Reaching Out on Social Media

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Social media is everywhere today. In January 2014, it was discovered that ¾ of the majority of American adults had some sort of social media account. With teens and young adults, these numbers are a lot higher. Most students today will have a social media account.

Most educators will also be on social media for both professional and personal use. If you look at it from a professional standpoint, it could give you a platform for class projects, extend your learning, lets you engage in discussions, and increases your contacts. Educators also have personal reasons to use social media, such as interests, friends, family, and lives, so there are a lot of teachers who are drawn to using social media to help them connect to those that they care about the most.

Using It Appropriately

Teachers do have concerns and responsibilities that might make them worry about the way they use social media. What would an appropriate post be? Who are they able to interact with? Is it reasonable to “friend” your students, make your posts available to your students, or follow your students? What about colleagues and parents? Are there some posts that you should stay away from? Are there ways you can control who can see your posts?

Social media apps and services can also be classroom tools. Still, you need to think about some things like how comfortable you are with the services and apps, security, appropriate content, and privacy. The best person to ask about these issues is your students. Ask them what tools they use, and they look them over to see what you think about them. You may find them useful, too, or you might not like them at all. When you are open-minded about the apps and services your students use, it shows them that you care and respect what is important to them.

There aren’t going to be any answers that are right or wrong to specific questions about social media accounts, but there are lots of things that you have to think long and hard about and then take time to talk with other teachers, your students, and their parents.

The only thing I can say is never to be afraid of social media. This isn’t saying that it is for everybody, but I am saying that just like any other power tool, there are going to be positive and memorable aspects about it, plus you have to be extremely careful.

Protecting Your Privacy

You can limit who can see your posts, but if you become obsessed and always worry about something that you posted getting noticed by someone who shouldn’t see it, then you shouldn’t ever put it on social media. You probably shouldn’t send it through a text message or an email because every single thing put out on any digital platform can be copied either by accident or deliberately. These things might end up embarrassing you or getting someone, including you, in trouble. Just learning ways to limit who sees the things you post could give you a lot more privacy.

The very first thing you should do taking part in social media and post anything is to learn what its privacy settings include. Just about any service will have some sort of control over who you allow to see your posts. Some services give you total control over the audience for every post. Some will have a universal setting that controls every post.

Twitter lets you create a profile where you can pre-approve everybody that follows you. The regular setting for Twitter is to not limit who can follow you. Facebook will limit all of your posts to just your friends or their friends. There are people out there who will post their updates so that anyone who is on Facebook will see the things they share. The main thing here is to think about what the settings are and how to use them before you start sharing things.

Student Interactions

There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to interacting with people on social media with your students, but there are some recommendations for you to follow. First, you will have to check with your school district about policies or rules about social media and if they do, make sure you follow them. It is normally not a good thing to socialize with current students on social media, but some teachers use these networks to share resources, projects and recognize students. With Facebook, teachers can create Groups or Pages that allow the students to access them without the need to be “friends” on Facebook. It is possible to create a group where students can send out messages that are connected to class to this group without sharing posts.

Since Twitter uses public posting, your students will probably see whatever you decide to tweet if you don’t use their privacy settings where you have to pre-approve your followers. Just make sure that you don’t allow any of your students to follow you. For those with a public Twitter account, make sure you don’t tweet things that you wouldn’t want your students to see.

Some teachers will have a professional and personal Facebook profile; some are also going to have a professional and personal Twitter. For the professional account, you can use it to post links for your assignments or pictures of students who have excelled in school. This means your professional account needs to have some sort of restrictions on privacy so that not everybody can find you and follow you.

This isn’t saying that teachers have to have separate accounts. If you are only interested in having one account that you use for professional reasons, then do so. There is nothing wrong with sharing some family photos or a favorite quote every now and then for your coworkers and students to see. Every teacher will have their own comfort level with what they share with the classroom and during faculty meetings. Think about how comfortable you feel when posting things on social media and just do what makes you comfortable. You are still the same person in your classroom as you are online.

Protecting Your Students Privacy

It doesn’t matter whether your account is private or public; you have to be careful about the things you post, especially when they are pictures of your students. You need to make sure that their parents have signed a media release document. For very young students, it might be in your best interest to keep the accounts set to private and then have the parents request the release forms and get approved before they will be able to see the posts. If the students are either middle or high school-aged, parents that have signed the waiver tend to be thrilled to see pictures of their children learning being posted on social media.

All these guidelines are the same for Instagram users. This service can be utilized to show student’s work, document activities, or share teachable content. Flickr, Google Photos, and Snapchat are all services that give you the ability to post images. Make sure that the parents have permitted you to use pictures of their children on your social media accounts. You need to make sure it is okay with the child, too. Some might be having a hard day and just don’t want to be bothered, or they might be having a “bad hair day.

If you are still deciding whether or not to follow or friend your students, think about them. It won’t be a privacy issue if they make the decision and post something publicly or share something with you. You just need to make sure you respect your student’s personal space. Just like you would never hang around the mall with your students, you may not want to chill with the online. Pages or spaces that are dedicated to education are the exceptions.

When social media is brought up in class, talk to them about the privacy settings and about who will see the schoolwork that they share about. You can also ask them how they have been protecting their privacy on social media. Most kids will be more privacy conscious than adults.

