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Phoenix Forward

5 social media guidelines for teachers

Educators who use social media to interact with students should consider appropriate language and discussion topics just as they do in a classroom setting, says Dr. Brant Choate, EdD, Apollo Education Group’s national manager of social media content for the University of Phoenix College of Education and an instructor at the Sacramento Valley Campus.

“At a very basic level, teachers monitor themselves when they stand in front of the classroom,” says Choate, who is also a consultant at Palm Education in California. “It is at that moment they decide whether to use inappropriate language or discuss controversial topics.”

Keeping educators’ social media usage ethical

And there are certainly modern examples of those educators who haven’t filtered their thoughts appropriately. This year alone, several teachers were either fired or resigned after posting negative Facebook® comments about students or their work, sharing questionable photos or revealing too much personal information. While such examples should put educators on edge about what, and to whom, they reveal information to via social media, Choate says educators simply need to follow these guidelines:

1. Lay out the rules beforehand.

Educators need to establish communication boundaries upfront, and in writing, with students, Choate says. This may mean indicating they will not make or accept Facebook or Twitter® requests. However, they can redirect students to a student-specific account designated for educational purposes. “There needs to be some written norms — rules, if you will —that students and teachers need to abide by and agree to ahead of time,” he says.

2. Keep it corporate.

Choate recommends educators use social media sites like a business employee would: solely as a means to communicate the organization’s mission. Educators, he notes, must be mindful that even their personal social media accounts, especially Facebook, must reflect these ethics. Sure, there are strict privacy settings one can activate on personal accounts to limit public views, but Choate warns that comments can be brought to parents or administrators through those within your “friend” base. To him, the answer is simple: “Don’t discuss work-related or school-related issues on your personal social media site.”

3. Build parent trust.

Social media offers educators, especially those teaching high school and younger, an outlet to communicate in real time with parents, says Choate. An educator can designate a social media account from which to send and receive communications.

4. Remember the term “INTERNET.”

From a psychological perspective, Dr. Christine Karper, an area chair in psychology for the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix Central Florida Campus, says educators can use this acronym to gauge the level of appropriateness of both the content they are sharing and their behavior in general, especially when students are directly involved. Karper defines the acronym as such:

I - Information discrepancy (What are you putting out there?)

N - Number of friends (Are you privately friends with students?)

T - Time spent on site (How long are you engaging with students, privately or otherwise?)

E - Exposure (What are your privacy settings?)

R - Risky behavior (Are you taking a risk in terms of photos or language?)

N - Number of posts (Are they excessive?)

E - Elevated sense of importance or Exaggerated information (Are you, for example, badmouthing students?)

T - Time of posts (Is the time of day appropriate?)

5. Respect how today’s students learn.

In addition to determining how they are going to use social media sites, teachers must also evaluate what usage to allow in their classroom. Educators can certainly block questionable sites, but Choate says banning social media altogether is a disservice to students.

“Social media is a universal communication or media tool that kids across the board use nowadays, whether it’s the jocks and cheerleaders or anyone else,” says Choate. “If you tell students they can’t use Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites to pursue school work then what you’re really telling them is the technology in their lives — everything in their lives they are used to — is invalid.”

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