Digital Safety

This week in my DEL class I took on the task of researching “best digital safety practices” for educators. I felt really vulnerable on this topic. In my five years as a teacher and my 14+ as a consumer and producer on the Internet, I had relatively little knowledge on the subject. ISTE Educator Standard 3 emphasizes digital security highlighting it in indicator 3c and 3d:

3c Mentor students in safe, legal and ethical practices with digital tools and the protection of intellectual rights and property.

3d Model and promote management of personal data and digital identity and protect student data privacy.

Below I synthesized my findings for best digital safety practices for educators. They include:

  1. Explicitly teaching digital safety
  2. Approaching digital safety in a thoughtful manner
  3. Creating digital norms
  4. Building strong relationships
  5. Doing your research (5 places to check to ensure student safety)

Teach Digital Safety

You don’t know what you don’t know. I found it interesting that in the United States, about half of kids have some form of social media by age 12, according to Common Sense Media census report released in 2016. Additionally, research is beginning to debunk some fears around social media (5 reasons you don’t need to worry about kids and social media and 5 myths and truths about kids internet safety). Increase personal use coupled with a rise of educators using social media and other educational apps in school, and 1:1 computer programs leads me to the first and foremost best practice for digital safety: Explicitly teaching digital safety in your classroom and preparing students to become responsible digital citizens. Many platforms have provided curriculum you can use to teach digital safety such as:

Approach Matters

Additionally, when approaching the topic of digital security it may be helpful to have some guidelines. Denise E. Agosto and June Abbas research led them to, sets of guidelines for helping school librarians, teachers, and other concerned adults teach students how to become safer social media users. Here are some they discovered:

Teach Teens about Risk-Benefit Analysis

The authors noted that “the risks of social media use are about equal to the risks of most offline public activities, such as going to the mall.” (p. 3).  Thus, emphasize that we should treat and teach social media or the internet as we would in real life and approach it with a balanced thoughtful perspective.

Offer Hands-On Lab Sessions and Live Demonstrations

Instead of teaching digital security lessons in isolation, try doing so through authentic means, like using a classroom website, app or social media platform your class or students are using. Encourage students to interact and investigate with their devices as well.

Avoid Scare Tactics

Agosto and Abbas state, “Students tend to react negatively to scare tactics and threats and to perceive negative framing as school administrators’ efforts to protect themselves from lawsuits and other possible negative ramifications of students’ risky behaviors.” (p. 3). Instead, frame messages and lessons about digital security in a positive genuine concern.

Use Personal Examples

Speak about personal stories or have guest speakers or teachers from your school share stories with students about experiences or challenges they’ve had in the digital world.

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments

This one reminded me of restorative justice vs. punishment. On my districts Student & Staff Access and Use of Networked Information Resources and Communications the last point that’s listed reads:

“Violation of any of the conditions of use explained in the User Consent Form, Electronic Resources Policy or in these procedures by students could be cause for disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion from school and suspension or revocation of network and computer access privileges.”

I understand the legality reasons behind this statement but Agosto and Abbas remind us that if we are going straight to punishments we may be missing out on valuable teaching opportunities as well as opportunities to promote community healing (p. 4).

Create Digital Norms

As you are teaching digital safety your class can create norms that as a group you agree are important to follow. These norms can be revisited and modeled throughout the year. Some norms I imagine my third graders creating might be:

  • We are respectful to others online
  • We THINK before we post
  • We don’t share personal information online
  • We ask for help when we need it
  • We learn from our mistakes

Build Strong Relationships

This one is simple and yet so important. Students learn best from adults they trust, especially when dealing with sensitive issues such as online privacy and safety. If your librarian or technology teacher is teaching your students digital citizenship or privacy lessons consider coteaching or collaborating with them so you can also support your students on these topics.  

Do Your Research

Research, this is an area I was lacking. It’s true many teachers already have full plates and doing the research does not ease any burden. In fact, I found it fairly difficult to find and understand information pertaining to what is allowed and what is not allowed in my own district. One place to start your research is Beth Miller’s article, Can I use This App or Website for my Class: This article addresses the question of what app or website is appropriate for teachers to use for classroom instruction. The abstract reads:

“While most school districts have safety policies related to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) implemented by means of software and district firewalls, this questions is not an easy question to answer, and it’s answered slightly differently depending on grade levels, student ages, and website/app restrictions.”

Additionally, here are five places to check to ensure student safety online:

1. Check your school or district’s procedures. After about 10 minutes of searching, and finally resorting to google search I was able to find my districts Student & Staff Access and Use of Networked Information Resources and Communications. This document outlined much of what I was searching for and address how to go about making decisions on what is appropriate to use in your classroom. Depending on your district or school the procedures will look different.

2. Check the privacy statements on websites, platforms, apps, or technology you plan to use with your students. Privacy statements are located at the bottom of the website and in the fine print of apps and programs.

3. Check with companies like Clever, IKeepSafe, Common Sense Media, and Google Apps for Education who offer information and reviews about most digital tools. Keep in mind that each organization also has its own agenda. In I Agree but do I Know, Privacy and Student Data, Rigele and Debbie Abilock remind us that, “It’s unlikely that a single system for managing and securing applications can serve as a one-size-fits-all solution for a school’s unique blend of teaching styles, curriculum, culture, and community values.” (p. 18).

4. Check with your librarian, administration, technology TOSA or district for any clarification. I found asking for help or checking with others most reassuring. With confusing lingo and acronyms like those listed below, it can get confusing to whether or not it is a reliable or safe platform. So checking with someone else is always a safe route.

  • ToS- Terms of Service
  • FERPA- Family Educational Rights and Privacy
  • PPRA- Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment
  • Fair Use Doctrine of the United States Copyright Law
  • CIPA- Children’s Internet Protection Act
  • COPPA- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

5. Check with families. Be prepared to articulate the learning benefits and quality of online product choices to your community. Parental consent should be informed consent, not an empty formality (Abilock, 2016, p.18). Many websites like Classroom Dojo, Seesaw, Prodigy (these are some I’ve used) have letters already made that you can tailor and send to parents about the safety and use of their platform. Additionally, it would be even more beneficial to communicate what you are working on in class around digital safety and provide resources that parents can use at home to reinforce or support their children as well.

Finally, I am left with these questions after my research:

  • How can we better support our teachers to teach and guide students to be responsible digital citizens?
  • How can we better inform all teachers about district policies and the importance of digital security?
  • How can we make consent, information, and resources around digital safety available to ALL families through an equity lens?


Abilock, R., & Abilock, D. (2016). I Agree, but Do I Know? Privacy and Student Data. Knowledge Quest, 44(4), 10–21. Retrieved from

Abilock, R., & Abilock, D. (2016). I Agree, but Do I Know? Privacy and Student Data. Knowledge Quest, 44(4), 10–21. Retrieved from

Agosto, D. E., & Abbas, J. (2016). Simple Tips for Helping Students Become Safer, Smarter Social Media Users. Knowledge Quest, 44(4), 42–47. Retrieved from

Common Sense Parent Census Infographic | Common Sense Media. (2016, December 6). Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

ISTE Standards for Educators. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

Knorr, C. (2018, March 14). 5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media. Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

Knorr, C. (2015, January 13). 5 Myths and Truths About Kids’ Internet Safety. Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

Miller, B. (2016). Can I Use This App or Website for My Class? What to Know about Instructing Teachers and Students on Digital Citizenship, Digital Footprints, and Cybersafety. Knowledge Quest, 44(4), 22–29. Retrieved from

The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens 2016 | Common Sense Media. (2016, December 06). Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

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