Friend, foe, or strong leader?

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I’ve touched on this topic before but it has been brought back to the forefront of my attention after Alan November’s speech last week at Convocation that threw Facebook back into the mix. Social media is everywhere. Between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FlickR, etc, not one facet of our being hasn’t been touched by this change in society. Our President even utilized and took advantage of the generations that exist living in a world of status updates and constant awareness: 66% of voters electing him were under the age of 30, a HUGE factor in his election.

As educators, we know we are held to a higher and different standard within society. That stands to reason that the way we handle social media should be different. I go back and forth on my opinions and stances on this subject, leading me to believe that I may not really know what to think. I use Twitter for professional development (8Amber8) and highly enjoy my PLN and all that they offer. A constant stream of new, of different, of challenges that I am able to turn around and share with my peers. I use Facebook for my social butterflyness…it’s my sorority sisters, my high school classmates, and my family. However, I also have several colleagues that are “friends”. This is where my lines get blurry.

I have made it a point not to “friend” students. Of course, I work in an elementary school, so that isn’t shocking. While teaching, I also made it a point not to friend my student’s parents. Again, it made sense to me. Now as an assistant principal, I have a new dilemma. Do I mix my business with pleasure? I am “me” on facebook. There are pictures of my family, I rant about my husband cutting baby wipes in half, and get to brag about my beautiful niece Zeta. If I have a bad day, I vent. If I have a good day, I share. My sense of humor is my own and I get all kinds of worked up during Cowboy games. At my first administrative driven conference, I discussed with a group of my new “peers” about whether or not they friended their teachers on Facebook and while the answers varied, more erred on the side of “no” than yes.

After thinking this through since Alan mentioned it on Thursday, and re-discussing with several people I highly respect, I have reminded myself of the leader I want to be. I want to be approachable. I want to be seen as human, one who makes mistakes, who values relationships and people. I want to be REAL. One of my favorite people in the world made the comment today that “relationships reduce rebellion”. I think that is a gem of greatness. Enabling my staff to see me as personally as well as professionally lets them see me transparently. I think it is an old fashioned style of leadership that requires leaders to maintain a certain distance, to keep everyone at a safe and equal distance. There was a GRAET article in TEPSA last month that suggested while that may be true, it also led to a cold and sterile environment. That isn’t what we want for our students, why would we want it for our staff?

What are your thoughts? Professionally speaking, do you think it makes you a better leader if there is no connectivity between your personal life and your professional persona? Is it hard to respect someone you know IRL (in real life) if you’re privy to what they think about a certain store or how their daughter did in soccer over the weekend?

Facebook friendR,

Amber

13 Comments

  1. Pam Franklin said:

    I’m not an administrator, just a lowly teacher, but I work much harder for someone I know and like than I do for someone I perceive as aloof and unfriendly.

    My first year at my current job was very hard. No one seemed particularly friendly. I had a flat tire one afternoon, and the administrators walked right past me. I felt so alone that evening.

    I’m sure it is a fine line for administrators to walk. What if you are “friendly” to someone, and then have to turn around and fire them? That would be incredibly awkward!

    By the way, I am friends with my principal on Facebook, but he doesn’t share much of anything on it.

    August 23, 2010
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  2. As an assistant principal at a middle school, I “friend” staff members on Facebook. I stayed away from Facebook for a long time, but I use it now as a way to truly connect with people and share the real me. I love what’s it’s done for me with relationships with staff as it gives us something to connect about beyond school. If it’s something we don’t want people to see, we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

    August 23, 2010
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  3. Although I want my principal to be approachable as well, I do not want to “friend” him outside of school. Just as he probably would not want to friend me either. As teachers we sometimes have to vent, and although I would never share anything negative on a social media website, it just seems too personal to be friends with someone from administration. And if a friend request was sent to me, it would be really hard to ignore it. Now this is, of course, just my opinion but I know several other teachers that share it.

    August 23, 2010
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  4. Dave Meister said:

    Amber,
    I think it is a fine line that administrators as well as teachers walk when we participate in social media. I agree that I want to be seen as human and as a member of a team, not an aloof suit, but at the same time I also want to keep a professional appearance with my online persona. I have decided that I have to be myself whether in front of students, staff, or the online world of Twitter or Facebook. I simply give any post I make this simple litmus test: “What good will I accomplish by posting this? What do I stand to lose if members of my community are offended by what I say?” I only use Facebook to communicate with family and some old high school friends, but I use the same rules there knowing that nothing I say there is really private.

    August 24, 2010
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    • I agree with Dave here. Anything I post on any medium I make sure I could stand before a board of education and defend. With all the news lately about people losing jobs over Facebook postings, I want to make sure I cover my rear.

      I am a new principal. I haven’t “friended” any of my staff, nor do I think I will. I believe I can create a great relationship at work. I may change my ways, but someone will have to convince me otherwise.

