Human Resources /
Independent school administrators often ask me whether their schools should have policies prohibiting texting between faculty and students. Sometimes before I can even respond, the administrator acknowledges that attempting to limit such texting would likely be impossible given the extent of its usage by students, parents and many (particularly younger) faculty. I understand the concerns behind the question as well as the frustration trying to find a solution.
It is important that school professionals stay in their professional roles (teacher, advisor, coach, administrator, etc.) when interacting with students. Assuming more personal roles, such as behaving as a student’s peer, changes the nature of the relationship between adult and child and erodes important boundaries. Teachers should model professional behaviors, including setting limits and putting the student’s interests first. Peer-like behavior by adults breaks down necessary limits and promotes personal connections, such as friendship and special bonds, that can lead to inappropriate and unhealthy relationships. Such “special” relationships between teachers and students need not be sexual to adversely impact a student. The development of an unhealthy dependency by a student on a teacher is often present when a teacher’s peer-like relationship with a student escalates. This so-called “power dependency” relationship is, by itself, harmful to the student as it interferes with the student's healthy childhood development.Before considering how to address the issue, it is helpful to understand why texting by teachers is even a concern. When conducting after-the-fact reviews of cases involving problematic relationships between faculty and students, it is common to discover inappropriate text messages. Teacher-student misconduct, sexual or otherwise, often develops over time when the adult takes incremental steps, often initially well-intentioned, that lead down the proverbial “slippery slope.” Key dynamics that contribute to this downward journey include the adult's failure to stay in professional roles and the adult's lack of awareness of appropriate boundaries. Texting with students can contribute to confusing roles and blurring boundaries.
Texting, by its nature, is a peer-to-peer activity. It developed as a convenient way for friends and family to stay in touch. Compared to email, texting often involves more informal language, nicknames. symbols and abbreviations. Texts send alerts when they arrive, and there is an expectation that the recipient will respond almost instantly, regardless of the time.
Despite the issues inherent to texting, its use is so widespread that successfully banning it would be difficult, if not impossible. Trying to prohibit texting would certainly be unpopular, not just with many faculty and students, but also with many parents who rely on texting to stay in touch with their sons and daughters and to communicate with their teachers.
I recommend a three-step approach to mitigate the risks associated with texting.
Texting between independent school faculty and students using personal texting services is widespread and problematic. But it is not realistic to attempt to prohibit it. This three-step approach involving technology, training and policy is a practical way to address the problematic behaviors and help avoid otherwise well-meaning teachers from engaging in risky, and sometimes harmful, behaviors with students.David Wolowitz is senior director and co-chair of the education law group at the law firm of McLane Middleton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.#RiskManagement#Policy
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