Is your school’s “digital citizenship” practice a pass or fail?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Walmart Corporate

This past week, I worked with a small group of educators on becoming a “Networked Educator“, and we had some great conversations about how social media is changing a lot of what we do in schools.  Within the group, there were about four teachers from one high school, who came to learn together and asked questions about how they could move their school to the “next level” in how they are sharing and learning with not only each other, but students as well.  They told me that felt that they were in some ways behind as a school, but they were making progress.

One of the ways that they felt they were making progress was by having a school Twitter account to share what is happening at with their community.  This is new to them and they are learning along the way, but the teachers admittedly felt that the school needed to do more to help their students.  As I checked out their Twitter account, I saw the “Follower Suggestions” and noticed two accounts that looked to be student Twitter accounts.  I asked the teachers if they were their students, they said yes, and asked permission to look at their tweets (which are totally public to the world) in front of the group, and they said yes, knowing that they probably weren’t going to like what they were about to see.

They didn’t like it at all.  They were actually mortified.

We looked at both students and many of the tweets were sexist, derogatory, and just outright offensive.  It made the group cringe and the teachers were embarrassed because we found it by simply looking up the school Twitter account.  There was no searching for students; it was just automatically linked because they followed the account.

When I asked the teachers if they knew the student personally, they said yes, and said that both of them were great kids.  I actually had no doubt about that.  When I was a kid and was with my closest friends, I might have said similar things.  To many kids now, they think that being on Twitter is, in some ways, being with their closest friends.  I remember one student in our school was blown away that I even knew what Twitter was and that we saw their account (they used a hashtag that all educators were following).

Do I ever swear?  Yup.

Do I ever swear on Twitter? Nope.

We have to talk with our kids and be honest with them that we are not perfect as individuals either, but we have to understand what is meant to be public and what is private.

Do we work with kids and really talk about the implications of what this can lead to?  I don’t want to think that either student’s life will be ruined by their tweets, but I know that if they continue to go on this way, I would hate to think that they end up like Alexandra Wallace, who did a very dumb thing on YouTube which then quickly went viral.  The question that I have with her scenario is, “did a teacher ever work with this student to talk about the possible consequences of her actions?”  I kind of doubt it.

So as we talked about next steps for their school, they had a concern that the view would be, “Let’s just shut down our school account so this won’t happen again.”


I was quickly reminded of this Dan Hasler post on social media and driving and his three main thoughts on how we do social media wrong in schools:

1. Driving lessons would be taught by adults (teachers or parents) with little or no experience of driving.

2. Driving lessons would only focus on what not to do.

3. Driving lessons would NEVER take place in an actual car.

So building on Dan’s thoughts and reflecting on this experience, I thought about a “rubric” of what schools could be doing in working with students to help them navigate these murky digital waters:

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I do believe that we need to work with our students to get them to the point of “Digital Leadership” and the “Sincere Compliments” video should be a standard we guide our students toward.  Nothing works 100% but we need to really be proactive as educators in our work with students, not simply worry about covering our butts.  If we are really wanting to do what is best for kids, shouldn’t we be at the top (or at least working towards) the top?

Where is your school on this continuum? Would you swap 2 and 3?

Here is the link to the Google Doc that I created with this “Digital Leadership Continuum” that you are free to copy, paste and use as you wish.



  1. Enjoyed reading this very much, George. I think the notion of teaching wisdom to our young people is incredibly important. Really like your rubric too.

  2. George
    Edmodo is a great way to start primary / elementary students in their digital leadership skills in social media. At least with Edmodo, teachers can monitor what students post. However, the balance is knowing when the intervene and when to tactically ignore students post.

  3. This is a very timely and important post George. As social media becomes even more prevalent in society schools are missing not only a golden opportunity, but their duty to educate students on digital citizenship. After I had to handle some students who started a hash tag that bashed some of my staff I began to think about how we could do a better job working with our students on this issue. Form that point over 2 years we now actively educate all of our students on digital responsibility, citizenship, and the importance of creating a positive digital footprint. I even have our students Google themselves and report on what they find. They become even more mortified when I ask how many people they have friended on Facebook that they do not know and proceed to tell them what those people could do with the content on their pages. The bottom line has been a dramatic decrease in cyberbullying and irresponsible behavior in social media spaces. Some students deleted their Facebook and Twitter accounts while others protected their tweets. So I am confident in saying that we pass at NMHS :)

  4. I am thinking as well that we need to teach “digital courtesy” or “tech etiquette”. Anyone know some sites or programs that address this? Turning off a ringer should be as natural as taking off one’s hat in a school building…

  5. Thanks for another great post George, I always appreciate your insights. Over the past few years I have realized how much of the Digital Citizenship we teach our students is about avoiding creepers on-line (often by inviting the police into our classrooms) instead of teaching them how to be effective netizens and manage their digital footprints. It’s hard to teach students how to act effectively on-line if many of the sites they use are blocked inside the school. Thanks for sharing the rubric, I will add it to my tool kit.

