I’ve written about the “cooling effect” that an increased use of social media by administrators and school boards has had on educators. EduTwitter is increasingly a platform of self-promotion and is used less as a platform where educational ideas are discussed. Educators are using anonymous accounts to avoid reprisals from supervisors and discussions between educators are moving into private channels where they can speak freely. In the process, the opportunity to include divergent voices is lost.
(Click on the tweet below to read the entire thread)
Met some teachers yesterday who are a) forbidden from writing about education on social media by their schools and b) not allowed anonymity
— Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) October 8, 2017
Australian teacher Greg Ashman followed up by reporting that teachers in Australian public schools teachers are also forbidden from commenting on education policy on social media.
As I understand it, the NSW social media policy prevents teachers commenting on matters of ed policy in NSW. Which covers almost anything.
— Greg Ashman🏳️🌈 (@greg_ashman) October 9, 2017
This kicked off a round of discussions on twitter about how common this is and why. In addition several educators contacted me through private messages. They don’t feel safe even discussing the issue on a public platform. That’s alarming.
On September 27th, 2017 The Ontario College of Teachers released a “Professional Advisory – Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media“. The majority of the advisory focusses on the use of electronic communication to interact with students, but in the section titled “Act Professionally” teachers are advised to avoid criticizing anyone in the school community (How large is the “school community”? Does it include the Minister?).
While this is only advisory, and the consequences for criticizing an employer online aren’t specified, the implication to many teachers are clear.
Some teachers have shared stories with me about their experiences on social media and are willing to have them published anonymously. Anonymous because they’ve already been threatened with discipline and don’t wish to make things worse. But they also feel they’ve been treated unfairly, and that teachers have not only a right but a professional responsibility to express their opinion on education. They believe this right and responsibility is being suppressed.
Here are a couple of stories that were shared:
In most of the situations people shared with me school administrators acted to silence teachers because they were threatened by their opinions or worried that what a teacher wrote would cause problems for them with parents or the community.
Some teachers are convinced their social media activities are being monitored by their school board or their administrator.
Limestone hired a Social Media person who uses AND monitors Twitter, etc. Ask me how I know.
— I stampout ignorance (@stampingout) October 9, 2017
Whether this is true or not, it indicates the level of fear that exists for teachers who use social media.
School communications departments aren’t tasked with supervising staff social media activity. No school boards have the capacity to monitor staff social media completely. Board employees who are on social media may encounter staff tweets or posts but they are not there specifically to monitor other staff.
A few days ago a colleague told me that his Vice Principal admitted that she regularly “checks” his tweets. It’s the word checks that’s problematic of course.
If administrators are on social media to interact, to engage and to learn then they are welcome to express their thoughts and opinions. But social media flattens hierarchies and strips away institutional power, which some find threatening.
My hope is that enlightened leaders will recognize that engaged passionate educators who are willing to speak out and challenge conventional wisdom are to be supported and encouraged, not suppressed. These are the educators who will change staff cultures and improve the quality of education for all students.