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13 August 2021

Pros and cons of social media - tips for new teachers

Laura Burt taught ICT and Computing in schools for 20 years and now works in Adult Education and is a  freelance consultant working in Digital Literacy and Online Safety. Here she looks at using social media safely in your professional and personal lives, with some hand tips and reminders, particularly for teachers at the start of their careers:

New to teaching? Social media can be a great source of advice, resources, and ideas. It can also bring challenges and risks. Teachers, and trainees and ECTs in particular, need to carefully consider their use of social media in their personal and professional lives.

The majority of us are now at the very least aware of our digital footprint - ‘the information about a particular person that exists on the internet as a result of their online activity.’ It can be very easy to underestimate the power of social media when we are least expecting it. Accounts that we no longer use but that have yet to deactivate are a great source of amusement for students who might do an online search for you. What can students learn about you from your online presence? What will they show their friends, parents or your colleagues?

Some of the content you posted ten years ago may be very different to the content you would now consider posting. Remember that if it is still online and your Privacy Settings are open, anyone can access it. This leads us to consider your ‘Online Reputation.’

Your online reputation is the perception, estimation and / or opinion that is formed when you are encountered online. This could be when someone visits your social networking profile, but could also be when anyone reads a comment you posted on another profile. It could also be when someone sees your online photo albums or an image with you in it, indeed any instance or reference of you that either you posted or someone else did - what your digital footprint says about you

(UK Safer Internet Centre)

Your online reputation will be formed through posts by you, posts by others about you or linked to you, posts by others pretending to be you. It’s worth bearing in mind that an online reputation can affect everyone… even if you don’t have an active presence on social media. A recent survey concluded that 23% of unborn babies have some kind of digital footprint. Plus, something only needs to be posted once to have an impact; even if a post is deleted, someone can easily take a screenshot.

Your online reputation are things such as photos of you, photos posted by you, comments you have made, language you use, online groups you belong to, ‘Likes’, and any content that can be linked to you.

So, what can you do? It sounds very simple, and essentially it is… but really think about what you are posting online and what people can see about you via your social media presence. Might it be a wise idea to close any of your old social media accounts? Be proactive about Privacy Settings… take it upon yourself to learn how they work for all the social media networks you use; they all vary. Did you voice any opinions online when you were younger that you now disagree with? The media has taught us that strongly worded posts from the past can easily be found.

Be aware of social media policies in your school. They will differ greatly from place to place. Started a new school? Be proactive and familiarise yourself with what is expected from you – if you have signed a policy without reading it then it is very easy to breach that policy. Trainees going into various schools may not have policies to sign in each school, but your Training Provider will have expectations from you. Again, be aware and be proactive if you’re unsure.

ECTs - you may have changed profession recently.  Different professions carry different expectations and responsibilities; Be prepared to change your mindset if need be. No matter what your role is in school / college, it’s important to know who everyone else is too.

  • Who is in charge of Safeguarding?
  • Who do you report an online issue to?
  • Who oversees staff welfare?
  • Who is your Union Rep?
  • Who writes your social media policy?
  • Do you have a Network Manager and IT Technicians? What filtering do they provide to you and your students?
  • All of your colleagues mentioned above may be able to help you with a social media issue in one way or another.

Another thing to consider is that you are now part of a school community. You may not just be a teacher. You may also be a neighbour, an auntie, a friend of a parent… Before you joined this school community, you may have been quite happy sharing holiday photos, night-out photos and maybe even photos of your own family. Be mindful that this content will now be available to a wider audience. If you’d rather not be tagged in photos, have a conversation with your friends and family to explain.

Once you’ve sorted all this, the pros of social media, when managed correctly, can be plentiful. Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram all have an excellent teaching presence both for primary and secondary teachers. Many colleagues are willing to share ideas and good practice, plus many are willing to draw on their experience and engage in conversation on a variety of topics. Use the hashtags carefully and you’ll find lots of free, excellent resources. Lots of online CPD is publicized via Social media too - a great way to engage with like-minded professionals.

You may also decide to use Social media as a resource for your teaching - done properly this again can be a great way to help your students learn and can be a springboard for lots of Online Safety conversations.

Only you can decide what is right for you but be armed with all the information. Before social media existed (some of us are old enough to remember this…) school staff still had to be mindful of their professionalism outside the classroom. The same applies here - you have control over your social media use - be mindful and use it as you feel comfortable.