Social Media Guidelines for Educators

The ideas incorporated on this page have been borrowed from many different sources and were rewritten to be used in presentations for teachers I work with. One big exception is the first section, which is reproduced in it’s entirety from Lisa Nielsen’s Innovative Educator blog (and which she borrowed from another blogger, giving it “some slight schooly revisions” in the process).

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read this full document (all two pages), at least read and understand this first section.

The World’s Simplest Social Media Guidelines

Will what you’re about to share online offend, surprise, or shock your…

Administrators (current or future)
Parents (current or future)
Students (current or future)

in a way which will critically jeopardize your relationship?

If you answer even one “Yes” for this short list of people, think long and hard before publishing your content.

What is social media?

Social media is defined as any form of online publication or presence that allows you to engage in ongoing conversations in an online setting. Examples include but are certainly not limited to: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Flickr, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, Second Life, and discussion boards.

Nothing in these guidelines should be interpreted as saying you shouldn’t use these sites. All have a great deal of potential value for both personal and professional communications. These recommendations are intended to help you realize that potential without risking your reputation or your job.

Be Transparent

How you represent yourself online is an extension of your personality in real life. Do not misrepresent yourself by using someone else’s identity or misrepresenting your identity. Be honest about who you are, where you work and what you do.

The lines between public and private, personal and professional are blurred in the digital world. Even when you use a disclaimer or a different user name, you will always be considered to be a district employee. Whether it is clearly communicated or not, you will be identified as working for and sometimes representing the school in what you do and say online. Always write in the first person and make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the district or your school.

If you write a blog or maintain some other web site, you may want to include a disclaimer, something similar to this: “The opinions and positions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my school or district.” This kind of a statement won’t absolve everything you do, but does go a long way to separating your professional activities from the personal material on the site.

Be Professional

Avoid commentary that might be viewed as defamatory, obscene, proprietary, or libelous. Exercise caution with regards to exaggeration, colorful language, guesswork, obscenity, copyrighted materials, legal conclusions, and derogatory remarks or characterizations.

Never discuss students, parents, or coworkers by name. While it may be appropriate to publicly criticize school or district policies, avoid singling out individuals, and never include students.

Bottom line: before putting anything online, think about whether this particular posting puts your effectiveness as an educator at risk.

Think Before Engaging Students Online

Due to a variety of federal and state laws, and probably district policies, it’s not a good idea to interact with students in a social setting online.

Do not accept students as friends on personal social networking sites. Decline any student-initiated friend requests. Do not initiate friendships with students.

If you do find yourself interacting with students on the web, on a public newspaper discussion board, for example, be open and honest about who you are and that your opinions are your own, not representing your school.

Remember, The Web is Forever (Almost)

Although it’s often easier to delete material than to upload it in the first place, removing it from Facebook or other sites doesn’t mean it’s necessary gone. Google, for example, creates copies of millions of web pages (called a cache) every day, which is available for weeks, often years after the creator has deleted it.

Also, remember that people classified as Friends in Facebook and other social networking sites have the ability to download and share your information, including pictures and videos, with others. They can then turn around and post your material somewhere else on the web without you knowing it.

The best rule is to post only information you would not mind anyone in the world viewing, now or in the future. Before clicking the post or upload button, imagine your students, their parents, your administrator, visiting your site.

The Bottom Line

The web is increasing the place where we communicate and interact, both for professional purposes and for fun. It’s also where our students, bosses, children, parents, and complete strangers are using the same social networks.

Don’t be afraid of using social media, but be proactive in crafting an online “brand” that reflects the same standards of honesty, respect, and consideration that you use in the real world.