The 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.