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A Social Minefield? The Policy That Can’t Be Ignored

female hands using smart phone typing text messageIt’s probably already ingrained in the lives of the majority of your pupils and most of your teaching staff. It’s something they think about first thing in the morning, they talk about it intermittently during the day, and they will most likely spend the evening using it. ‘It’ is social media, and if it’s not already on your radar then you’re behind the times, like way behind the times.

Actually, most schools keep their finger on the pulse of popular culture and will already have some kind of policy or, at the very least, guidelines implemented in terms of social media for both staff and students. But is it reviewed regularly? Something that was big news in social media last week could be a whisper on the wind by tomorrow, and there could be a whole new online phenomenon to contend with very suddenly. A standard framework is great to have, and, of course, we suggest including one in your school planners. Evergreen rules include points like outlining responsible social media use for staff and students, and the school’s policy on social networks on school computers. There are a few things that are worth reviewing more regularly though, even if just among senior staff.

It’s not technically a new occurrence, but most of us can probably agree that the age of social media has redefined what we consider cyberbullying. Perhaps people feel stronger behind the relative security of a keyboard? It doesn’t take long at all for a few outside-of-school comments to snowball into a bullying situation that can trail into the classroom. The rise of the Groups application on Facebook is an example of how this can be easily facilitated (it even has a standalone app separate from the main smartphone app); away from prying eyes of people on their friends’ lists, students can openly say things that they perhaps wouldn’t say in the company of others. Having a member of staff that is actively aware of such groups on social media is an example of how schools can be in a position to flag a potential problem.

Dangerous Crazes
Internet crazes come and go at a startlingly quick rate; some of them are good and serve as a fundraising tool for charity, while others are a little more sinister and come with an element of danger that has seen young people get seriously injured. Planking, the duct tape challenge, the cinnamon challenge, and car surfing all have a tragic story that ends in serious injury or death of a teenager or young person. A social media policy in a pupil planner that references internet challenges not only reinforces the dangers to students, but also can act as a tool for notifying parents who may be otherwise unaware of such activity.

Keeping Children Safe
It’s not a comfortable subject for most people, but it’s a necessary one in the digital age. Not everyone uses the Internet with the best intentions and it isn’t difficult to find news stories detailing young people becoming embroiled in online relationships with older adults (the act of an adult speaking to a younger person in an increasingly inappropriate way is referred to as ‘grooming’). As a means to keep parents reassured and to ensure staff are always vigilant, it can be worth regularly communicating with teachers to be vigilant and aware of the signs that a child is being groomed.social_01

Speaking Their Language
Finally, a more light-hearted point. Whether we like it or not, older generations are just going to have to accept that the digital world is a part of young people’s lives, and there isn’t any evidence that suggests this is likely to change. Most teachers already use social media outside of the classroom anyway, but it’s certainly worth opening a dialogue within schools that openly acknowledges social media use will happen outside of school hours. Keeping up with what’s popular doesn’t have to be exhausting; it can actually be quite good fun, and there are plenty of examples of teachers thoroughly embracing social media life. Check out these teachers who went viral with their farewell video to Year 11 students.

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