What Do You Do When Your Students Follow You on Twitter?

I got my first student (8th grade) following me on Twitter yesterday. I have heard lots of educators discussing students friending them on Facebook, but I do not have a Facebook account so I never thought about it too much. But I have not really heard people discuss students following them on Twitter.

Later in the evening, she sent me an @ message:

hey mr. kaechele.(: im with ________ 🙂 hows your weekend going? im gonna get told not to reply to your tweets on monday arnt i?

I did not reply as I wanted to think about this more. I have students e-mail me and I think nothing of it, and e-mail is private. Twitter is a public conversation so should I be concerned at all about “how it looks” to be communicating with a student on Twitter outside of school? If I see a student at a store the conversation we have is more private than on Twitter, but the location is public (safe).

My first impulse is to not block her and not follow back. But I also need to decide what to do about @ messages to me? I am also quite sure that she will share this with her friends and there will be more students following me soon. It does make me think about my posting a bit also. Not that I post anything questionable, but I want to make sure I do not post about anything related to my classes or my district even in a generic sense.

Technology creates new questions of appropriateness. What do the rest of you do about students following you on Twitter?

38 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Your Students Follow You on Twitter?

  1. Mr. Aspinall

    I also do not have a Facebook account. Last week one of my students (also grade 8) tried to find me on Facebook. No luck.

    As for conversations on twitter, its still a very difficult subject. Some of my colleauges openly email and communicate with students online. They justify it by the public forum in which they communicate and that all conversations are documented. They have not had any problems as of yet, but i’m still weary of it and will not communicate in any manner with my students online.

    I do email their parents though….

  2. Ron Houtman

    You have a great question there and I think we as educators are just starting to grasp what all ‘this’ means. When I say ‘this’, I’m referring to the openness and transparency that the read/write web affords us.

    I have a few of my students from both high school and from the courses I teach at university following me and I just keep one rule in my brain whebever there is conversation: keep it related to school work only.

    That is to say, my personal life connections through FB and such have one account, and my professional life has another – and ne’er the two shall meet.

    Transparency is important in education and learning, and so is ensuring that everything we do is appropriate. I say that because educators are held to a much higher standard of conduct than the general public.

    This whole new connectivism we are seeing seep into school is an unknown right now – but in the future, these many ways of connecting will be the new normal.

    One more way to look at it is this: ‘They’ trust me in a classroom with a closed door with lots of kids, why wouldn’t they trust me online (and in a MUCH more open way)?

  3. Chris Lehmann

    Simply put… our private lives start when we close our laptop. Remember — unless your tweets are protected, your students can see them even if they aren’t following you. I’ve got about 20% of my school following me on twitter, and our school’s twitter network grows every day. Personally, I love it — I feel connected to my kids in so many ways.

  4. Steve Ransom

    @Chris, although at first blush your comment seems harsh, but it is indeed very true. For the most part, there is only a shadow of privacy when online and using the many sharing and communication tools available. The sooner we all realize this (our students included) to quicker we can move on to harness in good ways the power that our voice holds. There is no privacy when in our cars, at the grocery store, or at the mall. Online space is just one more place that his is true. Inasmuch as we need to [minimally] model positive behaviors everywhere else, we also need to do so online. But how much more powerful to actually live (not simply model) powerful and meaningful uses of these new tools for our students.

  5. Anonymous

    I have 2 twitter accounts, one is school-related and the other is personal. I tell students to follow the school one. I don’t follow anyone from that account. I will block students from my personal one, even if it is public. I wouldn’t let students just walk into my home. I feel the same about my tweets.

  6. MissCheska

    I have a Facebook account that has been in use long before I even thought about becoming a teacher– I had to really tighten up my privacy settings, go through albums and clean up anything that may be even remotely thought of as inappropriate. I make sure all of my online content are professional. I make it a point not to add any current students; I’ll add them once they have moved to another school or have graduated. I haven’t had any try to follow my Twitter, but I keep that as strict academic/PD use.

  7. Bob Ruggiero

    I do have a Facebook account, but do not use last name on the profile, and have sort of a code that friends know who I am but students will find it very tough to find me. Have not yet confronted the issue on twitter. I am planning on opening a facebook account just for student use…I think this could be helpful for communication.

  8. T.Calvin

    I have a super-secret Facebook account I don’t share with anyone- that said, three students from last year found it (how I’m not sure…) and I simply ignored their “add” request until they graduated. Problem solved there.

