A teacher managing her digital footprint on her computer
For Administrators Updated May 29, 2019

Managing your Digital Footprint: Social Media Guidelines for Teachers

By Brian Gatens February 24, 2014

When you interview for a teaching position, you can count on the screening committee and administrators asking about your personal use of social media.

How you answer is up to you, but the best-case scenario is to have a digital-media footprint that reflects well on your judgment, skills, and professionalism. Using social media to advance your teaching career requires savvy management of your digital footprint, which boils down to three key components:

  • Developing your online presence
  • Answering questions about social media use
  • Understanding why the benefits of social media outweigh the risks

Let’s look at these points in more detail:

Developing your online presence

Teachers need to follow a few common-sense guidelines specific to the profession:

  • Try to capture your educational philosophy in as small a space as possible, but not at the expense of understanding. You should be able to do that in several paragraphs.
  • When linking to articles, sharing your writing, or connecting to others, be sure your actions align with this philosophy. It’s important to be consistent so your message will not confuse your audience. As others grow familiar with who you are, it is important to “stay on message” in what you create.
  • Be professional at all times in your work. Social media, through its strong connection to others, sometimes blurs the lines between the personal and professional. Don’t get drawn into petty conflicts or debates online, make it a point to avoid sarcasm or snark, and always take the high road.

Answering questions about social media use

As you develop your social media presence, make sure you can answer all these questions:

Do you remember the story of Hansel and Gretel?

We all know of these mythical siblings who scattered breadcrumbs in their wake to help them find their way back home. Never forget that every time you choose to post/like/friend/favorite or otherwise click on a social media website, you’re not just leaving digital breadcrumbs on your path: You’re signaling your priorities and judgment.

Would you wrap it up and give it to a parent?

Being able to instantaneously snap a picture and post it permanently (remember — nothing can be truly removed from the Internet) to a site is extremely tempting. While this is an excellent way to offer real-time updates about world events, it can be disastrous for your career.

Make certain that you set the privacy settings on the websites where you post so that only you can control when a picture is attributed to you. Privacy controls are no excuse to lower your guard and take part in potentially embarrassing photos; always make sure you exercise control over your image.

Even though it’s legal, is it right?

Because teachers work with children, they are rightfully held to higher behavior standards than other members of society. Your district needs you to continue to set the highest example of personal conduct and behavior.

That being said, please remember that even though you may be doing something that is perfectly legal, it can still get you in trouble with a school administrator. Avoid social situations where you can be seen doing things best suited for eyes that are older than 21 years.

Do you have multiple personalities?

To circumvent uncomfortable situations, some aspiring teachers develop split personalities online. One is the public-facing side that shows completely appropriate behavior and actions, and the other side is where the more freewheeling and borderline-inappropriate activities happen.

If you choose to go in the latter direction, keep in mind that there is always a chance that potential employers will find out what your freewheeling persona has been up to. And it can prove extremely costly.

Are you ready for the questions your posts will raise?

Almost anything you do online can raise questions. Remember, school administrators do not want emails or phone calls highlighting poor online judgment of a staff member. That doesn’t mean that you have to abandon social media — you just have to avoid uncomfortable situations while you develop a positive and growth-oriented online presence.

What image are you building?

Just as you want to maintain a personal social media footprint, you should also use some aspects of social media to highlight the good work you’re doing in the classroom and to help inform your instructional practices.

It could mean establishing a work-related Twitter account to post relevant information, articles, and updates. Another option is the use of Edmodo, a very popular site, to create an internal classroom site so students can view online materials and post their thoughts and answers. These are just two small examples of what you can do with social media to engage your students at a higher level.

Why the promise of social media far outweighs the pitfalls

While you always need to be wise about your online postings and to remember that teachers will always be held to higher standards, there’s no need to think social media is a career-ending mistake waiting to happen.

Rather, social media should be viewed as a golden opportunity to use today’s amazing technology to improve the quality of your teaching and connect broadly with your students. Here’s why I think educators should adopt an enthusiastic (but sane) approach to social media:

We live in a connection economy

Seth Godin, a leader in helping all of us understand today’s changing world, speaks often of the shift away from a “scarcity economy” where goods were valued because they are hard to acquire and toward a “connection economy” where the ability to connect with others and spread your thoughts, wisdom, and talents has its own distinct value.

This applies to teaching and your career, as you now have the ability to develop this type of relationship with your students and their families.

You are your own brand

With social media and its multitude of connected apps and websites, we all have the ability to become more than who we are. People can write/blog/create/post all sorts of content about who they are, what they believe in, and what they can create — thanks to unbridled access to technology.

As a result, you should think of your teaching career as more than just what happens in your classroom between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and begin to think of how you can create a broader understanding of your work and your teaching philosophy.

You can choose a platform

When you decide to use social media in your professional practice, you’ll want to turn to various platforms to help develop and share your work. Many teachers establish Twitter accounts and actively use the 280-character limit to spread their work and to connect with like-minded colleagues. Teachers often post on sites such as edublogs.org to create their online presence, and then share the links through their Twitter accounts.

Why do it?

At this point you may be thinking, “Why should I do any of this? It isn’t like I’m compensated to have a Twitter account or a website.” In today’s hectic world, that’s a completely valid response. That’s why I recommend reading the work of Daniel Pink and his research on job satisfaction.

In his book Drive, Pink wrote how research has shown that three key principles, when working together, help to create a happy, satisfied, and challenging work environment: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Being an active steward of your online presence and using this to improve both your teaching performance and the success of your students will also offer you all three of those factors.

That makes complete sense to me, and I hope it does to you too.

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