Teachers as role models…..digitally

Last term, we had some staff professional learning around the concept of being role models for our students as part of our work with KidsMatter. It’s something we take for granted that we are, but this allowed us to really focus on the specific actions (and potential consequences) that make a difference. It got me thinking about all the ways we are role models and who might be watching and learning from us.

Our students, of all ages, watch us constantly and pick up a lot from both what we say and what we do. That is a given and something teachers are aware off. What might not be so immediately obvious is that colleagues also watch us and pick up just as much, as do parents and those we interact with beyond school boundaries.

Modelling what a responsible digital citizen looks like is so important for our students, our colleagues and our wider community. Part of this is embracing social media trends where appropriate and demonstrating how they can be used in a positive way. I use ‘where appropriate’ to suggest that we should use those that are a good fit for our personal or professional lives, rather than to suggest any are inherently ‘bad’. I’m not suggesting staff should feel compelled to jump into a range of social media tools that have no meaning for them, just that we should not shy away from those we have a purpose for using, for fear of negative incidents. It’s more important to use them and, as any good digital citizen should, consider the most effective and responsible ways to use them.

An example is Facebook which, despite having been around for so long and having such a wide appeal, is still the subject of very varied opinions among teachers. I have been told by colleagues at different times and in different schools that Facebook is evil and, as a teacher, I shouldn’t be on it or I am risking my professional image. To me, Facebook is just another part of my social interactions, like attending events with my friends, chatting on the phone or catching up over coffee. The difference is that it’s digital and permanent. That doesn’t really change how I act, other than to make me consider for one second longer about how something I write or post will be seen and reflect on me. This isn’t something new – I consider this all the time anyway. We don’t stop being role models because it’s 5pm and it’s home time, whether we’re online or not. Students and parents seeing me in the supermarket will still be watching what I do, how I act and what I say, regardless of the time of day. It’s important to remember that social media is inherently social and, as such, it’s a conversation with more than one person. That being the case, it’s important to have a filter which you apply (I know some people who consider ‘Would I say that to my Grandma’ before posting!) but it shouldn’t stop you posting.

The Department of Education has provided a policy and supporting documents to guide staff in their obligations when it comes to social media use, both professionally and personally. It’s a good starting point for discussions however I think it’s interesting in that much of it is worded as ‘DEECD (now DET) recommends’ (italics added). The digital world is moving quickly and the ethics of being involved in it have trouble keeping up, so hard and fast rules are difficult to establish. The discussion is the important part – discussion around incidents and questions keeps the dialogue going and find ways through, rather than putting up further barriers.

Most importantly, consider what you do and how it looks to other people. But think of that from the positive, not the negative. If others (children and adults) see you using social media in a positive way, it shows them that it’s possible. Not everyone posts drunk photos of themselves on Facebook. Not everyone tweets rants about their boss on Twitter. And not everyone posts skimpy bikini clad holiday snapshots on Instagram. It is not only possible but actually quite easy to post things you’re proud of, happy with and which build a positive, well-round digital picture that echoes the offline you.

Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.Seth Godin