The 3 Rules Of How To Criticise Your Child’s Teacher Online

If you’re reading this post, the chances are you’re a parent, with a child or children who attend school and if you’re not, then you probably know someone who is. If you are a teacher, you may wonder why we are publishing this article - please read on


Online BullyingRarely, these days, does a week go by, when we don’t hear coverage on the news about cases of online bullying. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this phenomenon, tagged as ‘cyberbullying’, is mainly aimed at children, such as the tragic story of 14 year old Megan Evans, from Millford Haven, who, in February 2017, was driven to take her own life, following a consistent campaign of cyber-bullying on the social media site Snapchat.

Such stories are particularly heart breaking when they involve children. Equally concerning though is the increase with which teachers are on the receiving end of similar bullying and abuse and often from the parents of the children they teach.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) receives hundreds of calls every week from teachers who are being ‘cyberbullied’ The majority of such complaints are about parents using websites and social media, in particular, to attack those they entrust with their childrens’ education.

This week, the media has emphasised the problem of inappropriate online posts by singling out some of the top web and social media sites for failing to do enough to prevent illegal and hateful content being shared online.

Criticising Online Has Become Too Easy
We live in a world where anyone can instantly vent their emotions, positive or negative, to an ever-attentive online audience and it seems that the louder we shout the bigger the audience that can be reached. An angry tweet or Facebook post, from a disgruntled parent, aimed at a teacher, could potentially go viral within minutes of being shared, without that teacher being aware that their reputation is being dismantled online while they sleep.

Remember the days of pre-social media and even before email, when you had to write a letter? If you had a complaint, you would invariably put it in writing or visit the school in question, sitting down face-to-face with your son or daughter’s teacher and thrash out your concerns in a reasonably civilised manner. Only the most abrupt and confident of disgruntled parents would resort to name calling or verbal abuse, when sitting in the same room as the person they had issue with. Much of what is posted on social media today would rarely be said if that person was face-to-face with their intended target.

Criticising Teachers Online Affects Your Children
As long ago as 2009, research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) showed that 63% of teachers who had suffered cyberbullying personally said they had received unwelcome emails. Over a quarter had had offensive messages posted about them on social networking sites such as Facebook and 28% described being sent unwelcome text messages.

Online Teacher BullyingIn 2016 More than half of the 1,188 head teachers who replied to a survey by schools management service, The Key, said that parents' online behaviour was a problem. 15% of the heads themselves, mentioned that they had suffered from negative behaviour from parents. More than half of heads surveyed said that parents’ online behaviour was a concern.

The NASUWT teacher’s union has described the online bullying of teachers by parents and pupils as a ‘growing trend’. It’s important to understand how the result of this behaviour can affect the children of those parents who are taking to social media to vent their frustrations. Teachers are experiencing anxiety and depression, paranoia, often having to take anti-depressants. The result of these measures means that teachers are becoming worn down and in some cases, unable to do their jobs to the best of their ability. This of course has a negative impact on the children they teach. The more the parents persist with their online attacks, the less effective an education their children receive. In short, such online abuse is self-defeating in the long run.

How To Criticise A Teacher Online
There is one over-riding rule, when it comes to criticising a teacher online and especially in public and that is DON’T! Hold your horses, count to 10, whatever you do but resist the all too easy temptation to fire off a tweet or a Facebook post. Let’s face it, when you use social media in such a way you are hiding behind your very own Facebook wall. The person your criticism is aimed at cannot defend themselves, at least not adequately. This approach is itself a form of bullying - is that how you want to come across?

The 3 Rules Of How To Criticise Your Child’s Teacher Online

Rule 1. Stop and consider what you want to achieve from your criticism.
Are you angry and your criticism is simply a way to vent your frustration? Aside from momentarily getting the anger off your chest and most likely upsetting the person the criticism is aimed at, what will your comment achieve? Will it improve the situation you’re unhappy with? Most forms of criticism, unless constructive, can be categorised as aggressive behaviour. The definition of aggressive behaviour is a personal attack, verbal or physical on another person. This type of behaviour rarely gains the support of others, directly involved or those who observe the attack (other online viewers).

