I fear that as we kick off a new school year, there will be little to shift us away from the headline-grabbing negative perception of social media in schools.
Violence, sex, drugs, bullying, suicide will sadly all appear and dominate our thinking about social media in schools. We will continue to be fearful of the medium, delegate its responsibility to someone and fail to honestly consider social media’s strengths and weaknesses in a school environment.
Students, parents, teachers and schools will be in the spotlight when the inappropriate use of social media will flick across screens and seamlessly make its way into the news cycle. Our human frailties guarantee it, and it will reinforce the stereotype that social media is bad for schools.
When it ‘goes bad’ in a school the reputations of all will face intense scrutiny and heartbreak at the damaging impact of social media’s misuse as we fail to treat it with the respect that it deserves from student, parent, teacher and employer perspectives.
In the words of Jessie Potter, Human Sexuality educator and counsellor, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten’.
When our schools vaguely consider the use of social media or only use it as a marketing tool this naivety equals havoc and heartache. Social media does not succumb to the silos of our workplace and therefore cannot remain as the sole domain of the school’s marketing department or front office staff.
Social media in schools requires extreme care and consideration. The trap of using social media with only a sales and marketing approach is mind-numbing for parents, will not positively engage students and is dangerous to a school. Our parents demand more than a hashtag or administrative information blasting across their screens, and our students want to tell their own stories online.
A whole community approach is critical where schools are leading and modelling best practice.
So what would I love to predict?
That our school leaders elevate their thinking about the impact of social media. That they strategically consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of social media on their students, teachers, parents and themselves. This mindset is much more than a cyberbullying program of the back of a national campaign. It is a far broader approach.
That schools have a plan for the social media crisis for it will come knocking. Too many schools are naive or consider themselves immune to it happening. Schools deal with tough, life-changing circumstances and these now play out online, and they require specific skills, expertise and action when leading a school community. I have heard from many Principals; they feel assured that they can fall back on a stable process and plan to deal with such difficult circumstances.
That all official school social media accounts have branding that authentically represents the daily life of their school. Clean logos and high-quality photography that is consistent across their online presence. Students, teachers and marketing departments creating content that speaks about their community enabling parents to celebrate the wonders that occur in our schools on a daily basis.
Policies, procedures and programs which are reinforcing the appropriate use of social media for our students, teachers and parents. Our enthusiasm to adopt often outstrips a strategy creating risk.
That our principals and other school leaders actively participate online in their professional capacity.
Finally, a focus on the positive power of social media in our school communities. I see schools of disadvantage, isolation, multiple languages and ethnicities use social media to ‘bridge the unbridgeable’ reinforcing the joy of education to students, their families and the critical place they hold in their communities.
Now that would be notable for the news cycle.