    I only have one twitter account, and I’m not thrilled about the idea of splitting it into two. That said, I’ve always tried to stick to the rule that everything you do online is public, whether you realize or intend it or not. So I write tweets that I wouldn’t be upset for my Mom to read and call it even at that. I’ve blocked current students, but I have a few ex-students I allow to follow.

  9. bcdtech

    I teach in a preK-9 school. I have had one 7th grader follow me and I did block him. Not that my tweets are protected; they’re not, but just to have some sort of boundary, however artificial, between my school life and my private life. There is nothing I say online that I think is private, but these are young kids, not even HS or college. Things can be misinterpreted and I would rather not go there.

  10. Mr. G

    Tough spot. Pretty great chance to model life-long learning, though, right Kax?

    Saying this as someone without any students following me, I wouldn’t follow back and I wouldn’t block. I’d respond to the @message with something like, “Weekend’s going great. Already thinking about school on Monday. See you there.” Then, depending on the student, you can have a f2f conversation there. “I think it’s cool that you found me on Twitter. I want to make sure you understand how I use it, though, so you’re not disappointed. I use it professionally….blah blah.”

    It adds another level of accountability, and authentic accountability is a good thing in my book.

    I don’t know. Weird spot to be in.

  11. MomsL8/Jill

    I have both a Facebook and a Twitter. I do not allow students to follow me at both places. That being said, I never post anything I would ever be ashamed to say in front of my class or in the hallway where students may overhear me. When I have had students follow me, I have hit the block button.

    Now, this is not to say I’m paranoid, but I had one administrator tell me that even EMAILING students in return when they ask questions is putting yourself in a compromising position. This the administrator learned from an Ed. Law class.

    Until education wakes up and learns that embracing and harnessing technology is the way to future learning, it will pass us by, and teachers will forever be afraid of its power.

    I’m on both Twitter and Facebook as a result of my own teenaged kids. That is a part of my private life.

    I hate to have to split up my accounts, but I think that may be where we’re headed if we want to harness this technology and use it in our classroom.

  12. Mrs. R

    I’ve been on Twitter for almost 10 months. I’ve had students (high school) following me since the beginning. I follow them back too. I know so much more about their lives. I use this information to have F2F conversations with them in the classroom. Research shows that students do better in school when they know a teacher who cares about them. We’ve also been able to have conversations about audience. If they know I am one of the people reading their tweets they think more about what they post.
    We need to stop banning/blocking these on-line communications and teach students how to use them responsibly. We teach sex-ed. We need to teach tech-ed too. (And we need to do a much better job with both.)

  13. Taleese

    I allowed one past student still in my school to follow me on Facebook. She requested to add me as a friend, and is the only student to do so, so far. She is female, as am I. I do not say anything on facebook that would be inappropriate to say in church-but I do include both personal and school related items. Plus, this student (currently an 8th grader, I taught her in 6th) uses facebook to recommend books or comment on songs she is learning to play in band or play farmville, so her content is all very appropriate/innocent too.
    I block everyone from my twitter account, but will allow almost anyone to follow me if they find me and request to do so-no student has asked or found me there yet.
    My daughter’s (now a senior) 11th grade math teacher (also female) follows many students on facebook as they do her. She retired this year, but just has general short conversations or encouragement at most.
    As a male, I would be careful not to say anything that could be construed in the wrong way or taken out of context on any platform. Whatever you decide, share your decision with the affected student(s) and tell them the boundaries you have set down-whatever you choose for them to be. That way they can understand and appreciate your position without feeling slighted or hurt. I only mention gender throughout, because I believe males face more scrutiny where level of involvement with students is concerned.

  14. pdxmelinda.com

    After having a very active personal facebook account, I started getting contacted by parents and former students. I didn’t “friend” them but I did write a nice letter back. I left that school after teaching there for eight years and I highly valued the relationships with the families and the neighborhood. In October, I set up a public facebook account and currently have more friends there than I do on my personal one because I’ve been so picky. I plan on keeping the personal site private and yet I never say or post anything I don’t expect to see in the press.

    I love the public professional site because I am able to keep in touch with new photos of the kids and I can post a link to greatsunflower.org on the wall of my parent who is a honeybee advocate. I haven’t had to give up the connection. Now our district has a facebook site where I get more up-to-date information that through the intermal mechanisms. Facebook is blocked and we can’t read it at work.

    My former students who have asked to “friend” me on that site rarely comment but it is fun to see what’s going on in their lives. I like it because it makes my comments public and nothing I say is being said behind closed doors as someone commented on earlier.

    There is another interconnectivity part to this discussion and that has to do with the fact that both facebook accounts connect to my blog. I had rarely posted anything on my blog that would be inappropriate to a grade school student. When I added the public professional facebook account, I quickly cleaned out anything with inappropriate language.

