The New York Education Department recently stated that in the first 11 months of 2011 where teachers were accused of inappropriate conduct with students on Facebook. Some were fired as a result, and there is a growing trend by schools across the country to put a ban on social media.
This raises a question: Is prohibiting social media in schools the right way to protect children?
Concerned parents may point to the potential dangers and risks. What about inappropriate interaction with teachers? Or scams from online predators? Even adults fall prey to human emotion and post things they would love to have back. Why put my 10-year-old in that position?
My answer is to first acknowledge that these concerns are warranted and the threats are real. That being said, while the risks of social media are very serious, the biggest risk of all is not to embrace it. The fact that the risks associated with social media are real is exactly the reason why it is important to make it part of school teaching.
I believe there are 10 important principles to consider that will help implement a safe and effective social media policy in schools:
1. Bring in experts: Working with both a legal team and social media experts is a good way to ensure the crafting of a solid social media policy, one that takes into account the benefits, risks and fast-changing landscape.
2. Make a clear written policy: The policy needs to plainly inform teachers, students and parents about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and list the consequences of inappropriate behavior. The policy can be written and reinforced verbally and signed by all to confirm their understanding of every aspect of it.
3. Highlight past transgressions: The best way to connect with people is to humanize the issue. Schools could talk about previous cases of misconduct which led to firing of teachers and expulsions of students.
4. Strive for accountability: Remind teachers and students that they will be held accountable for everything they write on social media sites.
5. Create a classroom page: Teachers could consider establishing a separate classroom Facebook fan page that is safe and secure. By doing so, you are creating a safe environment to facilitate an online community full of learning.
6. Report inappropriate behavior immediately: If somebody writes or does something inappropriate through social media, reporting it immediately is very important. The good news with social media is that there will be electronic proof, and this avoids the typical “he said, she said” scenario found in many schools.
7. Remind students of proper use: On school time, social networking sites need to be used for learning activities and not leisure activities such as video gaming.
8. Assess policy vs. reality: Just because a policy is written does not mean it will be followed. Many “unwritten” rules will take shape, and the school needs to be vigilant and continuously reshape policy to match what is happening “on the ground.”
9. Involve parents and the community: Involving parents and the community is also important as this allows them to “police” proper conduct and keep a watchful eye.
10. Bring the risks to light: Children will use social media outside the classroom, thus the classroom is the perfect place to teach them about risks. Just as teachers tell children not to get in a stranger’s car, talking about the dangers of online predators can be incorporated into school learning and prepare them for life outside school.