by Mark Sklarow, Executive Director, Independent Educational Consultants Association
Last Thursday at 11:30 a.m., I locked my cell phone. If that hardly sounds blog-worthy, bear with me. I had never before locked my phone, and needed to look up directions for how to implement my four-digit access code. Why…and why then? I had just finished listening to a 90-minute presentation by Steven DeMille on digital boundaries, texting, e-mailing, social media and more. All who know me see me as an enthusiastic proponent of new communication. Today I’m trying to be not only enthusiastic, but also smarter.
I realized during that session that my phone contains hundreds of professional contacts, including home phones for some who trust me to disturb them in their homes only when necessary. While traveling, I forward certain e-mails to my cell phone, including those that could be of a sensitive nature. I always intend to delete them, but I’ll bet I’m not 100% on that score. The result is that if I lost my phone—or worse if someone in my same professional circle lifted it—I’d be compromising confidentiality. For school and program admission officers, and especially for independent educational consultants (IECs), the potential is even worse. Imagine the damage one discontented teenager could do walking out of your office with your cell phone in his or her pocket.
But that just scratched the surface. We explored social media and whether teachers, counselors, therapists, and IECs should be ‘friending’ their students or former clients. Some cases now making their way through the courts may find the social media connection offers an implied promise to the student that the professional relationship remains intact. In one case, a student professes—on their Facebook wall—that they are depressed and despondent. Does the former teacher, counselor, or IEC have a reporting responsibility when all they’ve done is accept a friend request?
For IECs with young, Generation Y employees who live their lives online, how much freedom should they be given? Does the recent firing of a Virginia teacher because of their social media homepage content give you pause? What of all those youthful counselors, teachers, and coaches? How easy is it for students to find them online?
Some questions result in easy answers for some, but confusion among others. Should schools, programs, colleges or IECs be googling potential students, clients, and their parents? What to do with information gained? Should potential members of IECA, whose Web sites are already reviewed, also be examined through the lens of their Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook musings and picture postings?
Is texting, teens new favorite method of communicating, the same as e-mailing? Does it concern you that text messages reside forever, in cyberspace, in the possession of your cell phone provider? Deleting a message from your phone eliminates it from one source, but hardly all. Have you ever sent an e-mail to the wrong person by acting too quickly? [I have, just ask IECA member Mindy Popp who has received e-mails meant for the Mindy I married.] Now think about those attachments with test results, school rejections, psycho-ed evals and more, that you’ve e-mailed. And maybe, e-mailed to the wrong person. Are you protected by adding a line that says, “If you received this message in error, please delete”? That seems doubtful.
Is the answer to go back to mailing everything to a street address? Avoid your cell phone and drop all social media? Absolutely not…any more than added concerns didn’t stop us from making use of faxes and answering machines and e-mails.
But there is food for thought, and everyone needs to be mindful of how they protect colleagues, clients, and students. For me, it started last Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
NOTE: A pre-conference workshop will be offered with Steven DeMille, Mike Petree, and others, at IECA’s Spring Conference in Chicago, in April. Information is available on the conference page of the IECA Web site.