ISTE Teaching Standard 4: Engaging in the Practice of Social Media at School

A Splash of Colour
A Splash of Colour by Garry Knight licensed under

Teaching digital citizenship is a broad topic that as the name implies, demands that character education be addressed before one even enters the digital space. If a student doesn’t know how to behave responsibly in real life, then doing so online isn’t going to change that. As part of my studies in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am reflecting on ISTE Teaching Standard 4 to promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility in technology by focusing on indicator c. to “promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information.”

Recently some circumstances at my school have pushed me to think further about an educator’s role in digital citizenship. My school has addressed everything from nude pictures shared among students, to YouTube videos posted for the sake of student humiliation, to online threats made to student safety this year. These behaviors occurred both in and out of school, alarming and paralyzing those tasked with responding to them. Disciplinary action was taken in all of the circumstances, but a feeling of resolution remains absent.

Despite the serious acts described above, one situation in particular has stayed with me. A colleague of mine noticed two of her students engaging in off-task behavior while on computers. She used LanSchool to monitor their actions on screen and discovered an inappropriate dialogue between them. She printed out the transcript of the conversation and brought the students down to speak with the principal. While the students were aware that they had violated the school’s acceptable use policy by abusing the use of school devices, they adamantly disagreed that the nature of their conversation was any of the school’s business. This admission forced me to re-evaluate the role educators play in teaching digital citizenship skills. In “3 Quick Tips for Building Digital Citizenship,” Cary (2013) stated that “Schools have a tendency to shy away from actively teaching digital citizenship due to time constraints in the curriculum, concerns about student-teacher interaction online, as well as anxiety over students having ready access to social media (like Facebook and Twitter)” (para. 2). My fellow graduate student @ingersoll_ryan introduced me to the work of Carrie James. In her book Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap she addressed the need for educators to foster conscientious connectivity practices in students (2014). She wrote that most adults are not entering into the digital citizenship conversation and that, as a result, our students are lacking necessary mentorship in their online practice (James, 2014).

Teens and Social Media

As a teacher, I have limited methods of seeing how my students behave online. Engaging with students via social media is inappropriate and beyond the ethical boundaries of student-teacher relations. Therefore, I am left on the side to try to educate them about digital citizenship while awaiting the ultimate, impending mistakes they will make.

Social media is a popular a way for teens to form their online identities. It is also produces stress. Teens are affected by being both responded to and ignored online. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that teens have a “limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure” and “are at some risk as they navigate and experiment with social media” (2008, p. 800). This stress and lack of self-regulation can lead to harmful effects such as sexting, cyberbullying, and depression (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008). A natural part of adolescence is the exploration of the surrounding world and the making of mistakes. Teens seek out this private space in order to achieve explore in peace. So many adults now use Facebook to monitor their son or daughter online, teens are moving onto other forms of social media such as Instagram and SnapChat. The goal should not be to spy on teens, but to offer necessary support in their exploration and provide mentorship during digital dilemmas (James, 2014).

Social Media Apps

Resources, such as those by Common Sense Media, are great ways for educators to implement digital citizenship curriculum. The wealth of resources available can however make it extremely difficult for teachers to find time and space to address all of it. Digital literacy skills such as understanding copyright can fit into research lessons, but skills such as keeping understanding digital footprints, online privacy concerns, and appropriate online relationships don’t fit authentically into a math or social studies curriculum, leaving them to often be overlooked. If we don’t model and promote these skills, we are defaulting to an expectation that our adolescent students should learn these skills on their own. This dilemma is sometimes analogized to teaching teenagers to drive. We don’t hand them keys and hope they learn to drive safely. Instead, we teach them to slowly, through modeling and monitored practice. The same holds true for online communication and socialization. Students need a safe place to experience communication in an online space and practice engaging in digital dilemmas. Unfortunately, a gap exists between our expectations of youth and the mentorship provided by adults and teachers in these skills (James, 2014).

Fear Mongering and the Adolescent Brain

Brain Lobes by Allan Ajifo licensed under
Brain Lobes by Allan Ajifo licensed under

Often, teaching digital citizenship relies heavily on the use of do’s and don’ts. Fear mongering is used to prevent students from poor decision-making. While this is a legitimate concern for young adults, who have grown up fully immersed in a digital world, this limited focus on consequence-oriented education and stories of stranger danger fail to examine the need for personal responsibility and respect for the work of others (James, 2014). In It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, boyd wrote that “Fear mongering does little to help youth develop the ability to productively engage with this reality. As a society, we pay a price for fear mongering and utopian visions that ignore more complex realities” (2014, p. 26). Anecdotes about the job-related consequences of poor online use fails to consider the biology of the teenage brain.Up until recently, the specific science of the teenage brain was unspecified. Now, research has shown that the teenage brain has an undeveloped frontal lobe (Boston Children’s Hospital, 2008). This undeveloped lobe is responsible for common behaviors in teens such as their lack of insight, inability to think through decisions, poor judgments, and increased risk-taking behaviors (Boston Children’s Hospital, 2008). Learning by doing is a widely accepted educational practice. And, if we align the use of social media to Bloom’s Taxonomy, it is clear that students need to evaluate, synthesize, and create in order to learn these skills. This can’t happen unless we engage in the practice with students.


