Imagine a world without social media. No likes. No status updates. No notifications. Those of us born before 2000 can remember life before social media, but I’m not sure how many of us would actually want to go back to those days for any length of time, especially when we start to weigh the advantages and disadvantages that social media platforms have given us in both our personal and professional lives.

Those born after 2000, of course, have grown up in a world where social media is as commonplace as eating, sleeping, and breathing. They are now beginning to enter a workplace that has laid the groundwork for social media to be the foundation for how future generations will interact and engage with each other in our global marketplace.

We are at a unique time in our human existence — one where teachers and students are learning, together, how to navigate this brave, new digital world. How can teachers make sense of all of this so that they can do right by their students?

In this 2019 ASCD article, digital learning specialist Devorah Heitner outlines what should go into a social media survival kit that every student needs. Heitner writes, “I often hear from educators that social media and digital games are interfering with the culture of their classrooms and schools. They wish they could keep these immersive apps and games and their resulting conflicts contained—and away from the learning environment. My suggestion: Bring it in. By directly addressing the challenges as well as the benefits technology might pose, teachers provide more opportunities for learning, increase trust, and improve classroom harmony.”

When it comes to the inclusion of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, Heitner recommends that students be provided the opportunity to discuss technology issues, which can have several advantages. “Students have a chance to articulate an issue, increase their conflict resolution skills, understand that they are less alone, and help educators better understand the world they are navigating.”

Heitner suggests the following discussion topics: Peers who share pictures of a classmate without permission; someone who texts too frequently; the annoyances of group texts; and students who see an event on social media they weren't invited to. From these discussions, students can then talk through various case studies that relate directly to some of the social conflict situations they may find themselves in.

Examples include when students take pictures of each other without consent or when they copy and change their peers’ work on Google Drive. When these types of conflict situations arise, teachers can have students discuss questions such as these: In what situations should students involve parents or teachers? When should they handle it on their own? What might make situations easier to resolve? How can we avoid a repeat or similar situation? Would it be better to resolve this conflict in person or via email or text?

Although this Getting Smart article by Kritsen Hicks dates back to 2014, it still offers relevant strategies that educators can employ when helping students foster and develop their own social media skills. Hicks offers three tips for success:

1. Make social media group participation part of the assignments.

Depending on the age or skill level, students could create a separate, professional social media account on Twitter, LinkedIn, or another similar site. Doing this allows students at an early age the opportunity to start to “build their brand” and define their professional digital footprint, a mark that will follow them throughout their professional career.

2. Treat Twitter (and its cohorts) like a resource.

According to recent statistics, Twitter estimates that it has an average of 330 million active users on its platform. LinkedIn has an average of 260 million. Instagram has a jaw-dropping 1 billion active monthly users. Then of course there is the juggernaut known as Facebook, with a staggering 2.45 billion active monthly users.

Without a doubt, our global society is deeply connected by way of social media — both personally, and professionally. It is amazing how down-to-earth and accessible even the most famous and influential people are in various fields, and students can learn a lot about them by following them and interacting with them and others who follow them on these various social media sites.

3. Teach the tools.

There is always opportunity for students to learn more about social media and perhaps teach their peers (and their teachers, too)! When the opportunity arises, teachers are encouraged to have this knowledge shared to all in the class. It could be as simple as explaining how to schedule tweets or learning how to filter and search by a specific topic on social media.

Knowing how to navigate and use social media tools is almost as important as learning how to interact and live in a social media world.

As we enter a new decade, the need for social media skills is not decreasing. Teachers must stay at the forefront of this topic, and schools must provide support, encouragement, and professional development to help teachers navigate the tricky waters that lie ahead.