I recently provided a PD session for staff at one of our member districts on educators' social media responsibility, and I thought our March newsletter was the perfect opportunity to share out a reminder with others about this critical topic. Because social media is ubiquitous and because our students use it daily (many without having any guidance), educators are often the only ones to share any kind of instruction on how to be a responsible digital citizen and the repercussions that can happen if you don't think before you post.
However, we as adults are not immune to making our own mistakes, and as educators, the stakes are even higher. Fair or not, if you have the job title of educator, you are automatically held to a higher standard in your community. Think about it--you have students watching what you do every single day, so if they discover you're posting inappropriate pictures or getting into vicious arguments online, they're going to think it's okay for them to do so as well.
So let's look at some key points from my presentation to consider when posting anything online:
- Humans are emotional creatures. When you find yourself seething with anger or raging about something someone said or did to you, STEP AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD! Never post when you are highly emotional. It's during those moments when we aren't thinking rationally, and posting out of anger or any other highly charged state could come back to haunt you. Instead, ask yourself if the situation merits a face-to-face conversation with someone. Of course it's easier to hide behind a keyboard and type things you wouldn't normally say to someone's face, but by doing this, you're eliminating eye contact, tone, body language, etc. Removing these from the equation almost guarantees someone will misunderstand/misinterpret your intentions or could enflame the situation even more.
- Don't rant about work on social media. Whether you want to complain about your boss, a colleague, a decision that administration made with which you do not agree, whatever the issue--don't post it on social media. Remember: even if your account is locked down tight and you aren't friends with the colleague about whom you are ranting, those you ARE friends with can always take a screenshot or tell that person exactly what you posted.
- Be familiar with your district's staff social media policy. Your district may prohibit you from friending current students on social media. The policy might also prohibit you from texting with current students without administration approval AND written parental consent. Whatever the case may be, make sure you are following the rules. They are there for a reason.
- Consider separate personal and professional accounts. You can then communicate all school-related information through your professional account and keep your private life separate. You may want to put that boundary in place anyway. Your students really do not need to see what you do during your personal time.
- Free speech can be an issue. Of course you have the right to post whatever you want online. But just remember that your district also has the right to reprimand you if what you post is problematic or causes disruptions/conflict at school. According to a study of 2 U.S. Supreme Court decisions on free speech protection for educators, "If the speech in question interferes with the normal operations of the school or has a detrimental effect on close working relationships (b/t a teacher & principal or principal & supt.), it is less likely to be protected."
- Remember what you post now could affect future job opportunities. More and more businesses research applicants' online presence during the hiring process, and often, people lose out on a job based on the content that comes up in those searches. So this is yet another reason why you should always be thoughtful about the content you post online--videos, pictures, comments, original posts, etc. While nothing may happen from them immediately, someone may find your content later on down the road and take offense to it. Even if you're not the same person you were when you posted it, an employer may not know that and may disqualify you from a position for which you applied. It can and does happen all the time.
- What image am I building of myself with the content I post? It doesn't hurt to frequently review all the content you have shared out on your various accounts and consider the following. If someone only knew you based on the content you post on your Facebook page, for example, what would that person think about you? Just as you try to convey a certain persona in real life, your online persona is just as important (if not more so because of the potential larger number of people with whom you can come in contact online).
I don't share these things with you to scare you away from social media; social media can be a wonderful, powerful tool if used correctly. I share them to remind you of the impact your words and images can have now and potentially far into the future. And don't forget that the things you post can influence your students and their own online behavior. Don't take that lightly.