Jonathan Burg / My older brother is a religious educator to a teenage audience from what is popularly known as a “Modern Orthodox” background. As a good educator, he walks a fine line between being his students’ friend and being a role model/religious leader. He not only teaches his students in the classroom, but has them at his house on a very regular basis. This is a pretty regular practice in this style of yeshiva-school system. In the educator’s view, he isn’t just teaching his students how to practice judaism but how to live like a Jew (living a proper, moral lifestyle with a strong emphasis on family and religious devotion).

A Jewish Educator’s Guide to Facebook Interaction

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Guest post by Jonathan Burg

Jonathan Burg is a career marketing innovator, partnering both Fortune 500 brands and tech start-ups to explore and enable unique opportunities created by the intersection of technology, marketing and human behavior. Currently residing in Marine Park, Jonathan and family will be soon be joining the Ramat Shilo community. Jonathan can also be found on Twitter @JonBurg and on his professional blog at www.JonBurg.com. Cross-posted here: link

My older brother is a religious educator to a teenage audience from what is popularly known as a “Modern Orthodox” background. As a good educator, he walks a fine line between being his students’ friend and being a role model/religious leader. He not only teaches his students in the classroom, but has them at his house on a very regular basis. This is a pretty regular practice in this style of yeshiva-school system. In the educator’s view, he isn’t just teaching his students how to practice judaism but how to live like a Jew (living a proper, moral lifestyle with a strong emphasis on family and religious devotion).

Where does Facebook fit into this relationship? Should he be Facebook friends with his students? With his alumni? Would it appropriate for him (as religious figure) to be on Facebook altogether?

The crux of this question centers around the nature of the educator/student relationship, as well as the inherent informality of digital social communications. With this in mind, I would like to suggest the following list of considerations, as well as my personal perspective.

Advantages

Pretty much everyone is already on Facebook. Communicating with his students past and present on this platform likely wouldn’t introduce a new behavior.

Maintaining a relationship with students once they have moved on should include leveraging the social platforms they already use. When I was a recent graduate, my rabbinic mentors used email to stay in touch. Before my time it was phone calls, and even earlier it was letter writing. Facebook is the natural and potentially highly effective progression of this dynamic. (Note: I’m not suggesting that Facebook should take the place of email or phone calls, but it’s a great additional tool to consider)
Facebook makes it incredibly easy to stay in touch with many, many people over time. This is arguably the ideal platform for maintaining multiple relationships over time, far more so than email.

For teachers like my brother, teaching someone how to be a man of substance (a.k.a. living like a Jew) already includes inviting students into one’s home. The same principles that students observe sitting around his Shabbat table can be demonstrated in how he interacts with his own social circles on Facebook.

Facebook can create a sense of camaraderie and community across his students. Facebook allows them to directly interact with one another, leveraging their teacher as a social focal point or catalyst.

One of the fundamentals that my rabbis taught was how to be a Jew on the street. This used to mean teaching students the importance of proper decorum, presentation, morality and social interaction, as each of us is supposed to be a proper a representative of the Jewish people. This education should be expanded to include digital etiquette in blog commenting, over-sharing, respecting intellectual property rights, proper social etiquette when it comes to posting pictures and media of and about others without their expressed permission and so much more. Participating in these platforms is not only key to understanding and educating students on how to properly behave in these environments, but it will also serve as an example to students for how one should conduct oneself on these platforms.

Disadvantages

There are times when educators knowingly turn a blind eye towards their students’ behavior in or outside of the classroom. Facebook changes this dynamic by giving the educator incredible and even unhealthy access to their students’ personal lives.

There is a level of safety and professionalism that is found in counseling someone while maintaining a degree of personal detachment. Pervasive student access to their mentors’ personal social lives isn’t always healthy to the relationship.

Even after a student has grown into a mature adult, there is a level of respect towards the religious mentor that in-part defines their relationship. Most Facebook communications are more casual than in-person communications. More informal social communications can erode the respect that more traditional communications help to maintain.

Challenges

Many members of the committed religious community eye new digital platforms with an air of suspicion. Stripping away the preconceived notions regarding digital social media will require patience and clear communications. And even with these communications, many leading figures with severely limited first hand knowledge of the platforms may believe some of the prevailing rumors in the community regarding what takes place on Facebook.

