Your right to tweet

“It’s called social media for a reason – it’s social – not professional!”

They were the words of a headteacher lecturing a group of newly qualified teachers recently on the wicked ways of social media.  I don’t subscribe to that view. I refuse to be negative about social media and teacher professionalism. In fact, I advocate its use as a professional tool.

Twitter is a great way to make connections with like-minded teachers to share ideas and resources. A LinkedIn profile enables you to advertise your experience and credentials while networking with other professionals.  Blogging provides opportunities to express your professional ideas and opinions, even contentiously if you wish. Facebook creates opportunities to socialise with people and express your personality through interest groups, photos and other apps.

However, I do agree that the fundamental concepts, rules and principles of social media are just that – social. In fact, it’s my principle advice to use the ethos of ‘real-life’ social behaviour as an analogy for understanding how social media works, and how to manage its opportunities and risks.

Like the real world, your on-line personality is your responsibility. As with any group you engage with, you need to be aware that your personality and character are on display and will be judged by others – whether or not they have a right to judge – your behaviour is crucial to how you are perceived. So if your self-perception isn’t equal to how others perceive you, you could be heading for trouble.

A couple of years ago, a student teacher confided in me that she had once worked as a lingerie model for an established online retailer. Now she was worried how it might affect her career if the site were to be viewed by parents and pupils.

How interesting that a perfectly innocent, legal and amoral activity undertaken in a ‘past life’ can take on a new significance when someone becomes a teacher. The anxious student was worrying about the moral judgements of other people – a variable we cannot control. We all have a right to private behaviour that is legal and consenting, even if it might be embarrassing were our maiden-aunt were to witness it. Even as teachers we should be able to be true to ourselves.

On the one hand we must resist others being intrusive and scare-mongering. On the other, we must take responsibility, as professionals, to manage our reputation without naïveté and not to wilfully put our own, the school’s or indeed our profession’s reputation in jeopardy.

What happens to professional people when they lose their reputation?  They are likely to lose trust, authority and the respect their clients, their colleagues and the public – usually with catastrophic and irredeemable effect. As professional people, our reputation is our greatest asset.

Make it clear to family and friends that they may be compromising us by ‘tagging’ embarrassing photos or referring to us in explicit ways. Parents, students and employers should know better than to intrude upon the legitimate privacy of our social lives outside of school.  And if they don’t, it’s part of our responsibility to manage this – and tell them – nicely of course. Hopefully without resorting to a super-injunction!

  1. determine your purpose and be transparent – do you want to meet people, share interests, network with other teachers?  Use keywords in your profile to advertise who you are: “I’m a new teacher living in London, addicted to chocolate, my ipad and Arsenal FC!” Add a photo of yourself.
  2. source your crowd – find like-minded people whose interests you are likely to share – and whom you increasingly trust. If not… cull them. It’s quality, not size that matters.
  3. be socially diverse and courteous – asking questions is charming, so is answering them. Share ideas and resources. Give credit where it’s due. ‘Listen’ as much as ‘talk’. Be diplomatic. Link your networks together.
  4.  be diligent about protecting passwords and security locks. Cancel auto log-ins and ‘remember me’ functions.
  5. maintain ‘private’ profiles or set them to allow only ‘invited’ or ‘approved contacts’ to your networks, then keep your contacts under review and cull the ‘drift-wood’.
  6. ‘manage’ your friends and family by asking them not to ‘tag’ or refer to you in ways that will compromise you in your role as a teacher.
  7. ‘pause before you post’ – ask: “could this be easily misconstrued?”
  8. the school rules? Your employers have a right to expect that networking isn’t a distraction from your job or a reputational risk.
  9. in the appropriate context, model good social media behaviour to your students in the way you would model your real-life relationships – with mutual respect, due consideration for privacy and personal boundaries.
  10. don’t be a silent victim – report abuse to the social network provider and criminal behaviour to the police.

oh yes… and if you happen to combine lingerie modelling with a teaching career, my advice is to keep your “lingerie modelling social media profile” entirely separate from your “teacher” one. Make sure they don’t “know” each other.

Good Luck..!

PS. I have got one  piece of advice if you are an avid user of social media… join a union. They will all offer similar support but on the one occasion I needed them, the NUT were brilliant.  (Free if you are a trainee or new teacher)

Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and GTC.