      August 24, 2010
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      • Lyn said:

        I’m in agreement with Eric & Dave. I really appreciate the network of professionals I’ve found through Twitter and other social media, but when it comes to Facebook, I don’t friend teachers or parents of my students (I’m a principal), although many of my teachers friend the parents in our building. Some teachers friend parents because they’re genuinely friends and live together in the community. I’m not sure why others do, because as far as I can see, they don’t use their Facebook pages for professional updates or reasons related to the classroom.

        I think it’s possible to allow the school community to get to know you personally in many different ways. Share information about photos of your family and pets at staff meetings, post pictures in your office, open up reflectively on your school blog or website, attend faculty social functions… just talk to people and allow them to see that you do take interest in their lives and their work with students!

        August 24, 2010
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  5. Addie Gaines said:

    I have friended teachers, parents and others in the community and have had no problems with having this type of relationship. We have a very “family” atmosphere at our school, so it fits in. I don’t feel the need to be “separate” from my faculty and staff…I am more the type that works “with” people.

    I don’t choose to do things that are not acceptable within my community. But, still I am aware that what I post is not private and I don’t have the expectation that it will be. I also don’t have a problem with being professional and doing my job as necessary, friends or not. People who know me well have no doubt of this.

    I think the decision to “friend” or not to “friend” in the workplace has to do with you personally and also the context and culture of your school.

    August 24, 2010
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  6. Neil Ringrose said:

    Great post! Thank you so much! I also am / want to be seen as real and approachable – it’s sometimes difficult ..
    Thanks again!!
    Neil

    August 24, 2010
    Reply
  7. Bob Coniglio said:

    I do agree it is a fine line between work/personal life. I am an assistant principal at a HS. I am “friends” with several former students, co-workers and current teachers. While all of my posts are personal in nature, I have no problem with any of them seeing them or commenting on them – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t post it in the first place. Is it possible that it could lead to an awkward moment? Yes, but I think the positives of me being connected with any and all of my “friends” far outweighs this – education is in part about relationships and this just adds a facet to that concept. My former district of employment added a Facebook page that sends out information on events and it has proven quite popular – I’m looking to try to start one at my current school. It is just another way to stay connected.

    August 24, 2010
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  8. Jen Von Iderstein said:

    As someone who is finishing up their administrative degree, I have had many discussions about this with her. I have come to the decision that when I go gain a position as a principal, administrator, whatever the title might be, I doubt that I will friend my teachers on Facebook. I started a twitter account recently for the purpose of developing my professional learning network. I am not following anyone who is not in education in one way or another.

    Through these discussions with my mentor, I am also very aware of what pictures I post, and comments that I make toward my friends. She has mentioned how she will even go as far as switching to a bottle of water for group pictures, so that she does not have any pictures of her with an alcoholic drink. I feel that I can be a “real” person by engaging in face to face conversation with my teachers. Just because we are at school does not mean we have to talk business all day. I do not see anything wrong with inquiring how their weekend was, or how the family is doing. I think it shows that you are human, and do care about your staff. You never know when you may discover that one of your teachers needs support for something that is going on outside of school.

    I look at it as there are other ways to make connections with your staff on a personal level other than Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

    August 25, 2010
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  9. Chris Wejr said:

    Great questions! Some of the best advice that I was given was to “teach who you are”. I have no problem with teachers, staff, and parents seeing who I am on Facebook. Just because we are friends on FB does not mean that we now have this friendship bond that makes difficult conversations even more difficult. I am the principal of a K-6 school in a small community and because of this, the transparency is already there – this often makes working in a small community great!

    I agree with Jen. I do not believe that deep connections are formed on FB but I believe that info read on FB can form the base for deeper conversations.

    I think staff do appreciate that I comment on their family events and issues they may be going through. We are all in education together… just because I am a ‘principal’ does not mean that I am any different.

    @mrwejr

    August 25, 2010
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  10. helen said:

    As an AP I don’t mind sharing my life, however, I’m not sure how much of my teachers’ I should know. Teachers like to vent. Do I need to hear all of it? Does it end up being another chance to talk shop online? I worry about being caught up in the tell tales??

    Not sure???

    August 29, 2010
    Reply
  11. Kathy said:

    The AP at our school has become very close with a few teachers at the school.The few teachers post pictures of the same few teachers and the AP as cover pictures. The AP comments on people she likes photos and comments.I personally think it is unprofessional and know many others who do as well however, they don’t want to voice their opinion for obvious reasons.Our principal is stellar and respectful to everyone she works with. She doesn’t need a FB page to show how wonderful and personable she is ……EVERYONE feels it…by their day to day interaction with her! A leader is on at all times…..especially when they are in the public view….FB is like the news !!!

    July 12, 2014
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