How schools, teachers communicate with parents, students on social media
MAGAZINE – The last time you were on Facebook or Twitter was probably a few hours ago. Many of us are socially connecting with friends and colleagues on online networks.
There is however some hesitation on incorporating social networking sites into our interactions with students and parents. Some schools may also impose restrictions on social networking access via their computers.
Why some schools are reluctant
It’s highly likely that an official social tool is already in place in your school – they may have functions such as an interactive forum or discussion board. It is also likely that you’re expected to use the tools already available instead of external social networking sites. Some of the basic fears for schools on social media engagement with students and parents include the below:
- Teachers are not trained for public relations. Their well- meaning messages might be wrongly perceived.
- Teachers’ privacy and personal boundaries will be broached.
- Teachers may be misquoted or their words “taken out of context”
- A teacher is an extension of the school. They are not trained for corporate communication.
These concerns can be allayed if we manage expectations and define clear boundaries. However the issue is not as straightforward.
Why some teachers are reluctant
Privacy is very important to any individual – the social space has deconstructed boundaries and blurred demarcations. For a teacher to take to social networking with students and parents, several main concerns include:
- Being unfairly judged: will my personal and professional life be combined?
- Being bombarded: am I expected to respond quickly to queries from concerned parents?
- Being too chummy: I want to maintain a professional relationship with students and their parents. What if they find my other personal accounts and read up on them, or insist I add them on social media?
Why some parents and students are reluctant
Parents and students have their reservations on the effectiveness of social media for interaction. The main questions in a parent’s mind would be 1) whether their child is really communicating with teachers on social media as they claim, and 2) whether this is an effective tool of communication.
The student’s main concern? Privacy. I don’t want my teacher to know I’m playing games and am only doing homework at 11pm!
How to manage social media
There is a very workable solution to these concerns. You will first need to identify the purpose of connecting via social network. Is it for a two-way discussion? Or would a one-way communication with private messaging be sufficient? How about both?
Let’s say you’re looking for a two-way discussion. A controlled environment is needed in such situations and this would not be your typical social media sites. Your preferred communication method should ideally be the school’s available facilities, such as its own forums, email or text messaging. This way, you manage your message and who it is sent to. Each reply gets straight to you in confidence or everyone on the discussion board.
For a one-way communication, a blog, group site or a Facebook Page (not profile) would work very well. Comments can be moderated or disabled, allowing you to make announcements uninterrupted. You may choose to publish comments that facilitate more information. This allows for quicker updates and higher potential of direct feedback.
Adoption of technology requires a controlled environment to ensure efficiency. A few key pointers to note before you embark on social media with parents and students:
- Set ground rules. Your blog or Facebook Page must clearly state their purpose, goals and ways to interact with you. These ground rules are a must in any communication tool – you just have to find the right tone for your message.
- Keep personal and professional accounts separate. You have your personal space, and while you may not be a party-animal, what you do in your personal time with your family is your choice. I strongly believe in keeping separate accounts for professional social media engagement. This means keeping your Facebook profile private, and not accepting friend requests from parents or students. This must be made clear.
- Have an opening / closing hour. They say social media is 24/7. This is true IF you’re a customer service team managing a global business with global customers. But if you’re an educator who is proactive and going the extra mile, you need to pace yourself. Managing social media is not easy. Set a time to manage the blog or Facebook Page everyday, just like you would with your emails.
I know of teachers who are trying or already using Whatsapp and blogs to communicate with parents. To these teachers I say well done; I’m sure parents appreciate your updates. Some teachers or schools are updating parents via text messaging. I’m also sure many students are in possession of a teacher’s mobile phone number.
Technology can be a bane or a boon – your understanding of it will determine what it will be for you. I’ve always maintained teaching is not a career – teaching is a lifestyle. A lifestyle should be balanced. I hope social media doesn’t tip the balance for you!
Do you use social media to communicate professionally?