Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
In this compulsive age of one-click logins, left and right ‘swipes’ and selfie auto-sharing, it can be easy to let our guard down and cross the line between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate when using social media.
This danger is further compounded by the ‘blurry’ lines that exist in the first place. For example:
- Concordia University, Portland, advises teachers to “not get too chatty with students on their personal profile”, implying that teachers can become ‘friends’ with students on social media
- The General Teaching Council for Scotland advises that teachers should “only use official channels of communication e.g. GLOW and work e-mail addresses and be aware of and comply with employer’s policies and guidance”. This implies that teachers should never connect with parents or students via personal social media accounts.
I’m now in my 13th year of teaching. I taught before social media exploded in popularity, and afterwards. In this article, I will aim to give all teachers a very clear and direct guide as to how social media should be used.
Some pills will be hard to swallow.
Rule #1: Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want a parent, boss or student to see
- Foul language and/or any expletives (be especially careful with tweets)
- Photographs showing behaviors that we encourage our students not to undertake: this includes that we-fie with the 20 empty beer-bottles in the background, binge drinking and smoking.
- Inappropriate dress
If you have old photos containing any of the above on any social-media platform, then stop reading this article and delete them now.
Inappropriate social media posts can damage a teacher’s reputation in a number of subtle ways. Just take a look at these shocking examples:
- A teacher from California was reprimanded by her school district in 2014 for a number of tweets, including one that read “I already wanna stab some kids. Is that bad? 19 more days.” Moral of the story – don’t use social media to vent your frustrations!
- In 2016 a teacher from Baltimore was disciplined for posting a picture of her students on Instagram with the caption. “Field day with my little [expletives] that I somehow still love.” The teacher probably thought that she was posting a light-hearted joke, but the school leaders and parents didn’t see it that way.
- A PE teacher from Wales was given a formal reprimand in 2017 for exchanging Instagram messages with two students which contained “swear words and ‘winky faces'”.
The consequences of posting anything inappropriate on social media, whether privately or publicly, are very serious for teachers.
Another factor to consider is that the three examples I have just mentioned are not even the tip of the iceberg. A quick web-search is all you need to find hundreds and hundreds of stories just like these.
Future employers, parents, students – they can all search online and find this information. One silly mistake with social media can be enough to totally crush a teacher’s reputation, forever.
Rule #2: Never, ever add students or parents as ‘friends’
The stories just mentioned above should be enough to convince any teacher that it is simply far too risky to add any parent or student as a ‘friend’ on social media.
Use official school channels for communication only.
Rule #3: Be careful when adding colleagues on social media
You may think your colleagues are your friends, but don’t forget – they work with you.
If you post anything on social media that may offend or upset a colleague, directly or indirectly, then you run the risk of being reported to senior management.
That’s a risk that’s too high in my opinion. Colleagues are colleagues – communicate with them via professional channels or setup professional social media accounts that are purposefully designed for clean and appropriate networking.
Rule #4: Never post pictures of your students
Take photos with your school’s permission only, and share them with the school to share on their own social media channels if they wish. Delete the pictures after taking them.
You see, when sharing pictures of students you expose yourself to the issue of permission. Do you have parental permission to publish the nice we-fie on Instagram? Do you have each students’ permission?
Clearly not, so don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
Here’s a link to a great article by We Are Teachers entitled ‘Should Teachers Accept Facebook Requests from Parents?’. Well-worth a read!
Teachers’ lives can be dramatically and devastatingly affected by the incorrect use of social media. What advice would you give to a Newly Qualified Teacher who may not be aware of these issues?
Please comment below.