As estimated, more than half of the world now uses social media (58.4%). Of course, some of these people are teachers. However, with more and more news stories of teachers being fired or disciplined for tweets, status updates, and Instagram photos, they can be (naturally) anxious when using social media.
Here are some cardinal rules educators should know when using social media. Compliance with these rules can help avoid traps on social media.
Check out the guidance on social media
While social media can be an excellent resource for educators, it can also be a potential trap. Before setting up a social media account to use professionally or personally, understand your school's, country's and state's guidelines on employee social media. You may already have rules set by your employer regarding status updates, profile photos, and more.
Consider maintaining a private account
Choose whether you would like your Facebook or Instagram account to remain private. A private account is a better option. By keeping it private, you have the authority to approve anyone who sees your posts. Also, do not forget that if you link your Instagram account to your Twitter or Facebook accounts, students might see individual Instagram messages without having access to your entire profile if connected to Facebook. In the case of Snapchat, students may screen record their "snaps" or save chats.
Avoid connecting with your students directly
Refrain from "befriending" or "following" students on your social media accounts! If possible, implement a rule that students can follow or friend you only after graduating. Facebook allows you to decide whom to add as a friend and automatically allows anyone who attempts to friend you to become a follower of your profile. This means students that attempt to friend you might automatically follow you and see your status updates. Learn how to block these students here. On Twitter, however, you may have to block students from following you.
Think before uploading profile pictures
Make sure you have decent profile pictures. It should never show the use of alcohol, drugs, or anything that can be misconstrued as a gang sign or influence your students. Even if you find locking profile pictures a better option, it is not. It can still appear on search engines.
Avoid affiliating yourself with your school
If you have a private social media account, then prefer not to affiliate yourself with your school. List your employment as a "Teacher at ABC County Schools" or not at all.
Do not share personal pictures or tag other teachers
If you have a social media platform that is open to the public, you should understand that students and parents can access it. Therefore, be sure not to post personal pictures. Sharing personal information is typically not a good idea. Tagging fellow teachers is a "no!no!" too. However, if others want to share something, let them.
Do not use social media as a storytelling tool
It is not unusual to find the social media platform filled with complaints from people about their work or personal life. So make sure you do not use the platform to tell stories that do not resonate well with you or your profession. More importantly, in the current environment, teachers face a public relations crisis, and public schools are under attack by politicians seeking to privatize education. The only story coming from us should be to take care of the children, love our trade, and work hard.
Avoid posting during school hours
When in school, your duty as a teacher is to prepare lessons, teach and grade, and not indulge in other activities such as posting updates on social media platforms. Also, parents paying their wards fees to get the proper schooling, finding you spending time taking selfies, promoting your blogs, or tweeting about something may send wrong messages and compel them to complain against you. Prefer socializing during social hours. Work during work hours.
Avoid Table Talk Topics
When it comes to controversial topics, think of social media as an enormous feast, taking place in public. Even if you put a disclaimer saying "my own opinions," people will judge you even if they are your colleagues, whether your colleagues or students or their parents, for every touchy, snarky, hot-button personal opinion that you express. Keep personal topics for face-to-face conversations to avoid uninvited troubles.
Do not post students' photos
Whether your account is public or private, teachers should be cautious when posting students' photos if the parents have not signed the school's communication documents. Ask for parental approval before uploading pictures on any social media platform, even though it is to showcase student work and document course activities or educational content. In addition to parental permission, make sure it is OK with the students.
Social media is not going anywhere; it is here to stay. It is a powerful tool for educators to transform their professional practice or blow up in your face. However, before getting started, consider just lurking and listening for a while and make sure you do not land up to some uninvited traps that may hamper your reputation and professional life.
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