He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014. You can book him for a presentation on professional ethics and values in teaching.


11 thoughts on “Your right to tweet

    1. Thanks Stephen, that’s very kind. Though you will know (if you’ve had chance to read any of my other blogs) that I try to ‘problematise’ most issues around teacher professionalism as neither being ‘black’ or ‘white’ but somewhere in between. On this occasion, there just seems to be an awful lot of stuff around that is scare-mongering and and intrusive but doesn’t emphasise the potential for, as you say, teacher development. Thanks again.

  1. A concise article that provides a sensible response. As teachers we are expected to embrace new technology and use it to engage our students. Social networking is not going to go away. It’s shaping how we do business and how we fundamentally communicate. The profession needs to be more entrepreneurial rather than trying to tow the middle line all the time and play it safe. Technology when used creatively fuels learning and teaching when used effectively. Telling trainees and NQTs “It’s called social media for a reason – it’s social – not professional!” is missing the point hugely. The profession should not try to ignore the existance of social network, rather consider ways in which it can be used to much improve education standards in British schools.

    1. Thanks very much for that Heather – you cover a lot of ground there, some of which I didn’t really cover in the blog – which is to say the educational use of social media tools – which like you, I think is a legitimate area for teaching. As teachers, we try to model good social relationships with our students and colleagues by the way we work or relate to them on a daily basis – like you I agree that we should be looking at ways of how teachers can play a ‘modeling’ role in good social media behaviour as well as maximising the ‘mechanics’ of the tools to good effect. I hope it’s a topic you get chance to raise with your students this year. Thanks again for your post.

  2. Another point to raise is of course that the view given by the Head at the start was social in an ‘off-duty’ sense, rather than professionally social, which I interpret as friendly, communicative, involving, and working with like-minded colleagues who aren’t necessarily in my class, school, county or country! The opposite view taken would be anti-social to colleagues – is what the Head would prefer?!

    1. That’s a very good point Stephen – thank you for making it. I explore social media use in what you refer to as “off-duty” ways in other blogs, but I think the headteacher in question was mixing the two domains anyway – and saw social media as a generally ‘bad thing’ irrespective of whether it was for ‘professional’ use or ‘social’ use.

      1. At the risk of re-stating Stephen’s point, did that Head Teacher think that teaching was not a social activity? Teaching is not, for me, social in the sense that nearly all my friends are not teachers but it certainly is in the sense that I am part of a community that communicates: I am social with parents, the children and my colleagues.

        This is one of the reasons that the theory behind Google+ works because it allows us to choose which social circle our connections are in. My connections from previous employment, my old school, my family, my friends, my current employer, my university are mainly all unconnected except by me. I’d like to think I have quite a rich and varied mix of social circles. For example, you and I are connected here but not in every ‘social’ sense, let alone every social media possibility. Likewise the lack of understanding of social media is why, for instance, on my GTP course there is a party line about Facebook (lock it down, privatise your account etc) because it seemingly only has one social strand, which, on the whole, does not accommodate professionalism. I suspect this is where the Head Teacher was coming from.

        However, it actually does not mean if you are a teacher do not have a Facebook account to connect with pupils or their parents. But it is probably unwise to use the same one as your family and friends to do so.

        Understanding social media, like the capacity to hold on to multiple thoughts simultaneously, is like a poker player weighing up the possible probabilities of the next sequences of cards to play. If you can’t contemplate thinking socially in that way then stick to what you know, which to be fair to the Head Teacher, for the majority of humanity is face to face, otherwise jump in to social media but make sure you manage it.

        ps I’m no poker player!

  3. Facebook Twitter Create opportunity to Socialise nd express our personality throuh interect groops > But Online personality is really our responsibility nd proCare of our site indeed. Thanks Heena

    1. I am dismayed how negative many teachers, especially head teachers are about Facebook – though I suspect few of them use it themselves – but the ‘fear’ they engender about it seems to go beyond measured and justifiable comment on others life-style choices. While I would urge teachers to be cautious about social media, I would also urge them to be cautious about all social contact in a public space if they think they cannot trust the people they are socialising with or they think others are watching… it was ever thus..!

      Thanks for your post.

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