Really, what could go wrong when teachers go public on social media?

As technology continues to make the world smaller, social media brings greater transparency to the daily lives of users. With this transparency comes responsibility, especially when thinking about the connection between social media and building a successful career. There are many news stories regarding employees – including teachers – who were terminated after posting information on social media that employers found offensive, irresponsible, or inconsistent with a company or school’s mission. There are a few rules that teachers should keep in mind to ensure acceptable social media behavior.

Lessons in Social Media Terminations

social mediaA number of these firings have been teachers, some of whom, such as Ashley Payne, were simply enjoying their personal vacation time, yet others blatantly complained about their roles as educators. The first rule of responsible social media engagement is to never complain about your job online. Anyone can be watching and it’s not a matter of if an employer will find out, but when. This is not only a rule intended to help you maintain a healthy relationship with school administrators, but also to maintain students’ trust and protect their privacy. If students discover a teacher is complaining about them online, it will affect how they view educators and likely destroy the trust they give to people who are supposed to protect them. Though individual instances of possible inappropriate social media behavior by teachers should each be examined on a case-by-case basis, teachers must remain conscientious while posting.

Keep Your Friends Close

Remember that parental advice from childhood about not talking to strangers? Give it a modern tech-focused spin and don’t connect with random people online. Think back to childhood and all the warnings of stranger danger – then apply them to social media. That person who has reached out with a friend or follow request might be a school district official, job recruiter, or potential future employer.

Social media outlets offer security measures that can be customized according to a user’s needs and should be implemented. According to Ashley Payne’s discussion with CBS News, she had properly utilized Facebook’s privacy settings and was not certain how a complainant had viewed the seemingly innocent vacation pictures that led to her forced resignation from the Georgia high school where she worked. Many social media sites include features that allow users to view their pages as they appear to others and control how different connections can see content – use these regularly.

Know Who Your [Friend’s] Friends Are

social mediaSpeaking of privacy settings, social media sites allow users to choose whether friends of friends are able to view and comment on posts. Just as teachers should not accept friend requests from those who are unknown to them, they also don’t know the friends of their friends. Due to the ability of social media to connect people from around the world, or around town, teachers also don’t know the friends of their friends’ friends. That great picture showing four friends with a bottle of soju in a Korean bar during summer break could reach the wrong eyes. Create a private family and friends group through which only the closest people gain access to your personal moments.

Be a Positive Social Media Celebrity

Rather than becoming intimidated or discouraged by social media, embrace it as a tool to help you connect. Create social media pages that allow access to parents and students, but are also separate from your personal life. Connect with students, parents, and school colleagues only through this page. Promote school and educational events, provide a professional email address that is used only for school-related business, and make assignments available to keep parents updated.

Before creating a teacher’s social media page to stay connected, become familiar with your school and district’s policies. Ask the principal if this type of social media access is allowed. Though connecting with current students and their parents through personal social media accounts is always inadvisable, using this medium after students graduate is a wonderful way to witness the growth of children you nurtured and taught as they enter adulthood.

Social media isn’t all bad. When used responsibly, social media can help teachers and students, and even play a valuable role in education.

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