Can’t Be Friends? Teachers and Students on Social Media

The importance of social media is undeniable. But for teachers, using this form of communication in and for the classroom should be approached with care. It’s essential that teachers remain professional and appropriate while still engaging in meaningful conversations with students and their parents. If you’re a teacher wondering how to use one or more of these communication platforms, follow this essential guide to social networking.

How Should Teachers Use Social Media?

Our digitally powered world relies on social media as a form of communication and networking. For teachers, getting started with social media in the classroom can be daunting. To keep things light, think about what you want to accomplish with social media and how it could enhance student learning.

Wabisabi Learning suggests asking a few important questions to hone in your social media presence. First and foremost, consider why you’re giving social media a try. Do you hope that it will enhance your teaching practices or improve student learning outcomes? Outline the benefits that you’d expect.

Next, think about which social media channels would be best for your students. Which platforms are best aligned for the subjects you teach? Then, consider the learning curve for you and your students when using this technology. Who can you turn to for guidance? Are there mentors or inspirations that can support your goals?

These questions can help you solidify your intentions for moving forward with social media in the classroom. Moreover, consider how social media can improve your professional growth by exposing you to other educators. 

“Access to 21st-century ideas and products has been mind changing in regards to my choices of instruction in the classroom,” says third grade teacher Amanda Thompson.

She adds that social media gives teachers a chance to model healthy digital citizenship. Whether connecting with others, sharing work or collaborating professionally, it’s helpful to give students safe guidelines for behavior in the digital sphere.

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Behaviors to Avoid

From creating a classroom Twitter account to sharing informative Facebook articles, there are many ways teachers can use social media. To better understand how to use it properly, however, it may help to first clarify which behaviors should be avoided.

First and foremost, teachers should avoid adding students to their personal social media accounts, says teacher librarian Gwyneth Jones. While there are admittedly potential benefits to safely networking with students on social media, it’s just too risky. If students ask to be your friend on social media, simply tell them that they can be friends with you once they graduate.

This allows teachers to draw clear boundaries and avoid sticky situations that could arise including accusations of harassment on either side. As blogger Brayden Fox points out, many teachers have lost their licenses due to inappropriate communication with students on social media.

Similarly, teachers may want to make it a point not to add parents of students. While it may be common for parents to add teachers on social media, teachers can respectfully decline as a way of setting healthy boundaries. This is because opening up your profile to a student’s parents increases the risk that the student will also view your profile.

“Anything on your profile is not only open to the parent you invite in but also to their child and their child’s friends. Think about whether you would show your profile to your class. If not, keep parents out,” says former teacher Fiona Tapp.

One good way to prevent these requests is to set your social media profiles to private, advises Rachael Nichol at American Board. On Facebook, you may need to double-check your settings to make sure viewers you aren’t friends with still can’t see your photos. To maintain your privacy, it’s also a good idea to avoid mentioning your school at all. Tagged photos can be searched, which could lead students to your profile.

Staying in Touch and Sharing Schoolwork

Since students are constantly texting their friends, this is often their preferred way to ask a question or get updates about an assignment. Instead of giving students your phone number directly, however, consider a third party app such as Remind, suggests teacher Jeremy Knoll

“The fact that virtually every student now carries a phone offers a real opportunity for improving their academic performance. Reminders about due dates, answers to questions about homework, and tips sent out the night before a big test are all wonderful ways to use texts to help students,” he writes.

Edmodo is another education-related tool that allows teachers and students to safely communicate about schoolwork outside of class, writes educator Dasha Sokolova. Teachers can upload assignments, quizzes, homework and videos to create a well-rounded learning toolkit for students. Students can then view this information and ask questions of their teacher and fellow students. 

Parents can also jump on the bandwagon, creating their own Edmodo profile for checking on test results and helping their children study. Edmodo is a great example of how digital tools can be used to bring parents and teachers together in a safe way that supports student learning.

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Healthy Social Media Use in Class

Social media can be used to help students learn digital citizenship, develop technology skills and learn about the world. Learning about social media in the classroom is the safest way to promote these benefits without compromising your personal information or that of your students. According to education writer Scott Sterling, social media helps students keep pace in a hyper-connected world.

“Many teachers are afraid of social media as a tool in the classroom, but when it’s used thoughtfully, it can lead to rewarding educational experiences, increased engagement, and lessons that students can connect to their lives outside the classroom,” he explains.

Twitter and YouTube can also be great places for teachers and students to connect — as long as they’re used solely for educational purposes. Instructional technology coach Kyle Pace explains why Twitter has been his go-to resource.

“You’ll find me sharing blog posts, resources, and tech tips there. What’s even better are the brilliant people it can keep you connected to; someone you have seen present at a conference, an author, or a fellow teacher you share a common content area with,” he says.

He also recommends YouTube for finding and sharing instructional videos. With so many educational content creators across a range of subjects, YouTube is a gold mine for helping students learn topics in a different format.

High school teacher Bayly DiPilato also uses a classroom Twitter account to share assignments and news with students. While students do have classroom email accounts that she could send assignments to, her students check Twitter much more often. By creating a designated Twitter account just for this purpose, she can safely and appropriately send homework in a way that doesn’t compromise anyone or anything.

Unlike Facebook, which can only have one email attached, Twitter allows users to maintain multiple accounts with one address. This is why teacher Martine Ellis, podcast host at The Teaching Space, prefers it. However, she says you can use Facebook groups with students as a safe place to interact and share information in a format they understand. Check your school and district social media policies to make sure you’re following stated procedures.

Images by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz/©, Tracy Le Blanc, Raw Pixel

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