• Keep your personal business private. Don’t list your place of work, job title, or work eMail address on sites meant to be strictly personal. Use the privacy settings to restrict access to family and friends. Even so, recognize that privacy really doesn’t exist on the web. Don’t post any comments, pictures, blogs, presentations, or words that you don’t want circulating more broadly.
• Recognize that as public employees, you always represent your school or district. The power of social networking is that these sites instantly connect you with colleagues and anyone associated with the institutions you list, whether as an alumnus or as an employee. If you don’t want to see it on the front page of the daily newspaper, don’t post it.
• Avoid participating in the cutesy, sometimes raunchy online surveys and other gimmicks that social media sites use to generate traffic. Again, employees have lost their jobs and suffered a great deal of embarrassment as a result of inappropriate and compromising photos or comments posted online that they mistakenly thought were private, and yet were easily forwarded, copied, or photographed by individuals to whom they’d granted access.
• Don’t connect personally with students, ever. There’s never an appropriate or legitimate reason to develop online relationships with students. Employee content should project a professional image and should not have a negative impact on the employee’s ability to maintain the respect of students, parents, and peers.
• Recognize that the parents of your students are your partners in the educational process, not your “friends.” It is simply too easy to cross lines that should not be crossed.
• Use group sites or pages to connect with students and parents for educational purposes, such as homework help or assignments. Group pages should not give access to teachers’ personal and private information and accounts. Don’t post student photos on group pages without parental permission, and don’t post student photos on personal pages.
• Hold employees personally responsible for all content they post online. Digital content lives in perpetuity online. What seems funny and innocent at 22 might not seem so funny just a few years later. Classroom guidelines, along with state and federal laws regarding educational privacy, still apply in online settings.
• Avoid anonymous or misleading postings and comments. Don’t misrepresent your identity and post a comment on someone else’s site or blog without identifying yourself as a public school employee. If you’re not willing to own your comments, don’t post them. Just because social media sites offer anonymity doesn’t mean you should use it.
• Teach employees how to use social media and networking sites wisely and well. Policies and procedures are important, but they only represent a first step. Provide training, and include information about how to use these sites in a professional manner in school and district newsletters and other communications.
Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.