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Navigating the Minefield of Social Media: Suggestions for Educators

Wednesday, Jun. 22, 2011

If a student comes to school personnel with a complaint about cyberbullying, the school needs to do something about it—even if the offensive content was generated off campus.

That was the message of Sr. Mary Angela Shaughnessy, executive director of the Education Law Institute, when she talked with Catholic school leaders at the Catholic School Principals' Institute (CSPI) held this week at Santa Clara University. Shaughnessy, one of the foremost experts on Catholic school law in the country, is legal counsel and dean of the graduate school at St. Catharine College in Kentucky.

She told educators that they couldn't be expected to monitor students' off-campus Internet behavior, but that once online bullying was brought to their attention, they were obliged to deal with it. She suggested that teachers ask for copies of the offensive e-ails, contact the student's parents, and tell the principal. Schools "should reserve the right to discipline students for conduct on or off school property," she said.

Her remarks were part of an overview of new ethical and legal issues for schools emerging from technology and social media. She reported on a Kaiser Family Foundation Study that 8 to 18 year-olds spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using entertainment media—10 hours and 45 minutes if you count their multi-tasking.

The implications for schools include poorer performance from the heaviest media users. Youngsters who used more than 16 hours of media a day self-reported grades of mostly C or lower.

She also warned educators to create clear boundaries between their professional and personal lives online. Shaughnessy and her colleague Michael Huggins offer these specific guidelines for teachers on the use of social media:

  • Think carefully about the content you post. If your Facebook or other profile lists you as a teacher at a school, your online behavior will reflect on the school.
  • Do not friend your students from your personal Facebook page or accept friend requests from students. If you need a Facebook presence for a class, create a separate page and ask your principal to be a "friend."

CSPI brings leaders from Northern California Catholic schools to Santa Clara Univerity for workshops of shared challenges.  CSPI is sponsored by the Ethics Cer and the SCU Department of Education.

Tags: character education, social media