10 commandments of Tweets with students

  • Many are still suspicious about social media, so to propose that teachers use twitter with their students would not even hit the agenda in many schools.
  • The key problem to overcome is often ‘the fear’ of social networking. Sadly, some staff see it as evil.
  • There can be a typical lack of guidance given to many teachers.
  • However, as Andy Lewis showed in this article from the October 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine, applying some common sense attitudes and behaviours can help utilise the power of these modern tools.
  • Engage your school and follow any policy or safeguarding guidelines in place.

I began using Twitter to communicate with students in January 2012. It was initially an experiment to see if there was any value or worth in using social media to promote learning with students. I discussed it with my Head of Department, who mentioned it to our departmental line manager. There were a few brief discussions, but as it became clear I knew what I was talking about and had considered the implications, potential risks and consequences, and I was left to get on with it.

Having watched The Social Network and working out I was probably in the first 100,000 Facebook users in 2004, and having used Twitter personally for several years, I was fully aware of the power (and the dangers) of such social networking tools; I had, in many respects, grown up as an adult with this networking. It has changed our lives socially and professionally; how can it be best utilised for our students too?

I liked the idea that on Twitter students would ‘follow’ and not be ‘friends’, that everything was transparent and could be checked by any member of my SLT. They could see my interactions, everything was public and could be read by anyone. There was also the great power of the retweet!

However, without a set of guidelines or policy, advice or even really having an ‘in school’ sounding board, I needed some kind of personal framework. I spent a lot of time considering how I would utilise Twitter. It is also important that you never forget the risks, and that you are always aware of what you are tweeting and to who. I devised a little reminder to myself and to share with others (it’s RE themed, naturally…);

I did some research with colleagues via Twitter and got some interesting feedback about what some schools are saying…

One staff handbook said, “On no account should staff involve themselves on social networking sites with children” only via school email. However, the school had a number of Twitter accounts including a whole school one which was clearly not adhering to this policy. This seems typical of the lack of guidance given to many teachers. Other schools insisted on ‘locked’ accounts and vetting each potential follower.

Another school had put together a policy, which is not overly complex, but covers most areas:

The Purpose

To allow departments to disseminate key information relating to KS4 will ensure pupils have access to important online resources that can be used in preparation for the exams.

The Benefits

  • It allows us to model using social media responsibly
  • It is a great way to communicate using the technology that many of our pupils use already
  • It is instant access when new information is released by exam boards, key authors, well known speakers and relevant news agencies
  • To share resources for revision etc (all information will also be available on paper for those who don’t have access to the internet)

Safety considerations

  • Nothing is private. Teachers will not be following any pupils
  • Everything written is available for everybody to see
  • It won’t be accessed in school
  • We have contacted numerous schools that already use it to discuss safeguarding concerns
  • All accounts will be monitored by the teacher responsible for the twitter account and by Senior Management

Reminders [to staff]

  • Never follow a pupil, make this clear to pupils
  • Never retweet a post you haven’t checked first
  • Bear in mind that not all pupils will have access to the internet
  • Always remind pupils about safety for example: nothing you write on the internet is ever private. Only write things you wouldn’t mind your parents, teachers or future employers seeing. What you put on the internet will be used to judge what sort of person you are. Never write anything negative or unkind about anyone else.

I think that this is a great starting point. It has been circulated to staff, students and parents, so everyone is clear on its purpose, use and potential.

The key problem to overcome is often ‘the fear’ of social networking. Sadly, some staff see it as evil. I agree it can get ugly, and many staff have had to deal with social networking causing a variety of problems in the school. It is hard when other staff do not have an interest in social networking. In the worst cases, you will receive a flat no. At the other extreme, you are left with no policy to fall back on for protection.

There is a lot to consider. It needs constant review. There may be something you haven’t thought of, and issues that may arise. It needs to treated sensibility, in a considered way. A member of staff may make a mistake… just like in the classroom. Will the school then ban Twitter for everyone? There are also new forms of social media and networking which may or may not be appropriate; I had a request for an RE Department Snapchat account just this week.

One of the most important things I have read about social networking and schools was that “Every school has a social media and social network prescence - are you going to ignore it or engage in it?” Your school and your staff will be discussed on Twitter, Facebook and numerous other places. If you have a school Facebook page, comments and questions can be put there and answered accurately. I was told by students that I wasn’t discussed on Twitter because I use it and that I’d probably see it.

There is so much potential. SO much. I love using Twitter with students and it has been incredibly useful. I answer questions, homework help, or last-minute exam prep. Sometimes a sixth form lesson will begin with something they’ve seen on Twitter.

I am not an expert an I’m still learning. I still make mistakes, but this is the same as in the classroom, right?

Don’t just set up a Twitter account and start tweeting. Engage your school and follow any policy or safeguarding guidelines in place. Talk to students about what do they want. Take your time, consider your purpose, and what will your Twitter identity be. Try it, evaluate it, persevere with it, re-evaluate it, keep using it, don’t give up, have a little fun!

Click here to read the Full Article, in the October 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine

Andy Lewis is Head of Y10 & Assistant Subject Leader in RE at Sacred Heart of Mary Girls’ School, Upminster. See his blog at MrLewisRE.co.uk and find him on Twitter at @iTeachRE and @TalkingDonkeyRE.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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