Social Media Policies: An Opportunity for Conversation
Vol. 11 No. 8
We have written about social media policies a number of times in the past few years—so, one might wonder, “Why rehash the topic? Hasn’t everyone gotten the message by now?” Perhaps, but since questions continue to cross our desk, we wanted to offer a fresh perspective on the matter, which is: social media policies really aren’t about “policy” at all. Rather, they are about community (i.e., having a conversation about what it means to be a member of the school community).
One can often lose the forest for the trees when sitting down to write a policy—particularly one involving technology. Often, the focus is on covering every possible current issue (or technology) that students, parents, and teachers might encounter as they communicate. While admirable, the wave of technology development will always be ahead of our ability to keep up with it from a policy perspective. Therefore, schools are much better off spending their time thinking deeply about the principles that inform their policies … which is what brings us to the question of having a community-wide conversation.
For several years now, ISM has strongly advocated for all schools to develop a social media policy that protects the school, its students, teachers, and parents. But what do we mean by this, really? In effect, here is what we’re saying: Have a community-wide conversation about the proper relationships, boundaries, and ways of interacting among:
- Students and students
- Students and teachers
- Teachers and parents
- Teachers, staff, and administrators
These conversations—which will ultimately lead to a social media policy, as one outcome—are far more important than putting dry words on paper for legal purposes. Rather, they get to the heart of what it means to be a member of the school community in various roles. Questions to ask include:
- How does how we interact on social media and related technology (from texting to Facebook posts and friending to tweets, etc.) reflect what we intend our culture to be?
- What behavior on social media violates appropriate boundaries between teachers and students—for cultural as well as proper professional reasons?
And finally, here is where the “forest for the trees” issue comes in:
- How does any of our thinking about social media interactions differ from our thinking about face-to-face interaction among community members?
This question is where the rubber meets the road. It is true that social media, by its nature, magnifies anything that is communicated—in so far as it can be instantly shared with hundreds or thousands of others. Other than the issue of scale, though, it all comes down to how we expect to interact with one another. If respect, dignity, proper boundaries, discretion, good judgment, and similar notions are the foundations of your school culture, then these same words should be at the core of your social media practices. With this understanding, what should or should not be in the policy will become readily apparent—i.e., “this is how we want to interact with one another, online and offline.”
ISM repeats its prior recommendations for all schools to develop social media policies. We believe that if you do so in the context of a community-wide discussion about boundaries and relationships, you’re likely to not only develop a very thoughtful policy, you’re also certain to reaffirm your culture and strengthen relationships in your community in meaningful and long-lasting ways.
Additional ISM resources of interest
Private School News Vol. 9 No. 5 Social Media: Weighing the Risks
Private School News Vol. 10 No. 3 Social Media Now Required for Some Ivy League Schools
ISM Monthly Update for Division Heads Vol. 10 No. 4 Good Social Media Policy Protects Your School
Private School News Vol. 10 No. 4 Social Media Disasters: Costs, Dangers, and Quagmires