Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Managing Social Media in Schools

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As the 21st century ushered in the day-to-day use of social media, social platforms have become useful tools in regards to communication and learning. Today, it may be hard to find more than one person you know who doesn’t have at least a Facebook account, if not also a Twitter, Google+, or Instagram account. Social media tools have become second nature to those who use it often and a necessity to those who want to stay involved in the latest news offered online.

In a time where First Amendment rights (particularly freedom of speech) seem to be questioned on a daily basis because of comments on social media platforms, is it worth the potential legal hassles to allow any form of social networking in schools?

According to an article in District Administration Magazine, “In 2011, the state of Missouri tried to prevent all use of social media by school employees. Parents and legislators pointed to the very real threats posed to students by teachers who misuse social networking tools to cultivate inappropriate and illegal relationships with vulnerable students.”

As a result of parent concerns and a testimony from 12-year-old student Amy Hestir about her experience as a victim of sexual abuse by a junior high school teacher, Missouri legislature passed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. This act prohibits teachers from establishing, maintaining, or using a “non-work-related Internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

The law was ultimately repealed, and the legislature ordered individual school districts to develop their own policy for social media by March 2012.

It can be difficult to find a balance between the positive results social media can produce and the potential for negative effects in the lives of students and teachers.

Eamonn O’Donovan, a former principal and an assistant superintendent of human resources, gives a list of questions school leaders should answer to develop a solid foundation for a social media policy in their school. Included are questions such as the following:
  • How can staff avoid misusing social media in the conduct of their professional interaction with students?
  • How can staff keep their private speech separate from their interactions with students on private and school-based sites, including texting and cell phones?
Social networking boundaries and guidelines for students and teachers are going to vary by school and district. And while the digital age has created some complexities, the benefits cannot be ignored. Once we set parameters, social media can be used as an asset and nothing less at school.

Do you have a social media policy at your school? What has worked well and what hasn’t?

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