    The important part of this interaction is the decision to make my blog a personal professional reflection. It is currently mostly about education but I can be critical in my philosophy. I’m sure most of my students would check out of a blog like this and yet crafting it this way has been fantastic for me. I’ve become a member of the global community of educators.

    I don’t think I’m making my main point here and it’s that my blog was born and had to be named, essentially. It had been about nothing in particular up to that point.

    After twittering for awhile, I made the same decision as my blog. It would be personal professional so that I could say what I thought. I would be thrilled if my students wanted to know what I thought about education and technology. I’ve taken to blocking non-educators and have very few followers. I like it that way.

    I’ve gone on too long, but was just thinking about this dynamic the other day and it felt good to “reflect” in this space. Thanks.

  15. Lee

    I had some former students on my FB friends list until an incident happened in our school division where a semi-inappropriate photo of a teacher got passed around the community because of ineffective privacy settings. Since then, I have no one from my professional life as a friend on FB.

    I’ve showed my students my FB account, and my Twitter page to demonstrate the difference between private, personal pages, and professional ones. I use my real name on Twitter, and it’s public, but it’s also professional, and as someone else said, I haven’t said anything I’d be ashamed to say in front of my mother.

    That being said, it’s not there for students to follow me on, so I would probably block them and not respond to their direct messages.

    Unfortunately, teachers are held to a higher societal standard than almost any other profession, and the advent of social networking has made that fact all the more real. All we can do is make sure we protect ourselves, as much as that flies in the face of what most of us would like to do.

  16. Anonymous

    What a wonderful discussion! As educators, we are going to have to give a lot of thought to these topics in coming months and years. Technology, as usual, is outrunning policy thus creating ethical dilemnas for those of us respoonsible for directing the learning of students. There seem to be no clear right/wrong answers. We have to be careful and teach our students to do the same. Yet we need to guide them in the use of online communication. On one hand, I use Facebook to communicate with my adults friends and family sharing tidbits of what is going on in my life. Most of these are people outside of school and I love it for that reason. It’s my time away from work. I don’t necessarily want to hide these things from students but I enjoy being able to be “away from them” for awhile. Having students follow me on Twitter or friending me on Facebook feels like I have to be with them 24/7. Someone mentioned 2 separate profiles so that is a possible answer. I do not post or tweet comments that are questionable in content, but I’m not ready to share myself to that extent with my students. I do have many former students as friends on Facebook because they are adults now.

  17. Ian Sands

    I have a Facebook and i use it exclusively for educational purposes. I post photos of the students work, links to site they should visit and videos they should watch.

    I have two Twitter accounts. One i use to talk to my PLN/teacher peeps.

    The other i plan to use with my art history class next semester. I will post assignments, links, quiz reminders etc. I also plan to allow them to tweet in live in during my presentations (we’ll see how that goes).

  18. E. Summers

    It would be foolish to think that because you blocked a “known” student that the same student – or one of their friends – couldn’t turn around and follow you under another name.


    1. Use an alternative twitter name for your personal tweets and/or

    2. Use the tweets as a terrific educational tool for your students. From spelling ie: “arn’t”, to critical thinking skills, to privacy considerations, to “news vs. propaganda vs. gossip vs. editorial opinion” gathering.

    Some of the concerns/issues that you raise of private versus business/professional life apply to everyone.

    Employees need to be aware of potential employer responses – even when off the clock.

    Individuals looking for a position need to be cognizant of what potential employers will think of their Internet comments and representations.

    Students looking to go to college, need to be aware of what admissions officers are reading and interpreting.

    Parents need to be thinking about what their own children (or their friends or their child’s friend’s parents) will be thinking when they read their comments or online musings.

    In a sense, even “private” postings can be copied and rebroadcast publicly. No law against it!

    Can we have an expectation anymore of online privacy. I don’t believe so.

    A lesson for all of us.

  19. Christine Adams

    Hi Michael.
    Interesting discussion. While I understand your concern about middle chool age children, you are teaching by using Web 2.0 tools. Shouldn’t you expect your class to follow you?
    I’m currenting in the MBA program at University of Nevada, Reno. The professor that taught me to utilize social media is by far my favorite mentor. He is authentic and transparent to all of his students. He also uses paperless means of education. I encourage you to take a look at what he has to say about the subject. His website is http://www.bretlsimmons.com and he would be an excellent person for you to have a conversation with about this subject.
    Good luck with your students. My opinion is that you should encourage this behavior and lead by example by showing them how it is done properly. Thanks!

