Often connected educators advise their new-to-the-PLN (personal learning network) colleagues to create a separate Twitter/Instagram/Facebook account for professional purposes. While most are already connected to family and friends on social media, many are not yet using social media as a means to professional learning and growth. Dipping their toes into using social media for professional purposes is less intimidating if they get to start fresh with a brand new online identity, one that is separate from already existing personal accounts.
But this is a myth.
Make no mistake, a separate professional online identity might be a good place to start. It helps rookie connected educators learn the general etiquette and norms around sharing information, asking for feedback, and building a PLN. They can do all of this without feeling as though their personal life is suddenly public.
The purpose of this post is not to discourage that practice.
Crossing a social media threshold
The purpose of this post is to relieve the confusion and stress of those connected educators who find themselves at a threshold:
- They’ve been connected for a little while and have started to build relationships with a few other educators they would not otherwise know. It’s exciting. Those relationships started online, yet are very real. In addition to inspiring one another professionally via social media, they’ve met in person at EdCamps and conferences. They’ve shared about favorite workouts, new recipes, their own children, and other non-professional information that good friends normally share.
- A few of those new professional acquaintances have found them and sent friend/follower requests to personal social media accounts. For many, this means someone from the Twitter PLN has send a friend request on Facebook or follower request on Instagram or Snapchat.
- Every now and then, something that happens on the professional feed – a guest blog post they’ve authored, an opportunity to moderate a Twitter chat, or the amazing work of their students inspired by an idea from someone in their PLN – is so exciting that they can’t help but share it on their personal feed as well.
What now? Is it OK to allow these carefully crafted personal-professional boundaries to be crossed?
There a many of us who have been connected long enough to have blended these worlds. Our social media accounts across the board include family, friends from elementary school through our post-grad, neighborhood friends, colleagues from work, the PLN, and more. Often, people from one category are also part of another. Real life is messy. Creating clean social media categories will also eventually get messy.
Avoid these blunders
So, yes, it is OK for your Facebook and Instagram feeds to become a blend of personal and professional. However, if this prospect makes you uncomfortable, here are a few things to think about:
- If you would not want your professional connections to see what you post in your personal social media feeds, it might be time to reflect on why you post the kinds of information on any feed at all. The truth is that, no matter how tight your privacy settings, anything you post online is potentially discoverable by anyone.
- None of this is meant to suggest that you should/shouldn’t start following or interacting with your students. It is important to pay close attention to your school/district policies and to abide by them. No matter what any policy states, it is possible for your students to find your social media accounts without your knowledge and look at your posts. Keep that in mind every time you tap the publish button. Be a model for healthy positive online behavior at all times.
The advice in this post does not mean that educators have no expectation of privacy. We do. But keep in mind that what is posted online is never private. Don’t let this hold you back, though. As long as you think before you post, feel free to share your moments if success, struggles and lessons learned, and the best resources that have helped you along the way. The more you share, the more you will get back. This is true in both your personal and professional lives, online and in person.
You’ll find more advice on best-practices for educators on social media in The Educator’s Guide to Social Media from ConnectSafely.