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Teachers on social media – the dos and don’ts

2018 – everyone is online students, teachers and parents

In light of recent news that one in three teachers have reported derogatory comments posted about them on social media from parents and children, the discussion around student and teacher communication practices is becoming increasingly vital. 

The interaction with teachers on social media raises a lot of questions: Is there a need for out-of-school hours communication? If so, what channels should they be using? Do teachers need to be more careful about revealing their identities on social media?

First and foremost, we need to be clear that teachers are just as at risk from cyberbullying as anyone else in a public facing role.

People can be surprised that teachers fall victim to online hate but, as students (and parents) become more and more social media savvy, some can feel empowered to make negative comments about their teachers online under the guise of anonymity.

How to get the right balance

Context rather than content

Every school has a policy, but sometimes it can be difficult to follow especially when social media is such a natural habitat and part of everyday communication. Students in particular see social media as their communication channel of choice and recognise few boundaries in the nature and purpose of messages used on these platforms.

A student with a question about their homework may think they’ll get a quicker response sending you a DM, but anything deemed to be personal (i.e. outside official school channels such as work email addresses for example) takes the conversation away from a safe transparent place; regardless of the topic of conversation, it is the channel that makes it inappropriate. Ideally, your school should have a communication platform that allows appropriate and transparent communication, so students and parents don’t feel the need to approach you on social media, and you have somewhere to drive the conversation towards if they do. 

teachers social media

If you do find yourself being contacted on your social channels, let them know about the school policy and how it would be best to speak to you. That way, they will understand it’s not you being unfriendly, but a matter of protocol.

Fake names and pictures

Although everyone has the right to their own personal profile, if you use your full name and have a photo of you on your profile it will make it easy for students and parents to find you. Consider using an anagram of your name and a scenic photo for your main picture. Check your Facebook settings – you are sometimes searchable by your email address or phone number. Facebook regularly change their algorithms so stay on top of your privacy settings and visibility. It is important that you have a clear separation between your personal and professional digital footprints.  

Your profile

Before you feel overwhelmed at having to watch your every move on social media, most professions now warn of the dangers of showing too much online as being harmful to job applications or promotions. As a teacher you are a source of fascination for students who only ever know you in your teacher role. Your public profile should show minimal information. If there’s nothing to look at, there’s nothing for students to gossip about, and there’s less incentive to add you as a friend.

New social media

When we think of teachers and social media, the problem traditionally lies with Facebook. Not any more. Snapchat, the darling social platform of Generation Z, is a huge no-no when it comes to interacting with students – with messages and images that disappear, it can look suspicious to parents and senior staff that any communication has taken place at all. It’s the same with WhatsApp, with its encrypted messaging system, allowing complete privacy of conversation. Ignore any messages from students on these platforms and bring it back to real-world communication. 

Good communication

Despite the risks, controversy and sensitivities, it’s important to remember the advantages to developing good communication with your students and their parents when done so appropriately. Respecting the feedback loop between parents, students and teachers is not only a good idea, it’s essential to the happy and successful progress of the student’s education – just as long as it’s done in the right way and using the right channels. 

“If you invest the time earlier to create structure and process around communication, planning, and goal-setting, you can prevent missteps before they occur.” Christine Tsai

By Rob Eastment, Head of Learning, Firefly 

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