A Guide on Writing a Social Media Policy For School
Social media and online communication opportunities are important and can have a positive impact on all elements of the teaching and learning process, the school and learning community.
This resource will cover some thoughts on things to consider when writing a social media policy for your school.
We see teachers and other professionals creating networks to share ideas and resources, children and young people crowd source ideas and information. They seek and receive feedback on their work while parents engage more fully with teachers, their children and the school. Furthermore, even if we feel too old or too busy to engage with social media ourselves then we, as teachers, must still be able to model appropriate, safe and positive use of social technology for our learners and the wider learning community.
An important element in the policy development process is seeking the feedback and engagement of teachers, parents, carers and students. It is also important to understand that policies are more likely to be adhered to if everyone has the opportunity to share in the policy development process.
Policies should be organic and responsive. With technology and the associated opportunities for communication developing at an almost startling rate, it is important that policies, practices and procedures are reviewed at regular intervals.
The Bottom Line
Let's start with some simple truths:
- Nothing is private
- Nothing can be deleted
OK, you've skipped over that bit so here it is again:
- Nothing is private
- Nothing can be deleted
Schools need responsive, effective and consistent pastoral and discipline systems in place to ensure that positive and appropriate actions are taken when incidents take place.
What this means
Every comment, image, video, audio, online purchase and interaction we make will inform how friends, enemies, strangers, colleagues, employers, parents, spouses, families and children judge us.
Regardless of how unfair or unjust we may feel about this, the fact remains that the teacher who posts pictures online, that they wouldn't show their Headteacher or the children in their class, will undoubtedly be causing potential problems for themselves, and in all probability their colleagues. Who wants to work in a school where a colleague did That Thing?
There will be some who will see social media policies as an unreasonable intrusion into their private or off duty lives and we do need to ensure we keep a reasonable, considered perspective in this area.
This 'unreasonable intrusion' was present long before the recent and rapid advances in technology. When we became teachers we acknowledged that we were expected to model appropriate behaviour at all times, not simply between 9am and 5pm in school. The public have a right to expect the highest possible standards of behaviour from public servants and especially those with a responsibility for the care of children.
People expect teachers, and adults who work with young people, to act as role models and this means we have always felt a need to be guarded in our public behaviour. There may be 50,000 football fans in the stadium pointing and shouting abuse at the referee, but the teachers in that crowd need to ensure they don't appear on television, on Match of the Day – or even BBC News.
Most of us understand that we need to avoid putting ourselves in situations which will potentially reflect badly on ourselves, our colleagues or our school. Similarly, online behaviour can have the same negative or positive impact on how we and our schools are perceived, even though we may protest that we are merely behaving in the same way as other non-education professionals.
The policy for learners
We need to (and be seen to) manage the risks to the best of our ability.
We cannot eliminate all the risks.
Bad things happen.
You may wish to create a risk assessment pro forma to ensure a consistent approach to the use of social media.
This assessment may include some of the following:
- Are there adequate privacy options available?
- Can comments be moderated prior to publishing?
- Is the service generally recognised as trusted and reliable?
- Have parents/carers been notified of the intended use of the social media within their child's teaching?
- Does the service have responsive reporting systems in place?
- Has the educational value of the activity been shared with colleagues, learners and parents/carers?
- Is there a clearly identified pastoral/disciplinary process in place in the event of an incident?
Where social media is used with clearly identified aims and outcomes we can see that there can be clear benefits for our students. We know that writing for a real audience adds focus and purpose to a child's work and the opportunity for the wider school community, parents and the entire world to comment and feedback is something that we should encourage at every stage.
It is also true that we need to ensure that every publication to the world wide web created by learners must reflect themselves and the school in the most positive light. It is also true that there are many unpleasant people in the world and there will be some who relish the opportunity to provide negative and hurtful feedback on learners' work. We need to use this as an opportunity to provide our learners with strategies to deal with this.
A school blogging policy will try to ensure that negative comments do not reach the children in our care by only choosing tools where the teacher can moderate comments prior to becoming live.
The policy for adults
This divides into two parts; how teachers and adults who work with young people, manage social media as part of their role at work, and how they manage their personal online activity.
Using Social Media with Students and Within the Context of Work
Where adults wish to use social media as part of the teaching and learning process this must have clear education objectives and intended outcomes.
It is important that senior leadership/line managers are fully aware of the planned activity. By ensuring this transparency we can help manage concerns and perhaps objections raised by parents, colleagues and learners; ' Mr X always lets the kids use Facebook in his lessons it's dangerous/pointless/unfair'.
