Teachers' Tales

Designing a social media policy for your school


by Anna Whiteley
on December 4, 2015

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I recently wrote about all the ways that Twitter can support classroom learning. But many schools are still hesitant about engaging with social media at all, and this is why you should consider crafting a custom usage policy early in your social media journey. Establishing clear guidelines for all key players on staff is important to ensure consistent, safe procedures – plus, considered use of social networks sets an important example for your students as they engage at younger and younger ages with these networks.

Drawing up a school-wide social media policy isn’t difficult, but here’s what you should cover to keep it conscientious, clear and concise.

Think first

Gathering feedback from key members of your community – governors, faculty, parents, and students – is important to support the decisions reflected in your policy. Be especially aware of talking to both tech-savvy people, like your ICT educators, and those less comfortable with tech; it’s important to see multiple perspectives and get a solid handle on all the different attitudes and options available to you.

What do you want to communicate through your account?

There are many options here, and focusing early on your community goals is vital. You could share reminders for parents of important events, outreach with others for CPD, connect with local government, or try it out in the classroom (see some of our favourite ideas here). Social networks exist to create a strong community outside of school walls, so if you’re mixing purposes, consider a dedicated feed or handle for each – i.e. a specific Twitter account to send out reminders of events so parents and staff have one central, mobile-friendly spot to consult for calendar updates.

What is your voice?

Sometimes quite rightly, schools fear the informality of social. Any account representing your school should employ proper spelling and avoid politicised views, but beyond this there is a lot of room to build a warm, inviting and even funny personality for your school.

If your account will be managed by multiple staffers, try drawing up a list of preferred terms, or even words to avoid, for consistency. Sometimes ed jargon like “free school meal pupils” may be common and sound neutral when used by educators, but not translate well for external readers.

While emojis don’t scream “authoritative voice”, there’s no need to avoid hashtags in the same way. They help others find your posts, so try tagging your content with #[yourtown], #[authorname], or other relevant terms.

Who will you follow/link with?

Will you follow parents? Community members? Or no one at all?

If you are just going to be broadcasting school information, then who you follow is less of an issue (but know that some networks, like Twitter, may suspend your account if you don’t regularly interact with others). A one-way information stream is simple to manage, but also a bit dull. Whatever you choose, make sure you outline this in your policy.

How will you respond if someone sends you a message?

Social media is most fun and useful when it’s interactive, so it’s inevitable that you will at some point receive public messages from the community, and you’ll have to respond visibly.

Set our clear guidelines for how quickly all messages are answered, and when in doubt, always encourage people with questions or concerns to call the school directly. When questions are handled quickly and warmly, you protect the image of your school as a community hub where people can always receive help.

Updating your online profiles to say something like ‘This account is for announcements, reminders and messages to parents. Please use email or phone to contact us [contact details here]. We do not respond publicly on our social media accounts’ is also a perfectly acceptable way to set boundaries and manage expectations.

Risky business

Allowing connection between you school and the wider community exposes you a bit more than many educators are naturally comfortable with. But as social media matures, there are more and more precedents to learn from to maintain your network as a safe space. Be courageous, and be prepared.

Complaints

Conventional wisdom is that complaints are best handled quickly, politely… and visibly. Since your public responses will be captured permanently, it’s usually best to take difficult conversations offline as quickly as possible – depending of the complaint, it can also be best from a legal standpoint, if someone wants to discuss a particular student, teacher, or situation.

Offering immediately to call the concerned party for a conversation is a strong choice, as it demonstrates proactivity and sensitivity to how important they are finding this issue. Remember that usually, social media complaints come about from frustration with other channels not working.

Draft two or three standard responses for account admins to use, including contact information for next steps. You can usually find existing language by asking your admin staff what they say when people come to them with grievances, or checking your school handbook.

