Social Media for Schools
Social media and the lives of young people are pretty much intertwined these days. If you’re a parent you’ve probably seen this for yourselves. If you’re a teacher you’re more than likely aware of the fact that online digital technology is where young people are accessing knowledge and learning for themselves.
Online learning, whether that is searching for information, researching topics, revising, or contacting people with knowledge, has never been so easy for students. It’s interactive, collaborative and on demand, reflecting how online digital media has shaped the way we want to access information.
Schools should be considering how to prepare their students for the digital world, ensuring they are digitally literate and prepared with the right skills for future jobs that rely heavily on digital technology. The exponential growth of the smartphone market means that information is available at the touch of a button, and as more and more young people become reliant on their smartphone technology, parents and teachers should be making sure that our young people know how to use it properly, appropriately and, eventually, professionally.
Social media has not only made it easier for students to connect online, but for schools to cultivate and grow their community. There are a number of ways schools can engage social media to support both the promotion of news and information but also as an online assistant to learning.
Facebook is the platform of choice for most schools, due in part to the fact that you can set up private accounts, groups and events that allow for some degree of control and privacy. However, the other reason for using Facebook is that this is where most parents will be. Facebook is the most popular social networking platform online; it is also the most flexible in terms of the type of content you can share – it doesn’t limit you in the same way that Instagram or YouTube does.
Social media is a useful educational tool, and can assist in:
- Collaborative planning
- Sharing resources
- Providing news and updates for pupils and parents
- Helping with homework and assignments
- Promoting the school and its achievements
- And recording and archiving lesson content for revision.
From a more formal approach schools could consider using social media to create groups around specific curriculum subjects, to provide a space to share homework and revision resources, run debates on topical issues from around the globe or as a research tool to post and share ideas, videos and other resources.
From a less formal perspective, Social media can also be used to organise activities such as school sports and after school activities; it can offer information to new students and parents to make them feel more at home in their new school, and offer informal support through Likes and Shares of student projects and other activities.
Looking at a wider application of social media, schools can also use platforms like Facebook and Twitter as a communication tool with parents, carers and the wider community, providing essential information about the school, offering parents an insight into what their children do at school, keeping families more engaged with the activities of the school and their pupils and providing updates around assignment deadlines and exam timetables for instance.
There is also the opportunity for schools, teachers and their pupils to engage with global stories, connections or challenges (that are appropriate of course). This might be in connection with raising awareness about charitable concerns or social advocacy, it might be around breaking world records or taking part in new discoveries.
Social media is also a fantastic place to showcase the special events that take place at your school. From the school play, sporting competitions, awards won, special guest speakers, fairs and fundraising, social media can provide you with a quick and easy place to share all the good news about your school, its teachers, staff and students.
There are some important aspects to privacy and management that schools must consider before they take to social media. There have been numerous stories in the news about the downsides to social media and schools, details for which I am sure you know and we won’t go into here. But there are lessons to be learned from these cases.
- Act the same way as you would in real life. This applies mainly to teachers, support staff and parents. Always maintain professional boundaries and apply professional practice to your social media posts. For instance, you wouldn’t have a conversation about a student with their parents in the pub, nor would you approach a student in the supermarket to chastise them about their late homework – the same applies to social media.
- Have a Policy in place. This should be based on your standards of behaviour, code of conduct and any other HR Policy that applies to your staff. This should apply to your social media too.
- Safeguard your teachers and staff. If staff want to engage with your school’s social media, ask them to consider setting up a professional account, separate to their personal (and private) social media accounts. It is far easier then to separate the private lives of teachers and staff from their professional lives and their students.
- If a parent, carer, student or other non-school related individual posts a comment or criticism of the school to your page, acknowledge it, but deal with the details offline. Having a standard cut and paste response for these types of posts would be most helpful to the individuals managing the page. Tell the individual that you are happy to speak to them in person, over the phone or via email, and avoid at all costs getting into a lengthy debate on your social media for everyone to see.
- Don’t be afraid to block people who are or could be potentially abusive online. It’s perfectly fine to be pre-emptive about this; Facebook and Twitter make it very easy for you to mute or block an individual from accessing your pages and posting content to them.
- Keep all your school related conversations focused on the school, teaching and learning. Don’t be drawn into off-topic debates or arguments.
- Check your privacy settings regularly. Privacy has been a bit of a bone of contention, mainly for Facebook who are known to reset our privacy settings when making updates to the site. Although this is improving, it is highly recommended that when managing a school page or using your own personal social media as a teacher or member of staff, to check your privacy settings on a regular basis to ensure that everything is as you want it.
Social media offers a whole host of opportunities to promote your school and learning; it’s a matter of knowing why you want to use social media, who your audience is going to be, when you are going to post and what you are going to post about. Having a clear approach that can be communicated to all involved from teachers and staff to parents, possibly in the form of a policy or document, is best practice for everyone using social media in a professional manner, whether you are a school or a business.
Finally, taking ownership of your social media presence couldn’t be more important. If you’re a school, it’s possible that an unofficial Facebook page will already exist for the school, and you can check if this is the case by carrying out a search on Facebook. If you do come across one, there are some easy steps you can take to claim it. See How do I calim an unmanaged Page that exists for my business?