Chapter 5: Manners Matter

“Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy.”     – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Perception can be reality.  What was the intended tone of your text, email, message? What was perceived by that electronic message is what matters most. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right?

Standards of Behavior

Ok, how many times have you:

a. Fired off an email in anger?

b. Received an email you were sure was angry in tone?

As the adults (and the professionals) at school, we should not express our most base of emotions in this format and we should train our students to follow the same advice.  It is imaginable the English Department would insist that text can convey emotion, but it can be also argued that the format cannot accurately express base emotions or the nuances of humans expression.

Any author of an email, blog, tweet, facebook post, etc is responsible for the impact (effect) of their text or image (cause). What the message was intended to be may be very different than the message received, but does that excuse the creator of message for offending the reader?


On the flip side, it is most helpful if the reader of a sent message can try to avoid assigning emotion to the message if it is unclear.  Sometimes, we all receive messages that seem laden with sub-text and hidden messages.  However, if it is unclear what the sender means, then  should we first assume no harm? Should we seek clarification, and/or encourage a face-to-face meeting or speak over the phone.  Often we avoid personal interactions when there could be uncomfortable situations, but these seem to be the very situations where digital communication tools fail us.  While, it is good advice for adults, it is essential advice to give to our students.

Our students are much less likely to use or check email.  They see it as a work tool, and they find little entertainment in the medium.  Instead, we are more likely to see them post school experiences on Twitter or Instagram (Facebook is fading in popularity amongst the middle and high school age groups).  When they do, we have to remind them that they are acting as agents of the school-especially if using a school hashtag like #pdschargers or an international or class trip hashtag.  This is news to some students.  Understand the school encourages parents to follow school hashtags to keep up with school trips.  Students need to understand we consider such social media “real estate” as “our property.”

Our handbooks offer policies for when, where, and how students can use mobile devices on campus. It is important that we spend time reviewing these policies each year with our students, because each day brings new situations and scenarios regarding the use of technology. Our community needs to Digital_Citizenship_Resource_Guideencourage students to help be a part of building a set of expectations that guide our behavior. Adults are not immune to digital distraction, nor do we have all the answers to etiquette and behavioral norms questions.

For example, if you ask students if it is ok to end a relationship via text they are pretty unanimous in their agreement that it is NOT ok. If you ask them why, they often clearly express that ending a relationship is far too personal or emotional to do via text. The interesting follow up question is “do you ever do anything personal or emotional over text?”. There are few clear answers, but as we look to create guidelines and rules for home and school, we need to understand better how our students are already using their tools today to shape the way they use them tomorrow.

Finally, as adults and especially educators, it is imperative you understand that everything you do online is under scrutiny. We are models for our students. Understand that your activity online creates a poignant narrative about who you are.  Have you been intentional how you project about who you are?

While we have yet to publish a policy about social medial behavior for employees, you have been advised each fall on what is considered inappropriate behavior in such settings.  Please understand that in the eyes of our students, parents and the law, teachers and those staff that work with children are held to a higher standard than those in other professions. Think hard and pause before you post.


Take Action

What would you do?

Help your students make better decisions related to online etiquette by walking them through the following scenarios.

  • You receive an email from a friend that was meant for someone else.
  • You are out sick and need to email your teacher to learn more about what happen in class. Write the email together.
  • Your friend sends you an email. The last line is insulting, but there is a smiley face icon after that line.
  • Is it ok to forward a message that was sent directly to just you to another friend?
  • Friend posts something online that could hurt their reputation, but they don’t want to take it down. They think it is funny.
  • Have the students create or share other scenarios and let them discuss possible solutions and outcomes. Use the digital compass to guide conversation.

How do you take action? Share your ideas here. 

Lesson Plans, Resources, & More

Grades K-2: Writing Good Emails

Students learn how to communicate effectively by email, taking into account the purpose and audience of their message, and the tone they want to convey.

Grades 3-5: Rings of Responsibility

Students explore what it means to be responsible to and respectful of their offline and online communities as a way to learn how to be good digital citizens.

Grades 3-5: The Power of Words

Students consider that they may get online messages from other kids that can make them feel angry, hurt, sad, or fearful. Students identify actions that will make them Upstanders in the face of cyberbullying.

Grades 6-8: Chart It

Students will learn to assess people’s intentions and the impact of their words and actions, both positive and negative, in online environments.

Grades 9-12: Breaking Down Hate Speech

Students learn the definition of hate speech and understand how it affects individuals, groups, and communities.

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