The latest Sprout Social Index revealed that the field of education ranked fourth for highest volume of inbound engagement. Despite that large number of social messages, education was No. 11 in terms of responsiveness. What’s keeping that field from taking better advantage of all those possibilities for engagement?

Part of it is the nature of the field. Many educators are working with kids, and depending on the age groups of their classes, students may not even be allowed on certain social networks. Also, schools and universities often have strict rules about when and how students and teachers are allowed to interact in non-academic settings.

Even without connecting to students, though, social media offers a fascinating resource to educators. These are four reasons why teachers can and should make use of social media, but they’re just a springboard. A creative educator can find many more ways to use this technology to your advantage in and out of the classroom.

1. Better Understand Your Students

Just as brands want to leverage social media to learn about prospective customers, educators can gain crucial insights into their students by having a social media presence. Even though you may not be connected with any of your students on those networks, you’ll still have your finger on the pulse of what’s hip. Social media plays a big role in pop culture, and understanding what is getting your students excited outside the classroom can help you reach out to them in the classroom.

In addition, if your students are at an age where they will have personal accounts on social networks, the more you know about how those networks function, the better you can prepare them for how to stay safe online. Know basic privacy and security measures so that you can advise your students if they ever have questions.

2. Connect With Current Events

Many social media members use the networks as a resource for current events. Why not do the same for your students? From your own social channels, you can find good news for your students to read, either as class assignments or for outside context.

For teenaged or adult students, social media could also work its way into classroom applications by linking the curriculum to things happening in the present day. A teacher specializing in history, civics, or government could have a huge resource. And no matter what your subject is, this is also a way to get your students thinking critically about how to read information on the web at an early age.

Keep in mind, though, that if you create a social media account for your class on any network, you should be very clear in when and how it can be used. Will your students be allowed to post statuses? Who else will you connect with? While social can be a great resource, check with administrators to make sure they are on board with any of your Hangouts uses. You may even want to keep parents in the loop so that they know what their children are being exposed to online.

3. Hanging Out with Hangouts

Google+ Hangouts can be a vital resource for teachers of all kinds because it can be used with so much flexibility. First, it opens up many options for those students who need one-on-one tutoring. Video chat can connect a student with a qualified expert from anywhere with an Internet connection. This could especially be helpful for classrooms in more remote areas where teacher resources might be limited.

In that vein, it can also add a digital component to in-class speakers. Students can get all the benefits of hearing from an outside expert. Maybe another teacher can share their specialty from afar, or your class can connect with a school in another city, or even country, to learn more about a different geographic region.

Finally, Hangouts can be just as useful in connecting with parents. Teachers could set themselves office hours to have conversations with families, answering their questions or having face-to-face time even with working parents. Just be very clear in conveying when you’ll be available.

4. Professional Development

Finally, one of the best uses of social media for educators has nothing to do with your students. Most industries turn to social as a method for easily sharing news and information related to their fields. Teachers are no different. For instance, the adoption of Common Core standards has been a hot-button topic within education.

Turning to social media can help teachers and administrators have conversations outside their own school districts about the pros and cons of the program. Plus they’ll be able to share blog posts and news articles discussing skills, class planning, and other topics related to their profession.

Many of the top educational leaders and institutions are using social media. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is on Twitter. The American Federation of Teachers has a Facebook Page. LinkedIn introduced a separate feature just for universities. Take advantage of all the many ways you have to learn and improve your work.