This article is dedicated to my daughter Kayla who brought the need for this article to my attention. She has devoted most of her young life to helping children, particularly those with special needs. I am very proud of her and her devotion to education. Hopefully, this article will help teachers and schools take advantage of social media use. Part of being a successful student, teacher, administrator or citizen is understanding that social media and digital communication are essential parts of our world today. Access to the information made available through social media and the internet can result in a tremendous advantage to students, teachers and their schools.
It can also create new responsibilities of which students, teachers, and administrators should be aware. While social media can help your school to build a thriving online community, there are some areas where we need to take special care to follow standards and practices to protect the children and their teachers from some sticky social situations. These guidelines are ideal for faculty, staff, and administrators who create and administer social media sites however you may need to change them to suit your individual school’s needs. Just remember that this is not legal advice so run this by your lawyer before you finalize your guidelines.
Defining Social Media: Social media is defined as any form of online publication or presence that allows interactive communication. This includes but is not limited to social networks, blogs, photo sharing platforms, Internet websites, Internet forums, and wikis. Examples of social media include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+, Flickr, Edmodo, Schoology but there are many more sites out there. Now that we know what social media is, let’s check out the rules for its use.
The First Rule is to Use Common Sense: The first rule of any social media policy to use common sense. Remember that what you do on social media is a direct reflection of what happens in the school. If an activity is not appropriate to do in front of children or at the school then it should not be posted on social media, period. The rules for activity on social media should be the same as they are for conduct within the school itself. For example if activity on a social networking site is offensive or violates the school or district’s policies, it may result in disciplinary or legal action that same way that it would if you were performing the activity in the school. Remember there are real-world consequences to the things that you publish, so consider your content carefully before you hit that “post” button. If something makes you uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to wait until you can review your school’s guidelines or ask a social media administrator for help in evaluating whether the material is within your school’s official rules. When in doubt “do not post”.
Professional Versus Personal Social Media: The best practice is to use the school’s social media accounts for work-related posts and not to post any work-related content relating to the school on your personal account. If you would like to post school-related materials on your personal account, then ask permission from the person in charge of administering your school’s social media policy.
Creating, Monitoring, Configuring & Administering Social Media Sites: You are required to get a supervisor’s approval before creating a new social media site for the school. If you have already done this without permission be sure to report this to the person in charge of your social media policy. Supervisors or their designated representatives should be the only ones given administrative rights or access, including passwords, to these sites. Make proper use of privacy settings to control access to social media sites so communications reach the intended audience only. In general we recommend that the school’s social media sites should be private groups or protected accounts. We also recommend that default settings for comments on the school’s social media sites be turned off. Remember, if the default setting for comments is turned on, you must monitor the comments on that site on a daily basis. At least two site administrators are recommended. When the administrator is leaving the school a new one should be named in advance so that you ensure a smooth transition.
Posting Information on Students: Do not under any circumstances post personally identifiable student information of any kind without a signed parental release form. This includes posts by other students. If a student does post a picture or other personally identifiable information about themselves or another student on your social media site it should be taken down immediately until you can obtain the needed permissions. You may want to advise students who participate in social media that posting information like names and photographs on the school’s social media sites is not allowed without parent and teacher’s permission.
Logo and titles The name of the school should begin the title of any social network page. The school or district name & logo cannot be used on any social media pages except on official pages sanctioned by the school.
Photo Guidelines: Photos posted on social media sites can really bring them to life. They should however follow some strict guidelines. Remember first and foremost to follow the permissions listed above when considering whether or not to post pictures of students. Also photos posted on social media pages should favorably portray the school and district as well as the person or persons depicted in the photos. Photos of teachers at public events can be posted on the school’s social networking sites, but they must be appropriate. Examples of photos that should be avoided include but are not limited to: photos involving alcohol, nudity or immodest dress, medical and hospital patients, and graphic scenes. Photos taken on occasions that are not public, such as a field event or class, must have a model release form signed by each person in the photo (or the parents in the case of minors).
Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying takes many forms but at its core it is the use of electronic technologies to hurt or harm other people. The first thing to know is to take the threats of cyberbullying very seriously. Sometimes, it may be difficult to draw the line between a harmless joke and one which goes too far and becomes hurtful. When in doubt report the behavior and get help.
Examples of Cyberbullying
Notes for Children on Cyberbullying: If you are being cyberbullied or if you hear about or observe someone else being cyberbullied, report the behavior immediately and get help. You can tell a parent, school staff, another adult family member, or a trusted adult. If no adult is available and you or someone else is in danger, then you can call 911. It is important not to respond to, retaliate to, or forward any harassing, intimidating, or bullying content. Only accept friends on your online social networks that you know. Block and report to parents and the social network anyone that sends you something inappropriate. Immediately “de-friend,” block, or remove people who send inappropriate content. Also be sure to save harassing messages or other questionable materials, as this evidence could be important to show an adult. If the behavior is school-related, print out the messages and provide them to the school when you report the incident.
Key Questions to Consider Before Finalizing Your Policy: It helps to consider your specific case and adjust this social media policy as necessary. Here are a few key questions to ask before you finalize your school’s social media policy.
Review Your Policy at Least Once a Year: Your new policy or guidelines should be a living document and as such need to be reconsidered and revised often. Social media products change rapidly, adding new features and eliminating old ones. Your team needs to look at your policies at least once a year to decide whether they are working and whether any adjustments need to be made.