Personal Perspective

Not every teacher needs to be active on digital social platforms personally, nor should they all connect with their students as friends. Many of the most inspiring rabbinic mentors I studied under were clueless when it came to technology, but incredibly insightful about humanity, morality and living an honest and meaningful life. The lessons that they imparted continue to influence every aspect of my life, even my online social communications. The principles of morality and respect are ever-present, regardless of the platform.

However, there are also those educators that take a more friend-like approach towards education. These are the educators who schooled us on the basketball court and had us over for more informal barbecues. I strongly encourage these types of educators to leverage channels such as Facebook to maintain relationships with alumni, students and parents of present students. That said, it’s also perfectly acceptable for these educators to choose not to accept friend requests from students, alumni or parents. Finally, before entering into this conversation, I strongly recommend that any educators who wish to remain employed with their present employer, consider checking with their institutional leadership before beginning to participate.

An Educator’s Guide to Facebook Interaction

It is incumbent on all participating educators to set expectations with their students and define their social dynamic. I have included my suggestions for doing this below.

Set your Facebook privacy settings to be fairly rigid. Do now allow people who are not friends to view or comment on any of your posts. Make sure that you are properly trained on the all of the core functionality before using it. It is imperative that all information shared in private channels and with confidence remain private.

Setup proper lists that will define what content and actions will be viewable to your many different groups of friends. If your friends are using Facebook, separate them into a different list. When posting, be sure to carefully select which lists will have access to this content. And remember, just because you didn’t share something with your students, doesn’t mean that they won’t see it as coming from you through a mutual friend or connection. Be careful what you post.

Set the tone for your interactions through your own engagements. If you want to maintain a more formal relationship, write and comment in a more formal manner. If your followers aren’t picking up on this cue and are participating in a less-formal manner, write them a private message thanking them for their input into the conversation, explaining your rationale for why you are being more formal, politely request that they help you build the community in the right way, and end by stating that you look forward to their continued input and participation. This should help get the message across without damaging the relationship.

If you already have a Facebook account, consider letting your friends know that you will be using this channel for student interactions. This means that their posts that appear on your wall should be appropriate for this audience.

Do not create an additional Facebook account for student interactions as this is against Facebook’s terms of use. While in one case in Australia, Facebook allowed educators to create a second account for student interaction, this is not yet part of their general terms of use.

Be proud of who you are and what you stand for. While most of your students may use Facebook for the more day-to-day interactions, there is nothing wrong with sharing bursts of inspiration or more meaningful content as well.

Use Facebook for what it’s good for. This isn’t the environment for a lengthy and deep lecture. However, this is a great place to share short content that will deliver meaning. Ask questions and reply to their comments. Network and introduce alumni to one another. Help them build a community around their shared connections and interests. Link to great articles. Post on their walls and wish them a Happy Birthday or a congratulatory message on their life milestones. Make the most of it!
Be present. This will take some time and will require attention. A relationship is only worth the investment you both put into it.

Don’t forget to be human! Facebook is an interpersonal channel. Show your humor and relatability. Don’t be afraid share. If you’re not having a good time, they aren’t having a good time.

Use all your other channels. Facebook will not take the place of a heart to heart phone call or an email newsletter. It’s additive. Learn and share with your peers as you go.

Disclaimer: Please note that in this post I assume that the student body in question is of age (later teens) and is of proper maturity to appreciate basic social conduct. While Facebook allows 13 and 14 year-olds onto the platform, engaging with this socially-immature audience is a very different dynamic and not one that is addressed by the above considerations or recommendations.

Relevant links:

  • Facebook FAQ on List and Privacy Settings – link
  • Facebook Privacy Fundamentals – link
  • Mashable: Facebook Fail: How to Use Facebook Privacy Settings and Avoid Disaster (slightly dated, but a good guide) – link

About Jonathan Burg

40 comments

  1. What a wonderful, thoughtful, and much-needed post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. ===”As a good educator, he walks a fine line between being his students’ friend and being a role model/religious leader.”

