On Drafting a Social Media Policy

Only a few days before the State of Missouri passed a law restricting private contact between students and teachers on social media, I was contact by UW-Milwaukee’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction to help social media guidelines for the student teachers it places in area schools.

The department’s motivation was largely to ensure professionalism in how its student teachers were acting on social media: not complaining about students on Facebook, Tweeting out funny things a kid said in class, or ranting about a co-worker in a blog post.

I haven’t tried to write such a policy previously, and wanted to carefully balance these important professionalization concerns with a student’s freedom of expression. To guide me, I looked over a variety of existing policies, and came up with the following as an initial draft.

Thoughts?  (I’m particularly concerned about my initial suggestion that students not create blogs to provide commentary on their experiences)

Professionalism, Student Teaching, and Social Media

This document presents social media use guidelines and recommendations suggested for all UWM student teachers. For the purposes of this document, social media means any facility for online publication and commentary, including without limitation blogs, wiki’s, discussion forums, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Flickr, and YouTube. These guidelines complement – but do not replace – any existing policies regarding the use of technology, computers, e-mail and the Internet in place at UW-Milwaukee or the location of your student teaching placement.

As a student teacher, participation in social media and commenting in online media stories carries with it certain professional obligations. In your role as a student teacher, you represent UW-M with your placement institution. More importantly, you are an educator – a role model – for the students in your classroom. Your actions online should respect these professional obligations.

While all student teachers are welcome to participate in social media, we expect everyone who participates in online commentary to understand and to follow these simple but important guidelines. The goal of these guidelines is simple: to allow you to participate online in a respectful, relevant way that protects your reputation, the reputation of UW-M, respects the relationship between teachers and students, and of course follows the letter and spirit of the law.

Setting up Social Media

Social media identities, logon ID’s and user names should not reference your position as a student teacher or the school in which you are working. You should also not create blogs or social media sites for the specific purpose to provide commentary on your student teaching experience.

Don’t Tell Secrets

It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it’s not okay to publish confidential or sensitive information that might jeopardize the privacy of students or the overall educational environment. This includes information such as unpublished details about internal issues within a school or department, examples of student work or performance assessments, conversations had with students, conversations overheard within school, etc.

Respect your audience, your school, and your students

The public in general, and your school’s community and students, reflect a diverse set of people, values and points of view. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, offensive comments, defamatory comments, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and of topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory – such as politics and religion. Use your best judgment and be sure to make it clear that the views and opinions expressed are yours alone and do not represent the official views of UW-M or your school.

Student Contact

It is best to not contact or interact with any students from your school through social media, such as Facebook posts/messages, Twitter, or instant messages. Official communication, when appropriate, could take place through official email. Student teachers should also refrain from “friending” or “following” any students from your school on social media.



  1. Hi Michael – a very challenging task. I’m more hesitant about your last section, prohibiting contact on social media between students and teachers. I realise documents like this must provide ‘blanket rules’ to be effective, but I wonder about the kind of message this sends. I note that your language is a little less imperative in this section (‘it is best not to’ rather than ‘do not’), which perhaps says something about your own hesitancy here?

    I hope that as people continue to develop shared sets of ‘organic’ strategies and conventions for managing social interactions online, we can begin to speak in a more nuanced language here, that doesn’t prohibit contact altogether, but does encourage responsible and appropriate behaviour. Of course there probably isn’t any kind of scope for nuance in a policy document like this!

    I’ve never taught outside the university, so I’m not familiar with the formal and (I’m sure) informal training that goes in to cultivating an appropriate ‘performance of teacher’ for school-aged young people, but I know from when I was a kid that when I saw school teachers outside the school (at the shops, for example) those encounters really humanised those people for me. If I had run into Mr. Bloggs, my 8th grade math teacher at the shops, and he ignored me and walked off in the other direction, that would’ve been pretty off-putting I think. A blanket ban on students and teachers interacting through social media appears to be similar for me. Certainly, there must be a clear separation between private and personal lives for most teachers (and students), but I still wonder what opportunities for connection and inspiration and belonging might be lost here.

    This comment has gone on for far too long! Thanks for the food for thought, though. I look forward to meeting you in Seattle at IR12.

  2. Hello Brady – yes, I’m hesitant about any broad prohibition on contact between teachers and students on social media. This was included for this particular policy largely because we are dealing with student teachers, and by request of the department who places them.

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