Digital citizenship: Are your schools R.E.A.D.Y.?

Teaching online safety strategies is key to ensuring that educators and students leave positive digital footprints
By: | January 9, 2020
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Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts, and he is a featured speaker at FETC.

Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts, and he was a featured speaker at FETC.

Today’s students are using technology to collaborate, learn, research and communicate at school. Blended and personalized learning with digital tools has flooded classrooms, but most teacher-prep programs do not incorporate digital citizenship as a requirement for certification. This leads to districts pushing digital learning into schools where teachers may not have received online safety training.

K-12 administrators must make teachers and students aware of safety concerns, and then empower students with strategies for being good digital citizens. If we don’t teach our students proper digital citizenship, we run the risk of:

  • students sharing personal information
  • students using classroom technology for cyberbullying
  • students searching or sending inappropriate images
  • not preparing our students for the digital world

As education leaders, we must encourage online storytelling through blogging or web production as well as researching and branding great ideas. That encouragement must include teaching students and staff to be thoughtful about what they post because there is no guarantee that the information shared online will ever be removed. Every time they  hit “post” on Twitter, update or add to Facebook, share a photo on Instagram, or even “like” a page, they add to their digital footprint. A digital presence is not easily washed away, so that is why I say it is not just a digital footprint; it is a digital tattoo.

Teaching digital citizenship

Teachers have long understood the importance of teaching and modeling good global citizenship in their classrooms, promoting positive interactions between students, and taking time to focus on social etiquette and how to treat peers with respect. Digital citizenship requires the same daily instruction. In today’s classrooms, it is just as important that students understand what kinds of behaviors are acceptable online, and help them become smart, responsible and respectful online users. And when you teach digital citizenship, you help create a positive school culture that supports safe and responsible technology use.


Read: Why schools should monitor what students do online


K-12 leaders can begin to cultivate a culture of positive online use by following the R.E.A.D.Y. strategy: 

  • R: Remind students to be mindful of what information and opinions they make public. Educate students on the negative aspects of online use.
  • E: Encourage students to step away from their cell phones and/or computer screens when hanging out with friends; offline peer relations are just as important as online ones.
  • A: Accountability is key. Encourage digital accountability by creating a student digital use guide for online use that teaches students how to properly and safely use the internet. Districts may have a responsible use policy, but a classroom reminder always helps.
  • D: Demonstrate and model good digital citizenship to promote a culture of positive online use. Incorporate lessons about the difference between sharing and stealing online content. Content and photos are easily found and it may feel like anything on the internet is up for grabs, but copyright and intellectual property laws protect almost all online content. 
  • Y: Be a culture of “Yes” when it comes to launching digital tools. Too often, a school blocks or locks down everything to be safe. Instead, start teaching positive digital citizenship by opening tools such as YouTube and Twitter, and teaching and modeling the positive uses of those tools.


5 key questions for students (or anyone) to consider when posting content online

  1. What impression are you giving? If this were someone else’s post, what would you think about it? What impression would you have of the person who posted it?
  2. Do I really want this information out there? When you share something online, you turn over control of it. Even if you delete a photo or post, you can’t guarantee that it hasn’t been copied or downloaded by someone else. Don’t forget how easy it is for other people to copy what you share online, change it, and share it without your knowledge.
  3. Am I oversharing? The more you share, the more people learn about you. You can’t control how someone else uses the information.
  4. Would I want someone to share this fact or idea about me? It’s important to consider the impact your post might have on others.
  5. Does it pass the newspaper test? Before you post something online, think: “Would I be happy to see it on the front page of the local newspaper?”


Today, nearly everyone seems to have some type of presence online. Schools should explore ways to help students build a positive digital identity and showcase their skills. Student portfolios, blogs and other online tools provide avenues to assess learning while simultaneously allowing students to develop a positive online presence.


Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts, and he was a featured speaker at FETC.


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