    B’kitzur nimratz:

    1. Educators cannot, and should not ever be, “their students’ friend”. They can be “friendly” – but never the student’s “friend”, which will get them entangled in wholly inappropriate ways in the emotional life of the students. This mistake is common, perhaps especially so in some circles, but it is, at base, unprofessional and makes the teacher vulnerable in many different ways. Keep the relationships educational and professional.

    2. The overwhelming view of most educators is that teachers should not ever be on facebook or similar social networks with their teenage students. Apart from questionable informality (which the post is correctly aware of), It also allows students access to the personal lives of teachers, which is wholly inappropriate. Actually, many educators advise teachers not to have Facebook pages altogether.

    3. Sorry to be personal, but these issues are discussed at some length in my book ‘The Jewish High School: a complete management guide’, available from Amazon ….. please pass the info to your brother, or, better still, order him a copy!

  3. Interesting post

  4. @Paul, thanks for your comments. In 1), I agree. I wrote “friend-like”, not “friends” and if this was misinterpreted then I’m sure the fault lies in my communications.
    2)I discuss the issue of personal space at length in this post. Secondly, the issues of educators and Facebook are being debated on a global level. For example, in Australia there is a district where teachers are encouraged to connect with students in social media – with the assistance of the local Facebook lead. Additionally, I know a number of old high-school and post-high school yeshiva Rabbeim that have connected very successfully with their students on Facebook in a variety of ways.

    I look forward to reading your book and gaining your perspective, but having spoke at length with many educators across both the yeshiva and the public school system, I have found that (a) there is an overwhelming lack of knowledge around what Facebook is and how it works, (b) this lack of knowledge has hampered digital innovation in torah education in a generation where this is sorely needed, and (c) this is already taking place, generally without the administration’s knowledge.

    In my own experience in the corporate world, large enterprise followed the same model and the yeshiva system – senior leadership didn’t understand social, thought it would be detrimental to business and therefor expected their employees to stay off. Those businesses that learned to embrace and utilize the dynamic found massive opportunity, while the rest are still struggling to keep up.

    With a focus first and foremost on what is right for the student, I’m hoping our yeshiva system will invest the proper time and energy working with experts across the spectrum to find the right solution for their students.

  5. Rafael Araujo

    “Educators cannot, and should not ever be, “their students’ friend”. They can be “friendly” – but never the student’s “friend”, which will get them entangled in wholly inappropriate ways in the emotional life of the students. This mistake is common, perhaps especially so in some circles, but it is, at base, unprofessional and makes the teacher vulnerable in many different ways. Keep the relationships educational and professional.”

    So does that mean, in your opinion, a rebbi should never have over his talmidim for a Shabbos seudah, bar-q? If so, I vehemently disagree.

  6. “The overwhelming view of most educators is that teachers should not ever be on facebook or similar social networks with their teenage students. ”

    Can you clarify? At this point, the upcoming generation of teachers (abd many current teachers – my peers who are in their late 20s and early 30s) is on facebook before they are teachers. Are you suggesting the cancel their accounts, just not be friends with teenage students?

  7. that should have been “cancel their accounts? or just not be friends with students?”

  8. Thanks for the responses to my comment.

    Briefly:

    Facebook and similar social networking sites are very different from the general question of digital presence in the Jewish classroom, which I am all in favour of. A teacher’s personal life – who their friends are etc – is nothing to do with his/her students. It is possible — just — to exercise strict control over F/book, access to it, content of messages posted etc., but it is v difficult. A teacher has to maintain a certain professional distance from a student. Period. The alternative can lead to many difficult situations. (This is ABC of teachers’ professional conduct.) I don’t see the parallel with commercial use of Facebook (‘viral marketing’ etc) — in fact, we are about to launch a viral marketing campaign as part of school recruitment. This is to do with personal relationships between staff and students.

    Of course a teacher/Rebbe can invite students to their house for shabbat meals. A prudent school will have clear policies about these occasions, however. But that is, again, separate from the issue of whether a teacher is ‘friendly’ (certainly), or the student’s ‘friend’.