Student safety

Devise child-specific safety guidelines: Will you ever post photos of children or full names? Will children ever have unsupervised access to accounts? Is there a risk students could be exposed to strong language from third parties? If so, how have the teachers been trained to address it with their class? How is sensitive information, like addresses or personal details, protected?

Parental concerns

Let’s face it, when you become a parent (and I’m speaking from experience here) something can happen to your anxiety levels, and it can feel as though there’s little you can do about it! Of course it’s only natural to want to protect your kids. Anxiety around children’s use of, and presence on, social can be a major source of worry for parents, and schools should remain sensitive to this.

Sharing photos of children is frequently a hot issue, so if this is something you are considering, make sure you get relevant permissions and never share a child’s name alongside a photo. For example, at Pobble we always obtain written permission from parents beforehand before using a photo that includes a child’s face. Keep a bank of children’s names and photos in your school office to quickly identify those not to include.

Draft an easily-digested one-pager for parents, explaining your school’s safety guidelines, as well as the benefits for students of seeing social media use modelled in a careful way.

Password safety

Store your passwords in a document that is available to all relevant people, and consider making that document analogue. Keeping a hard copy list with a school administrator, and changing password monthly or even weekly, will force everyone to personally check in regularly, easing the burden of network moderation.

How to structure your social media policy in six simple sections:

1. Overview

Outline the aims and objectives of your policy. Outline the context in which the policy was developed, the key principles and whom the policy covers. Good practice is to ensure it covers all individuals working in the school so be sure to mention admin staff, TAs, students and volunteers. Work in your school values and mission to reinforce the message here.

2. Responsibilities

This section should give a run down of who is responsible for what roles. Which staff members will be in charge of the account? Will there be just one person who will post your school updates or will you have multiple people whose role is to share content? Is it feasible for each class to share their own updates, or should one person gather information and update your page? If you go down the one-person route, consider who will cover in the event that they aren’t there. If you divvy activity between multiple people, anticipate that you’ll need to keep messaging and language consistent (section 3). Don’t forget to name someone as the owner of the policy itself.

It may be worth mentioning that all staff are responsible for their own compliance of the policy as per section 5.

Note that the fast-moving nature of social media means your policy will need to be reviewed and revisited often, and staff should expect edits.

3. Use of school social media accounts

Include in this section where and how you allow staff to use the accounts, e.g. ‘You are permitted to interact on social media websites in the name of the school in the following way…’ Then list the purpose of the school accounts and the ways in which it is to be used. Include a list of the websites that are permitted.

4. Use of personal social media accounts

Chances are that most of your staff already have digital personal lives, so this section is to help everyone navigate potential overlap.

When is personal social media access allowed during the school day? Lunchtimes and break times, or outside school hours only? If a staff member’s name is put into a search engine, are all the results appropriate for the image of your school? Can school computers or tablets be used for personal social networking?

Be mindful of the fact that your teachers may develop friendships with parents, and be prepared to address that in your policy. Do you want a blanket policy against “friending” parents? Or will it be allowed provided your staff not speak about work in off-hours? Whatever you decide, make sure it’s clear that faculty and staff are expected to consider how their accounts may reflect on your school.

5. Safe, responsible social media use

So there is no confusion, outline clearly in this section the specific rules that must be adhered to with regard to social media use in school, both in a personal and professional capacity. This part may get a touch unwieldy, but try to cover every eventuality – it’s better to be safe than sorry!

A few examples to consider are:

Policy enforcements 

In this section, make clear the scope of the policy, as well as consequences for breaching it. You may want to refer to your school disciplinary procedure. Also mention here that you reserve the right to monitor use of the accounts, and be clear on what this entails.

Trust us, the hardest part is getting started in social media. But with a little pluck and planning, there’s no need to fear these new opportunities to expand the classroom, and connect your school with its community.

Is your school connected? We’re always interested in learning how schools, parents, and students navigate this new world – so let us know how you use #socialfored on Twitter or Facebook.

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