I wrote this post a few months ago in response to a conversation with Tim St. John (who is doing some great things over on his blog that you should really check out!), but after yesterday’s #sachat about self-promotion on social media, it felt particularly germane. So here it is, in all its silly but hopefully significant glory.

A few months ago, I shared the following status on my Facebook during a late afternoon lull:

“At that point in the day where all I want is to dance in my office and eat tacos.

Is that so wrong?”

As is often the case with silly statuses during that time of day, it was popular. 30 people liked it, and ten people commented with varying levels of agreement. I suppose it was just that kind of day. But of those thirty people compelled to express their agreement, roughly ¼ were current or former students.

Right off the bat, I’ll let you know that I don’t “friend” or “follow” students on platforms that are not LinkedIn (different animal, post for another day). And my profile on Facebook is partially/largely hidden. My rule with students: “if you can find me, you can friend me. But you won’t be able to see everything.” Could I have opted to keep them from seeing my true wishes on that particular Wednesday? Well, sure. But I opted to leave it visible. And not just in hopes that someone would bring me tacos, either.

We are a field that worries tremendously about balance. Are we sleeping enough? Do we work too much? When do we see our friends? Do we have friends that aren’t our co-workers? On and on the list of worries goes. For my part, I moved to the Boston area and to my current position in large part to create a greater sense of balance for myself. That sense of balance is reflected in my Facebook statuses, the wall posts my friends leave for me, and the silly (but not inappropriate) pictures that appear there. While those artifacts have little to do with the role in which they work with me, I want my students to see them. Why? Two reasons.

The first reason may be somewhat selfish, but I’m owning that fact. If your Facebook is designed to reflect who you are, and you have a “professional” Facebook, what could that tell students? It could tell them that your professional life is your whole life. And if that’s not true, there will be a disconnect between who you are, and what you show them. From where I stand, that could feed those balance issues we talk so much about. Think about it for a minute. If you post to your Facebook or Twitter articles that you’re reading, or a message about how you’re working late, what’s to stop them from calling you at 11pm (or later!) with a question about work? As far as they’re concerned, you’re working; for all they know, you’re always working. However, when they see pictures of your friends or family, see that you have other elements to your life besides what you do with them, they will have greater incentive to treat you as such. When I leave work to go to a movie or a softball game with friends, I want them to know that! I want them to know that I have “me time”, in part because that sets a boundary- barring an emergency, after work time is for me!

But more importantly, I want them to know that once you graduate from college, being professional doesn’t have to equal being stuffy or constantly formal. In my first job out of college, I didn’t know how to walk the line between being professional and being me, and few coworkers or students got to know me as a result. I know I was harder to work with for it, and as I’ve grown as a professional, I’ve been able to create a more authentic version of my work persona. These days I am open, honest, and silly, but never to a point that would compromise my authority. And if that’s what I want for my students- for them to be adult and mature, but also themselves, I’m keenly aware that they can’t be what they can’t see.

Besides, if they can see I’d like tacos, who knows what could happen? 🙂

What do you let your students see? How does that inform how they treat you? What is your policy on finding and “friending” students?

15 thoughts on “Seeing is Believing

  1. My students see my Facebook wall and basic information. I am private in search, but if they can find me, and friend me, I’ll generally add them with a “Limited Profile” group. I won’t seek them out and friend them, but if they come to me, I’ll return the favor.

    As it allows us to look a little more ‘real’ with them, I feel the same holds true for me to them – I see them outside their academic setting (which can be both good and bad, as we know), but I get to see a little more of who THEY are. Concert photos allow me to see music interests, or movie theatre check-ins let me know what they’re interested in. It’s a lot less personal of a way to find out things, but at least it continues to spark conversation on Monday morning!

  2. I have the same policy – if you find me, you can friend me. But so far I’ve decided to not friend current/former students on my own. Certainly I’ll interact with them once they’ve friended me (the occasional chat check-in or liking a status), but that’s about it.

    I agree 100% with the non-professional Facebook idea, too. My cover photo is a still of Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec. I have no problem with showing my true self on Facebook at all. I think it helps my staff, especially, remember that I’m a real person, too.