How can educators model and create opportunities for students to practice positive and responsible use of online communication tools?

Providing Opportunities at School

Carey (2013) provided a three point list for building digital citizenship skills, which included modeling appropriate behavior, openly discussing online etiquette, and incorporating social media into lessons. Just as we model how to edit an essay or solve a math problem, modeling is necessary with online skills. It is important to consider whether or not we can teach digital citizenship skills if we are not active digital citizens ourselves. Showcasing our own professional use of online social media may be one of the best ways to empower future digital citizens. Students also need modeling for how to react to negative situations in preparation for these inevitably challenging situations. Incorporating social media opportunities into the classroom gives students the chance to practice appropriate decorum and communication (Crompton, 2014). What does the use of social media in the classroom look like?

Creating a Social Classroom

Whether you use Edmodo or another learning management system (LMS) to share assignments and discussions in an online space, students can use tools such as this to interact and communicate with teachers and students alike. This year, my students used Edmodo to post their thoughts, ask questions of their peers, collaborate on assignments, and initiative conversations about school work in a monitored, secure space. A colleague of mine even recommended providing a separate forum for casual conversation between students that didn’t need to be school-focused. I was apprehensive at first, but I found that students appreciated having a place to communicate and share non-academic content. They were able to see and learn from the interactions of their peers, and, in the event that students made poor choices, I was there to intervene with immediate feedback.


Establishing online communities via blogging is another way to allow students to practice digital citizenship skills.  With tools such as Edublog, students practice sharing their thoughts and providing feedback on the blog postings of their peers. My creative writing class has been engaged in blogging this trimester and has been able to practice providing constructive feedback and encouragement on each other’s stories and screenplays.

Global Collaborative Projects

Global collaborative projects, in which students are given the opportunity to communicate with students beyond their local community, give students the chance to practice considering new perspectives. It also provides students the chance to work in collaborative spaces, such as Google Docs, to produce and innovate with others. Students can also practice establishing norms for appropriate communication.

Connecting with Experts

Lastly, engaging in communication with real world experts is a way for students to build relationships online. Whether via a class Twitter account or with videoconferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangout, students can make connections with experts in a field to answer questions and problem-solve, all while having the opportunity to practice participating in appropriate community and relationship building processes.

boyd wrote that engaging in socialization online helps one to understand what is acceptable and normal behavior through the collective adjustment of behavior, based upon the actions of others (2014). Students learn from one another. All of the opportunities outlined above also give students the chance to build positive reputations and bodies of work online, another important aspect of digital citizenship. Even though opportunities for poor decision-making still exist, digital abstinence will not educate students on how to behave as they grow older. We have to start engaging in this practice together.


This video from ISTE highlights the three major challenges (inevitably of mistakes, staying current with ever-changing technology, and aligning instruction with fellow educators)  to teaching digital citizenship. I am curious what challenges you seen in your classrooms and ways in which you teach the use of social media with your students.


Boston Children’s Hospital. (2008, September 11). The teenage brain part 1. [Video file]. Retrieved from

boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven: Yale University Press. Retrieved from

Carey, J. (2013, October 1). 3 quick tips for building digital citizenship. Edudemic. Retrieved from

Crompton, H. (2014). Know the ISTE standards for teachers: Model digital citizenship. Retrieved from

James, C. (2014). Disconnected: youth, new media, and the ethics gap. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

O’Keefe, G., Clark-Pearson, K., and Council on Communications and Media. (2015). Clinical reports- The impact of social media on children, adolescents and families. American Academy of Pediatrics. 127 (4), 800-804. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “ISTE Teaching Standard 4: Engaging in the Practice of Social Media at School

  1. I find it fascinating that many schools and teachers ban the very tools we need to teach students how to be successful in the world. Thank you for addressing this topic and teaching teachers how to not be afraid of this often taboo subject. Your students are lucky to have you and they are on the path to lifelong success.

  2. Thanks for your informative post on addressing the topic of creating opportunities for practicing online communication- at school. Even though this is a difficult topic to address, students need many opportunities to engage and practice online communication. This is the same idea when we teach character education to students- engaging and practicing to become better citizens. You provided an excellent outline of practices for educators to consider when modeling expectations for students. Your last comment, ” We have to start engaging in this practice together.” is very true. The concern isn’t going away anytime soon and it cannot be ignored, now is the time to address this. Great job, Annie.

  3. Fantastic post, Annie! Not only do you bring up the problem, but your provide well-rounded research–including brain science–and you offers ways forward. You introduction captures the problem so well. You write, “If a student doesn’t know how to behave responsibly in real life, then doing so online isn’t going to change that.” As educators we have an important responsibly to model and provide opportunities for students to learn and practice.

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