One of the most difficult lines for a teacher to walk is between work and social media. It can be used for school but encouraging students onto social media has a whole host of safeguarding issues. Teachers naturally want a personal presence on the internet, it is as much a part of modern life as owning a mobile phone.
So, what is the best advice for teachers about Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the seemingly daily addition to the social media world. Here is some broad guidance, though in no way exhaustive:
- Read your school’s social media policy. This should be part of the safeguarding policy of the school and will tell you what is expected of professional behaviour of teachers. The bottom line will be a demand that you a) maintain behaviour expected of a teacher whilst online and b) do not make connections online with any student from the school under the age of 18. This is the same for 11 – 16 schools, then it is for the 11 – 18 schools.
- It is possible for you to be disciplined in school if your behaviour online is reported as being inappropriate. Having students below the age of 18 on your account could be interpreted as grooming. This is a serious business and although there are issues of freedom of speech, the safety of children will always trump your arguments.
- When setting up your personal account use your first name and maybe your middle name, but avoid using your surname. Equally, do not state where you work on your personal account. This makes it difficult for students to find you online. Your school is also likely monitoring staff social media and so will make you invisible online to your workplace.
- Make sure your security settings include friends only, or equivalent across the social media platforms. ‘Friends of friends’ settings means your posts may inadvertently appear on students’ pages. This could compromise your professionalism in the classroom and could lead to your photographs being shared amongst students.
- Using social media as a learning tool is powerful. Students are more willing to write online than in any other format. However, it is best to do this through the official school site, twitter account and if possible, Facebook page. Setting up an account in your name, even if it is your professional name, sets up hazy lines between personal and professional. It is frustrating, the potential appears endless. However, there need to be clean lines between teachers’ homes and the professional workplace.
There is need for an educator code of ethics. There needs to be clarity for professionals, so that the potential of the internet can be fully manifest. At the moment, teachers are too vulnerable and therefore need to be more cautious than common sense dictates – as often common sense doesn’t play apart in sensitive issues such as child safety and the perception of what teachers should be.