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Why Teachers Need Digital Citizenship

March 29, 2011

It Has to Begin with Teachers 

Photo by Diane Cordell from Flickr

There is much conversation lately about the dire necessity to educate our students and teach them appropriate digital citizenship.  Many are giving tips and resources for instilling digital citizenship in schools for students. Projects like Digiteen focus solely on that goal for students.  But, what about teachers?  Trying to teach our students without doing it ourselves, first, is just backwards.

If you are a teacher and you are responsible for educating and learning alongside of adolescents, you should absolutely have a FaceBook account. You can not teach appropriate digital citizenship if you can not model it. Period.  Many schools do discourage it and of course, rightfully, discourage “friending” students. But the bottom line is this ~ we can’t teach them if we can’t reach them. The world is changing fast and if you want to understand how your students operate, you’ve got to learn the tools yourself. No one can tell you. It has to be experienced, first-hand.

Students are bored & disengaged often because we are not communicating with them at their level. Mind you, I said “at” and not “on” their level. I am not suggesting we compromise our professionalism, but there are ways to do it. More importantly, there are ways to do it safely.

Part of being a responsible Digital Citizen as a teacher is being in the know. And, no, I do not mean creeping around our students’ FaceBook pages ad blurring the boundaries of our relationships with students. As educators, we have to be using the technology in order to protect ourselves, as well. In today’s litigious society, it is difficult to protect ourselves from liabilities we don’t think of too often.  We can not do this unless we first UNDERSTAND this.  We need to learn it not only to teach our students, but to teach and protect ourselves.

Case in Point

While Vicki Davis recently blogged an example of students friending other students, and/or posing as other students, we also need to look at what can happen on the flip-side.

Just several weeks ago, on another bleak snow day in northeast Pennsylvania, a student decided to create a FaceBook account in my name, using a legitimate photo of me. The person controlling this account continued on throughout the day to friend NUMEROUS students at our school, in my name (for the record, I do not EVER friend an active student). As people accepted the friend requests, my alter “Suzie Nestico” began leaving some pretty lewd and crude messages on others’ FaceBook walls.

I am fortunate to live in a small community with some great students and families. Within two hours (although I would have found it on my own eventually because I GET FaceBook and, I GET FaceBook because I DO FaceBook), I received a call at home from a parent informing me that her child received a friend request from me earlier that day but said student reported to parent that something seemed “not quite right” about the profile. The family provided the link to that profile. Thanks to all of my work with Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay throughout multiple Flat Classroom and Digiteen projects, I took immediate action.

  • I screenshot every page, photo, and comment posted on others’ pages.
  • I reported it to FaceBook immediately before any potential damage worsened.  They removed the profile.
  • I notified my administration to make them aware and the situation was dealt with in timely manner before it caused me any professional liability or headache.
  • I chose not to insist on punishment for the offender – this was a learning opportunity for the student. The act wasn’t malicious and there was no pre-existing adversarial relationship. It was simply an attempt to gain attention and try and be funny on the part of the student.
  • If nothing else, I try and remember we are working with kids, after all. I’m not in this business to punish. I just want my students to learn what is right and what is wrong in their online behaviors.

The Bigger Lesson?

If you are a teacher and you do not routinely check your digital footprint, it can have negative consequences on

Photo by Nick Farr from Flickr

your career.  It is YOUR responsibility, not your school’s.  Learn the tools to model appropriate measures of digital citizenship.  Show your students. Prove it and make it clear that sometimes their idea of fun and games can have serious consequences.  Some students told me today that they deleted their FaceBook accounts because there was just, “too much drama.”  After some discussion, some agreed that yes, it might be better to have the FaceBook account  in order to be aware and learn the appropriate way to deal with unfortunate situations.  Don’t get it backwards.  ENTER IT! You can’t afford to stay out of the virtual world for fear of student issues. You need to be in the know.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. yncanchola permalink
    March 30, 2011 4:11 PM

    I just happened upon your page by accident but really appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing that experience. I really resisted social media for a while until I realized their potential and, more importantly, that they aren’t going anywhere. Some of our students will not even have regular jobs at physical locations in the future. Their work will be done solely within the digital world. They need to be prepared. And if we presume to teach them anything, that should be on the curriculum.

    If you care to, stop by my blog to participate in today’s contest. It’s for teachers ;o)

    • March 30, 2011 9:02 PM

      Well, thank you for accidentally happening upon the page and commenting! It is important we share these experiences with each other in an effort to help others feel comfortable in putting themselves out there. It is a scary experience to open ourselves up in this way and let the world in it, but it has to be done if we truly want to help our students. We need to understand that there will always be some unfortunate fall-outs and bad experiences. But, if we expect them and we are prepared for them, the experience will only serve to better educate us and not send us running scared in the other direction.

      I would love to stop by your blog. Would you mind dropping a link to it? I don’t believe it is linked above. I appreciate the comment!

  2. April 3, 2011 1:42 PM

    Thank you so much for this amazing post! I couldn’t agree with you more. Many teachers see Facebook and Twitter as a waste of time. How can we possibly educate our students if we have no idea what their world is like? We need to model productive use of social networking instead of talking about how harmful it is all the time!

    • April 16, 2011 1:52 PM

      Thank you so much for commenting, Lorri! Apologies ~ end of the quarter and multiple other responsibilities at school have kept me from my blog for much too long. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the #isedchat with you, as well. Yes, it seems as though my mantra, lately, as a co-operating teacher for graduate level teaching candidates is “You can’t teach them if you can’t each them.” And of course, the more we say social networking is harmful, naturally, student curiosities will push them in that direction the more it is ‘forbidden’.

  3. April 3, 2011 2:32 PM

    Excellent insights into such a relevant and critical topic. I particularly enjoyed reading your approach to resolving the “Facebook” incident you were faced with. I am undertaking the Digital Citizenship profile and program at my school right now (as a leadership project) and I am ecstatic at the number of educators that are blogging about digital citizenship right now. Clearly, people are awakening to discover the futility of ignoring the centrality of technology in our schools today.

    In my post, “Web Constructors of Knowledge,” ( I allude to the paramount importance of teaching digital citizenship in our classrooms. Online social media is the next textbook and if we teachers are not learning from it – we will be the ones unprepared for the lessons to come. I would love to hear some of your ideas about my blog when you have a chance. Thanks again for helping us “fight the good fight” for the sake of our students.


    • April 16, 2011 2:02 PM

      Hi, Neil. Thank you so much for your well-constructed comment! Yes, digital citizenship is imperative. Likewise, I just began writing curriculum for a new 21st Century Global Studies elective I will be teaching next year and Unit One is solely about Digital Citizenship from the perspective of how to be a globally aware, informed and competent citizen. While I have taught, for many years, responsible citizenship in the American democracy, the landscape is quickly changing regarding the meaning of an ‘active participatory citizen’ in today’s world.

      You mentioned your undertaking of the Digital Citizenship Program at your school now. Are you Familiar with the Digiteen Project? ( I’ve done this project in the past with students when I taught more middle-school level grades. ( It is a globally collaborative project for students and it does much to help bring participating teachers up to speed on principles of digital citizenship, too. If you’e never seen it, it is certainly worth it to take a look!

      Heading to your blog shortly. Thanks again for commenting!

  4. January 13, 2012 3:34 AM

    Hi Suzie,
    What an awesome post! I agree that teachers learning about digital citizenship is the first step. I finished my pre-service teaching at the end of last year and was astounded that the only social media advice student teachers received were dire warnings about not posting bad stuff online rather than how to use social media to learn and network into a job. I’m thankful I’m teaching in a savvy school next year which encourages learning about social media.



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