    And to the latest comment: Having a Facebook presence makes your personal life accessible to your students. Repeat: there is a very strong view that teachers (like some other professionals) should not have a Facebook presence. Recent incidents in which I have been involved, for example, include cases where students copied and circulated rather personal photos from a teacher’s Facebook page, and where comments were made in class about ‘friends’ of the teacher who were listed on Facebook. Remember that teens are not emotionally mature.

    Being ‘friends’ with the students is a classic ‘first-year teacher’ mistake. The moment the teacher is part of the emotional circle of his/her students – they are at the mercy of it. Other difficulties come when they teacher has to mark or discipline a student -“I thought you were my friend – how can you give me a C?”. Again — read the book!!!!!! http://tinyurl.com/ydt47dj

  9. At some point asking taechers not to have a facebook presence because, even if they have strict privacy controls, their students might see whot heir “friends” are is sort of like asking teacehrs not to go to restaurants because their students might see them socializing. I definitely saw teachers on dates when i was a teenager – there were only so many kosher restaurants around. It was awkward, sure, and may even have harmed the professional distance, but the alternative (teachers can’t socialize) is untennable and unfair. At laest, that’s my view as a relatively young person, for whom facebook means something different than for those 20 years older than me.

  10. A further note. Much more controlled sites exist for online teacher-student communication (Blackbaud, Edline etc). Safer, and better.

    If the Moderator will accept this long comment – here is a passage from my book, form a section which describes a series of profiles of “Problematic Teachers’:

    “A common mistake of new or inexperienced teachers is to see themselves as ‘the students’ friend’. A variation on this is the teacher – new or veteran – who sets out to be ‘cool’. This is a route to crisis.
    A teacher can be many things. They can be friendly to students; but they cannot be the student’s friend, because that puts them in the same emotional circle as the students.
    The moment the teacher is in the same emotional circle as the students, s/he is at the mercy of the group; and the emotional characteristic of the teenage group is its fickleness and its immaturity. It cannot matter whether or not the most popular student in the class smiles at the teacher; and it cannot be of interest to the teacher whether student ‘A’ is talking to student ’B’, or not, and why, and who phoned whom at the weekend.
    Equally, the details of the teacher’s personal life are nothing at all to do with the students and if – when – disclosed in an attempt to be closer to the class, will quickly be retailed all round the school.
    Common results of a teacher getting too close to students are:
    • Indiscretions of many types – the teacher will both receive and give inappropriate information about other staff, and about the school. The would-be ‘cool’ teacher will let the class know that s/he is against ‘the Establishment’. Enticing the teacher into these conversations is usually the students’ first ‘initiation test’.
    • The teacher’s desire to be ‘accepted’ (or stay ‘accepted’) by the students will eventually overcome his/her professional judgment.
    • Inappropriate discussions will take place during class.
    • The class will split into those ‘in’ with the teacher, and the others.
    • The moment a ‘special’ student gets a bad mark, the student will feel betrayed.
    • The students will take advantage of their ‘friendship’ with the teacher to transgress boundaries in some way; the teacher will try and discipline them, find it impossible, and suddenly realize that he/she has lost the respect of the students. At that point, the teacher will feel betrayed.
    • In the worst scenario, the (usually young) teacher will agree to meet the students outside school and/or invite them over for ‘cool’ evenings at his/her apartment. The possibilities for disaster here are endless.
    In these situations, firm action is needed. If the situation is spotted early on, then the teacher must be counseled, including very specific techniques of refusing to discuss matters that the students have already learned that he/she is too ready to discuss.
    At this time, we are learning chemistry, and we are going to confine our conversation to that subject.
    Yes, I did talk about that last week, but I want to stay on focus now.
    I’m afraid that topic is now off limits.
    The advice/instructions should be put in writing to the teacher. In particular, it must be made very clear that the teacher’s behaviour must change immediately – not “Well, I’ll gradually stop talking about things” or “I promised I’d discuss something with them next lesson.”.
    The students, who are enjoying every minute of this, and telling their friends about it in great detail, know very well that what is happening is out of order, and that it is only a matter of time before Administration steps in.
    It may be advisable for an Administrator or another senior teacher to sit in that teacher’s classes for a week or so. If it is a senior class, and students may have been clearly leading the teacher on, they may be spoken to, although it would be difficult (and wrong) to impose sanctions on the class for a teacher’s lack of professionalism.
    If the teacher has already drastically gone over the boundaries, it may be very difficult for him/her to regain authority over the class, and s/he may be in for a very tough year until their classes are changed in the following year … if, that is, the teacher is retained by the school.
    If the behaviour is really due to ‘first-year teacher’ syndrome, a series of sessions with the teacher should correct things. In cases where it can be shown that unprofessional behaviour has been consistent over a long period (where was Administration?), you may suggest resignation to the teacher.”