Rule 2. Consider the impact your criticism may have on your victim.
That late night, emotional tweet or post-beer Facebook post takes only seconds to construct then share but its impact on the person it’s intended for can last a lifetime. One of the earliest and probably most famous ‘victims’ of online abuse, goes back to the administration of former US president Bill Clinton. Monica Lewinski, who Clinton finally admitted to having relations with, talked about the severe suicidal tendencies she experienced in the aftermath of her affair and the torrent of online abuse she received; her mother would stand in the bathroom whilst Lewinski showered, to make sure she didn’t act on her feelings. Why does online humiliation have such an impact though?

Shame and guilt (perceived or real) are 2 of our core emotions, which we’ll do almost anything to avoid experiencing. These emotions mean that we have failed to live up to our own moral standards. One outcome, when we’re criticised publicly, is that we become concerned that others will think we’re a bad person, this can have a devastating impact on some people, creating a spiralling down of their own self-worth. Social media and its potential reach, simply exacerbates this feeling of poor self-worth. Is your criticism worth the potential consequences that it may cause?

Rule 3. Criticise the action not the person
Chances are that it’s rarely the person that you’re unhappy with. More likely, it’s a behaviour or an action you believe they have taken that is the cause of your anger – focus on that action or behaviour only. Teachers are people, sometimes they get things wrong, it’s human nature. To criticise someone’s character (“you are stupid, an idiot, an imbecile) implies that you know this person well enough to suggest these are this person’s permanent character traits. If this were true then it’s unlikely that this person would ever have become qualified as a teacher. Identify the specific behaviour or action you’re unhappy with and if you must criticise online, stick to that issue. When you complain about an action or a behaviour then facts can be assessed to determine whether the criticism is warranted or not. When you attack someone’s character, then it is far more difficult for you or anyone else to justify your actions. It is unsurprising therefore, that people who display regular patterns of aggressive behaviour, have few real friends or supporters.

The University of Oxford’s ‘Practical Ethics’ publication, which draws on research from students and researchers, based at the Philosophy Faculty, also explains an irony in the behaviour of people who attack others online. ‘The people who feel the most insecure about a certain character attribute (e.g., being honest) are also the ones prone to call out other people on it, this is known as self-completion theory. Such public criticism is a symbolic act that achieves self-completion and makes people feel secure about themselves.

There will obviously be occasions when you have legitimate causes for complaint about the quality of the teaching your child is receiving. Teaching is no more a perfect science than any other form of vocation – people make mistakes, they make poor decisions, they are fallible. How about you, can you boast a blemish free life, personally or occupationally?

It is your right to criticise your child’s educators, when you feel the quality of teaching or care falls short of the expected standards. You should do so however, with the intention of improving that quality of education and care. If you criticise simply to put someone else down, then you lower yourself to the level of the playground bully.



We would like to thank Steve Phillip of Linked2Success for this article. Steve will be hosting our Digital Reputation webinar in July - to find out more and register, click here.

If you would like to share your thoughts or experiences with other teachers, please use the comments section below

Written by Steve Phillip on May 04, 2017 09:37

The Troll in the classroom

E-safety for schools is about more than safeguarding the pupils


E-safety Teachers BulliedTeachers are facing a growth of incidents of online abuse, including name-calling, personal insults, sexual smears and even threats of violence from both students and their parents.

In the past, the most abuse that teachers could expect was maybe a bit of cheeky back chat, which would be quickly dealt with, with nothing much more than a stern word and a detention and if parents asked the child why he/she had been detained then their reaction would be along the lines of “Good! I hope you learn your lesson and don’t do it again?”

These days, however, there has been a quantum leap in the attitude to teachers by some parents and, digital technology, along with all the positive opportunities it offers, has provided these parents with a sinister outlet to vent their anger when they find out that their ‘pride–and-joy’ has been reprimanded (nearly always wrongly, in their eyes) for some misdemeanour.

Increasingly, teachers are having to endure online abuse from not only students, but their respective parents as well. This growing abuse includes personal insults, accusations of paedophilia or of having sex with students, as well as racist, sexist and homophobic remarks and threats of violence towards teaching staff.

Incidents include a parent informing a teacher on social media that they were “rubbish” and that she was a “bitch” who attempted to kill their daughter by making her do P.E. and not allowing her to use her inhaler – an accusation that the teacher vehemently denied.

