The Teacher, The Social Media Site and The Public


Here we are, advancing steadily into 2012. I find it slightly amusing if not frustrating that my first post this year is based on the use of scoial media by teachers. Forgive the title – The Teacher, The Social Media Site and The Public – however I do believe that we are stepping into the fantasy world of mystical beings, talking lions and batlles between good and evil.

Scottish teachers are being warned that their use of social networking sites could put their careers at risk.

For those of you who work with children and young people outwith Scotland, the issues are exactly the same. The media has made a fine example of professionals who have stepped over the line and merged their personal and professional lives together. Easily done when that proverbial line is hardly visible.

This is what the SSTA says:

The Scottish Secondary Teachers Association believes teachers can reveal too much personal information on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The union also fears they could become overly familiar with pupils.

The General Teaching Council of Scotland is preparing new guidelines on social networking sites.

This follows a number of recent cases brought before the GTC’s regulatory body.

Jim Docherty, assistant secretary of the SSTA, told BBC Scotland that teachers should follow his advice: “First thing is don’t bother telling anybody else about your social life. Nobody is interested about your social life and it doesn’t help.

“Secondly, never make any comment about your work, about your employer, about teaching issues in general.

“There is always a possibility it will be misinterpreted.”

And this is what the GTCS says:

The recommended advice for teachers is that the online environment is an extension of your professional responsibility as a teacher. So conduct online must mirror the Standards set out in the GTC Standard for Full Registration and the GTC Scotland’s Code of Professionalism and Conduct (CoPAC). The interesting thing about the CoPAC is that it does not exclude the use of social media with pupils but states that it must be”… professional, appropriate and justified“. For this reason the Disciplinary Sub-Committee

has said that; “…for the avoidance of doubt, there should be absolutely no ambiguity or perceived ambiguity between a teacher’s private life and his/her professional life in electronic communications”.

– John Anderson, Head of Professional Practice, GTC Scotland

In essence, if you have a social media account as a teacher – it should reflect your professional responsibilities as a teaching professional. I wouldn’t expect teachers not to discuss education (in general) so the GTCS shouldn’t either. That’s like asking a politician not to talk about politics. It isn’t going to happen. If you have a personal account, it must be kept completely separate and private. This can be a potential minefield at the best of times if you are unsure of the features available in the programs and you should seek advice from colleagues if you’re not sure.

I for one will continue to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress and the magical wardrobe to Narnia. Of course, with a splash of common sense. Essentially, don’t post anything in the public domain if it is something that you wouldn’t want your mother, spouse or employer to see. Secondly, don’t direct message pupils or add them as friends – be cautious about adding those who have left school as they may have friends on their social site who you still teach.

Lastly – if in doubt, go with your gut instinct.

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