The Social Media Policy of the Future

Several months ago I blogged about the Acceptable Use Policy of the Future. Today I turn my attention to a related topic, the use of social media by faculty to communicate with each other, parents, and students. Here’s what I would like to suggest that school administrators consider as a policy statement:

Social media, including but not limited to services such as Facebook, Linked-In, YouTube, and Twitter are powerful learning, collaboration, and communication tools and should be judiciously employed by all faculty and staff in the pursuit of teaching excellence, professional development, the promotion of school activities and events, remaining current with educational trends, and understanding of how youth use technology in their daily lives.

What, exactly, are we so afraid of with these tools? I posit that one fear might be the apparent “loss of control” in our classrooms and our school messaging. Another might be the blurring of personal and professional boundaries.

Both of these suppositions, control and boundaries, are illusory.

The degree to which teachers are in control of their classrooms is based entirely on the power granted to them by students. No doubt you have all witnessed “out-of-control” classrooms, and perhaps you have even been in one. What this normally refers to is students “acting out,” out of their seats, yelling or screaming, or perhaps non-responsiveness accompanied by sullen, disdainful glares at the teacher. Students always have this power, the power to not go along with the teacher’s plan.

As for personal boundaries, such things are already blurred. Take teachers who also act as coaches or club advisors and spend significant time with students outside of class, or who advise students on personal issues. Teachers who ask students to babysit their children, or whose own children are enrolled in the school in which they teach. What teacher hasn’t noticed how students perk up when they tell them personal stories from their past, or even about what is current in their lives such as the birth of a child, an upcoming vacation, or even a date they went on over the weekend.

So the debate is not about how much classroom control teachers have (only what is granted to them), or about rigidly compartmentalizing our personal and professional lives (they are already porous), but it is about using the tools available to us to be more effective educators in and out of the classroom. It is, as it always is, about communicating with students and the ability to bridge the gap between our lives and their lives to find common means of understanding important content and life lessons, about guidance and wisdom, deep listening and even deeper questioning.

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7 thoughts on “The Social Media Policy of the Future

  1. Doug Johnson

    Hi Steve,

    I agree with you completely with your basic premises here. I would suggest that teachers still need guidelines to help make the transition to online/social environments. We are doing them a disservice by not doing so. You can find ours here:

    Oh, our social networking policy is going for board approval this evening in our district. Let me know if you’d like to see a copy of it.

    Keep up the great posts!


  2. Bill Storm

    Reading this post and Doug’s social media policy prompted a bit of a discussion here in the office, as while we often discourage teachers from interacting with students via social media due to the current complexity of the medium, particularly the security settings in Facebook which remain intentionally obscure and complex, we have true mixed feelings about going into our collective future with outright prohibition.
    As a young teacher in the 80s, the convention for teachers was to be completely unlisted in the phone book to deprive students’ access to their teachers’ personal information (in practice it was mostly to avoid decorative toilet paper technology). I never fully bought into that ethic, as I felt the need to provide some means for my students to contact me in an emergency. While my address remained unlisted, my phone number remained published, and students took advantage of that exactly three times, all for life-threatening events in their or their friends’ lives. As Steve points out here, personal boundaries between students and teachers are not so clean and official as an outside observer might assume. Teachers of younger children often become surrogate parents with deep and lasting relationships, and that dynamic does not come to an end when a child leaves elementary school, rather it becomes even more complicated and volatile. Successful students are still in need of personal mentoring, intervention, and occasional responses to emergencies by teachers.
    I currently “Friend” former students, students still in our school system, and I do so with mild trepidation, carefully installing them in their tightly constrained “Students” list. This allows me to look in on them as I wish, and gives them a means to contact me should they have the need. It does not give them access to my posts, photos, profile, and other interactions on Facebook. I say “mild trepidation,” because I have had technical issues with Facebook in the past that rendered my security settings utterly nonfunctional. They work now, but I have no idea when they may revert to their nonfunctioning status. As a result, I post to Facebook in a professional manner as if it may be viewed by those students, hoping for privacy, knowing it’s possibly not perfect. If I was still teaching and I lacked a district-provided web portal, I would establish a professional page on Facebook as a one-way communication device, and the means by which students could contact me off-campus. That’s not student access to personal information, but it is access to me in an appropriately defined context.
    It’s probably going to take another generation or so before we work out the details of the current social contract, and we’re going to make errors in both directions. It’s important to keep thinking about school culture and relationships, and to mind the well-being all parties without choking off meaningful interaction that lets education happen.

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  4. sjtaffee Post author

    Thanks so much for your comments, Bill. I am heartened to read that you and your colleagues are engaging in the conversation about this topic. So many times we (educators) simply ignore controversial topics or claim that we do not have the time to engage, no matter how important the discussion might be. Such attitudes disconnect us from the lives of students.

    Like you, I have been in education long enough to know that sometimes teachers end up as important adults in the lives of students who otherwise have no one to turn to. As uncomfortable as these relationships may be, I shudder to think what might happen if we routinely turned our backs on kids who need us. The answers aren’t easy; few things that are worth much ever are.



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  6. Bram Moreinis

    I deeply wish that we can make a distinction between “social media” as a term of function (I can create a website to serve social learning functions, like, and commercial social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) which carry too much baggage for academic work, IMHO.

    While I can see the value in a class doing a Facebook page to show how an academic context can be brought to FB and see how the FB community responds, or to create a profile based on some famous dead person teach safe FB use, I feel that the context itself is too commercial and the culture of its use too personal for academic work.

    There are plenty of social media sites and communities that are not branded by corporate entities and exist to serve academic and social causes. and these should be the focus of academic social learning and outreach.

    If students are doing a project that involves their own website or intranet and they are seeking participants, I can see a Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn post to get interest, but my goal would be to get the conversation away from the commercial context as soon as possible.


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