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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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Be diligent about protecting passwords and security locks. Cancel auto log-ins and ‘remember me’ functions.

  • 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’.

  • '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.

  • 'Pause before you post’ – ask: “could this be easily misconstrued?”

  • The school rules? Your employers have a right to expect that networking isn’t a distraction from your job or a reputational risk.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. 

You may be interested in his course in ‘The Foundations of Professionalism in Teaching’ – a 3-module course with over 4.5 hours of HD quality video presentations, additional course reading and materials, self assessment exercises and completion certificates.

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