A number of staff members at school are asking about twitter. Typically I have shyed away from social networking and media for official school use. Bit of a minefield I’ve always thought.
I can see some advantages to using twitter. Another free method of contacting pupils, parents and the wider community. Snow days when the phones and website creek under the pressure is just one example, but regular snippets of news reminding people of all the good work we do would be handy I guess.
However I can also see some negatives. A communication system that school have no control over, over thirteen’s only and encouraging another platform for cyber-bullying to name but a few.
In my research I’ve come across various thoughts and snippets of advice on the internet, and thought someone else might find it useful if I wrote it down.
The need for a simple policy and guidance is very clear. Letting staff join twitter and do whatever they like is clearly a recipe for a disaster. Â As ITÂ professionals, we need to protect the pupils, staff, parents and school as well as ourselves. Â The NASUWT says “If your school/college encourages the positive use of social networking sites as part of the educational process, they should provide clear guidance on what is considered to be appropriate contact with students.“Â
But what should thatÂ guidanceÂ say, and how should it be presented?
Long winded policies which cover every single point rarely get read. Â Not only that, they are soon out of date, especially when based on new technologies. Â I think a simple list of perhaps 5-10 sentences could strike the balance, and keep everyone on track.
- Separate your digital life as you do your real life. Â Clearly identify school on your school account and never link your personal account to school.
- Never ‘friend’, ‘follow’ or ‘buddy up’ with pupils or parents on personal accounts.
- Always act as if you are posting to a public forum.
- Never post names or pictures of anyone without express written permission.
- Do not use private or direct messaging on a school account.
- Never post your location.
- Always ensure you log out.
- If in doubt, don’t post.
Point one mentions to never link a private account to your workplace. Â This is good advice from the unions and LEAs. Â Social networking sites give the impression of ‘imagined communities‘ . Â You may think you are only venting at a small group of friends about the rotten day you’ve had, but in reality you are venting at a much much bigger community. Â That post, could be shared with thousands within seconds. Just because your tweets are private, doesn’t stop your confirmed followers retweeting your post! Â Point three expands on this.
Point two is an extension of the first. Â Users need to realise that being friends with, or following school community members from a private account may one day land you in deep water. Â A tipsy picture or irritated post will more likely get you in bother if pupils and parents can easily find it. Â ThisÂ TES surveyÂ suggests that nearly nine percent of teachers who took the survey are social networking ‘friends’ with pupils.
It’s true that the Data Protection Act does allow parents to take pictures of pupils at a sports day, and may even cover them to pop them on their facebook page. Â However, the school is a data handler registered with the ICO. Â They are not alowed to post any personal or sensitive data (including pictures) unless they have express permission for the parent, guardian or pupil themselves. Â Permission must be gained for an image or name to be used, and the individual must be informed of the platforms that image or name may be used on. Â Just because little Johnny is the leading role in the school performance of Hello Dolly for three nights next week, doesn’t mean that you can tweet “Hello Dolly – Wed, Â Thurs & Friday next weeks staring theÂ magnificentÂ little Johnny in 9ABC, tix from main office” without his (technically written) consent. Â Hopefully point 4 covers this issue.
Imagine that Pupil_A has a grudge against Teacher_B. Â Pupil_A has been using twitter for a while, she knows how it works, and can how she can abuse the system. Â Pupil_A comes into school one day and suggests that Teacher_B, has sent an stream of abusive direct messages over twitter. Â However by the time Pupil_A has got to school the messages have dissapeared. Â A closed case surely? Â No proof. Â Unfortunately Pupil_A knows that *if* Teacher_B had sent an abusinve message, but then chosen to delete it, it also deletes Pupil_A’s copy in her inbox. Â It’s now one persons word against another. Â Probably leading to Teacher_A being suspended pending investigation. Â Because the individuals are using external systems, which allows senders to delete the recipients copy of a message, their is no audit trail. Â Having a clear policy on the use of direct or private messages as in point 5, should help (but notÂ irradiate) theseÂ potentialÂ problems.
A committed teacher will often mark work and plan tomorrow lessons from home (or the pub?), and may think a quick tweet about tomorrows lesson subject will get their students doing a bit of research before hand. Â However, if you’ve posted your location within your tweet (very easy to do from most smart phones, and some web browsers) you could give away your address or further information about your private life which you wouldn’t want to get out. Â Point six, Never post your location, covers “In the pub reading up on ox-bow lakes” type tweets as well as “Looking forward to Year 9 Geog tomorrow. Get a head start goo.gl/v9SNEÂ Tweeted fromÂ 50.980361,-0.379962“.
Point seven shouldn’t really need any type of explanation, but how many times have I walked into an unlocked classroom with PCs left logged in, email open and MIS info displaying on a projector? It would be quite inviting for a pupil who found the teacher was still logged into facebook too. Â Just log out. Of everything. Â Please!
In most contracts, policies or terms of conditions there is a catch allÂ clause. Â Point eight is mine. Â If in any doubt, don’t do it. Â Ask some advice. Â If you wouldn’t say it at the front of an assembly, with all the seniorÂ managementÂ team present; don’t say it online.
I expect that my school will tweet before too long, and I’m sure that even with these few rules ofÂ engagement, something will go wrong. Â However at least I can turn round and say I tried!
What do you think of my eight rules for a safer social networking school life?