Using Facebook in the Classroom

Whether it is Facebook, MSN Messenger, Bebo, iChat, Skype, YouTube or any other form of social networking – we know our young people are, and will be, using it.

As with all new media, research projects have shown time and again that if young people see a vacant space, they will fill it (and perhaps not always in the most positive way). As the blurring between social and work continues, organisations from universities to work places are using social networks increasingly effectively for work. They often seek for evidence that potential employees or students can be effectively collegiate and understand mutuality – that they can use these new social tools for work and for the workplace.

We need to teach young people the way to use them appropriately, to build their sense of entitlement into a sense of responsibility and to work with them on effective and safe strategies for protection whilst using social media. If we were seeking to develop water safety we wouldn’t keep children away from water until they are 16 and then throw them off the pier – similarly with social media, blindly banning them is inappropriate and equally dangerous.

Conversely, if students see social media used in a positive way to enhance learning, it changes the way they perceive these social spaces, which by osmosis become more educational – who wouldn’t want that?

So, before we can fully embrace social media in the classroom, we need a few simple Dos and Don’ts and some common sense:

Using Facebook safely within the secondary classroom

Facebook has wonderful privacy controls that enable you to manage what anyone can see or cannot see. We are all social actors, but if as a teacher you meet childen in a non educational space – for example shopping – you don’t become a different person (Estelle the Disco Queen) even though that may be how your out-of-school college pals characterise you at the weekend. Nor would you invite children back home for a party. In the supermarket, meeting children, you remain simply as Ms Smith, their teacher.

On-line too, you do not want our young people to see your personal life – to protect both yourself and them! If you follow some simple rules, this different identities can be managed as easily as they are in the supermarket:


  • Build a separate teacher page for your “teacher” presence. Facebook does not let you have Mr or Miss Heppell, they will not allow the page to be accepted. In Juliette’s school, staff use the subject as the firstname (example: History Smith) or missy/mister (example: Missy Heppell)

juliette's home page in FB

  • Keep your teacher and personal page very separate
  • Let students ‘friend’ you as your teacher self. When they ask to be your friend, send a standard reply first to ensure they understand exactly what this means:
    Example: “Thanks for asking to be my friend. Just wanted to remind you this is my teacher page and so the usual rules apply. I’ll make sure you don’t come up in my news feed (as I’m sure you don’t want me to see your conversations with your mates ;-)) so I’ll only see things that I am tagged in. I can’t facebook chat, but post on my wall and we can chat there 🙂 Let me know if this is ok with you, and as long as it is, I’d love to be your FB friend!”)
  • Post pictures of school/lessons/trips – even diagrams you put on the board (snap them with your phone and post them) – it reminds students that you are there, generates a pride in the school and reminds them that this is not a vaccuous space!
  • Build groups for your classes – encourage them to ask about homework and help one another through the discussions and group wall. Identity and belonging are important parts of learning.

homework help request

  • Make sure your class groups are closed groups, so people have to request to join and see the group. It often helps manage the groups if you choose a couple of pupils to give admin responsibility to in the group (but make sure they are pupils who use facebook regularly!)
  • Join groups about the school – it’s a great way to see what students are posting, or to manage the posts. Be aware that prospective teachers may well refer to these before applying for positions at the school!
  • Post positive status updates, praise rich, regularly so that students feel rewarded.
    Example: Missy Heppell is really impressed with 9J, K, L & M today – their work during the enterprise day was totally brilliant! 9P, Q, R & S will have a lot to live up to!


  • Use the status to keep pupils informed of last minute changes in school
    Example: School is closed today because of the snow!
  • Play a couple of simple to run games. It can engage some students who might not engage in school – you’ll be amazed at the pupils positive response – just as schools trips like field courses change relationships positively, so do virtual out-of-school activities.
  • Wish students happy birthday when Facebook reminds you (this is the one time when you can post on their wall!) – it helps them to see that you care!

brithday greetings


  • Don’t FB chat – you can’t save it and therefore you are not protected against any accusations or inaccurate recollections.
  • Don’t ever ‘friend’ students yourself – not even as your “teacher” presence
  • Don’t message pupils (other than your initial friends message – or birthday wishes). If they message you, post something back on their wall. It’s just not sensible private messaging pupils – keep everything public. (although you can message a whole group – for example your form class to say they are wonderful, or to say thankyou – that can be very effective)
  • Don’t look at pupils’ Facebook pictures (apart obviously from their profile picture) – and make it clear that you can’t / won’t ever do that. If you saw something inappropriate you would have to report it and the whole chemistry of the relationship would change – this is not a place for that kind of monitoring.
  • Social networks in school are not places for criticisms, or wingeing. Remember that you are there as your “teacher” presence, with all that implies for leadership and morale.
  • Don’t accept complete ignorance of Facebook as an excuse for dangerous school policies like blanket bans – instead offer to be an action researcher, and try it out for a year
  • Don’t ever think you can refine and evolve these simple notes without talking to your students – they will know of problems and dangers you are unaware of, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t model safe behavior for them.

The whole article was adapted from the following url:


4 thoughts on “Using Facebook in the Classroom

  1. Thank you for this useful info! I use Facebook a lot with my foreign language teenagers, and it has transformed their attitudes towards me and to writing. They now get so much writing practice without even knowing it!

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