Most public schools block facebook and other social-networking sites because they believe students will misuse these websites. While problems may indeed crop up when students use social-networking sites, we also need to look at the advantages of these sites and how they help us communicate with students.
I first used facebook with students three years ago when students encouraged me to set up a facebook group for my classes. I’ll write about that experience at another time. Suffice it to say that I learned very quickly that facebook was the fastest and easiest method to get in touch with large groups of students.
This weekend I have learned another facebook advantage.
As I wrote yesterday in my post, my school is grieving over the death of a popular teacher who passed away late Friday afternoon. Since the death occurred after school on a Friday before a three-day weekend, we worried about how to contact students. No one wanted students to return to school on Tuesday and learn about the death. Administrators sent an email to the faculty, and drama teachers sent text messages to students in drama leadership positions. That was a good start.
Facebook, however, was the perfect vehicle to inform students rapidly.
Once a handful of students and teachers who knew about Ed’s death posted information on facebook, more and more students and former students learned of the death and passed on the information. When we found out the funeral arrangements yesterday afternoon, we were able to convey that information quickly on facebook.
Perhaps facebook’s greatest support, however, has been in allowing students to grieve collectively by sharing their feelings of loss and their wonderful stories about a beloved teacher. A former student established a facebook page for students to post their feelings and stories. As I write this blog post, the page for Ed Deavers already has 500 members, many of whom have shared their favorite stories about Ed.
In the beginning, the page for Ed included members of our high school and a few who had recently graduated. Twenty-four hours later, the page includes members and stories from students who first met this remarkable teacher 25 years ago. Indeed, the facebook page includes loving and humorous stories from students who range in age from 15 to over 40.
I suspect there are many people who will view this situation and challenge that commiseration through facebook is not the same thing as grieving in the physical presence of others whom we love. I agree. However, on a long weekend when we have little contact with students, facebook has become a remarkable tool to allow students to share and cope with such a great loss.