  11. My humble view on this matter: I do agree that these sort of issues are tricky and we do often walk a fine line between personal & professional and inappropriate & appropriate, however I do not agree in closing the great “avenue of communication” that is possible with social media. I believe in a balanced approach: Having a school-wide social media policy that ensures the professional and appropriate use of social media within a school between all parties (between faculty members and students and between faculty members and other faculty members) as well as the responsibility of the school to teach correct digital citizenship to all parties (again both faculty members and students). I think that if schools approach this issue with the balanced approach that I have mentioned, we would all feel better about this issue. @DGalpert

  12. Hi – I teach in a short/medium term non-religious high school program in Israel, and I have found fb a valuable tool for continuing education. However, my use of fb is very limited.

    My primary use of f/b is to provide links to articles that I find on the web. Sometimes the articles provoke discussion. Most times, though, I just think they are read. Many many of my former students have told me they read these articles, and many show them to friends and family. I would not know this if it were not for asking former students, b/c most articles I post get no response at all. But – that’s part of being a teacher – you never really know what’s going on out there.

    Next, I never, never, never use fb for personal communications. If someone needs to write to me about an issue, I send them my email address. I never use chat on fb except to briefly respond to a “hi” with a “hi” – not much more than that. I mean, I have 8 kids, a wife and a hevruta, plus an hour commute each way and papers to grade. Who has time to waste on f/b?

    I have one account, and it includes (mostly) former students, family, friends, and even a few oldies from h.s. days. There is nothing on there that can embarrass me (ok, maybe some hippy-ish pictures from my Reform camp days, but at least everyone in the picture is dressed), and I’ve never had to deal with strange comments posted on my wall or anything of that nature. I do hear about their reunions, where I can assume that there are goings-on that I don’t need or want to know about. But even here I can suggest going to a Matissiyahu concert or a speech from the Israeli ambassador or even just send a parsha sheet. And I don’t look at their picture albums. I got enough troubles, thank you.

    Through f/b, my kids know when I’m coming to the States to recruit students, which is good, b/c they are my best recruiters. I hear when they are in Israel, and they get a personal invite to my house for Shabbat, and they know I’m always available if they are having troubles or just need a place to crash for a couple of weeks.

    But really, f/b keeps them connected to Israel, to being Jewish, to learning about resources for combating anti-Israel activism on campus, and it keeps them connected to me. Some of those students have morphed into friends over the years, even bnai bayit. Is there a better thing that can happen?

    But yes, if your f/b page is your personal social networking outlet, you’d be a fool to give your students untrammeled access to it. That’s asking for trouble, b/c kids – even well-meaning ones – do really stupid and obnoxious things sometimes. But why do I tell you what you already know.

  13. “. Other difficulties come when they teacher has to mark or discipline a student -”I thought you were my friend – how can you give me a C?”. ”

    Schools should have a Chinese Wall between those who determine disciplie and those who are engaged in trying to mashpia the student. One can’t expect someone to be able to get honest discussions with a child if they ever use such info to discipline a child. Hire an assistant principal just incharge of checking for various disciplinary infractions.
    Rebeeim should not give written tests-what so someone realizes they fail Yahadus.

  14. Paul Shaviv,

    I’m not sure where this “strong consensus” is coming from, but it’s not coming from any of those professionals in the educational fields that I’m aware of. Look, we all agree there must be boundaries but – and I hate to say this – you sound as if you’ve simply restated the definitions of those boundaries last current in the 90s. That’s nice, of course, but simply irrelevant nowadays.

    I’m going to go a bit further than Mr. Burg. The question is no longer “should educators embrace social networking models or not?” but “how should educators embrace social networking models?” In other words, just look at the world around you. This IS happening and I, for one, am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with educators who just do not get this.

