Tech Leadership

Is Facebook a ‘Friend’ to School Administrators?

by TERRY MORAWSKI

As a school administrator, you’ve undoubtedly seen the impact of Facebook on business and personal interaction. With its 500 million-plus subscribers, Facebook is a unique online destination where wonderful interactions can take place.

Like any technology, this powerful tool also has its dark side for school administrators. The news media is quick to report on the negative aspects that can arise, such as cyberbullying and inappropriate adult-juvenile relationships.

Terry MorawskiTerry Morawski


These recent episodes are drawn from the news:

•  An 8th-grade math teacher in a school near Des Moines, Iowa, is fired for comments posted on Facebook.

•  A student teacher is denied her teaching degree by Millersville University in Millersville, Pa., for refusing to remove a photo from her MySpace profile in which she referred to herself as a “drunken pirate.”

•  A high school teacher in Los Angeles is disciplined for publicly displaying vacation pictures of herself in a bikini.

•  A high school principal in northern Sweden resigns under pressure after publishing a risqué photo of himself on Facebook.

Before you dismiss Facebook as a mindless service that carries no redeeming value for education, I would encourage you to take a fresh look at Facebook from all angles. After all, even long-standing technology like the telephone can be used for harmful purposes, yet we do not stop using the telephone for the abuses of a few aberrant users.

Certain Benefits
Everything about Facebook is oriented toward connecting as many individuals as possible, enabling advertisers to access a broad spectrum of consumers. That’s the business model behind Facebook. The company’s bills are paid by commercial advertisers and, like a television network, it’s this paid content that keeps Facebook afloat.

Facebook can be intimidating and a little scary for the novice user. After all, many of the horror stories you have heard about Facebook are true. So let’s start with its positive attributes.

•  Networking. Almost as soon as you plug into the Facebook community, you will be connecting with friends, family members and even business or professional contacts. It is important to decide if you would like to use your account for work-related networking or simply as a way to keep in touch with friends and family. If you decide to use your account for school-related business, you will need to be careful about what you post and pay special attention to your privacy settings.

•  Go where the eyes are. As a communication resource, a Facebook page is an excellent tool to keep the public up-to-date on news and events. Once an item is posted on your page, the item can be shared easily with many others. Also, Facebook users can follow your organization efficiently without having to check your website regularly. 

•  Answer questions once. When a community member asks you a question on your Facebook page, everyone will see the same response. This enables a quicker transfer of the same information, avoiding the need to repeat the same answer to the same question over and over.

Particular Settings
If you set up your own Facebook profile, or have an account already, check the following settings on your account. As a school administrator, it is important to protect who has access to certain information within your account.

The following are a few of the most important privacy settings to control. Accessing the tab for privacy settings can easily change these.

Turn off photo/video tagging. Everybody has a photo or two from their past they would prefer not to share with the world. Even if you are not worried about anything you would personally share, you still need to be concerned about your friends posting unflattering photos of you on Facebook. If you disable your friend’s ability to tag you in photos, then only photos you select will be shared.

Hide your private/personal contact information. You have the choice to share as much private information as you like on Facebook. You can share all or none of the following: address, phone number, e-mail address, college/high school information and birthday. As a school administrator, I would recommend sharing your e-mail address only.

Do not allow friends to post to your wall. We all have funny friends and family members. Some of their humorous comments are not so humorous when shared on Facebook. By eliminating others’ ability to post to your wall, you are in control of what information is posted about you. Otherwise, any friend can post anything to your wall. You can specifically block certain friends from posting to your wall. They will never know you opted for this setting, so do not hesitate if you are concerned about any particular individuals.

Create friend lists and use them. Maybe you want to use Facebook for both business and personal applications. If so, you would benefit from creating lists for each individual group with which you would like to connect. Some examples might be a family group, a co-worker group and a group for your softball team or place of worship. Each time you post a status update, photo or other item, you are easily able to select a specific group who gets to receive that update.

Terry Morawski is the assistant superintendent of communications and marketing for Mansfield Independent School District in Mansfield, Texas. E-mail: terrymorawski@gmail.com