When you work in social media every day, change is normal. Algorithms, tools, features, trends, ideas. But a few months ago, I realized that private messaging required more attention in a school system.
This moment has actually been years in the making. As consumers wanted more flexibility than SMS texting offered, people began to migrate to free apps that allowed private conversations without the need for phone numbers. This evolution has also moved many social media interactions into a less public space.
Consequently, we are navigating a much more concealed world — made possible by social media. Whether it’s direct messages on traditional social media sites, or standalone private messaging apps, our employees deserve guidance. After all, their own careers are on the line, especially if there is an accusation of improper use.
Our school board recently adopted updated social media guidelines for employees, which are approved as part of board policy. Updates included . . .
- The proper communication tools for communicating with students and parents. This means our district e-mail accounts and notification system, which teachers can use to send e-mails and text messages to students and families.
- What to do if you are contacted by private message. Often, a student or parent will turn to a private message on social media to ask a teacher such a time-sensitive and innocent question as, “Is the test tomorrow?” Our updated guidelines help employees navigate this, including a recommendation to take a screen shot of the private message exchange for their own documentation.
- How to handle messages designed to disappear. Snapchat, or any “disappearing message” app, requires additional awareness. We again suggest employees take a screen shot of these interactions with students or families. Should someone later allege inappropriate use, it is far simpler to investigate when an employee has preserved the messages that are designed to disappear.
- Where to get support. Great teachers are great problem solvers. Unfortunately, they too often opt to resolve a difficult social media situation on their own. Our new guidelines now direct employees to speak to their supervisor any time they become aware of inappropriate use of social media by a colleague, student or parent. Our administrative team is ready to support our employees — we just need to know when there’s a problem.
Even the most needed policy updates only become meaningful when employees are actively trained and supported. Therefore, we have planned a series of opportunities for teachers to learn about these updates in the coming month. We also are planning ways to better share our expectations with families and students to encourage everyone to use proper tools for school communication.