Social Media Policies

Posted by on Nov 30, 2010

Seems lots of people are working hard these days to establish policies specific to social media and online interactions with staff and students. Specifically, many of these policies are focused on the ways staff are engaging social media both inside and outside the classroom.

My district has recently started exploring the possibility of establishing our own policy, and that drove me to start looking around at what others are doing. What I’ve found has been quite fascinating.

I’m not yet decided on how I think we should approach this exercise, exactly. I do know, however, that I want to make sure we take an approach that will establish policy which will not serve to preclude teachers from using social media. Seems that might prove difficult. As I continue my research, I’m looking for what approach will work best to provide sound guidelines and protections for our students and staff while still affording both the opportunity to actualize the benefits that such media forms present. And I’m left to consider the following items that I’ve come across so far in my work.

We must be mindful of free speech considerations. Though, this is a difficult road to navigate given the complex nature of how the First Amendment has been interpreted for public employees. See Garcetti as an example.

My previous district just passed their social media policy. See section 5:135.  I’m very curious to see how their policy takes shape as they are now working to create their procedures. There are several issues in the policy that I think might prove very difficult to implement. Especially the parent permission piece.

Papillion-La Vista School District entirely prohibits teachers from engaging students on social networks and strongly discourages them from doing the same with parents or guardians.  I’m not sure that’s the way I want to go, but it seems the way many are taking at present. *Update 12-1-10– Please see Josh’s comment below for clarification on Papillion-La Vista School District’s policy. I’m afraid I misrepresented it here, so please read his helpful clarification.

There are also several interesting resources surfacing intended to help institutions with this issue. This site aims to help you quickly build your own policy for your business or district.  And recently, the Common Craft folks released their social media in the workplace video to help people better understand the issues involved.

The American School Board Journal also had an excellent article in its December 2010 edition on the subject. The first portion of the article can be found here (my apologies to those of you who don’t have a subscription to read the rest).

As we move forward and see more and more districts begin to policy social media and electronic communications, I hope we’ll see a movement away from the full restriction and more will allow common sense to prevail. Because it seems to me much of this is an old conversation repackaged into a new container. Yes, social media tools are new. But social isn’t. And we’ve been doing that inside and outside of schools for a very long time now. And in many cases, we already have policy for that. And if we restrict teachers from using social media or electronic communications with students, does that mean we restrict them from going to a student’s game or performance after school? Or from answering a phone call in our classroom from them after hours when they need help with homework? Maybe those are unfair comparisons, but they don’t really seem to be to me.

I’d love any direction, feedback, insights, ideas, examples, etc. that you might have on this issue as I know I could use more help on the topic as we explore our options for addressing concerns with social media and electronic communications in our district.

Thanks to Matt Hamm for the use of the Flickr image.


  1. Kim Wilkens
    December 1, 2010

    I work at a small, private school where I have also struggled with identifying the “lines” that shouldn’t be crossed with social media. One issue that came up pretty quickly for us is that many of us who teach also have kids going to the school, so I didn’t think it would make sense to restrict social media interactions with all students. I have taken a more common sense approach to our AUP. I also view it as a teaching tool to help others better understand the implications of social media because I find this is an area that many still don’t “get”.

    • Ben Grey
      December 1, 2010


      You raise a great point about the implications for school employees who have children at the school. That adds yet another layer of complexity to the issue that really should be addressed in the conversation. I appreciate the feedback.

      And thanks for the link to your AUP. That is extremely helpful as well.


  2. Chad Lehman
    December 1, 2010

    Is it possible to have a fluid document that lays out some general guidelines, but is adapted as needed? You can think you have everything covered and then something pops up that you didn’t anticipate. Should there be different guidelines for elementary staff compared to high school staff? There are so many benefits of social media, it’s unfortunate some schools are locking it down so tightly. I’m glad to hear you aren’t interested in doing that.

  3. Josh
    December 1, 2010

    To clarify our stance on social media interactions in Papillion-La Vista – we only discourage teachers from doing so on their personal social media accounts. We’ve encouraged them to create Facebook groups or pages to use with their classes (example because that’s seems to usually be the biggest culprit). We ask that they not “friend” students in Facebook with their personal account for their own protection. The friending of parents is kind of a case-by-case issue. I brought up that we just moved into the district and a 6th grade teacher at (what will be) my son’s school has been a friend of mine since before I was married, so you can’t restrict that interaction. There are others issues and grey areas, but we are happy with what we put out there. We have had very little complaints from staff once some of the issues were clarified. But I feel the discussion needs/needed to be add for staff to understand the implications of posting material online, just like we need to have that discussion with students.

  4. Anne Truger
    December 1, 2010

    We are struggling with this issue too and we have the added issue of being a special needs district that services ages EC-22. Many of our students are legal adults and we want to teach them to be responsible but also protect our privacy all while keeping in mind confidentiality.

    At this time my district has taken a hands off approach. They refuse to educate the staff or legal adult students about FB because the admin feels that that would be tantamount to endorsing the use of FB. Our HR person would like to say “teachers can’t use FB at all” but legally she can’t .

    I am very frustrated with the whole situation and have been tasked with creating guidelines to take to the board to establish policies, but they won’t listen to me so i don’t know why I am bothering.

    I am interested to see where your district winds up….especially with your insightful leadership : )

  5. Ben Grey
    December 1, 2010

    Chad- That is something I hope we are able to accomplish. I believe good policy addresses behaviors, not tools. If we can focus on that, we can create a policy that is adaptable to the changes that will take place with the specific tools, but will remain relevant with behaviors of engaging the media.

    Josh- I’m very sorry that I misrepresented your policy. I updated the post above, and you are correct that your policy actually encourages staff to utilize social media. The restriction of friending students is still one I’m mulling. Thanks so much for the clarification and link to your policy.

    Anne- The legal council at my last district actually said that districts can restrict employees from using specific social media sites. I challenged her on that assertion, but she held fast. I still don’t think she was correct. I would encourage you to set up guidelines that focus specifically on the behaviors of staff, rather than putting policy in place specific to a tool. This way, it won’t preclude a teacher from using the tools, but will rather focus on the intent and actions taken when utilizing the tools. That’s the approach I’m going to try to take with our work. I’ll keep you updated on our progress.

  6. matt montagne
    December 1, 2010

    Quite possibly one of the best school social media policies I’ve ever seen…written by friend and colleague of mine, Steve Taffee.

    I like the Zappos one as well…I can’t seem to find it, but it is short, sweet and impactful.


  7. Tim
    December 1, 2010

    My situation is that I work with highschool kids at church and one of the main areas of communication is through social media. Most of these kids also happen to be students in our district. They are not my students but how does that translate within a school district policy?

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  10. anna louise
    August 22, 2011

    The middle school students at my son’s private school have been criticizing teachers via Google Buzz, which is a public forum and is then searchable on google. The school as of yet seems to be unaware. In some cases the criticism and remarks are very nasty and threatening. I believe the students would be at risk of being expelled, should the school become aware of it. I would love to know how other schools are dealing with this. And I am trying to sort out how to inform the parents, without it leading to any explusions by the school.

  11. WWW
    October 18, 2011

    My question is in the legal area. If you create a school facebook page that some one likes, and then the person who likes you posts something inappropriate on their page and it is linked back to you through them being on your freind list, what do you do?

  12. Chris Nilsson
    February 12, 2012

    Ben, here is a link to both our (Lamar CISD 27,000 students) policy and the training video we use with staff…hope this helps.


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