Twitter 101: Do's and Don'ts of Sharing Classroom Information Online
Where do educators go for teaching tips, ideas, and advice? In the digital age, social media has emerged as a surprisingly effective avenue for educators to connect with each other and learn more about their craft. In particular, Twitter allows educators to ask each other quick questions and receive almost immediate feedback and suggestions, with some educators using the platform as an opportunity to form personal learning networks (also known as PLNs) that help guide their professional growth.
Sharing personal moments from the classroom—such as classroom setup, lesson ideas, and teaching difficulties—allows educators to personalize their interactions and give context to their comments and suggestions. However, on a public social media forum, it’s also important to determine the line between helpful sharing and harmful oversharing. In addition to protecting their own lives and privacy, educators have the responsibility of safeguarding the privacy of students and parents in their online conversations.
So, how do educators determine what content is (and isn’t) appropriate to share on Twitter? We’ve listed our biggest do's and don’ts to help guide you.
First and foremost, look at the boundaries that are already in place to protect students' online safety and security online. Your school or district may have specific rules and guidelines about information that can be shared on the internet. If you have questions, reach out to your administrator or HR for clarification.
Beyond the rules of your local district, safeguards for student privacy also exist on a national level. For instance, the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act—or FERPA—was designed to protect the privacy of students’ educational records. Under FERPA, students should be able to access their academic records, amend their records if needed, and have some control over the disclosure of their information.
Don’t reveal personal identifiers
FERPA’s guideline to allow students some control over the release of their information is especially significant to teachers using Twitter. While it’s important to be open with PLNs about classroom experiences and teaching goals, students and parents also deserve input into how and where their personal information (such as names, photos, learning difficulties, and grades) is shared. Educators should ensure that they are not compromising student safety or privacy in the process of sharing their classroom experiences online, even accidentally.
Common Sense—a nonprofit dedicated to empowering educators, students, and parents in the digital age—recommends using parental consent or opt-out forms and explaining to students how you plan to use social media. Additionally, the Common Sense site gives a list of precautions that can help you check for accidental personal identifiers before posting a photo or file online. For example:
Ensure you have explicit parental consent before sharing a student’s name or face online. If you do not have consent, be conscious of reflections, nametags, and other non-obvious ways that personal identifiers could sneak into your pictures.
Check file names for protected information, such as student names, ID numbers, or grades.
Closely review every picture or file before posting it online, and use photo editing software to blur or crop out potential personal identifiers.
Do tag other accounts
One of the primary benefits of interacting with an online PLN is the opportunity to share ideas and resources that work. Twitter is a great way to connect with industry professionals and show them how their techniques or products make a difference in your classroom. For example, you might like to share that an edtech piece has changed the way you handle a difficult problem or tweet to a website's account that the site's resources really added to your lesson plan. To do this, be sure you include the company or professional’s username (including the @ sign) in your tweet. This way, they will receive a notification about your tweet and will be able to check out what you have to say! Tagging also helps others in your PLN to find the accounts you mention and see what they have to offer.
It’s also important to tag other accounts whenever you are quoting or sharing their original ideas. This feature is built in whenever you retweet or reply to someone else’s original content, meaning the creator’s @username will automatically be included when you share their work. But what if you find a resource elsewhere on the internet that you’d like to share with your Twitter PLN?
According to a post by Plagiarism Today, taking the time to find and tag the creator’s Twitter account is well worth the effort. For example, say you found a video online that perfectly explains a concept you’re teaching, and you want to help your colleagues by sharing the link on Twitter. Although your intentions are good, simply copying and pasting the link—or even clicking the site’s Twitter “share” button—may not automatically include the creator’s username in your tweet. Although crediting the creator is not strictly required, including this type of recognition encourages connections online. A few minutes of searching may reveal the creator’s Twitter username, or you can simply list their name if they aren’t on Twitter.
Don’t allow derogatory or unprofessional comments
Whether you’re directly tagging another account in your tweet or not, don’t use Twitter to air grievances or personal frustrations. Before posting a tweet, replying to a comment, or retweeting a colleague, ask yourself, “Is there anyone who would be hurt or offended if they heard me say this? Would sharing this make a student feel uncomfortable in my class or afraid to participate?”
Even if the content isn’t specifically negative, some personal details are inappropriate to share on your teacher Twitter account. It’s fine to share a few personal details—posting a photo of your dog napping by your feet as you work on lesson planning is fun and relatable, for example, and sharing your favorite inspirational quotes or books shows a bit of your personality. However, stay conscious of the line between your personal and professional life. If you wouldn’t say it in the staff lounge, definitely don’t post it online!
In some cases, teachers and administrators have lost their jobs for sharing pictures or comments their districts found unprofessional. Stay conscious of how your online life can impact your school’s reputation, your student’s needs, and your own career.
Do help others connect
Expanding your PLN is a great way to broaden your horizons and enrich your own teaching experience. As you’re forming your network, be on the lookout for way to help your fellow teachers connect with each other, too. As detailed in a recent Search Engine Journal post, one easy and effective way to do this involves creating lists on Twitter. In your profile, click “Lists” and select “Create New List,” then simply add users with similar interests and accomplishments. For example, you might create lists of “STEM enthusiasts,” “ELL Teachers,” or “Edtech Thought Leaders.” Making these lists public notifies users that you’ve added them to a list and gives them a chance to check out each other’s profiles.
Tech website Lifewire details another way to help your Twitter followers connect with each other: participating in Follow Friday. Using this informal system, twitter users recommend their favorite accounts to follow at the end of every week by composing a tweet with the popular #FollowFriday hashtag, which can also be abbreviated to #FFf. In a single tweet, list the usernames belonging to several of your favorite members of your PLN, give a quick explanation about why you enjoy their tweets, and include the #FollowFriday hashtag. For example, you might write: "Check out these awesome #education bloggers! @username1 @username2 @username3 #FollowFriday"
Don’t forget to have fun!
Sharing information in a public online forum does carry an element of risk, so it’s important to take every precaution when discussing your teaching life on Twitter. However, social media also gives teachers countless opportunities to learn and collaborate with colleagues from all over the world. Through Twitter, we can swap ideas with educators across the globe as easily as we can with the teacher across the hall. While caution and discretion are always important online, using Twitter is a rewarding way to build and connect with your own personal learning network.
For educators using social media to build an engaging, inspiring community of colleagues, Twitter offers a fast-paced, concise, and personalized platform—provided you remember to take the necessary precautions. By remaining conscious of policy and staying respectful of students’ personal information, educators can keep their online interactions positive, professional, and fun.
Twitter 101: Do's and Don’ts of Sharing Classroom Information Online is the third installment in our five-post Twitter 101 series. Miss the first two installments? Get caught up here:
- Twitter 101: How to Start Your Own Teacher Twitter Account
- Twitter 101: Grow Your Personal Learning Network.
Ready to start tweeting and collaborating on a larger scale? Check back in for our next post in the series: Twitter 101: Joining Twitter Chats.
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