It is a small world. Aotearoa-New Zealand is even smaller. The education sector is a subset of both. The good thing (and the challenge) of working in a goldfish bowl like education is that you really can’t hide, everyone pretty much knows everyone else. This has some real implications for educators.
In this post I’ll outline some things to consider as you manage your personal and professional persona. In an age where most things are able to be found in a basic Google search about any teacher, principal, or student we need to manage what the world knows about us; in ways we never even considered even 10-15 years ago.
I am highlighting these things not to be alarmist or to scare people, just to make sure that we are all considering these issues for what they are in this open and social media-rich age – simply a natural part of our roles as educators.
Four key things to consider:
Actively manage your digital footprint.
After nearly 20 years in school leadership I would never consider interviewing someone for any position at our school without doing a quick Google search. What I can find, your colleagues and students can find, or the hypercritical parent can find.
There are any number of stories, of images, or content on social media which have proven to be severely ‘career limiting’. Think before you post, manage your privacy settings on Facebook, consider what you share. Closed groups like the Primary Teachers Facebook page with its almost 33,500 members can and do have parents, BoT, and community people as members, as well as members of the media and professional development providers. (Note: there were only just over 56,000 teachers in the country in 2017 (Education Counts, 2018) so this one group alone has potentially over half of the country’s school-based educators as members). Anything you say in this group for example has a huge potential audience.
Be a learner. Model taking risks.
Be a conscious and overt learner. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion, but make sure it is one you can back up with research and logical explanations. No one likes a zealot, and don’t be the person who is pushing their ideas on others.
Social media can be a wonderful place for learning and for sharing of good ideas and effective practices. Remember – people may make judgements about you based on the quality of the questions you ask or comments you make, and especially don’t be overly critical of your school leadership or colleagues. Do say when you are unsure or don’t know. Not knowing is OK; not knowing how to find out or how to begin finding a solution to a dilemma, not so much.
Take the high ground and stay there.
People are very quick to judge, and quicker to take offence. Be considered in what you say and share in person and online. Decide for yourself and your family how much of your life is ‘public domain’ and how much is personal. Do you know about and follow any guidelines your school or setting may have?
Educators are always on show. You are always a teacher, and anyone who has ever been greeted by an excited five-year-old at full volume in the toiletries aisle of the supermarket (or as you step out of the hot pools on holiday in your swimming costume) will know this only too well.
It is essential to model courtesy and respect. Most schools will have values and expectations shared for all to see on posters in classrooms and other spaces. These will be the behaviours all staff model and show at all times at school. Be the person who models them outside of school as well.
Be very careful with the media.
Increasingly the ‘shocking and startling’ are the headlines that grab our attention. Unfortunately “80% success” is nowhere near as attention-grabbing as “20% failing”. A number of our educator colleagues have had very unfortunate experiences making off-hand or flippant comments to media people that have resulted in considerable damage to their reputations and those of their school.
I know from personal experience the exceptional lengths some reporters will go to to get a quote, information or a picture. Particularly in highly charged or emotional situations, make sure you follow policy, saying nothing unless it is your role. Know what your school media policy says, and follow it.
There are plenty of places to get advice and guidance for the online spaces – eg. Netsafe, PPTA. Read these sites and your school expectations, and follow them. Have someone in your school who is the media liaison person. Get help if you need it.
Most importantly though, use the media and digital spaces to share the positive and wonderfully creative and exciting things you are doing in your classrooms and schools. Be the voice of reason and calmness, if and when things are getting chaotic. And most importantly, manage and balance your own digital footprint and the image you portray to the world as a person and professionally.
Education Counts. (2018). Teaching Staff. Retrieved from https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/schooling/teaching_staff