  6. We are definitely hitting a day and age where the greatest lessons our kids need to learn are often found outside of the curriculum, while trying to deliver the curriculum. Your session was well delivered, relevant, and informative. Looking forward to the next one.

  7. Excellent points George. Digital citizenship and responsible use of social media is a critical for everyone today, our students included.

  8. One of the great things about Twitter is that one does not have to follow people back. I agree that students need to be cognizant of what they post publicly, but more importantly, teachers and administrators need to recognize the value of Twitter in following only those individuals that they feel best contribute to the mission and vision of the school. Add if they want to get parents and students involved, hashtags provide a good alternative without having to follow each other. If they feel that somehow following students back is necessary, then perhaps they need to consider facebook instead.

  9. George,

    Another excellent post and spot on for becoming a networked school. We’ve experiences a few negative tweets so we began to teach and use the phrase “pause before you post”, which has helped. We still have work to do in regards to being more deliberate in reinforcing and recognizing positive digital citizenship. Some of my teachers do an excellent job of leading these discussions in the classroom and students have risen to the occasion. Thanks for the rubric. I’ve posted it on our school’s official FB page to generate some discussion.

    Be Great,


  10. One of my tweeps shared this with me the other day and it seems as though some of our students don’t feel as though it’s appropriate for us as adults to follow their online interactions. I think the students in this article don’t comprehend what it means to have a public social presence. While I’ve never created a list filled with the accounts of our students, I am sure many teachers/admin do, as described in this article. Just two weeks go I found out my 18 yr old sister had a Twitter account. She didn’t want to tell me because she didn’t want to hear me get all judgmental on her about her tweets. Some of them are just ludicrous, but thankfully nothing too abominable. Our kids will NOT learn how to create respectable online spaces without guidance from parents, teachers, and administrators. And since so many parents, teachers, and administrators have little experience with the tools and/or would prefer to look the other way, we have quite the conundrum on our hands. My sister’s generation had little to no educational experiences with social networking. Her high school has been 1:1 since the early 2000s. There’s simply no excuse for it. We’re letting our kids down, and many are going to learn some hard lessons as a result.

  11. George,

    What a good read. I agree with the grading scale. I think that my school would score a 2.5. I would love to have the social media opened up. I have been told it is blocked at the state level. So i don’t know what I can do about that. If you have teachers willing to put in the time and effort to make sure things are done the right way wouldn’t that make you as a leader want to give the teachers a chance with it in schools?

    Thanks for all you do,


  12. As a primary school teacher librarian/information literacy specialist, I spend a lot of my time working with children to understand how to use technology responsibly. I am a strong believer that we have to start these conversations AS SOON AS we give a child an Internet enabled device. We don’t wait until high school to teach a child to read, so why wait to teach a child HOW to use a device responsibly. I would rank the primary school where I work as a 3 but I am trying to get us to a 4. I shared the rubric with my principal when I put forward the idea of a school twitter account. I’m happy to say that she has agreed to let me create a school twitter account! Thanks for a great post.

  13. Thanks George, you have shed new light on both my teaching with technology and raising my children.

  14. Thought-provoking post George. Thank you!

    We absolutely need to teach, model, and provide opportunities for students to practice appropriate digital behavior. I wonder, though, whether it’s better for students to learn about digital citizenship in public or in a closed environment. Given the potential consequences and longevity of anything posted online, is it always a good thing that students make their errors and missteps in public? Or, to use your metaphor, is it better for students to learn to drive on the freeway or in the parking lot? Currently, in my school students interact digitally on our school LMS (Moodle), which is not public, and yes we emphasize responsible conduct when using this tool. I guess my school fits aspects of all four levels of your rubric.

    And then there’s the question about what social media tools are appropriate places for students and teachers to interact. I think teachers being “Facebook friends” with students is risky. I think “someone else can deal with it” might be the only safe and correct answer when it comes to student use of some social media. That sounds bad, but I think it’s also probably the reality.

  15. Thank you. I came upon this at the exact right time to support our parents, teachers, and students with our new social media efforts. I am so grateful to the Ed leadership community in Twitter.

  16. I enjoyed reading the article, but, you seem to be suggesting that we teach the students to “cover their butts” and not use offensive language on social media. Perhaps, the next level (5) would be guiding students to think about what makes people use ” sexist, derogatory, and just outright offensive” vocabulary, and move on from there.

  17. Thank you for this informative and thought-provoking post. I agree that we must teach students the skills to become responsible digital citizens. As such, we need to start such programmes as children enter school (or preferably at home before starting school) the same way in which we talk about being responsible citizens of a community.

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