A key benefit of social media for schools is the opportunity to communicate directly with parents and carers, and this immediacy can help ensure they have the right information at the right time.
'School closed tomorrow due to strike action' is clear and concise.
'School closed due to pointless and futile militant action by some members of our teaching staff' is clearly going to cause some frustration across the learning community.
For this reason it is worth ensuring that all public communications should be read and agreed by at least one other colleague prior to posting on Facebook, school website or micro blogging networks such as Twitter.
It will be important to help students understand that using social media such as Facebook for learning is not an opportunity for them to engage in recreational use. If use of social media isn't managed effectively then it will soon be viewed by students and colleagues as an opportunity for time wasting and non-productive activity.
Micro blogging services such as Twitter, Google+, Digg, Stumbleupon etc. are a great source of links and information. To make the most of the many resources colleagues and children find online they should make use of bookmarking services such as Delicious and Diigo. These links can be saved and shared with colleagues within school and the wider education communities here and in other countries.
Personal Use of Social Media by Adults Who Work With Children and Young People
It is not easy to maintain a 24/7 presence online that doesn't run a risk of causing embarrassment or in extreme cases lead to disciplinary procedures – yet this is what we must strive to achieve.
Whether you're an active user of Facebook or an occasional contributor to online discussions your comments, observations, images, videos, reflections can get you and your organisation into trouble.
Sometimes we can be swept along with the popular tide of comment, and voice opinions that perhaps we should keep to ourselves – or at least offline. The recent riots and disturbances in our cities are a good example of where some teachers online have forgotten they are role models for a moment.
"It's My Opinion I Can Say What I Like"
It is understandable that feelings will run high in these circumstances, yet the teachers who comment on Twitter and Facebook saying; 'Lock them up and throw away the key' have perhaps not thought through how this message may be at odds with the work their school is doing to engage with a community. Some members of the community may share some of the sense of alienation and frustration shown by the rioters.
We are all entitled to our opinion but where this is voiced publicly and may cause conflict and antagonism for our colleagues at school we do perhaps need to think more carefully about how we represent ourselves online.
Similarly, it is reasonable that teachers may wish to express their disagreement with Government education policy but the ramifications of their abrupt and passionate comments may not be appreciated by colleagues who are engaging with the Government on your behalf to provide a more measured response to 'The Cuts' etc.
It is important therefore to try to make it clear that comments of individuals are not representative of the school or organisation. That said, it is not enough to simply add this as a by line to your blog or bio and think that will excuse any comment you wish to make.
For most of us who work in the public sector (though we can see that high standards should apply to all members of society) it is advisable to stay well clear of rumours or topics that can be associated with 'public anger'. We should also try to ensure that we are neither seen to endorse or criticise products and services. If a teacher (or individual) writes a blog making passionate and negative comments about a leading brand they should not be surprised if the they find themselves in a litigation process.
Even though you have a disclaimer on your blog or website, be prepared to face disciplinary proceedings if your actions have shown your colleagues or school in a bad light.
Teachers do need to understand that some elements of their work is confidential. This means that details of mergers, staff changes, terms of employment, procurement, business partnerships and personal information relating to colleagues and children, must not be divulged on the social web. It is also the case that insurance companies are increasingly less likely to pay for equipment stolen from schools if there is evidence that teachers excitedly posted on blogs and micro sites about the new technology they were looking forward to using.
This has been discussed many times so let's keep this simple;
Do not add parents, carers or children as friends or personal contacts in any social media.
Do not engage in any discussion online outside of formal channels.
Ensure all interaction is witnessed and approved by another, preferably senior colleague.
In the case of Facebook, schools should create a Facebook account or page where all interaction is controlled and professional.
Parents and Carers
Parents may feel that it is quicker or easier to raise concerns about the progress of their child, behaviour concerns etc. via a Facebook wall or message board but should be encouraged to use the channels best suited to professional and confidential discussion
Similarly, where parents and carers are invited to comment on children's online work, guidance should be provided to help ensure all comments are positive and supportive. It is not acceptable for anyone to post negative comments about any child on social media associated with the school.
The opportunities for social media to enhance and extend teaching and learning should be embraced – and managed. By ensuring that all members of the learning community understand the benefits of social media, and manage the risks through clear policies and procedures, we can help ensure that responsible digital citizenship is a reality in our learning communities.
Kent's guidance on social media in educational settings is excellent.