  3. So you know, Kevin, I am a HUGE fan of Ron Swanson. So I approve, in every way that I can, of what you’ve said. 🙂

  4. I feel like we are on the same wave length this week – and I like riding this wave.

    I talk to my students about Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, FourSqaure, Facebook, etc. for a reason. I want them to know I’m not an SA-robot. I’m Sue, and I love expressing myself through different mediums. Social media is one of those mediums for me.

    Being that my students are working towards their goal of becoming physicians, it’s essential for them to embody professionalism. However, professionalism and dull are not synonyms. I hope that by having these conversations all of our students can realize that.

    Please share your tacos. Thanks. 🙂

  5. I love this and I feel like we’ve talked about this before. I truly believe that having two different Facebooks or twitter is detrimental for you and your students. I love that you show your students and colleagues who you really are.

  6. I don’t have a lot to say about Facebook, but let’s go to Barrio Cantina and get tacos soon.

  7. Amma, you wrote down exactly how I feel (no surprise). I aim for 100% authenticity both in my work and outside of it. I’m also not doing uber-unprofessional things when I am outside the office. I don’t seek out students (or in my case, my staff members) – but I let them know they are welcome to find me – because I have nothing to hide. The reality is that you’ll see a lot of pro devo (shared articles/blog posts) and a lot of pictures of my dog. Student affairs work is often fluid – not always happening in the office. Some of my best life lessons learned outside the office are incredibly appropriately applied in work settings as well. I also share concerns about the “personal” vs. “professional” online profiles (FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). It feels so inauthentic to me. I’m one person – sometimes I’m working, and sometimes I’m not. Don’t we promote the education of the WHOLE student? How can we do that if we are bifurcating our lives?

  8. Erica, I think it’s so funny that you bring up the office element of that- I thought of that this morning! In my first position, at 21, in a community college, I had no idea what my professional persona was, but I remember the walls and desk being very blank. I didn’t know HOW to integrate the two. But the older I get, and the more I realize where my work fits into my life, the more “me” my office has become.
    And thank you for the point about the “whole professional”, I can think of no better way to practice what we preach 🙂

  9. Great point, Megan! I’ve gradually moved from avoiding students at all costs when I’m out, to taking those opportunities to see what it means that we’re in the same place, and getting comfortable sharing my commonalities with them. We can be friendly without being friends- a hard balance to strike at first, and it takes work, but this is one way to make that a reality.

  10. I am one of those people in our field who has two twitter accounts and it’s not to protect myself from my students. It’s to protect my friends from being inundated with work-related content and to feel more professional in my Twitter interactions with employers (I’m in career services within an academic affairs division) from my work account. I chose to do this intentionally and don’t think it makes me a less authentic professional – my perspective is that it makes me a more engaged friend/colleague since I can focus my attention and energy more closely. I want my social media interactions with alumni and employers to be about the students, the college, and our career center, not about what I’m reading and how trashy my taste in TV might be to some people.

  11. Jana, I think that brings up a whole separate discussion, and I admittedly don’t have my head around that one yet. But I’m working on it!!

    I have a few friends who have threatened to “crash” #sachat, not really understanding what it is and why that’s really not something they should be doing. In that instance, what you’re doing makes sense, and I have considered your approach for that reason.

    By the same token, I’ve had friends who are not in higher ed message me in appreciation of what I share, so it’s hard to know what to do, or who to share what with, when so many circles of friends collide on one platform!

    And for the record, I’m not down with people judging TV choices. I am a reasonably intelligent person who also happens to be working her way through Jem and the Holograms on Netflix. And I think that’s fine! 🙂

  12. 1. I love tacos, too.

    2. I really appreciate your thoughts. Interesting thoughts on posting work-related pieces later at evening. I’ve never thought about that perception, but it makes sense!

    3. As for adding students on Facebook/Twitter, I’ve got the policy that I won’t add them unless I’ve had a conversation with them in person. I frontload the expectation that they can add me on Facebook or I can add them, but I want that an initial connection point if I’m connecting with them online.

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