It has become extremely popular for teachers to have a social media page where they share ideas and resources and connect with other teachers. I don’t mean teachers who use social media only for their personal lives and interests, but teachers who have a social media account where it is clear from the name/ profile/ posts that they are a teacher, and the account is being used to connect with other teachers, share ideas and resources, or promote their own teacher resources. Social media can be a great tool for teacher CPD and much helpful information, advice and support is shared this way and I have benefitted enormously from the connections I have made on my own teacher Instagram and Facebook pages.
But because this is a relatively new phenomenon, there is still uncertainty about what is and what is not okay to share on one’s teacher account, and teachers can leave themselves open to potential issues if they are not extremely careful and aware of legislation and guidelines in this area.
With this post, I am sharing some specific examples of things that teachers should be careful of. My intention isn’t to scare anyone, or to make anyone feel bad if they have done some of these things in the past. My intention is to make teachers aware of some of the potential pitfalls so that they can benefit professionally from the use of social media, while ensuring that they are not putting themselves at risk.
In 2021 The Teaching Council published Guidance for Registered Teachers about the use of Social Media and Electronic Communication. It states “The context for this document was that the Investigating Committee noticed an increase in the number of Fitness to Teach complaints in relation to teachers’ use of social media/electronic communication in the context of communications within and outside the course of their teaching profession.”
The document offers some broad helpful guidance such as “It is advisable not to discuss students, parents, colleagues or your employer online” and “Before posting any content it may be useful to consider; – Who will see this post? – Am I confident that the posting, if accessed by others, would be considered reasonable and appropriate for a professional?”. The document is quite general in nature and doesn’t provide many specific examples, but I feel these are what teachers need to be able to avoid getting into difficulty when using a teacher social media account.
Therefore, the aim of this post is to offer some specific examples of practices that are best avoided to ensure that Irish teachers stay out of trouble when setting up and using a teacher social media page. With that in mind, below are some practices that should be avoided:
- Never share images of children (even with their faces, school crests, names on desks etc. blurred out). Even if their parents have given consent for their child’s images to be shared on school social media pages, this does not extend to teachers’ personal pages. Sharing such images is likely to breach EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws which all schools must uphold. Furthermore, teachers should not take photographs of their students on their own personal phones nor log into their own social media pages on school devices. For this reason alone, there is no possibility that a child’s images (blurred or not) can be shared on a teacher’s social media page without them having either taken the photo on their personal phone and uploaded it to their social media from there (not allowed), or having taken it on a school device and shared it to their own social media/ device from there (also not allowed). In fact, when taking photos of children to share (with parental consent) on the school’s social media pages, one should use the school’s tablet or camera.
- Don’t share photographs of the children’s work. I know this one is difficult as it can be extremely helpful to demonstrate ideas, but the child’s work is actually their intellectual property and it should not be shared without their consent and the consent of their parents. It is safer to just to only share the examples that the teacher has made e.g., a teacher’s example made for an art idea. When discussing this issue on my own social media page, I was contacted by a follower who told me that when she first started teaching she was given a nice note from a child which she shared on her social media (it had no identifying information about the child or the school). She later received a phone call from the principal asking her to take the image down and was never asked to sub in the school again. This would be a very upsetting thing to happen to any NQT, so to avoid issues, just refrain from sharing pictures of children’s work (I am sharing this with permission).
- On photographs in general, it is worth reflecting on whether a teacher should be taking photos during school time at all if they are only being used to promote their social media account. It is safer to only take photos during your own time before or after school.
- Be very careful when discussing your experiences as a teacher. Personally, I would refrain from mentioning the name of my school or any school I had worked in, but I definitely wouldn’t do so without the permission of the principal. Furthermore, while it can be extremely helpful to get advice from other teachers, be mindful that parents may be following your account (even if you don’t share your face/ own name on your account, someone may have told them whose account it is). For instance, if you post asking for advice in teaching a child with challenging behaviour, parents in the class might realise who you are taking about and this is a major breach of confidentiality.
- Refrain from posting during the school day unless you are on leave such as a career break, job share or EPV day!
- If you have a teacher social media account that you also use to promote resources/ products that you created, be aware that there are other pitfalls that you should avoid. I have posted about this previously, but some main points to note are as follows:
- Bitmoji do not allow the avatars you create to be used for commercial purposes, so you cannot use it as your social media profile image.
- If you wish to use Canva to create your resources, cover images for your products, or your social media posts, you must pay for a commercial subscription. They do not allow the free education subscription to be used for commercial purposes.
- Don’t use school devices to create or share products or resources that you intend to sell. Create everything on your personal device and outside of school time.
- If the school has a subscription to a content creation programme such as Smarty Symbols, you can’t use that subscription to create your own commercial content and must purchase your own subscription.
I hope this post has been helpful. I know some of the above points may be disagreeable and some might feel that they place too much restrictions on teachers’ use of social media and their ability to connect/ collaborate with other teachers. That said, the main consideration should be to protect the confidentially of the children, and for the teacher to avoid getting into professional/ legal difficulties, so I think it is better to be safe than sorry and hence to abide by the above rather than taking a risk.
If you have any thoughts on the above or other suggestions for ways that teachers can stay safe when using social media, please comment below.