Tuesday, 21 June 2011

More advice for teachers on Facebook

According to the NASUWT the number of teachers getting into trouble because of communication with students via IT/ mobile phones is on the increase. Unwise use of social networking are at the heart of much of this. This is despite many schools making their position to staff clear about Facebook and social networks. It might be that some (younger?) staff feel they know better than their (older?) school leaders who 'probably aren't on Facebook' anyway and the social networks are just like chatting to students in the yard but it isn't.

These (younger?) staff need to be careful in these assumptions- some of these (older?) school leaders are not so past it; many of them are on Facebook and understand it perfectly- some of them see the mistakes staff are making on their screens in front of them!

Friends and acquaintances are different

Remember in real life we manage our friends and acquaintances sophisticatedly; sharing a lot with very few and very little with a lot- on Facebook there isn't this differentiation. On Facebook a chat or photo shared between adults that gets seen by a student or a parent can end up very messy for your and your school's reputations.

Many a student added as a friend so the teacher can have a quick chat when they are stuck on homework will go through a teacher's profile with a fine tooth comb looking for the exciting pictures from the beach and night club- and then sharing them with many others.

In almost all schools some staff are putting themselves at serious risk professionally.

If you need to communicate electronically with students it must be through your school's systems where they can protect you from false allegations that might arise even from what you see as harmless or even academically helpful social chat. If you want to know if what you are saying is OK then follow this rule of thumb: don't write anything you don't want their parents to read.

Teaching isn't like any job so teachers must also lock down their profiles to manage and protect their online identities and maintain a professional dignity. It is obviously fine to have a home and social life separate to school but by publishing it online and sharing it, perhaps inadvertently with students you teach and their parents, you are risking a lot, not least your reputation as a professional of some standing in your community. Some things are best not put online as a member of a school's staff- however well you try to manage it.

Here's my teacher's guide to using Facebook and similar:

1. Have tight privacy controls on sites like Facebook so students and parents can't see your information

2. Never add current students (that includes the Y11 in the summer term, who are still under the school's care will largely be next year's Y12 if you have a sixth form)

3. Be very wary of adding recently ex-students who, through wall to wall posts and tagging, will effectively link you into many of your current students through their siblings and younger friends

4. Avoid joining open regional networks that anyone else can join to then gain access to your profile and be wary of being tagged in photos- have a chat with non-teacher friends who do this to you.

I'm all for students and teachers meeting in virtual space to help with learning and using the best that web2.0 technology has to offer but the technology is available to do this through a school's web based virtual school, if your school is struggling to achieve this there's a nice book your Headteacher should be buying http://bit.ly/haighysbooks

To check your privacy settings log in to Facebook, click on account in the top right hand corner of the page then privacy settings and then customise to edit them to 'friends only' and then if you need to unfriend a few youngsters who found their way on to your friend list so be it, they probably have so many friends they won't notice you've gone! Better a moment's offence to them now then a potential career damaging mess later on.