To tweet or not to tweet:
social media in schools

Neale Dawson
Managing Director/Principal Solicitor, NEW Law

To suggest that social media has no presence in schools is to ignore the massive benefit it can bring to learning processes. Nevertheless, for schools intent on embracing the digital age, social media can be fraught with problems if not managed appropriately and monitored regularly.

Schools should build on the Department’s social media policies and guidelines and ensure that there is a clear understanding of what is meant by the term “social media”.

Once a school has adopted and endorsed a definition of social media, there is then a clear way forward to an understanding of the goals of its use and the security and protections which must be put in place.

Social media dangers for schools arise particularly from communications between students and staff. Staff should avoid using their personal social media platforms such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp for work purposes. There are many apps and platforms available for educational use and schools should be clear, in their own policies, that mixing personal social media platforms with educational purposes is to be avoided.

Schools should assist beginning teachers to review the content and privacy settings of their existing social media platforms. Beginning teachers often do not realise that content that was acceptable as a university student may not be acceptable. Similarly, beginning teachers need to be warned of the dangers of accepting students as friends on social media, be it now or when they leave school.

In consultation with staff, schools should agree upon and identify boundaries in relation to the use of social media in the educational setting. This might include boundaries such as a clear agreement that students and teachers do not communicate on a one-to-one basis by way of social media but through group chat only so that all interaction is seen by the rest of the group. Rules such as this not only provide important protections but also serve a real educational purpose.

Teachers should be cautious not to link web accounts when information such as bookmarks, cookies and search history become linked to their work social media platforms.

NEW Law is appointed by Federation to provide legal services to the union and its members

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