  20. Kathie

    Unequivocally, block your students on Twitter & ignore friend requests on Facebook & Myspace. This will give the message to them (and, more important, to their parents) that you’re their teacher, not their buddy. There are some ferociously protective (& litigious) parents out there. Things can be misinterpreted & spiral out of control quickly. It’s a slippery slope when you start communicating online with students. It’s better to have a chain of information on any of your gadgets (desktop, laptop, Blackberry, iPhone) that proves you haven’t been interacting with anyone underage. Err on the side of being too careful. http://tinyurl.com/cn66a8

  21. Livia

    Am in process of writing an electronic communications policy for our school. All legal docs I’ve read suggest teachers are held to higher standard b/c of their position of authority over their students. It is strongly suggested not to follow current students, past students under 18, or current parents of students (or allow them to follow). They suggest the only electronic communications to individual students or parents go by the school’s official email system.

    If using FB or Twitter (or similar) for teaching, all communications online should go out to all of your students, not just some, and they should be professional in nature.

    Personally, I do not feel these guidelines will change just b/c people are more familiar with the technology. It just makes sense b/c of the special nature of the student-teacher relationship. Also, it is strongly suggested to clean up your personal postings. Teachers are losing jobs over things that were posted at one time. We all know that once out there, you can never fully get it back. And, privacy settings don’t completely insure privacy.

    When I started this study, I did not agree with these guidelines. But, now I do. Please read up on legal recommendations and guidelines others suggest before making this decision.

  22. concretekax

    Wow, you all have given me a lot to think about. Thanks for all of the advice and personal stories.

    I really want to side with those of you who are open and use Twitter with students, but the legal issues scare me. I want to model open learning through my PLN.

    I already use g-mail (with accounts that I help them create with parental permission) with students which seems much more private than Twitter and therefore worse to me.

    I am intrigued by those of you who use multiple twitter accounts for personal and professional life. What prevents a student from following you on your personal account? Do you keep it private or block them?

    I really don’t like splitting myself though. My Twitter account is professional but I also tweet things about my free time and family. It represents all of me, not just teacher me.

    I have always been careful about my on-line content and am not worried about anything that I post. It is more the fear of “avoiding the appearance of an improper relationship.” And I do agree as a male teacher of middle school students that I need to always be careful in this area.

    Unfortunately in our society that loves lawsuits it only takes one angry student or parent to falsely accuse and ruin your reputation. Therefore I will error on the side of caution and not follow students, but I have not decided whether or not to block yet.

    The funny thing is that the student unfollowed me last night after I did not respond to her tweet. I guess maybe she decided herself that it was not the “proper” place to talk to me.

  23. Anonymous

    I don’t believe it is the medium of communication that should be the issue but rather the tone that is used. If communicating with students and applying the appropriate professional tone there should not be any issue. Although a teacher/student bond occurs it should always be based on professionalism and stay within that construct. There are lines that cannot be crossed by the teacher or student.

    I have a Facebook and a Tweeter account and I do my absolute best to recognize that these posts are public information regardless of my settings.

    Looking forward to seeing you all at tweeter or Facebook.


  24. Anonymous

    Well, here I am today with this a similar problem. An administrator called me at home today to tell me that the head administrator for our school had been alerted by parents that I had a twitter feed and that I was tweeting about students. The extent was to ask my PLN for ideas on what to do when my class isn’t doing homework, questions about ADA and accommodations – Students were never named or described but still called on seeking help in a public forum. This in maybe 6 of 2000 tweets. We have a social networking policy and it says only that I cannot engage in a social relationship (FB friend, for example). I don’t want to split my feed either, and I don’t want to go private as colleagues of colleagues have found me on twitter.
    It’s a mine field, one I’m not sure how to navigate. And as such, sorry to be anonymous.

  25. Abraxan

    There was a case in GA recently where a teacher was forced to resign (if I recall correctly) because she posted a picture of herself holding a glass of wine on FaceBook. She also used the “b-word” in a post. The administration thought she was being inappropriate and made her resign. I don’t know if she’s appealed the decision yet or not (I heard about this on Neal Boortz’s radio show a few weeks ago). While I don’t think that school board’s decision was right, I think such actions should be a head’s up to teachers everywhere. Don’t post any pictures or words in public forums like FB, My Space or Twitter that may cause you problems. Even if you keep your posts fairly private, somebody else could repost them and then it’s in public.