Colleagues and Parents Interactions

It is a common practice for teachers to use social media to connect with parents and colleagues. Again, make sure you are careful about who your audience is and just post things that you deem appropriate. Use whatever tools you to limit who can see, just like we mentioned earlier. LinkedIn is another option to help you connect with other teachers and parents since it is designed to network professionally.

A parent is going to be concerned about their child’s privacy. When you share something that people can see, you need to remember this fact. Parents will like seeing things that are uplifting and encouraging.

Although teachers are allowed to have a personal life and their own opinions, you have to remember that you are a public figure in a parent’s eye. What they think of you, even if you aren’t at work, could have an impact on the way people think about you and on your job. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t post any comments or pictures, but it is saying that people are going to judge you based upon the things you say. This isn’t telling you that you can’t express your opinions, but think about how it could affect the way people around you see you.

While keeping your professionalism, interactions with your colleagues might be more informal than interactions with your parents. You might feel more willing to appear vulnerable or share something that you have been struggling with and ask them for some advice. Keep in mind that the things you share with coworkers might be seen by your students or their parents, depending on your settings. Even privacy settings aren’t perfect because private comments could be copied through screenshots posted in other places.

You need to teach how important it is to evaluate these sources. The internet is an easy source where you can find just about anything you need, but only because they find something on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t, it’s true. Teachers and students need to be responsible for the things they share. It is prevalent to share “urban myths” that just aren’t true just because people don’t take the time to see if they are true.

Social Media Myths

Even though you need to teach your students the best way to use social networks, it is important not to pass on information that isn’t true about social networks. There are a lot of reports out there about the dangers of the internet, especially when it comes to predators and cyberbullying. These dangers are out there, but you have to put these in context. There is some misinformation about people experiencing “Facebook depression.” There is also some conflicting information about how dangerous too much screen time can be.

This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be worried about these problems, but they need to be placed in the right context and make use of sources that are reliable when talking about them.

Watch Out For Harassment

This is extremely rare, but some teachers have been cyberbullied or harassed by either former or current students. First, you have to know the difference between a student’s right to express their opinion and harassment. Even though you might not like what they said, there isn’t anything you can do to stop them from sharing their opinion. If you do see things about yourself that upsets you, you can talk with them and tell them why their comments were hurtful and ask them to take it down. If a comment comes off as harassing, shares inaccurate information, abusive, or if they are making fun of people, you might be able to go through the social media services to have it taken down; worst-case scenario, you might go to either your union, school district, or law enforcement. Most social media sites don’t allow impersonations, and this can protect you if somebody posts something pretending to be you. Facebook makes people use their real names. They don’t allow accounts with fake names or anonymous accounts. You might want to think about talking to a lawyer if things get too bad.

Handling Dangerous or Abusive Student Content

Even though schools can’t control everything that students do when they aren’t in school, there have been times where the school did discipline a student for their online activities, which included catfishing, harassment, and cyberbullying of staff or students. If any activity interferes with a person’s ability to learn, even if it happens off of school grounds, schools can intervene. This can be very tricky, and there usually is not a straightforward answer. If you see something happening online that the school should know about, check-in with the school officials to see what can happen. If you see things that look like a student might hurt someone or themselves, you need to contact local law enforcement, district administration, or site operator immediately. You might think about contacting the student’s parents or the student.

Figuring Out and Using Your PLN

A PLN is a “professional learning network” where educators come together to share their ideas and to learn new ones from others. There are some tactics you can use to help you find people who will fit into your PLN. Begin by following your colleagues and then talk to them about all the other people that they follow. Once they share about an account or person, ask them to give you some specifics about how they interacted and the things that they were able to learn. A different way is by following bloggers and authors whose writings you admire. You could search for consultants or speakers that you have worked with before. When you want to expand your PLN, it is taking part in the conversations that you see on their feed. This tends to be the best way to find new people, new ideas, or new perspectives. Those who you follow on Twitter probably talk about ideas and topics that you are interested in.

When you are first working on your PLN, it can be very tempting for you to friend or follow everybody that comes to mind. You should start out slowly. You could end up getting to a point where you follow too many and can’t keep up with everybody. It is perfectly acceptable to unfriend or unfollow somebody if you don’t want to hear from them again. Facebook or Twitter won’t tell a person that they have been unfriended or unfollowed.

Finding and Sharing Resources and Articles

If you want to find some new ideas for your class or you had a great experience in the classroom, Twitter is where you need to go. Begin by finding people who have interests that are similar and then click on the links that they have shared. You can retweet or “favorite” the posts that you like the most. You should also share any questions you have and your successes. You only have 140 characters to use in your tweets. This makes you be more thoughtful and concise when you are posting. It makes things easier for others to read the feed, too. The more often you tweet, the more you are going to get back.

LinkedIn is another location that is growing, that helps you find and publish articles. Even though its primary purpose is still networking, many professionals use this platform for blogging or posting links to get you to their blogs.

Google+ is where you can find links to resources and articles. You can like, share, or add comments to the stream that is similar to Facebook. You can also join groups who share your interests or live close to you. These groups normally focus on topics that are connected to your membership, and it makes things easier for you to find what you are looking for. These conversations don’t move as fast here as they do on Twitter.