||Volume 27, Number 4, March 2015
Stay safe on social media
by Robin Tosczak, Victoria teacher
Popular as a social outlet, beneficial for professional development, and useful teaching tools, social media are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. But while the technology changes rapidly, teachers continue to be held at an extraordinarily high level of conduct both online and offline. So how do we protect ourselves and our students while using social media to network professionally, discover teaching ideas, connect with students, and keep in touch with friends and family? We need to be careful with our web presence, but there’s no need to be confused or to avoid social media altogether out of fear. You just need to know the privacy settings, keep your interactions respectful and professional, and maintain good boundaries.
1. Know the tools
Use the site’s built-in privacy controls to customize your privacy settings. Different sites allow different levels of privacy, so do a little investigating. Ask for help if you’re unsure, and then decide what will work best for you. Some people may want the most restrictive privacy settings. Others may feel comfortable with relaxed privacy settings, knowing they are diligent about what they post. In any event, remember there’s no guarantee that anything stays private online. It’s safest to assume that anything you post could become visible, forwarded, searchable, and impossible to remove from public view. Ask your friends and family to be mindful about posting pictures of you to their social media accounts. What might seem innocuous to them may end up being problematic for a teacher. Learn how to “untag” photos, set approvals for posts about you or tags of you, and don’t be shy about asking for something to be removed.
2. Keep it professional
The discussions, emails, text messages, or pictures you post create a permanent record, so take a moment to ensure they are appropriate before you click send. When interacting online in professional or personal contexts, avoid venting, criticizing, or sharing confidential information about students, parents, colleagues, or administrators. If you’re setting up a social media tool for use with students, make a detailed plan for its use, including the steps you’re taking to protect yourself and the students. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t say or post in class, and remember that casual remarks or jokes can easily be misinterpreted.
3. Maintain boundaries
Teachers are expected to be friendly, but not “friends” with their students. If your social media plan includes “friending” students, set up a specific profile (separate from your personal profile) for this purpose, and keep it professional. Friending a student online can open up a teacher to greater scrutiny from students, parents, and administrators. Only communicate with students in media where a record of your conversation is made. You can also set up a group or fan page to limit students’ access to your personal information. Communicate your boundaries to students. If you plan to communicate electronically with students, consider setting up office hours and/or setting time limits for conversation length.