Another member of staff, who was heavily pregnant at the time, received vile comments such as “I hope she gets cancer” and “ugly [expletive] bitch”. She also had an abusive Facebook account established in her name. Other teaching staff described how pictures, which have been taken of them in the classroom, without their knowledge were uploaded and then commented on in a flurry of expletive-laden insults.

Now, some may say, “Well, it’s just kids being mischievous; teachers should have a ‘thick skin’ and be used to this sort of behaviour”. But, in reality, as one teacher experienced, who would put up with being sent sexually explicit abusive messages over a prolonged period of nine months? I would hazard a guess, not many!

But surely, don’t teachers report these instances to their senior management team?

Yes, they do but, as the unions report, in an educational world ruled by league tables and Ofsted ratings, schools and head teachers are reluctant to get involved because they don’t want to annoy parents and risk the reputation of their school.

In a survey conducted by the teaching union, the NASUWT, it reported that 60% of 1500 respondents had suffered abusive comments on social media sites by students and parents in comparison to just 21% in 2014. Worryingly, this rise appeared to be entirely attributable to an increase in the number of parents posting abusive remarks.

As a consequence of this problem, coupled with a myriad of other pressing issues within the teaching profession, research in ‘The Independent’ in early April 2015, reported that around 40% of teachers quit within their first year when the harsh realities of life in the classroom become too much.

The issue of the online abuse of teachers is a very real problem that, if not dealt with urgently, will only get worse and potentially contribute to the growing crisis within the teaching profession, but, if it is to have any chance of success, it will require a cohesive plan and the collaboration of stakeholders from education, Government and the social media industry.

If you would like to share your experience on this topic, please use the comments section below.

Written by Steve Gresty on May 13, 2015 08:36

Teachers Suspended for Misuse of Social Media

Suspended Teachers NewsThe Independent this week reported that the number of teachers being suspended from the profession due to the misuse of social media had doubled in the last year. According to figures from the National College of Training and Leadership, 17% of the disciplinary hearings held last year stemmed from complaints about the use of social media sites.

The Department of Education urge teachers not to ‘friend’ pupils as part of their cyber bullying guidelines – protecting the teacher as well as the pupil. But is it really that simple?

Social networking can be useful as a tool for collaborative planning, sharing resources, providing news and updates to pupils and parents, helping with homework and project assignments, promoting school and class achievement, recording and archiving lesson content for revision and keeping up to date with the latest pedagogy. The format also appeals to students and is easy to access for parents and teachers.

Having clear boundaries when using social media as an educational tool can help protect the pupil, teacher and school. Setting clear usage policies and having school accounts is the first logical step to avoiding potentially damaging situations. However, personal accounts present a different set of risks.

By having a personal social media account, teachers can open themselves up to abuse and sometimes, despite a teacher using social media completely appropriately, things can go wrong. In one case, a teacher was friends with various parents known to them prior to accepting a position with the school. After a disagreement regarding a pupil’s education, one parent decided to copy every conversation, photograph and contact from the teacher’s Facebook profile onto a website which defamed both the school and the teacher. There was nothing remotely inappropriate on the Facebook profile, but the actions of the parent nevertheless caused great distress.

While these cases sometimes reach the news, it’s fair to say that the greater proportion of headlines in relation to teachers and misuse of social media are those where the teacher has deliberately used it to make contact with a pupil. These cases highlight a different problem, not simply that of inappropriate use of social media, but inappropriate behaviour by the teacher. However, with current technology, social media has made the contact easier to establish, and therefore become part of the problem. Simply ‘not friending pupils’ isn’t enough to prevent these situations - those determined to make contact could just find different ways to communicate.

Fortunately, these stories are the exception and while the headlines will continue to appear about social media going wrong, schools shouldn’t steer clear to protect their pupils and staff. There certainly is scope to appeal to students and parents, and also clear benefits are seen when social networking is used as a delivery method for school and teaching based information. An appropriate professional approach and having clear guidelines is the key to creating a responsible social media climate for teachers.

Further information can be found in our 'What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Social Media' report, which is available to all E-safety Support members and can be downloaded from your dashboard. If you are not an E-safety Support member, join free here.

If you have had an experience (good or bad) on social media that you would like to share with other teachers to help them use social media effectively, please use the comments section below.

Written by E-safety Support on November 27, 2014 12:20


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