4 ways to help students become good digital citizens

For the majority of tweens and teens, technology and social media play a crucial role in their social lives in and outside of school. As educators, it is our job to teach them how to use technology responsibly and be upstanding digital citizens. Here are a few ways to bring digital citizenship to the forefront of your school culture:  

Infuse digital citizenship into your character education program

Do you already have a character education program you use with your students? If so, ensure that your discussions and lessons about being kind and respectful include interactions on social media and over text. Use concrete examples of appropriate and inappropriate interactions both in person and online. (Check out Common Sense Media, which has a lot of great free resources and lessons for educators of all levels.) Be sure to weave digital citizenship into all character education and not just for one or two lessons. 

Start talking about digital footprints

If you aren’t already teaching your students about digital footprints, it is time to start! Each year there are more and more examples of students being denied college admissions due to their online activity. Teaching students at a young age about their digital footprint can help prevent these issues later in life. 

At a middle school I worked at, we had posters made for every classroom reminding students of their digital footprint and the impact it has on their future. Consider having a contest for students to design the posters for you–their involvement will promote ownership and buy-in, and their work will serve as daily reminders for your student body. 

Teach students about plagiarism

With so much information at our fingertips, it is easy for students to copy and paste someone else’s work and turn it in as their own. Being a good digital citizen means being honest and respecting others, which is why it is important to provide explicit instruction about plagiarism and set clear expectations for students. Reinforce your instruction by having students work on the IXL skill “Identify Plagiarism,” which challenges them to look at a source and a student text and determine if the student plagiarized. 

Educate parents

The world of apps and social media can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate for some parents, and educating them is a crucial step in creating a positive and safe culture for students. Use your existing channels of communication with parents to share important information regarding apps and online safety, whether that is through your school newsletter or at an existing parent association meeting. As a principal, I would hold “Coffee with the Principal” and share the latest trends we were seeing at school. I invited our school resource officer and we would support parents in learning about the apps students were using and steps they could take to keep their students safe. 

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