Principal Hotline: “Can I Unfriend My Teaching Colleagues On Social Media?”

To unfollow or to unfriend, that is the question.

Dear Principal Hotline

I recently was hired to be the principal at the school where I’ve been a teacher for 12 years. As a teacher, I became Facebook friends with most of the other teachers and staff people at my school and in my district. Since my promotion, I’ve realized it’s probably time to unfriend these folks, but I’m not really sure how to go about it. Do I have to be Facebook friends with coworkers?

In some cases, we’ve been friends for five or more years. I thought I could just turn off their feed when I became their principal, and forget about it all together, but recently a teacher came to me to ask why I never like their posts on Facebook.

I explained that I don’t really go to the website very often, so I really don’t like anyone’s posts on Facebook. However, upon reflection, I expect that it’s past time for me to unfriend everyone in my district ASAP.

How do I explain this? Do I have to explain this? Is any of this made more complicated by the fact that my children have gone through school with my colleagues’ kids?

Yours, Concerned about Social Media



Dear Concerned,

Creating a sense of authority, and professional distance, from the people who went from peers to your staff can be very difficult. There are, however, some solutions between “No boundaries” and “Sorry, friend, we can’t sit at the same (digital) lunch table anymore.”

Bear with me, because this is going to sound a little bit like I’m a Facebook rep. But I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about privacy on social media. I’ve also read the terms of service and promise there’s nothing in there requiring a blood sacrifice to unfriend someone. At least, not yet. So simply unfriending someone might not be as painful as you think. 

Anyway, how do you use your Facebook? Do you use it to stay connected with family? Childhood friends? Do you sometimes use it as a tool to organize community events for your school? Do you hardly use it all?

Those questions all effect your possible solutions to this dilemma. Social media, among so many other things, is a tool. You may not want to so quickly dismiss the professional connections you’ve made. Facebook has introduced a lot of handy-dandy tools for exactly what you’re trying to do. There are such things as “lists” of friends, so you can limit which posts are viewable by whom. You can put your family members on one list, your colleagues on another, and casual acquaintances can be very easily flagged with a drop-down menu on their profiles. There are tutorials which can walk you through these features–I just think it’s important you know the option is there.

You can also decide which relationships are ones you’d like to keep. My personal rule is that if I would share my personal time with someone of my own volition (i.e., not a school event, or union holiday party) then we can be Facebook friends. If you’ve never spent time with someone except because your kids played on the same soccer team, I don’t think there’s a lifelong obligation to share your personal business.

Another option is deleting your profile altogether. This, again, depends upon your use of the platform, and you can reactivate the account at any time. I know some people who have created a second profile, while leaving the original profile intact, so they can avoid the awkward, “Why did you unfriend me?”

There are ways of locking down your privacy settings so that an account cannot be searched for or friend-requested without an existing connection – a setting I suggest for any educator who works with students who are old enough to use social media.

You may want to leave everything as is and follow the rules of an online persona–keep it light; no politics, no dirty laundry; just occasional witticism. If you wouldn’t say it while standing at a podium in front of your entire building, don’t say it online.

Finally, you can go through your friends list and remove every single one of your employees. Whether you make exceptions is ultimately up to you, but it’s probably safest to unfriend everyone, so you can say the same thing to everyone, “I use Facebook only for family and very close childhood friends.”

I don’t, however, think it’s necessary to sever every personal connection simply because you’re their supervisor. If you spend every Saturday with someone and you do want to remove them, just say so ahead of time, and they’ll probably understand and support you. That’s what friends are for.

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