My thoughts on a proposed social media policy for school employees (Part 2)

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[In Part 1 of this conversation, I asked for others’ input and received numerous online comments plus some additional emails. In this post I offer my own thoughts. Warning: Long post ahead.]

Dear Iowa superintendent and school board members,

As founding director of the nation’s only university center focused on P-12 technology leadership issues, I am writing to offer my admittedly-unsolicited thoughts regarding your recently-proposed social media policy for employees. I have had the opportunity to work with educators in your system on multiple occasions. I once spoke to the board about student laptop programs. You have a long history of excellence and are a much-admired district by others in the state. You are known for being pedagogically progressive and, when you rescinded your cell phone ban for students, we held you up as a model for other districts in our statewide technology leadership training sessions for Iowa principals and superintendents. You’re a fantastic school system and we all respect you greatly.

I state this context up front to explain why many of us were so disappointed to see your proposed employee social media policy. I put this policy before my 28,000+ educational technology-savvy readers to solicit their reactions. While some of them thought parts of the policy were okay, many concerns were expressed as well. My overarching issues are listed immediately below. My point-by-point concerns and those of my readers are listed at the end of this message.

  • The policy reads as if you don’t trust your educators. Instead of it feeling proactive, progressive, affirming, and empowering (as we expected), it feels reactive, regressive, and disabling. As it currently reads, this policy feels very distrusting and – sometimes – demeaning instead of resting on a foundation of trust and recognition that nearly all of your educators will use social media tools appropriately. If you trust your educators every day to act as professionals with your community’s children within school, you should trust them to act as professionals outside of school as well.
  • For those occasional instances of inappropriate use, I don’t believe that you need a separate ‘social media policy.’ You already (should) have policies regarding inappropriate teacher communication and behavior with both students and other staff, plus there are state laws that reinforce and extend these expectations. All you have to do as a district – like for student cheating, bullying, and sexual harassment – is enforce your current policies instead of creating tool-specific policies. Your policies should target underlying substantive behaviors, not the mediums in which those behaviors occur.
  • You’re alienating your most technology-savvy educators. I already have heard from multiple technology-fluent educators, both in and out of your district, that they do not want to work in a school system that has a restrictive policy such as this one. Given the confining and directive language in the policy, it is understandable why they feel that way. Most school districts suffer from shortages of technology-knowledgeable faculty. I am guessing that you can’t afford to disenfranchise the ones that you have. There’s a big difference between a highly-constraining policy such as this one and policies that gently remind staff (Example 1; Example 2; Example 3) that social media are powerful communication tools that also should be used appropriately just like telephones, email, text messages, and handwritten forms of communication. The current policy basically says no, no, no (and get permission) instead of yes, yes, yes (and be smart and careful).
  • The policy is unwieldy and partially illegal. If you enact this policy as currently written, I believe that you will find parts of it to be unwieldy and unenforceable – and thus unworkable over time. As a school law instructor, I’m pretty certain that parts of it are illegal as well. Policy that is unenforceable is not good policy.

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