I’m a teacher. When does my workday end?
It doesn’t. At least not when we’re talking about professionalism, reputation, and a transparent world, anyway.
When I started teaching 23 years ago, it was okay for a group of us to frequent the local watering hole on a Friday afternoon, share a few beverages and unpack the work week. We might bump into a parent or two, but they’d nod a hello â€” not pull out a camera and take a snapshot of teachers with glasses in hand.
We weren’t snap-happy either. Mobile phones were a flight of fancy, so what transpired in those days became a memory, not a picture on a Facebook wall. None of us were losing our jobs because we came together in a social arena and consumed alcohol.
Oh, how the times are a changin’. Ashley Payne, a 24 yr old teacher from Georgia, lost her job in 2009 when a photo showing her on vacation in Italy, holding a glass of beer and a glass of wine, was sent anonymously to her principal. This picture wasn’t published in the local newspaper but posted on her Facebook page, where she had set her privacy settings to the highest possible level – or so she thought. She’s spent the last two years in a legal battle trying to get the decision reversed.
While Ashley Payne’s story may seem extreme and maybe the reaction of an over-zealous principal, it’s a potential scenario we need to be aware of if we are to respond effectively to the digital world we live in.
Teachers are human. And under the spotlight.
Despite what some of our students might think, teachers aren’t robots who shut down at the end of a school day. We’re people, living with all of the foibles of modern life. We have families, we love, we laugh, we have bad days, we occasionally exhibit road rage, we might mouth a profanity on occasion, we might partake in a glass or two of the good stuff. We’re human. I’d bet that the majority of our school-connected populations understand this and support the people who give so much of themselves to the teaching of our next generation.
But that doesn’t change the fact that our lives are becoming more transparent as we use social media for communication, and the things we post in social networks might become our undoing. Just as we teach responsible internet use to our students, so should we be making sure that all our teacher colleagues grasp the viral implications of a hastily worded tweet, or what was an amusing, but easily misinterpreted photo captured at a social event.
The perils and potential of social media
How many teachers are fully understanding of the privacy settings necessary in a space like Facebook to ensure your postings aren’t public? How many understand how easy it is to copy a picture from a webpage and post it elsewhere? How many know that if you “friend” a former student, you may lay yourself open to access to the postings of current students who might be friends of that past student, and they, in turn, may see what you post?
How many of us teach in schools where our own children are students? If we friend our children in Facebook, we once again may lay ourselves open to the postings of current students. What happens if we see postings that reveal a wayward weekend or potentially dangerous situation? Are educators bound by mandatory reporting legislation to report such sightings to appropriate authorities? These are the potential implications of our use of social media, and we need to have our profession informed and aware. Having a clear understanding of the privacy settings of social networks and what you can do to protect yourself is becoming a ‘must do’ instead of a ‘maybe’.
Social media tools are just that – tools, with double edges, readily available for both teachers and students to use. One side may be jagged and threatening, but the other side is gilt edged and can be the making of us if we post the right content in social networks. In the February 2011 “Screenagers” issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership, Will Richardson contributes the article “Publishers, Participants all.” In it he says: “This is a world in which public is the new default.”
Will’s article focuses on what we can do to help our students, but the message is equally important and relevant for our teachers. If we’re aware of how we cultivate a positive Digital Footprint, teachers and students can demonstrate their commitment to what motivates them, their interests, the positive things they do to assist others. We need role-model teachers who can help colleagues and students realize the value of becoming creators on the Web, sharing the great work they do with others, and at the same time, building for themselves a digital presence that ensures when they are Googled (and they will be) there’s a positive return.
A new mental model: the transparent life
What will the next digital divide be? Will it be between those who know the benefits of creating and sharing their work online, and those whose only Web presence is a public Facebook page with content that doesn’t truly reflect the calibre of a person? Is this the divide that will impact on teacher careers and possibly lead to unnecessary harm to reputation and professional standing?
danah boyd (the lower-case letters are part of her footprint) is a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England. She has said, “Over and over again, I find that people’s mental model of who can see what [on the web] doesn’t match up with reality.” Let’s hope that awareness and understanding of social networks soon permeates our profession, and helps to avoid the pitfalls of a life lived transparently with little understanding of the possible ramifications. Let’s also hope that a dose of reality is served to some of our school administrators, so that incidents like the one that has befallen Ashley Payne are played out sensibly, and not rashly, detrimentally affecting teacher careers.
We can ill afford a future where ‘Reputation Bankruptcy’, an idea floated by Harvard Law School professor Jonathan Zittrain, becomes the norm. ‘Reputation Bankruptcy’ would allow people to have the opportunity to eradicate their Web history and start over. If we teach our teachers and students how to sensibly and effectively use social media, reputations will remain intact, and our transparent world will serve us well.
So, how do we manage our Digital Footprint? That’ll be the focus of my next posting. Stick around.
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Great posting! We had a discussion about this very topic with some colleagues last week.
This is a very interesting paradigm of our time. On the one hand, it is great to be able to connect and share with people around the world with opennesses and transparency but we should also be careful about privacy issues.
How do we effectively manage our private life versus our public persona without sacrificing who we truly are?
Is this just a matter of ethics or an essential element of being part of a networked world?
Thank you for pushing my thinking, I love to have more questions than answers!
