There's a large number of teachers, administrators and school board members using social media these days. Students see educators as role models and parents want to be sure educators are using social media in a responsible manner. If you're an educator, here's my advice on what to do when a student or parent follows you on Twitter:
First, be aware that students and parents are reading your tweets, whether they're formally following you on Twitter or not. For better or worse, students, parents, your boss, your children and your biggest critics can read what you’re tweeting. What many educators have opted to do is manage multiple Twitter accounts. One account is used for personal tweets while the other one is used for professional discussions. This allows you to distinguish if something tweet-worthy is to be shared as a private individual or as a professional who is also representing the school district.
Your personal account is where you tweet your personal thoughts. You shouldn't be too worried if students or parents see that you believe the Browns need a win or that the winter weather has been crazy this season. This is your “life away from school” and you're human just like everyone else. If, however, you feel inclined to express your political or religious opinions, make moral judgements about others or vent about your spouse, then you're better off “protecting” or blocking your tweets from the general public. In fact, I suggest you always protect your personal account for a variety of reasons.
Without protection turned on, anyone can see the accounts you follow and the accounts that follow you. This can reveal your religious or political views, feelings on family members or other personal details you may prefer to keep private. Second, anything you tweet can be used against you. Keep in mind even if your tweets are protected others can still “re-tweet” your comments into the public realm, so as a rule, never tweet anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of your local news source. When parents or students request to follow you, always politely decline and instead welcome them to follow you on your professional Twitter account or refer them to the school's official Twitter account.
Your professional account is where you conduct conversations with fellow educators as part of your professional development. Twitter is a goldmine of information for educators with discussions on just about every topic you can think of. There are “hashtag discussions”, such as #EdChat, #EdTech, #BYOT, #MathChat, and many more that educators can follow, each focusing on specific content areas. Educators around the world are participating in these discussions to grow professionally and ultimately improve themselves as school leaders. You'll want your professional Twitter account to be publicly viewable, otherwise you'll be limited in your interactions with other educators. If a parent or student decides to follow your professional account, embrace it. You're only demonstrating your desire to be the best educator possible.
With both your personal and professional account, you don't follow the Twitter accounts of parents or students. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. No matter how good your intentions, following a parent or student's Twitter account gives the appearance of favoritism. Maybe after a student graduates in order to keep in touch with alumni, but never with current students or their parents.
The third type of Twitter account I would encourage educators to consider is one specifically geared toward your students and/or parents. You can use this account to Tweet school announcements, assignment reminders, class updates or hold virtual discussions with students. Don't be afraid to show your human side every now and again. Your students will appreciate it. Again, however, don't follow back student's personal Twitter accounts. Instead require them to create an account for school-use only and follow that account instead.
A final word of caution: be careful when you re-tweet others. Re-tweeting means to share someone else's tweet with your Twitter followers. To re-tweet someone may imply that you hold the same opinion as that person. You don't want any student to feel uncomfortable or marginalized in your classroom or raise concerns with parents about your professionalism or objectivity.