Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Want to Use Social Media in Your Classroom? Follow These 7 Rules

By Keith Earls — September 19, 2018 5 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When I first started teaching, there was no such thing as YouTube, Facebook, or even MySpace. Tweeting was something birds did to wake you too early. But as social media became integrated into the culture at large, it has been adopted in classrooms around the country.

The first few years I attempted to use social media in the classroom, I hosted a class page where I created short videos reviewing themes in literary works and invited students to comment. Later, I found my niche using classroom-based sites such as Schoology to create a culture of peer review in my creative writing classes.

Over 15 years as a teacher, teacher trainer, and curriculum designer, I have seen many teachers successfully integrate social media into the classroom—to communicate with parents, students, or community members; to facilitate discourse on a specific topic; to build responsive and literate digital citizens; or to create collaborative opportunities.

I have also seen students and teachers use poor judgement, resulting in devastating consequences, because of social media.

Among the most serious errors in judgment I have seen are those that jeopardize students’ privacy. Teachers that are careless with student privacy can face serious employment consequences; worse, they may risk fines or even jail time in at least one state.

This year, a Florida teacher spoke negatively on her personal social media account about a former student with autism and was reassigned pending an investigation into her conduct. Even on a personal page, teachers must be aware of their responsibilities in maintaining and protecting student privacy.

A new school year, for a teacher, is similar to New Year’s Day for everyone else: Resolutions are made, habits are started, and for better or worse, change happens. Wherever teachers are in the process of adopting social media for classroom use, here are seven tips for maintaining the privacy of students while posting.

1. Establish separate accounts for personal and professional use. Your class social media account should only be used for classroom-related discussions. Your personal account should never discuss the goings-on inside your classroom and should never mention a specific student by name or by identifiable characteristics, even if you know the student outside of school.

2. Consent is key. You should make sure you have written consent from parents stating that their children are both allowed to use social media for educational purposes and that their work can be shared on the social media accounts established for your classroom. Let parents know what platforms you intend to use, the type of material you will post, and who will be in charge of what gets posted. Clearly informed consent is an important layer of protection for both you and your students. Also, if you post student work, always remove any personal details about the student—handwriting can be identifiable!

3. Think twice before posting. Be an example for your students of what responsible social media use looks like. When you post personal information, such as your students’ names, classroom pictures, or schoolwork, you should remember that you are making a permanent record that will be retrievable for years.

Even when you have informed parental consent to make posts online mentioning the student, those posts are forever, and values can change. Students cannot anticipate their own future privacy concerns, so you must think carefully about whether a public post about a student is in the student’s best present and future interest.

We’ve all seen posts of student work that feature wildly incorrect answers to test questions. In the moment, these posts may be funny and harmless, but they could embarrass that student later in life.

4. Know your privacy settings—and their limits. Privacy settings are an important part of any public-facing web page. If you have not familiarized yourself with the privacy settings of whatever social media sites you personally use, you should do so.

However, be aware that even when privacy settings appear to restrict posts to a class or small group, social media posts unexpectedly may become accessible to the public at-large. A member within the group might have less stringent privacy settings, an app may change its privacy controls, or a bug within the app could cause posts to accidentally become public.

5. Districts are there to help. Familiarize yourself with your school’s, district’s, or state’s policies about social media posts. These often cover topics like how teachers should present themselves on a social media page, dealing with student postings on social media, and guidelines for classroom social media posts. If you do not know if there is a policy that covers you, ask your administrator, technology coordinator, or union representative. It is also a good idea to ask for guidance and permission from your administrator and technology coordinator before posting (or continuing to post) classroom information online.

6. Learn the law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that governs student records. It specifies what information about students generally cannot be disclosed. This can include students’ first and last names when combined with other identifying information, parents’ names, the home addresses of students, and students’ birth dates and places of birth. Your state also likely has its own set of student privacy laws that regulate what information can be shared and with whom. If you’re not sure if a post would violate FERPA or your state’s student privacy law, ask an administrator. You can find more information about FERPA here and student privacy laws in your state here.

Another federal law to consider is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. COPPA imposes stringent requirements on websites directed toward children under the age of 13 and general audience websites that have knowledge of children under 13 using their product. Because of those requirements, most social media sites restrict their audience to those that are 13 and older. If you are teaching children who are under the age of 13, you cannot require them to have a social media presence or use social media for classroom activities.

7. Remain positive and professional in every post. Above all, you should remember that students, parents, and community members are likely to view every social media post a teacher creates. Being positive and professional on social media will help you to avoid negative attention and instead be a role model for your students and a positive voice in your community.

Remember to seek explicit permission from parents, to establish guardrails for students, and to model safe and appropriate social media use. Make sure you monitor changes in technology and privacy settings. As a savvy teacher, the benefits of using social media can outweigh the risks, if you mitigate them.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Meet the 4 Finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year
The four finalists hail from Colorado, Hawaii, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and were recognized for their dedication to student learning.
5 min read
National Teacher of The Year nominees
From left to right: Whitney Aragaki, Autumn Rivera, Kurt Russell, and Joseph Welch
Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus