Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 12/12.2.2

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Social Media: Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities

"Educators must always be aware that they are held to a high standard for ethical and appropriate behavior in public—and the public sphere now includes cyberspace." Laura Barrett


  • Understand the definitions of rights, responsibilities, and social media
  • Recall examples of popular forms of social media
  • List guidelines to follow when using social media
  • Recognize the controversy with social media


The ideas associated with the rights and responsibilities of teachers are very broad. It could be argued that the definitive guidelines as to what constitutes teachers’ rights and responsibilities are extremely versatile, sometimes controversial, and constantly evolving to keep up with the pace of society and new technology. One of the more recent facets of technology being enjoyed leisurely by a large percentage of the population, including teachers, is social media. From social networking sites, to personal blogs and web sites, to video messaging, and texting, our lives have become an open book in a digital library. In the world of education, what does this mean for educators? In their spare time, can or should they participate in social media sites? Exactly what is appropriate when teachers participate? These questions require answers. This article will elaborate on social media, and its widespread usage, while outlining simple rules that educators can adhere to when utilizing social media sites.


The first step in examining teachers’ rights and responsibilities within the parameters of social media is to understand the meanings of certain key concepts. Consider the following definitions of the words “right” and “responsibility”, and the concept of “social media”.

According to, the definition of the word “right” when used as a noun is: “something to which one has a just claim: as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled”. When used as an adverb the definition of “right” is: “something that one may properly claim as due” (Merriam-Webster, 2009). Rights can be defined by legal boundaries, implied based on ethical precedence, and formed from feelings of entitlement.

In contrast,, defines the word “responsibility” as: 1: the quality or state of being responsible: as a: moral, legal, or mental accountability 2: something for which one is responsible” (Merriam-Webster, 2009). Responsibility is the complete opposite of entitlement because it shifts the focus to an exterior cause and requires that there is “accountability”.

Wikipedia defines the concept of social media as: “primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio” (Wikipedia, 2009). The phrase ‘online social networking’ has become synonymous with social media.

Among some of the more recognized social media sites are Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Plaxo, and LinkedIn. Each site features easy-to-use graphical interfacing software that allows users to build personal profiles that showcase their relationship statuses, schooling history, work history, social tendencies, and digital photographs to name just a few. These various options allow transparency to exist at its best for honest subscribers who aim to utilize the sites for their intended purposes. On the other hand, the usage of social media raises several important questions like “just how much transparency is needed”, “does there exist an age when social media should no longer be used”, or “is there a profession that negates a person’s “right” to participate in social media”?


The global Internet research firm, comScore, which monitors and gauges Internet traffic, released the following numbers reflecting the growth and popularity of some of the more frequented social media web sites. According to these numbers, the popularity of social media is an increasing trend that is bound to intercept younger generations of teachers.

Worldwide Growth Among Selected Social Networking Sites (Unique Visitors)
Social Site:
June 2007
June 2008
% Change
132, 105
Skyrock Network

Source: Social networking explodes worldwide as sites increase their focus on cultural relevance Facebook and Hi5 more than double global visitor bases during past year (August 12, 2008)


As veteran teachers retire and new graduates take theirs places, school systems can be sure that their new hires will have had experience with social media. And a lot of these same new hires will insist upon retaining their memberships to certain sites.

In an article entitled “I Gave Up Myspace for Lent: New Teachers and Social Media Sites”, William Kist explained how he now interviews his pre-service teachers as to their participation in social media sites (Kist, 2008). Kist stated (2008), “the majority of his pre-service teachers are in their early to mid-20s” and that “their responses to his social media inquiries could be grouped into “two major categories: the benefits (and rights) of participating and ways of participating safely” (p. 246). The pre-service teachers that remarked on the benefits and rights of participating in social media had no intentions of stopping. They cited keeping in contact with friends and family as the most important benefit to social media, and they did not feel obligated to give up that “right” whatsoever (Kist, 2008). On the other hand, some respondents cited that they would change their approach to social media by editing their user pages to reflect only certain content and images as a way of “participating safely” (Kist, 2008). In essence, they would be more aware of what they posted and of what they made public in case students, parents, or administrators were to view their pages. They argued, “It’s kind of like if a student called me on my cell phone. I would be upset because that is my personal number, but I am not going to get rid of my cell phone because I am a teacher” (Kist, 2008, p. 246).

Recognizing that new educators will not easily, if at all, give up their rights to social media, what alternatives or advice can be given to them when trying to maintain a responsible image? In an article entitled “Not Just ‘Your Space’ Educators Urged to be Careful on the Internet”, Laura Barrett of the Massachusetts Teachers Association stated, “that educators must always be aware that they are held to a high standard for ethical and appropriate behavior in public—and the public sphere now includes cyberspace” (Barrett, 2007). Barrett went on to explain that a fellow MTA member and new teacher suggested “I would tell them to imagine putting up your MySpace page on open house night and showing it to your parents. Are you embarrassed? Think about that. If a posting or image would make you uncomfortable, take it down” (Barrett, 2007). She explained, “Teachers need to do their homework too”. They should make sure the pages of their friends do not contain inappropriate images of them (Barrett, 2007).


Barrett (2007) listed the Massachusetts Teachers Association advisory guidelines for teachers when using social networking sites. They included:

1. Teachers should not use instant messaging as a means of communicating with students. IM lacks the safeguards of ordinary communication between teacher and student.

2. E-mail communication with students after school should be kept to a minimum and should focus on immediate class-related matters.

3. Always think and write like a teacher. Use your "teacher's voice." Use spell-checking software. Be professional, and be appropriate.

4. Think of an e-mail message as if it is on official school stationery. E-mail to students or to parents is never a private communication.

5. If you use the school district's server to access the Internet, do not assume that you have an "expectation of privacy" in your online activities. This is true whether you access the server at school using a school computer or access it from home using your personal computer.

6. Your school computer and your school district's server have the capacity to track your Internet activities— your "Web tracks" reveal where you have gone and when you went there. (p. 11)

When trying to adhere to these ideas, many additional co-factors must be considered. These include: students’ rights, administrators’ rights, parents’ and guardians’ rights, and state and local laws. It is important to recognize that laws will greatly vary from state-to-state and even county-to-county.


Social media is a technological phenomenon that I do not foresee dying down any time soon. In my opinion, educators must learn to carefully balance their rights and desires to be social media users with their responsibilities to the communities, and especially, the students they serve. School districts should diligently work to adopt policies that will allow teachers to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech (social media) while maintaining their responsibility to professionalism and credibility. In the words of Edison Haines, “With every civil right there has to be a corresponding civil obligation”, and this holds true in the case of educators versus social media.


1) Which of the following words is defined as “primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information”.

A. Blogs

B. iPod

C. Social Media

D. Technology

2) Which of the following are not forms of social media?

A. Blogs

B. Cell phones

C. Facebook

D. MySpace

3) Which of the following scenarios should a teacher consider when communicating with students via social media?

A. Teachers can communicate however they choose with their students.

B. Teachers can rely on emails to students being completely confidential.

C. Teachers should not use instant messaging as a means of communicating with students. IM lacks the safeguards of ordinary communication between teacher and student.

D. Teachers should only contact students by email when discussing non-classroom related matters.

4) In which state did a school district propose the suggested guidelines listed above for teachers when communicating with students via social media?

A. California

B. Florida

C. Massachusetts

D. Virginia

5) During his interviews, Dr. Kist found that his pre-service teachers held which general attitude towards social media?

A. Dr. Kist’s pre-service teachers wanted to “participate safely” when using social media.

B. Dr. Kist's pre-service teachers were likely to give up social media once becoming teachers.

C. None of Dr. Kist's pre-service teachers had heard of social media.

D. Social media was not popular amongst Dr. Kist's pre-service teachers.

Answers: 1 (C), 2 (B), 3 (C), 4 (C), 5 (A)


Barrett, L. (2007). Not just ‘yourspace’ educators urged to be careful on the internet. The Education Digest, 37(June–July 2007), 7.

comScore. Social networking explodes worldwide as sites increase their focus on cultural relevance; Facebook and Hi5 more than double global visitor bases during past year (Data File). Retrieved from

Kist, W. (2008). “I gave up Myspace for Lent”: New teachers and social networking sites. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(3), 245-247.

Responsibility. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from

Right. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from

Social Media. (n.d.) Retrieved February 6, 2009, from the Social Media Wiki: