SCHOOL BOARD POLICY
changes are just part of life for a school district, given the ever-shifting terrain of state and federal laws, technology, fiscal expectations and varied regulations. Social media policy updates are no exception, especially considering the constantly changing social media landscape.
While many districts have an effective social media policy in place, others still require leadership to establish a formal approach to social media in a school system, whether in a classroom or school office — or even while off duty. Policies, procedures and professional development are how leaders effectively manage the risks of social media for meaningful engagement in and out of the classroom.
But writing and adopting a school district policy for social media is not an end point. When social media tools shift around such areas as use, privacy standards and content types, it is essential that district leadership review and adapt both policy and practice.
Over the past year, we in the Eudora School District in Kansas became more concerned about risks posed to teachers and families, with the growing popularity of private messaging and apps with disappearing messages, such as Snapchat.
This popularity is not unique to our school system or community and was years in the making. As consumers wanted more flexibility than texting offered, people began to mi-grate to free apps that allowed private conversations without the need for phone numbers. This evolution has moved everyday interactions into a more concealed space — made possible by social media.
Imagine the parent who hears his 7th grader say that she “messaged Mr. Anderson on Snapchat and found out our tests will be graded tomorrow.”
On one hand, that parent is proud to hear that his 7th grader and her friends are taking their school work seriously — and using convenient tools to get answers to important questions. But it’s impossible to deny the fears that pop up for the parent, hearing that a student and teacher are communicating in an app designed for messages to disappear.
As use of private messaging and Snapchat grew, so did our belief that our employees deserved guidance on how to handle these types of messages. Updating school board policy for social media boils down to two steps: Explain the risks and explain how the updates will help manage them.
» The risks.
In this case, we described a growing trend among all social media users that could easily involve our employees. Ideally, district policies are updated in a proactive manner, but it should be noted if the changes are proposed in the aftermath of a particular incident. We made it clear to board members that the perceived risks were not directly related to existing employee behavior and that private messaging was not necessarily improper. After all, a teacher receiving an innocent question from a student or parent should not be disciplined for a brief, innocent reply.
» The remedies.
We described the ways the updated policy will help manage the new or changed risks that were explained in the first step. The best social media policies account for grey areas and seek to set meaningful expectations rather than broad limits.
For example, a policy that “no employee shall use private messaging with any student” would be impractical for various reasons. The goal instead should be to provide the expectations and guidance to help employees make wise decisions — and ultimately provide administrators an effective, enforceable policy.
As with all policy changes, it’s best to allow time for reflection and thoughtful discussion. And after changes are enacted, it’s time to educate employees on the changing expectations and consider ways to further communicate our practice to students’ families.
Social media gives school district leaders a unique opportunity to build trust with employees, families and the community at large. Investing the time and effort into creating and maintaining a dynamic social media policy that supports employees’ appropriate use is a critical piece in this equation.