Kentucky School Advocate
By Jennifer Wohlleb
Required ethics training for school board members this year focused on the ethical use of social media. The session was offered several times during KSBA's annual conference last month.
Wearing a T-shirt that read "Keep calm and think before you post," presenter Brad Hughes, KSBA's director of Communications and Member Support, led board members through a discussion of defining both ethics and social media, as well as what to think about as they use it.
"Ethics are the personal standards by which you make decisions," Hughes said.
Social media includes vehicles such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, among many others.
With social media becoming one of the main avenues for communication, and with that unlikely to change in the future, Hughes said it's important for school board members to understand it.
"You wouldn't have someone do your taxes who doesn’t know how to do taxes; you wouldn't have someone fixing your plumbing who knew nothing about what's under your sink," he said. "So to be asking you to make ethical decisions about social media to those out there who are not personally active with it would be a false premise."
Social media can reap positive benefits for schools and students, such as the ease of promoting events and calendar information; sharing news; informing students and parents of fast-moving events such as snow days and safety alerts; and improving instruction by making communication easier between students and educators.
"Are there some downsides?" Hughes asked. "Yes, there are some real negative effects. There are going to be inappropriate interactions … but social media is a great way for students to ask questions and get help with their studies. And there are going to be critics."
He said when those attacks inevitably come, board members need to decide if those attacks have "legs."
"You can't react to every piece of criticism on social media," Hughes said. "If you determine it has legs, then determine if you want to respond and how. But if you sit out there and every single time someone said something and you want to respond, it will eat at your guts. Make your determination if it has legs, and my definition of that is, if anyone else is talking about it. Even if you have 10 or 12 posts on there, are they from the same parents and the same people?
"Make a judgment, but don't get so inflamed because there are few wars on social media that are won by either side."
He said it is OK to explain and defend a district decision, but don't allow yourself to get down in the muck.
He encouraged board members with social media accounts to keep their personal and professional pages separate, and to understand that just because you think it is private, anything posted can easily be made public . And always think before you post anything.
"If whatever you are thinking about posting, if in the back of your mind you think it has the potential for causing problems between you and your superintendent or you and your fellow board members, think: is it worth running that potential risk to make that post," Hughes asked. "If you decide that it is, then you have made an ethical decision and that is all I can ask for. But I ask that you think about this: Is it going to cause a problem between you and other people that you have to work with?"
Hughes reminded board members that every district in Kentucky except two have adopted a school board policy for ethics.
"Some of you have tablets, laptops, issued by the district; you may have a Facebook or Twitter account that district personnel have helped you create," he said. "Should your policy that relates to staff on social media apply to you? Right now in this state, to our knowledge, not a single district has a policy about social media that applies to the board members.
"I'm not suggesting it should apply it to board members who are using their home computer, their own account, but I suggest you go back and have a discussion about it sometime: Is it right , is it ethical for you to be setting rules for your employees that you don't abide by yourself?"