Social networking has integrated the very fiber of our lives. It’s the way we chat with friends, make appointments, set up play dates, arrange work meetings and share our latest vacation pictures. It has blurred the lines between the personal and the professional. And in the classroom, it has left many teachers, students and school administrators scrambling to find the right balance between connectedness and personal barriers.

For teachers, social media may seem like an excellent way to connect with students on their “home turf,” but it also sets teachers up for major complications when students “friend” them on Facebook, read their personal blog posts, or follow their tweets on Twitter.

On one side of this issue are administrators like Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, N.J. Sheninger is a big proponent of social media in the classroom. Where many schools ban the use of phones in the classroom, Sheninger asks his students to power up and get connected. He has nearly 12,300 Twitter followers and he uses his school's robust Facebook page to communicate with students and parents, and to allow students to connect with each other to plan events. He also wants his teachers to encourage students to research, write, edit, perform and publish their work online.

On the flip side of this issue are school administrators and legislators from Missouri to Florida who have banned teachers from connecting with students online. The aim is to prevent inappropriate relationships between students and teachers, but in the meantime it also stifles communication and creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust rather than one of openness and education.

So which is it? Personally, I think it’s a slippery slope for students and teachers to "friend” each other personally on Facebook. They are not friends, and their relationship — whether online or in the classroom — should not indicate otherwise. But I do think Facebook is an excellent forum for students and teachers to communicate on group pages for the school or the class.

Yes, I know it’s relative new — and therefore relatively scary. But that doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad. But banning Facebook communication removes a critical avenue of communication with teachers and collaboration with other students that can thrust a student’s education beyond standardized tests and into the 21st century.

Social media in the classroom
Should students and teachers be banned from online communication or encouraged to connect?