Following a really important albeit slightly terrifying input from Derek yesterday, I have been reflecting on the use of social media both within a professional and personal context.
I can see why some teachers may choose to have separate accounts for their personal and professional lives. Using just one account for both could be seen to be risky; if privacy settings are not carefully monitored, you could be allowing others into areas which you may not want on display. This was the case for some unfortunate primary school teachers recently, who enjoyed a night out and, as many of us do, decided to post the photos onto facebook. Sadly, these photos were seen by a student who proceeded to distribute them. Such photos can call into question a teacher’s ‘fitness to teach’ and can also destroy their good reputation among pupils, parents and colleagues; a reputation which may have taken years to build up.
Another aspect that must be considered when using social media is casual comments. When posting a status update intended for friends, it may be easy to speak in a way which could be taken completely differently by an outsider. The GTC Scotland have identified this risk and therefore suggest: “Teachers (therefore) need to be alert to the risk that actions which might, on the face of it, seem quite innocent can be misunderstood and misconstrued by others.”
This article reinforces the idea that professionals should think carefully before posting anything online. The phrase that struck me is “Once it’s out there, it doesn’t come back.”
After reading these articles, I decided to check my own social media pages. I currently use 2 social networking websites: Facebook and Twitter.
When checking my Facebook profile I felt reasonably confident, as I take care in the way that I portray myself and what I post online. I have decided that I do not want pupils or other people to be able to find me and therefore have changed the name on my account. I also used the Privacy Check-up option to ensure that all of my posts are private and that I cannot be tagged in any other posts without my knowledge. I was surprised to find how many aspects of my profile are automatically made to be public unless I specifically go to change them. I found this site to be a useful resource because it points out any aspects that you may not have considered and gives instructions as to how the audience for such posts can be altered.
My Twitter account (@EarlyYearsIdeas) is purely for professional purposes. I started using it while I was working within nurseries as a way to share ideas and good practice with other early years workers. I enjoy using twitter as it has allowed me to become a part of various communities, follow relevant ‘hashtags’ and even host some evening chats. I feel that this is a brilliant way to share, encourage and support others who are working within the education sector and I have been truly inspired by the passionate individuals who I have connected with from around the world. Here is a wonderful blog post about connecting on twitter and one of the discussion evenings that I am regularly involved in.
The media often portrays social media in a very negative way, highlighting the dangers and minimising the benefits. I do believe that children, as well as their families, must be made aware of the potential dangers of online communication however I do not feel that these dangers should cause us to shy away from a potentially engaging and inspiring resource.
I have seen many positive uses of social networking in a professional sense. Numerous classes, schools and youth groups now have their own websites, blogs, facebook pages or twitter feeds in order to communicate with members and share information. Within a school this can be used to inform parents about what the children are learning, allowing an insight where before only a snapshot would have been available at parents evenings or on report cards.
It is clear that schools are beginning to recognise the importance of teaching children about online threats. This article from Herald Scotland introduces the idea of a formal award taught to older children. While I think that this is a step in the right direction, I strongly believe that safe habits and an awareness of dangers should be taught to children from the moment that they begin accessing the internet independently. Younger and younger children are now possessing their own devices meaning that cyber safety is an area which primary teachers must be able to address with confidence.
While conducting my reading, I came across this page with links to social networks for younger children. I think that directing children towards other sites such as these, away from the widely used ones such as facebook and snapchat could help to avoid some of the dangers young people face however the threats will never be completely eradicated.
I believe that, in order to be effective teachers, we cannot keep our heads in the sand when it comes to social networking and the internet. If a pupil is experiencing an issue or is looking for some advice, it is our responsibility to help them and this is only possible if we have a good understanding of what they are going through.