Do we have the right to say, “I don’t do that”? Perhaps if it were only an individual decision. But educators have accepted responsibility for the growth of the students in their care, and choosing to avoid technology for themselves leaves their students with no choice. — Gerald Aungst
A few years ago, an elementary school principal went on vacation and, as many do, enjoyed a drink. A picture was taken, posted on Facebook, and started a firestorm. Parents questioned her decision-making skills and whether she was demonstrating “appropriate behavior.” She ultimately closed her Facebook account for fear of further repercussions.
Of course, this story isn’t unique. School administrators have been fired and severely reprimanded just for what they’ve posted on social media. Teachers and administrators alike know the potential ramifications of posting on social media—and many forgo it all together.
But totally avoiding social media is not an option for many school administrators. Not only do they have their own lives to live outside of school, but they also have to keep their technological chops in gear. Because most school administrators work with “digital natives,” social media is a great access point to understanding students’ technological needs. This may play a factor in how school administrators communicate with parents, select school administration software, or even brand their own school.
With that said, how school administrators should use social media still remains a point of contention.
Follow these guidelines to make the most of your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platform of your choice.
Protect your most basic information.
It’s terrifying when I see friends’ unlocked Facebook and Twitter profiles, displaying their phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, and intimate personal details to the entire internet. Many people (wrongfully) think that no one will use that personal information. But administrators should know that their profiles will be scrutinized not just by online thieves, but also by parents, students, and their community.
Make sure that your personal information is not shared on your social media site. In fact, if you can avoid it, don’t even use your real name.
Take a guarded approach to what you post.
As Dunklee notes in The Principal’s Quick-Reference Guide to School Law, school administrators are held to a much higher standard than the average citizen. Bear this in mind when selecting which content to share. And remember that if someone retweets or shares your content, people that you didn’t anticipate seeing it just might.
George Couros, the author of popular blogging site “The Principal of Change,” offers a host of tips of what school administrators should share on their sites, from inspirational quotes to educational articles to ideas that show “I am a person first,” like musical interests.
As for what school administrators shouldn’t share, a lot of it is common sense. Avoid policy discussions, especially surrounding education. Stray away from religious, race-driven, or money-focused posts. Essentially, if it wouldn’t be appropriate in polite company, it doesn’t belong on your Instagram.
Establish clear boundaries between yourself and the community.
In Claremont, New Hampshire, a substitute teacher of over thirty years was fired because she refused to unfriend her students on Facebook. While her dismissal was controversial, and the administration eventually offered her her job back, this story should serve as a warning to those who want to engage with students and parents online.
If you’re one for integrating social media into coursework, you’re not alone. For example, the University of Phoenix found that almost half (47%) of K-12 teachers believe that, “participation in social media with their teachers can enhance a student’s educational experience. Despite the perceived benefits, only 17 percent of K-12 teachers encourage their students to connect with them via social media and only 18 percent have integrated it into their classrooms.” Many believe that student-teacher interaction enhances learning.
Should you fall into this camp, I urge you to use a separate social media account that’s made specifically for your school administration software with social media integration (such as Blackbaud). Doing so further establishes that there is a clear boundary between what is personal and what is professional, and thus reduces the chances of your students or their parents snooping around in your personal life.
If you’re a school administrator that has sworn off social media, reconsider. There are ways to have a social media account without threatening your career.
Do you use social media? Are you nervous about sharing your thoughts online? Or have you sworn off social media all together? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Images by Abby Kahler