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Social Media Hazards and Tips for Teachers

By Kathleen J. Tate, Ph.D.
Professor and Program Director of Teaching, School of Education, American Public University

Social media continues to play a significant part in many people’s lives, including those of teachers, students, and families. Recent statistics on social media users indicate that 74 percent of online adults use social networking sites as of January 2014 (Pew Resesarch Center, n.d.), with the majority of those using Facebook.

In terms of children, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported a few years ago that over 60 percent of 13-17 year olds have a profile on a social networking site. Last year, it was reported that one in five teachers use social media with students on a regular basis (Davis, 2015).

As social media is integrated into classroom teaching and used to connect students and families with teachers outside of the classroom, teachers should consider ways to avoid potential issues.

Potential Hazards

Social media sites can be great for informing students and families of important updates related to classwork, homework or projects, classroom reminders, and relevant community events. But, if not used wisely, social media can cause serious problems for teachers.

First, teachers should consider boundaries between professional and personal lives. If teachers wish to connect and communicate with students and their families online, they should make sure to keep postings and photos appropriate and professional. Teachers have been fired for posting images where they are holding alcoholic beverages, using inappropriate language, and expressing certain views. For example, a second grade teacher was fired for sharing on Facebook that he was against dairy farming (Nethers, 2014).

If teachers use social media sites to inform students and families about classroom events, successes, or general reminders, confidentiality becomes a concern. Sharing test scores or trends, including children’s names in announcements, or posting images of students and their work could potentially violate their right to privacy and other laws. Posting a congratulatory sentiment about a child successfully reaching a new level in a reading program is something that should not be shared online in a quasi-public forum.

Considerations and Tips

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides national standards for computer science educators, coaches, administrators, K-12 students, and teachers. The standards for teachers include the expectation that teachers should model, teach, and advocate the safe, ethical, and legal use of technology (ISTE, n.d.). So, the onus is on teachers to be aware and diligent in using technology in appropriate and productive ways.

Crompton (2014) elaborates on ISTE Standards for Teachers 4: Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility and suggests that teachers model appropriate technology use on a regular basis for students. This implies having ongoing dialogue and explicit examples in lessons across subject areas. Crompton recommends using safe, secure internet programs such as ePals for students to practice digital etiquette and appropriate interactions. The notion is that light discussion is not sufficient. Teachers must model, monitor, and directly teach students to be savvy and safe digital citizens within and beyond classroom walls.

Pappas (2013) provides guidelines for teachers to follow on Facebook. He recommends keeping personal Facebook pages personal, creating a professional classroom Facebook page, and following the school’s Facebook policies. If a school does not have a Facebook policy, Fogg-Phillips (2011) states that schools should create one and update it every year. She also recommends teaching children about discernment with accepting friends on Facebook and understanding that accepted friends will then have access to very personal information.

As far as teachers accepting friends on Facebook, she advises against it. Why? “When a teacher friends his or her students, it crosses the line of professionalism and creates a feeling of familiarity that can create potential problems for both the student and the teacher” (Fogg-Phillips, 2011).

What about teachers connecting with parents and students’ families on Facebook? Along with Pappas and Fogg-Phillips, Toppo (2012) suggests creating and using a Facebook classroom page rather than using personal Facebook account. Using a personal account to connect with students and their families can lead to blurred lines and boundaries and the oversharing of personal information. It can be awkward if a parent makes a friend request to a teacher and it is ignored or rejected. So, teachers should be proactive and share the classroom digital policy and ways to connect virtually at the beginning of the school year through a letter or newsletter to students’ families. Most principals like to approve such communication before it is distributed.

Universities are increasingly using social media to better engage college students in traditional lecture style classes. Businesses continue to explore using social media to increase customer interest and help establish brands. So, to better prepare children for higher education and the workforce, it makes sense for teachers to equip them early on for the future. But, in K-12 classrooms, safety should be a high priority.

Twitter, for example, is becoming a popular social media avenue to increase both in-class and after-class discussion. KQED (n.d.) suggests the following tips for using Twitter:

  • Help students evaluate whether or not something is okay to be shared online;
  • Encourage kindness by discussing the importance of empathy;
  • Promote critical thinking and encourage discussion by asking students questions like “Do you know the people who look at your profile?” and “What are some different ways your Tweet could be interpreted?”;
  • Start a conversation about protecting personal information and controlling settings.

The take away for teachers is to be direct, explicit, and diligent in addressing social media use with both students and their families. Password-protected blog sites and school-approved sites are probably safer places to socially connect during and after school. Toppo shares that Edmodo is a more education-friendly site that can be used. If teachers use social media within or beyond classroom walls, confidentiality, professionalism, legal guidelines, and common sense should be used. If in doubt, ask the school principal for guidance.

References

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Children and Social Networking. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Children_and_Social_Networking_100.aspx

Crompton, H. (2014). Know the ISTE Standards for Teachers: Model digital citizenship. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=142

Davis, M. (2015). Social media for teachers: Guides, resources, and ideas. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-resources-educators-matt-davis

Fogg-Phillips, L. (2011). 5 tips for teachers to navigate Facebook’s features and risks. Retrieved from http://www.wnyc.org/story/302590-5-tips-for-teachers-to-navigate-facebooks-features-and-risks/

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (n.d.). Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

KQED. (n.d.). Guide to using Twitter in your teaching practice. Retrieved from http://blogs.kqed.org/education/how-to-use-twitter-in-your-teaching-practice/

Nethers, D. (2014). Vegan teacher fired over Facebook post. Retrieved from http://fox8.com/2014/12/12/vegan-teacher-fired-over-facebook-post/

Pappas, C. (2013). The Facebook guide for teachers. Retrieved from http://elearningindustry.com/the-facebook-guide-for-teachers

PewResearchCenter. (n.d.). Social Networking Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/

Toppo, G. (2012). Should parents ‘friend’ their child’s teacher? Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/backtoschool/story/2012-09-05/teachers-facebook/57581640/1

 

About the Author

Dr. Kathleen Tate has over 18 years of experience as a special education teacher, researcher, and professor. She is Professor and Program Director of Teaching in the School of Education at American Public University. She received a B.A. in Soviet & East European Studies with a minor in Economics and M.Ed. in Special Education from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. in Elementary Education from Florida State University. Dr. Tate also has lifetime Texas teaching certificates in Elementary 1st-8th, PreK-12th Special Education, and 1st-8th Theatre Arts; and completed graduate coursework for Visual Impairment Certification PreK-12th. Her research interests include humane education; mixed methods research; underserved/underrepresented populations; arts-based, multimedia, and multimodal teaching and learning; and integrated/thematic instruction.

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