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Twitter Advice For Teachers: What If A Student Follows You?

Tips for educators on how to handle students or parents who follow them on Twitter.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jack Kelly February 16, 2012 at 12:40 PM
I would agree wholeheartedly with Mike on this issue. A teacher should also create their own "group"/"fan" page where they use that professionally. It could be used for assignments, updates, answer questions, etc. Teachers can have their own PERSONAL page where their page is just like ours. They don't friend students AT ALL (that includes any student currently enrolled at the school, not just in the classes of the teacher), nor do they accept friend requests from parents/guardians of students. But, even though you have your own personal page, you still have to watch what you post (in writing and pictures...so it would not be wise posting those pictures of that wild weekend with the girls lol). There are always parents out there (esp. in Stow/Munroe Falls district) just looking to get a teacher on something ("this teacher posted a picture on her FB page of her drinking a beer. That's irresponsible -- although she's well-above the legal drinking age -- but still, she's a teacher and it's irresponsible posting a picture of her casually drinking a beer with friends because it could encourage a student to become a raging alcoholic" LOL). I know that's extreme, but not out of the question w/some over-the-top parents.
Tony D'Ambrosio February 19, 2012 at 11:21 AM
I'm neither a teacher nor a student; however I think this is good advice for any professional to follow. Things spread to fast and furiously these days, and as one of the other commentators said, the only way to guarantee it's on the net, is to not put it there in the first place.
Saber March 15, 2013 at 06:14 AM
I need your advice I just read tweets of my student without they know Oneday one of them he knew and he was angry What is right way to tell him I'm not please
StrongsvilleMother March 15, 2013 at 11:50 AM
I have a student at the high school and I brought this up to the administration also. I think the teachers underestimate the relationships we have with our kids. The kids seem to know when teachers cross the line with their tweeting, emailing and texting. I am hopeful that one day the teachers will. We do not want you to be friends with our students. We just want you to educate them.
JustPlain Tired March 15, 2013 at 12:03 PM
I would add on ercommendation. If you a teacher develops a "professional" account", the parents should be reasonably informed and connected as well. In fact, communicting to a minor should come with reasonable assurance that their guardian have equal access. If this is a professional account, then teachers also need to understand it is part of, and directly impacts, their career status. The infamous "UR teachers need help to yell at scabs" text to elementary students of Mrs. Solecki should serve as an example that not all teachers understand their place in child development.

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