Social media platforms and apps offer a variety of ways for young people and adults to connect, collaborate, discover, learn, share ideas and news and be entertained. This guide discusses how you can use social media in a positive way to keep yourself, your learners and your professional reputation safe.
Everyone is entitled to a personal life online, and you as a practitioner are no different. It is important, however, to carefully manage how you use social media personally so as to protect your privacy and your professional reputation. Here are a few steps you can take.
Use privacy settings
While you should always consider what you share online, using an app’s privacy settings is a very effective way to control who can contact and/or ‘follow’ you, and who can see what you post about your personal life. You should consider:
- making all of your personal social media accounts private (i.e. not visible to all users on that platform)
- choosing an appropriate profile picture and ensuring other images, such as Facebook cover photos or Twitter header images, are also appropriate as these images are often public, regardless of privacy settings
- using a different name or variation of your name as a username so that it’s harder for learners and/or parents/carers to find and follow your accounts
- using privacy settings to control who can contact you, and whether they can automatically follow you or send you a request first
- adjusting your settings to keep your location private so that learners or parents/carers can’t track where you go regularly (for example your home, favourite restaurant, the gym you use, etc.)
Keep professional and personal accounts separate
You may want to use social media in a professional capacity, such as to network with other professionals on platforms such as LinkedIn, or to ask questions and share ideas with other practitioners on platforms such as Twitter. If you do, it may be worth creating a separate ‘professional’ account so that you don’t mix your personal life with your professional one. A professional account could be more visible than your other social media accounts, so remember that any content you post/share and any discussions you have can have a direct impact on your professional reputation, the reputation of your school and even the teaching profession in general.
Create clear boundaries with learners and parents and carers
Even if your school’s policies don’t explicitly ask you to do this, it’s highly recommended that you decline any friend/follow requests from learners. It’s also vital to carefully consider accepting friend or follower requests from former learners, especially if they're under 18, regardless of whether they’re from a previous school, have moved away from your school, or are now adults. These former learners may have siblings or friends in your school and adding them might allow your content to be shared with a wider audience than you intend.
You should also stop and think before adding parents/carers as online contacts – and if you do, make sure you know which posts they can see. These SWGfL checklists on the Keeping safe online area of Hwb can help you control your content and manage your privacy settings.
Be aware of what friends and family share
Consider carefully what may be shared about you by your friends and family online. If you feel any of it could have a damaging impact on your professional reputation, ask them to remove that content, and ensure your friends and family know that they need to ask for your consent before posting content which relates to you.
Get to know your digital footprint
One way to gauge your online reputation and check the effectiveness of your privacy settings is to search for yourself regularly online, using either search engines or the search features on social media platforms. Always report any negative content related to you to the platform, save evidence of it (where appropriate) and inform senior leadership at school as they will be able to offer support and guidance on how to deal with the issue.
Should you require any support, the Professionals Online Safety Helpline can be contacted on 0844 381 4772 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The helpline can advise and support any practitioners working with children and young people with a range of online safety concerns.
More information on managing your personal and professional use of social media can be found in this guide by Childnet.
I use social media in my role as a practitioner – what do I need to consider?
Many schools use social media to communicate with parents/carers, governors and the wider community, and as a practitioner you may be responsible for putting out regular content. If this is part of your role, you should:
- always remain professional and positive when posting or sharing any content related to your school or learners
- follow your school’s social media policy (if it has one), and comply with other policies your school has for using the internet and technology
- pay particular attention to any rules about who can access school social media accounts, when they can be used and on which devices (being aware that linked devices can lead to an account password being accessible by many devices)
- use a school e-mail address to register school social media accounts
- ensure you understand your school’s approach and expectations around responding to posts and comments – both positive and negative – and never enter into an argument online, as this will only exacerbate the situation
Further advice and information on creating school social media strategies and managing your school’s online reputation is available through this guide from LGfL.
How do I use social media in the classroom?
Social media can provide fantastic learning opportunities. Your learners can use it to showcase their progress, connect with other schools and experts, and consider their audience when sharing their ideas. If your school promotes the use of social media in the classroom, ensure that you:
- follow school policies at all times – for example, never use personal social media accounts, only the apps/platforms deemed appropriate by the school
- know which learners can or cannot be photographed for school purposes, and whether you can share names of learners or not
- always consider how others may interact with the content you share. You may wish to disable comments to prevent learners from being exposed to negative or abusive language
What can I do to support my learners’ use of social media?
Even if your learners are below the minimum age to create and use social media accounts, they live in a world where social media is highly visible and many may already be active users of some apps. It’s very important to educate them about:
- the risks that social media can pose to their health and mental well-being
- how to develop strategies to use social media positively and safely
- how to get help and support if they have issues online, whether that involves reporting negative content, talking to a trusted adult or finding helplines and organisations that can support them
A range of support services is available on Hwb.
As a practitioner, you’re responsible for knowing your school’s safeguarding procedures and how these relate to social media and the internet. If a learner makes a disclosure to you, or if you have concerns about their safety, always follow the procedures properly.
The following resources on Hwb are useful for educating young people about the benefits and risks of using social media.
- Social Media (Primary)
- Loneliness, social isolation and social media (Primary)
- Going live on social media (Primary)
- Social Media (Secondary)
- Loneliness, social isolation and social media (Secondary)
- Going live on social media (Secondary)
For more information about keeping learners safe online, visit Keeping safe online on Hwb for a wide range of digital resilience resources, available in both English and Welsh.