  26. Frank Calberg

    @Steve: I think your comment is interesting: “There is no privacy when in our cars, at the grocery store, or at the mall. Online space is just one more place that his is true. Inasmuch as we need to model positive behaviors everywhere else, we also need to do so online.”

    Do you have the opportunity to give one or more examples of what you understand by “positive behaviors”? Thanks very much in advance.

  27. Anonymous

    I URGE you to air on the side of caution. Teachers like many other public figures are held to higher standards, and simple mistakes are not tolerated.

    For instance, at my high school a male teacher let a female student go to her car without a pass. Shortly after he went to the bathroom. Another female student who didn’t like the girl who went to her car made a joke about the teacher and her hooking up. Of course it spread like wildfire and was reported and investigated. He was later cleared, but he was still fired and has not been able to find work as an educator since. So it takes only an accusation not proof to end a career. I know they are two very seperate situations, but simple things as adding students as friends can be very detrimental!

  28. Jane Bozarth

    Re Twitter: Good idea to have both personal and private accounts. Having to protect your updates pretty much ruins the point of tweeting.

    RE Facebook: Interesting how Facebook has changed the concept of “friend”. I also have personal and private accounts on Facebook, but it’s not necessary. Did you know you can create a limited profile and choose who gets to see what? That way your friends can see your posts, links, photos, etc., but your students can’t. (It just looks like you haven’t posted any.)

    RE “positive behaviors”: I use my business Facebook account for posting links to articles, books I’m reading, workshops available to colleagues, that sort of thing. It’s a great tool for, essentially, providing webpage that will feed news into the view of any “friend” who checks into Facebook.

  29. Mary Lou

    I do not accept students as friends on Facebook—but tmy 9th graders still request me. I explain that I am trying to teach them boundaries…and make them realize that they should not want an employer/professor/me seeing them as anything other than intelligent, respectful and ethical. I also have a strict first name, last initial policy when posting on our class blog….the students continuously test this policy. They want to see their names come up in a google search! When applicable I point out stories from the news of people getting into trouble because of social networking sites.

    As for Twitter….I do let them follow me. As you know unless an account is private they can see my tweets anyway. I had a stalker a few years ago—and he started following me, then unfollowed almost immediately. I assume he figured that out. That scares me, but I try not to think about it too much…other than to not give too many personal about myself.

    I also have multiple Twitter accounts, 2 for classes. The one that I use to have students interact with me and each other I have set to private. The other I just use to post HW assignments.

    One time a student had a profile picture that could have been interpreted the wrong way…I pointed it out to her and she immediately changed it. Another student posted a project she had done to Twitter–I pointed out that within a day 28 people had viewed it. She immediately took it down.

    I like to think that by both blocking my students from me on FB and by allowing them on Twitter they are learning the nuances of social networking???

  30. LaShuan

    I think it is okay to communicate back, as long as the conversation is appropriate for the student. If you are talking about things that are not at the students level I would send them a message to let them know that and then block the student. You can also make the twitter private.

    I personally think it is okay for teachers to communicate with the students on facebook and twitter. I think it is okay for the teachers to publically set limits and enforce them…regarding what they will and will not discuss.

    On the other hand if your looking for facebook or twitter as a place to be yourself, laugh and let loose with a few friends then it is probably difficult to do that when you can not separate your work and non work environment.

  31. dateacher

    I teach college students. I have both a Facebook account and a Twitter account. Most of my students are only on Facebook. I have my privacy set on Facebook to where they cannot find me. I also used a personal email account to set up my FB acct versus the professional/college email account by which they contact me. I choose at the end of their time in my college program who to friend and who to not friend as well. That may sound as though I play favorites, but I treat my FB acct as a personal thing not a professional thing therefore I get to choose who to friend. I will not FB friend them until they are no longer my student – no ifs, ands, or buts!

  32. mrarrah

    In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter if my students or even President Obama follows me on Twitter (or even FB). In these days of web 2.0, we as educators must exude a standard of COMMON SENSE in honor of our profession.

  33. Student Loan

    Twitter is one of the best way to help student, get their respective topics, it great and praised those people who developed this twitter kind of social media.

  34. Silverwaver

    Twitter is an opportunity to hold a public discussion. If your student follower has a point that is useful for discussion in public then why not do so? If not, then why not make an appropriate signing off response so that other students may learn from the dialogue?

  35. Mrs. Senechal

    I set up a “teacher” account on facebook. Then students can be my “friend” but not on my personal facebook account. So far, it has been a positive experience – students share memories on when they were in my class, and I can ask how their current school situation is going. I think it’s a chance for me to support and encourage students. And my personal facebook account can still be a social tool.

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