  15. Jerry, there is a difference between schools or synagogues or other institutions making use of social media and individual educators who are employed by these institutions (and therefore vulnerable to being fired…) allowing their personal and professional lives to get mixed up on something like facebook. Sadly most people are not careful enough about what they post on facebook and I shudder to think what would happen if students were exposed to most of what my teacher friends write or post on facebook. They are quite simply putting themselves in professional danger.

  16. “Jerry” et al —

    I suggest you Google “Teachers and Facebook” /”Teachers and Facebook advice” etc. i and you will immediately find the ‘strong consensus’. It is part of the issue of appropriate professional behaviour and appropriate boundaries, which every teacher [and every Rebbe / kiruv worker etc] should take responsibly and seriously – not least for their own protection. But you are welcome to your view.

    “Miri” – agreed.

  17. Paul Shaviv,

    When one googles “Teachers and Facebook,” here is the first thing that comes up.

    “Let Teachers and Students Be Facebook Friends”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/08/let-teachers-and-students-be-facebook-friends/243324/

    Miri,

    I understand that there are issues that need to be worked out. The response to this issue is to…work them out! Simply saying “no” is not a feasible answer.

  18. Dear “Jerry”:

    Yes, that is one of the first that comes up … now I suggest you actually read it, and the issues it raises. Then read the next twenty articles referenced, including material from teachers organisations, school districts etc.

    But if you think that being Facebook friends with your students is fine – go ahead.

  19. The one piece of information that I believe my be missing from this dialogue is that Facebook’s privacy settings have evolved SIGNIFICANTLY over the past two years since much of this discussion took place and opinions were formed.

    For the past four years I have lived three different lives on Facebook all from one account by using strict privacy controls and well structured lists. My friends from yeshiva, colleagues and clients, and family all see different content when they view my page. My posts to any of these groups are not viewable to any of the others.

    Paul, while I respect your background and opinion, most of those articles are both dated and myopic. There is incredible opportunity to be found in this dynamic, and leaving it on the table due to misunderstand would be unfortunate.

    What would you say about leveraging Facebook for alumni communications and relationships? This was the original focus of this post in an earlier iteration.

  20. JB: The issue is not really about Facebook as such. I am aware of the privacy controls etc, but not everyone is savvy enough to operate them. If our hypothetical teacher is able to do that, and is as conscientious as the 3:48 commenter, Reuven — ‘tavo alav/aleha brachah’.

    Used in a responsible manner, F/b is no better or worse than many other modes of communication. I would note again that similar communication tools are available as part of school intranets, and are probably preferable. Using F/b to keep in touch with Alumni etc [ie Institution to individual] is great; but that is not really the personal, informal, almost intimate exchange of info that is the discussion here.

    The underlying issue is: What are the proper relationships between teachers and students?

    Can/should the teacher ever be the student’s “friend”? What are the boundaries between the private and professional life of the teacher? Is making your student part of your extended family and/or part of your circle of friends a good way of creating relationships? Is informal contact outside the school a good thing? Perhaps creating a F/b site which is then used by only some of the class will create a very divisive “in” group and an “out” group?

    As several of the participants in this discussion have indicated, those are real issues. When no lines are being crossed – that’s great. But when lines are crossed – by the teacher or the student(s) – the potential for (at best) embarrassment and (at worst) tragedy is there — and that, I am afraid, is almost uncontrollable. It is professionally irresponsible to pretend otherwise.

    A different discussion, lurking on the perimeter here (cf Mycroft @ 6:09) is the difference between kiruv and education, and the school’s strategy of presenting and transmitting Yiddishkeit ….. hmmm …. that’s a long one!

  21. “lurking on the perimeter here (cf Mycroft @ 6:09) is the difference between kiruv and education, and the school’s strategy of presenting and transmitting Yiddishkeit ….. hmmm …. that’s a long one!”

    Probably especially difficult for a “community school”. There may well be different goals for a community school vs a school that has the open goal of having its students leave shomrei mitzvot according to Shulchan Aruch. An administrator/teacher at a CHAT in or Heschel in for example would have a different goals set by the Board than a teacher in Torah Vadaath even assuming the had the same personal beliefs about Torah observance.

