Social media posts can be a landmine for teachers if they don't follow sensible practices.
Tips for School & District Administrators

How Teachers can Avoid the Dark Side of Social Media

By Brian Gatens

Every time we turn around, we’re seeing connective technology and social media upending some part of society. TV stars, athletes and politicians can reach millions of people with a few keystrokes, and millions can use the megaphones of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (and the next popular site that has yet to be invented) to share their world with their friends.

Social media posts can be a landmine for teachers if they don't follow sensible practices.As a teacher, you’re a public figure in the eyes of students and parents. That means you have to see the bright and dark sides to social media. The bright side is that it’s easy to reach many people with information and updates. People regularly check their phones and computers for information, and we’ve grown to expect to have information “pushed” to us electronically.

The dark side, of course, has to do with sharing too much information, being unable to convey much meaning in a single post or 140-character tweet, and the blurring of personal and public lives. These tips can help teachers navigate the highs and lows of social media:

Remember the lack of context

As with most email messages, social media posts mean what they mean at the time when they’re published, and not much else. There’s not much context in a tweet.

A funny, offhand comment may be appropriate and amusing to someone who understands the entire context of a situation, but often that gets lost when viewed in isolation. Always ask yourself what a person will take away from a post or content if that’s the only thing they know about that situation.

Consider people’s perceptions

Social media postings are often understood and interpreted only through the perception of the viewer. This means something hilarious to a small circle of friends or inside the context of a certain social group will land with a thud outside of it.

Keep in mind that the public megaphone of social media means anyone can see what you post. I always recommend that teachers view a post as if they expect to see it reprinted by itself on the cover of the local newspaper.

Approach friends and followers with caution

The mingling of public and private on social media has created many a headache for teachers and administrators. For starters, teachers should never “follow” or subscribe to a student’s social media feeds. This protects you if a student posts inappropriate or questionable content.

On the other hand, students should be welcome to follow your professional social media profiles. Keep all the content on those profiles relevant to your work, avoid politics (unless it’s part of a class assignment) and treat it only as an outward-bound communication tool.

If a parent or student sends a direct message to you on Twitter or comments on Facebook to communicate with you, ask them to email or call you directly. Always ask your administrator about the social media platforms that are allowed and encouraged by your district.

Check your privacy settings

Never expect any privacy in your social media postings. That being understood, you can help yourself by making sure your personal social media pages use the highest security settings.

This includes not letting others tag you in posts or pictures, share your posts or see them publicly. Do your best to wall off your personal page from your public life. And, of course, don’t post anything online that even has the hint of being inappropriate.

Set higher expectations

Teachers, rightfully so, are held to a higher level of behavior expectations. Actions that might seem innocuous in general society — telling off-color jokes, having a few drinks or getting creative in how you present yourself — can cast you and your school in a poor light.

Be sure to always take this into account when you decide to share your life with the entire world.

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