of the reader. A message might work with a social group but not with students.

Be mindful that your messages may be shared. Look at your privacy settings, and make sure that you know your connections.

Proceed with caution. Instagram and Facebook allow students to peek into your personal life and look at posts of your friends, party videos, beach pictures and more.

Consider your digital footprint. We live in a connection economy in which we become our own brand, so think about your career. Your online presence goes beyond school hours.

Suggestions for district protocols

It is prudent for districts to consider expectations around social media and teacher-student communications, while being mindful of the free speech rights of staff and students. While bans may not be an option, establishing clear expectations can certainly help achieve the balance between good judgment and over-regulation.

Responsible use policies should be considered in an attempt to educate staff, students and parents about appropriate conduct. Safety, respect, etiquette and transparency can help reinforce what is and is not acceptable.

Parents need to be reminded that they are their children’s first and lifelong teacher. They need to keep lines of communication open so their children will share if they feel uncomfortable or if something inappropriate takes place.

Let’s face it: Connectivity and social media make school a bit more complicated. Social media and mobile devices have infiltrated our schools and relationships. Round-the-clock use of devices by staff and students can lead down a slippery slope, but with a few transparent practices and clear expectations, the benefits can far outweigh the challenges.

Lisa Gonzales is immediate past president of the Association of California School Administrators and was named one of President Barack Obama’s 100 #FutureReady superintendents. Kevin Grier is director of curriculum and special projects for the Livermore Valley Joint Union School District in California.