  22. … Not going to be drawn into it. PJS

  23. Another Teacher

    I agree with Mr. Shaviv to some extent. A teacher needs to keep professional and personal lives separate. Facebook can lead to too much confusion about where that line is. If a person uses facebook only as a platform of influence, kol hakavod. But once facebook has a mix of both personal and professional information, problems will arise.

    Teenagers do not understand boundaries. Too much exposure to personal information leads to a familiarity that is unhealthy. As a parent, we shelter our children from intimate information about our lives. It shouldn’t be a shock that we need to do the same for our students. Having students over for Shabbos is not overly personal. Telling them about your doctor appointments would be. Facebook posts can get a lot more personal. It is often outside of our control since anyone can tag us in embarrassing photos, or post comments etc.

    There is also a huge problem with teachers having access to student pages which has not been mentioned. What happens if there is cyber-bullying on a page we have access to? How often are we responsible to check student’s pages to make sure we are not unwittingly approving of something that is wrong? What if we,our colleagues, or the school are being mocked? How about pictures and posts that clearly violate Torah law? Are we giving our approval by seeing it and not condemning it? Even more serious, what if a student threatens suicide etc, and we do not catch it – will we be held liable as an authority figure and professional teacher? The law is still unclear in this regard and teachers must protect themselves

    There is something healthy about teenagers having a private space where they can act out without knowing that their teachers are watching them.

  24. Paul Shaviv,

    Well…the next 20 articles all seem to be about teachers protesting mindless administrative crackdowns on teacher Facebook use. Actually try googling it.

    Seems to me many teachers feel much as I do.

  25. “When no lines are being crossed – that’s great. But when lines are crossed – by the teacher or the student(s) – the potential for (at best) embarrassment and (at worst) tragedy is there”
    Question is what risk is a teacher supposed to take for himself in order to save a nefesh. That is my belief of what the goal of a Jewish studies HS teacher is-if one believes it is simply to impart information the way teaches Latin roots than certainly P Shaviv is correct. Take no risk.
    But if one believes one is engaging in meleches hakodesh one might take more personal risksto try and reach a cosmic good.

  26. “mycroft on August 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm
    “lurking on the perimeter here (cf Mycroft @ 6:09) is the difference between kiruv and education, and the school’s strategy of presenting and transmitting Yiddishkeit ….. hmmm …. that’s a long one!”

    Probably especially difficult for a “community school”. There may well be different goals for a community school vs a school that has the open goal of having its students leave shomrei mitzvot according to Shulchan Aruch. An administrator/teacher at a CHAT in or Heschel in for example would have a different goals set by the Board than a teacher in Torah Vadaath even assuming the had the same personal beliefs about Torah observance.

    Paul Shaviv on August 9, 2011 at 10:50 pm
    … Not going to be drawn into it. PJS”
    For understandable reasons. There are many conflicts that arise in many fields for what is good forthe professional and what is good for student. Thus, a hypothetical example a frum administrator at a community school may well believe that it would be better for a certain student to attend a more religious school-if he advises the student to go elsewhere he might lose his job-conflict between income and what is good for the student.
    Of course, all Yeshiva administrators have the conflict in what is good for the student lets say keeping a student who is behaving wellwho will be lucky to be able to attend a community college ie one who the school will get no bragging rights from and whose parent is not wealthy versus making the student an offer he can’t refuse and lkeave the machene. Conflict for the administrator between his financial security and the best needs of the student.

  27. I mean, I have 8 kids, a wife and a hevruta, plus an hour commute each way and papers to grade. Who has time to waste on f/b?

    But you have time to read and post on Hirhurim 🙂

  28. Mycroft: My last comment. If you would like to know my views (400+ pp), please feel free to buy my book: http://tinyurl.com/ydt47dj

    And if any Yeshivah Administrator really believes/acts as you describe in your last para, they should resign.

  29. … and, the same applies to the “Community School” Administrator in your first paragraph.

  30. Jerry: I think that (seriously) Google.ca may be giving very different results than Google.com

    The comments from actual teachers on this exchange should be read carefully.

