Schoolhouse social
Author: Jennifer Van Buren

From a quick peek over a child’s shoulder or a scroll across her Facebook page, most parents are, and should be, vigilant when it comes to monitoring their child’s Internet activity. This is especially true when dealing with strangers, but what about teachers? Should teachers and students be interacting on social sites at all? Are there exceptions?

Ruling society
Human beings are by nature social creatures; this certainly applies to school-aged children. Some argue that it just makes sense to take advantage of this innate interest in socializing, communicating and sharing, while others worry about the potential for inappropriate contact between teachers and their students.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) updated the Educators Code of Ethics in November 2010 to expand inappropriate communications with students through the use of social media. One reason this change was put into place was due to disciplinary case referrals in which teachers were found to have been sending students thousands of text messages. While the content of the messages was not inappropriate at face value, the number of messages along with the time of day in which they were sent could be an indication that the educator was “grooming” the student for a future sexual relationship.

The amended standard addresses communication such as text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging or other social network communication. There are six factors that must be weighed in determining if the communication is inappropriate: the nature, purpose, timing and amount of communication as well as the subject matter are taken into account. Also considered is whether the communication was made openly or if the educator attempted to keep the communication private. While no one wants to consider that any adult, let alone a teacher, could be attempting to solicit a minor, it happens. According to the code of ethics, communications between teacher and student cannot be reasonably interpreted as soliciting a sexual or romantic relationship, or contain any sexually explicit material including discussion of attractiveness, history, preferences or fantasy.

Safely social
Face it: social media is not going anywhere. It taps into our innate desire to be heard, to check what other people in our community are up to and to share our ideas with peers. To fight the educational use of such media may be pointless; the question we should be asking is, “how can we tap into this system without putting our children at risk?”

There are safe (and FREE!) media tools available for teachers and students to communicate. Edmodo and Kidblog are two platforms that allow teachers, students and parents to connect and share in their learning. Teachers can access homework, record grades, monitor class discussions and send notifications. Neither site requires student email addresses and are open only to those to whom the teacher allows access (students, teachers and parents).

Teachers can create a classroom blog that allows students to comment on other student’s posts. Teachers can also post questions about what they are learning in class, including open-ended questions that encourage critical thinking.

Kids love it! Videos, photos and graphics can also be added with parental permission, as well as links to educational sites.

Working on a blog that is created for students only and can be viewed by parents is exciting and safe. Students can write and create projects not just for their teacher, but for a real audience. Sometimes the desire to communicate with peers is greater than the desire to earn a good grade or a smiley face sticker.

Teachers have reported an increase in desire to complete work and to produce quality projects when students work within social networks, such as blogs or bulletin boards. Think about this from an adult perspective: would you rather take a photo of your newborn baby, print it out, grab scissors and glue and handwrite a report of his stats? Or would you prefer posting a digital photo on a network site where all your friends and family can oooh and ahhh, get real-time information on how the little guy is doing, ask if there is a way to help and offer congratulations? Sure, a handwritten note is a personal way to send out an announcement, but there is something satisfying about the immediacy of back-and-forth sharing that social media encourages. Kids are people, too, and the desire to share is the same.

Social media encourages
Traditional teaching methods often discourage collaboration. Children are instructed to keep their eyes on their own work, write notes on paper and complete homework in solitude. Talking in class can mean disciplinary action.

Karl Meinhardt, CEO of, helps educators and administrators understand and utilize social media and social networking in the classroom in order to increase academic achievement and engagement.

“When you get in the business world,” he relates, “all of a sudden it’s like, ‘OK, work with this group of people.’ It’s collaborative immediately. And we come unprepared to collaborate on projects.”

Social media has a natural collaborative element. Students can work in teams on a common blog, respond to discussion questions and provide feedback on each other’s work.

Social security
If utilizing social media becomes part of your child’s academic experience, or if you’d like it to, maintaining security and boundaries is paramount.

• Blogs or other networks must be kept private to teachers, students and parents.

• Look for red flags: any form of flirting or exchange of personal information is not appropriate.

• Check the frequency of text messages or limit them all together. All communication between students and teachers should be professional.

• Require any email or text communications between your child and teacher be copied to your account.

• Be especially careful: your student may start spending a whole lot more time working on their class blog and miss out on other important tasks of battling zombies or watching cats on keyboards.

As a society, it is wise to keep an open mind and not let kids get too far ahead of us in the race for new technology. While the Internet, cell phones and social media can be breeding grounds for predators, there are many ways to use these technologies to advance our students’ educational experience.

We just have to keep an open mind and a watchful eye.

Jennifer VanBuren is an educator and mother and really needs to start her own blog.

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