Updated: Dec 19, 2019
I've created several versions of social media and communication policies for schools over the years and researched policies at other schools. This piece is one I developed in my last several years of headship. It's not so much policy as counseling. One of the roles the Head of School plays is teacher, and this is one of the areas where I think Heads, senior administrators and faculty can teach their colleagues the school's expectations and the educational and ethical underpinnings of them.
IRL (In Real Life)
School employees should be wholly present IRL to their students and colleagues. Don’t fall prey to the fantasy of multi-tasking. The administrator or teacher texting under the table during the meeting, distracted by a laptop while children are working in centers, checking news feeds on the playground is broadcasting all the signs that kids and adults know too well: I’m not entirely here--and the easy next assumption--because you are not important to me.
Sharing Is Not Always Caring
Going to school is a child’s first opportunity to be part of a community outside the family. One way that children exercise their newfound independence is by controlling what their parents and others know about their school lives. Social media platforms make sharing simple and would have us believe that all sharing is good. But, un-curated sharing of kids’ school experiences can rob them of the emotional privacy that they deserve from us as educators. The child who arrives home excited to share the oriole haiku she wrote that captures her experience on the bird watching field trip better than a thousand photos, or the child who simply wanted to treasure up the experience for herself and not share it at all, both might be deeply disappointed to discover that their parents were on the trip virtually via Instagram. This is not to say that all sharing is bad, but think carefully about what events deserve to be shared (not everything we do at school is broadcast-worthy) and what your purpose is in sharing.
Joining the News Cycle
Be aware of the expectations you’re setting with your communication and sharing. The parent emails that you answer Sunday at 9:30P suggest that you are open for business at that hour. The text that you send a parent suggests that you have invited her into that circle of intimates who enjoy the urgency and immediacy of that communication vehicle. Likewise, the grateful audience for the weekly blog posts that you promised in August becomes cynical when the frequency declines to semi-monthly by November and flatlines after winter break.
Medium Is the Message
Important matters deserve face-to-face conversation. If you find yourself writing an email of more than a paragraph, pick up the phone and call or, better yet, arrange a time to meet. This general rule is even more important to follow when high feelings are involved. Responding point-by-point in brittle syntax to the angry three-paragraph email is always a trap and always results in an angry response of five paragraphs and a widening distance from real understanding and resolution.
Do not friend school parents or students on Facebook or invite them into your friendship groups on other platforms. You have a critical role to play as an educational expert, coach and figure of authority in the lives of your students and their families. Inviting them into the intimacy of friendship IRL much less into the unavoidable distortions of your online persona confuses at best and undermines at worst the primary relationship you should have with them.
You Are the Institution
School employees are accountable for the way they represent the school in public, including social media.