  31. I think that Mycroft’s POV has a great deal of merit-textual literacy is an important goal, but so is imparting a sense of values of how to live a Torah life, that a talmid or talmidah can only experience at a Shabbos table of a rebbe or morah when the same is not present at home.

  32. Paul, I believe we’ve come to an impasse. I will not accept that a tool should not be used because educators lack the education or vigilance to use it properly. Those that want to take the initiative and learn to do it “right” should be encouraged!

    As for the issue of the word “friend”, in facebook this is known and accepted as a “wide use term” that implies a connection rather than a friendship. Most professionals use FB in a work-related capacity (networking with others in their field), though this rarely denotes a true friendship.

    It is up to the individual to define what their FB experience will be like. Whereas many teenagers use it for frivolity, many others that have built incredibly successful businesses and strong, meaningful professional networks. This doesn’t compromise or change the relationship between two parties if done right.

    I strongly encourage all of the commenters here to speak with professionals in the social media field, the more knowledgeable and experienced the better. Those with a view into where this whole social thing is going can uncover worlds and a future vision that will be incredibly enlightening, and will likely shift your perspectives.

  33. @An Educator – this article is specifically written for an older teenage audience, one that appreciates implied social contracts and conduct. See the disclaimer at the end regarding your concern.

  34. JB: I respect your view. But your disclaimer – “Please note that in this post I assume that the student body in question is of age (later teens) and is of proper maturity to appreciate basic social conduct” – embodies the problem that responsible educators, Rebbeim and any one who works with teens has to recognise, which is simply that your assumption can be a very misleading assumption to make. Teens are adults in many respects, but they are not necessarily emotionally adults. (The same, of course, may be said for some adults.) I am astonished that with all of the publicity, including the recent saddest publicity, about the dangers inherent in the relationships between adults and young people, some commenters on this exchange seem to think that boundaries (especially the boundaries of emotional relationship) between teachers, Rebbeim and youngsters should be so little respected.

    I just note again that the contributors who are clearly themselves teachers/educators have clearly understood this.

  35. Another Teacher

    JB, in my experience, it is the emotionally mature and reasonable older teen who recognizes the importance of boundaries and does not friend teachers on Facebook. They are often cynical of the charismatic teacher who tries to manipulate them emotionally. My most meaningful relationships are with these students because they know themselves. They seek opinions from their teachers but make the decisions on their own. These kind of students don’t need me to turn them on to religion. I can deepen their faith, but they are doing the hard work of spiritual growth on their own terms.

    I would have no trouble “friending” a student like this because they wouldn’t have anything on their pages that they wouldn’t want their college interviewer or principal to see. My facebook page is for professional contacts only and so I would have no problem with them seeing my page

    But for every stable teen, there is one who lacks boundaries and judgement. Some have mental illness or are part of a family that is neglectful or abusive. Others are simply immature and don’t realize the consequences of their actions. Facebook is very confusing to teenagers such as these. They don’t have boundaries and so don’t understand when they violate someone elses boundaries or how to protect their own.

    These students desperately want to feel close to others and will seek it in inappropriate ways including having a familiarity with an authority figure that is inappropriate and can lead to an abuse of power. These students need to be educated about what appropriate relatinships are and how to create different types of relationships with different types of people. Because I love my students, I don’t want our relationship to be one of infatuation or of peers. They need to learn that they must recognize when there is a power differnce in a relationship and to treat that relationship differently than they would when it is with a friend.

    Before I can influence these students, my first step is to teach them boundaries and a sense of self. Without them being healthy, any religious influence is manipulation and cult-like. Facebook is not a conducive medium for teaching students these important lessons.

  36. Another Teacher

    Would you advocate a therapist “friend” her clients?

  37. Another teacher: Thank you – a very well said post!

  38. lawrence kaplan

    But note that “Another teacher” does have a Facebook page, albeit for professional contacts only.

  39. Another Teacher: the level of maturity of the individual and class varies greatly based on multiple criteria. In the case of students leaving a “shannah aleph” style yeshiva, it’s totally normal to trade email addresses and phone numbers with a rebbe. When the rebbe has a warm relationship with the student, they will go on to years of continued correspondence, including sharing in one another’s life milestones. This relationship is not dissimilar from much of the dialog in Facebook.

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