Following on from my blog post about the teacher who got in trouble for twittering, I’ve had a little bit of time to think about some of the implications of this. I was also given this link to the same story as reported in the Daily Telegraph which makes things sound a little worse.

My first response is that this story would never have hit the media were it not for the mention of Twitter, which seems to be the tech buzzword of the moment. And I do think that there is more than just a hint of overreaction from the local authority.

But the situation is worrying – I’m trying to promote the use of Twitter as a way for teachers to build up a network of experts that they can draw upon when needed, and stories like this are going to discourage teachers from taking it up.

Taking some of the quotes from a “parent” and a  “local councillor”

“She is paid a lot of money to do her job and it is unbelievable that she sitting talking about them on a computer rather than teaching.”

“I do not pay my council tax so that staff can waste time on these sites.”

“People should be spending time with real people rather than with cyber friends.”

“It is a drain on public resources. It’s shocking.”

All of which show a basic lack of understanding about what Twitter is and how it is being used. The one about “cyber friends” is an interesting one. Personally, if I have any question about teaching, I can ask my network on Twitter and get an answer within minutes is an amazing thing, and is one of the reasons why I recommend Twitter to teachers.

The General Teaching Council for England has a code of conduct for teachers. You can read it here. (There is a similar one for Scotland here). There is new guidance in draft form at present, but for now this is the one that will be applied to us. The code of conduct states that:

Registered teachers may be found to be guilty of unacceptable professional conduct

Where they:

1. Seriously demean or undermine pupils, their parents, carers or colleagues, or act towards them in a manner which is discriminatory in relation to gender, marital status, religion, belief, colour, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation,disability or age

and also

Where they:

8. Otherwise bring the reputation and standing of the profession into serious disrepute.

Which is a bit of a “cover-all” statement that seems to cover any manner of behaviours.

So if a teacher is using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter then you do need to be aware that these guidelines could apply to your actions.

This is particularly true with Facebook. I have heard of some schools where the Head has banned all members of staff from having a Facebook account. Personally, I don’t think that’s a fair way to deal with it. Facebook is a very useful way of keeping in touch with friends and family around the world and I don’t think the way to react to it is to just ban it outright.

I wrote about this last year, here’s the blog post, and this is something I warn my PGCE students about as they make the transition from Student to professional teacher.

When using Facebook, it is probably a good idea to stick to the following rules

  1. Make your profile visible to Friends Only, (limited access), Only people you add as a friend can see your status updates.
  2. Make your photographs visible to Friends Only.
  3. Be careful about who you add as a friend. Do not add students, past or present.
  4. Do not use your status updates to complain about particular classes or students.

Be aware that anyone you add as a friend will be able to see your updates. You can still set up groups of friends that have limited access, so you may want to consider that as an option.

I have no problem with a school that blocks facebook access via their network. But blocking staff from having an account is unreasonable action in my opinion.

With Twitter, the problems are similar. Be aware that anything you say can be taken out of context. We all like to have a moan and a gripe about particular students in the confines of the staffroom, but should these comments be shared in a public space.

The first thing for teachers to consider is to protect their updates. I used to think this defeated the point of twitter, but you might want to consider that as an option. By protecting your updates you have a measure of control over who can read what you say.

locked

This does not mean that what you say cannot be re-tweeted by one of your followers though. It’s not going to be completely private.

So what is fair for teachers to say on Twitter, and what might bring them into disrepute? How would your headteacher react if they saw some of the things you said. What about a parent? Or a Student?

Would you want students reading that Set X is full of nutters? Or that you are too hungover to teach well today? Should you be discussing job interviews or arguments/disagreements you have had with other members of staff? Would you be in trouble for putting forward your political or religious views (or lack of them)

I may say that I am mustering the energy to mark a stack of student assignments, but I wouldn’t use Twitter to complain about the general quality of them – or to say how many failed etc. That’s something I would keep until I saw my students again and told them face to face.

It may well be that what is being said is tongue-in-cheek and not meant in a serious way. But looking back at the way the Twittering Teacher story was reported, tweets were cherry-picked and quoted out of context. If your headteacher did that to you, would you be able to explain them away?

What should you do if a parent followed you on Twitter? Or a student? How would the things you are saying come across to a parent?

Is there mileage in teachers having two accounts. One that’s personal and not linked to the school which they can protect. And one which is more for school use?

I’m not giving many answers here. I don’t have the answers. And only you will know how your headteacher would respond if a parent made a comment about the content of your twitter stream or your personal blog.

Image by Matt Hann

Image by Matt Hamm, http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthamm/

I think the news story last week has been a bit of a wake-up call to teachers. Twitter may well be the buzzword of the moment, and maybe in a year’s time we will all have stopped using it for something new. But the principles will remain. How do we, as teachers, exist in these online spaces? How can we teach responsible use to our students if we are less responsible ourselves. How is it fair that a doctor can have a twitter or facebook account, but not a teacher?

If the headteachers policy is to ban all these tools and pretend they don’t exist, how can we teach responsible use? Why do schools even bother with filtering when students can access all this via their mobile phones anyway?

I’d be interested in knowing what you think. Please discuss this in the comments. If you would rather have the comments on her anonymously, then mail me, and I’ll copy the text as a comment and leave out any names.

Update: And if you want to explain to your head why you should be using Twitter in the Classroom, use this excellent presentation by Tom Barrett.