I think you’ve hit the crux of the issue with your question, “How do we effectively manage our private life versus our public persona without sacrificing who we truly are?” I’ve come to believe that in the networks I inhabit, I’m always a teacher. I can inject the person I am into my interactions, but I’m always thinking of potential ramifications before I tweet or leave comments. I don’t see this as a problem, just part of my awareness of the role new media is playing in our lives. This leads to your second question. I think this kind of awareness is an essential element of being part of a networked world.
Jenny : )
This is a great post, Jenny, with lots to think about. I teach in a school and in a community (Baltimore is also known as Smalltimore) where there is a lot of crossover between the teachers and parents. My daughters attend the school, and many of the parents of their friends have been friends of mine for a long time, in many cases long before I began teaching at the school. As a result, I am friends with many of them on Facebook. Of course, they in turn are friends with other parents that I do not know as well. The lines are very blurred, to say the least.
They are blurred Chris, and I think teachers living and working in small communities like you describe, where the crossover interactions occur, face some difficulties with the rise of social media. My daughter attends my school, and she doesn’t want me as a friend on facebook. I’m comfortable with that because we have a pretty open and positive relationship anyway, but I also don’t want to compromise myself by seeing activity posted on her wall that might conflict with my responsibilities as a teacher. We have a system of mandatory reporting in Australia. If we see or hear of something that causes us concern for the welfare of a student, we are obligated to report it to authorities. Like I said in the post above, I don’t think all teachers have a handle on what they should be doing when it comes to interactions in social networks. Hopefully by pushing the discussion into spaces like these, we will see growing awareness, and teachers will be able to make informed decisions about their interactions.
You have some very good points here, and I think it is very important to discuss this with all the teachers. We recently had a discussion like this at our school and I know some teachers have chosen to be friends with former students on Facebook. As you state, this former students might have friends still attending the school or siblings. They need to carefully consider what they share on Facebook. In Norway a politician wrote an unfavorable comment about an artist in Norway on Facebook. It was on national news the day after and needless to say, it was not a comment intended to be shared with the whole country. You never know what your so-called “friends” on Facebook might do?
Great to hear your school is talking about issues like these. Spreading awareness is vital, and schools need to invest time in helping their teaching staff navigate the changing landscapes we inhabit.
Jenny : )
m enlightened………..really……….have been teaching for the last seven years but these issues never hit me to the extent thay have after reading this article.,,really an enterprising one………
Thanks for leaving a comment. I think there are many in our profession for whom this would be a new way of looking at things.
It is also frankly clear that some students do not fully understand the concept of transparency as well. As an example, I will point out the recent viral video of the UCLA business major student going on a rant about the Asians on her campus. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIXlBat62eU
A friend of mine, a doctorate student at UCLA, says that the temperature on campus as a result of this video is high. How will this student ever recover her reputation professionally or personally as a result of this spontaneous posting? (And after seeing the video, I’m not so sure she should.) What I find interesting is that the video has become its own curriculum not just in character education, but in this very topic of digital footprint. She is seen in the above link being analyzed by her own peers.
I teach internet literacy to middle schoolers in both my Language Arts classes and Podcasting classes. It is a vital concept, and one where it’s possible that in this case, teachers may be learning by watching their own students fail. The key here is to catch our own learning gap, close it, and be able to teach this awareness, before it’s too late for our own professional decisions as well as our students’ professional footprints.
Thanks for this article. Good stuff and right on!
Thanks Heather. I’ll follow up and take a look at the video you link to. I have spent quite a bit of time talking with students from my school from Yrs 7 – 12 about their digital footprint and what they need to do to cultivate a positive one. Finding real life examples of people who ‘shoot themselves in the foot’ so to speak, is very powerful. I certainly think these are discussions that need to be had in schools today; where else are kids going to hear the message?
I agree with you and all of the comments about being aware of the impact your comments will have when writing for social media. Each time a person writes, (as I tell my children) you should think first, would I say this out loud if I were at school? If I were in a sports stadium? If I were on TV? Because social media is public just like those venues.
That being said, however, I feel that education is becoming a profession where a teacher is granted less rights than the average citizen within our society. A teacher is not entitled to express their opinion (in the US at the University level, this is mandated by law-FERPA) without the risk of being fired. Now there is a push to get rid of tenure. So if a teacher feels there are problems within the school and complains to parents or those outside of the school, they can be terminated. What is this teaching our next generation about civil discussion? There is the teacher in NJ who has been suspended because she blogged (under a pseudonym) about her class, that some of the children were whiny and pampered. Her blog did not identify the school where she taught, nor did she have her name. But some students located it and brought it to the attention to administrators.
I have heard politicians accuse the teaching profession of incompetence, accused teachers vilified in the media (with at least half the time the teachers being found not guilty, yet this fact is on the back pages of the newspaper or a footnote in the local media), and parents and students complaining on social media about specific teachers that they don’t like. This is accepted, yet a teacher who tries to anonymously tries to complain about what she sees as a problem in her classroom is suspended and might loose her job. I find this very unfair and I feel that teachers should have the right to participate equally in our society and not held to a different standard than anyone else.
I agree with you Virginia. I don’t think it’s fair, but it’s our reality for now. I think we are going through a time of convergence, and with it comes new parameters that are being tested. I think cases like the one you have highlighted will be part of what starts to make the discussions happen about what constitutes private life vs public life, especially with people in careers like teaching, where we are in part responsible for the development of young people’s lives. I’ve recently heard of a case in my country, where a young teacher’s career is in question over pictures that appeared online when she was seventeen. Surely we can forgive people the vagaries of youth. I certainly hope these discussions become mainstream, because they are discussions that need to be had.