Monday, January 6, 2014

Teachers Using Social Media

Guess who had a snow day today??  Me!!  Well, more a "fear of potential icy roads" day instead of a snow day.  But since I have some time on my hands, it's time for a new blog post.

I love using social media.  Once upon a time, I had a MySpace.  I had a Xanga.  I became a member of Facebook in 2004.  Back in my day, it was only available to college students.  It has changed a great deal in these last ten years, and I am not a huge fan of Facebook, but it is almost a necessity in order to keep up with family and friends.  I believe it creates a false sense of community and keeps us from truly interacting with people... But enough of the negatives... I want to talk about the positives!

On the front page of my school webpage, I have a list of all the ways parents & students can find me on the internet.
Now some of you are probably thinking I am TOO available... And sometimes I feel that way myself.  But I always have the opportunity to unplug if I so choose.  It takes a great deal of self-control, but it is possible.  

When using social media, it is wise to set some ground rules for yourself as an educator.  It is very important to practice wisdom when interacting on the internet.  This is obvious, so forgive me for pointing it out... But it must be said.  When you set your ground rules, make sure they are exactly what you want and follow them strictly.  

Examples of possible ground rules:
  • Rules about 'friending' or 'following' student profiles.
  • Responding to student comments--will you or won't you?
  • Official parent responses--Where will you respond to parents?  Only via email?  Anywhere?  If you respond once, be prepared to respond again via that medium because parents will probably expect to reach you from then on.
  • Disabling comments altogether (I did this with my youtube channel--lots of internet trolls!)
I could keep going, but you get the idea.  Set some rules which will protect you (and your job).

What kinds of things do I post?
The types of things I post depends on the medium I'm using. 

I have created a Facebook group that is open for anyone to join... No 'friending' necessary.  On Facebook, I usually have parents following me.  I will post upcoming test/quiz dates, sample questions parents can ask kids to check for understanding, and anything parents might need to know.  Every now and then I'll post something silly or inspiring, just to interact with my audience.

On Instagram, most of my followers are kids.  I also have parents and personal friends who follow this account, but the overwhelming majority are kids.  As with my Facebook, I never post anything I would not share openly in my classroom.  My rule of thumb is "Would I mind if my administrator saw this?"  Anyone who posts those things on social media isn't thinking (in my opinion).  Everyone can see that stuff, even if you're privacy settings seem secure.

Instagram is my favorite medium and the one I use most.  I will post questions, funny things, fun moments, reminders... Anything I think my students might enjoy or need to see.  You can see examples of my Instagram posts by going to

I love going on Twitter for the main purpose of learning stuff.  I can sit and scroll through my Twitter feed for hours (literally) and learn hundreds of things!  It's amazing!  I am not very good about posting on Twitter, however.  I don't have that many followers, so I haven't really seen a return on my time-investment.  However, I will retweet articles and topics that relate to my students, classroom, and content.  I have linked my Instagram to my Twitter, so most of my pictures/videos can be found there.
Twitter is pretty big with students... And many of them have Twitter accounts that their parents don't know about.  As a result, you might read some pretty shocking things if you go looking on their Twitter profiles.  Beware!  If you use Twitter, it's best to only respond to students if they tweet you using a simple @ mention as opposed to going to their page to tweet them.  Or don't respond to them at all!  It's up to you.  I have a teacher friend who asks extra credit questions via her Twitter, and she notes the students who tweet her back so credit can be given.

I'm not sure if YouTube counts as social media, but it has helped my students a lot over the past few years.  I use YouTube to share videos of myself teaching the content and students can watch them at their leisure.  The parents love it because they can help their kids with homework (studying) because they know exactly how it's been taught in the classroom.  Many of my students have smart phones, so YouTube is readily available.  When students come in for tutoring, the first question I ask is "Have you visited my YouTube?"  If they haven't, I introduce it to them and use it as a teaching tool.  I have every major topic we cover (with historical content the exception) represented in a YouTube video.  Students can message me via YouTube, but I do not respond.  As mentioned earlier, I turned of the ability to comment on my YouTube channel because I had several rude people commenting to tell me how I'm wrong or I'm not teaching it well enough... But the YouTube is not for them... And I do my research.  The way I teach it comes from my resources, and I do not need some college government major on a power trip to tell me the difference between a democracy and a republic... I teach 6th grade, people.  That, my friends, is the definition of an 'internet troll'.

Social media can be very useful for teachers if we can harness its power for good instead of evil.  Find out what will work best for you and try using it once a week or so... You'll find that many of your students and parents will appreciate the extra notifications.  Do you already utilize social media in your classroom?  What is your favorite?  Got any tips for us?  Share them below!