This is an expanded version of an excerpt from my August 30, 2017 blog-post multi-part series entitled “Ethics for Music Educators II,” crossing over to multiple categories and perspectives for veteran music teachers, new or pre-service educators, and retirees, and touching on the timely issues of ethics, student/teacher safety, professional development, and personal branding.
The Paradox: Online Technology Pitfalls vs. Innovations in Education
This may be hard to believe, but when I started teaching in 1978, “social media” did not exist. If you can imagine this, there was no Internet yet, and most of us did not have computers. Flip or smart phones and tablets were only the subject of science fiction or Star Trek episodes. Guidelines for use or to avoid abuse of social media were not even a “seed” in our imaginations.
When MySpace and Facebook came upon the scene in 2003 and 2004, most school administrators recommended “stay away from these.” The online sharing and archiving of photos initiated the adoption of many other social media apps (Flickr and later Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc), which provoked new challenges in maintaining privacy, appropriateness, and professionalism. Danger, danger, danger!
However, very soon after, school leaders starting rolling out revolutionary “technology” such as “teacher pages” and school webpages, online bulletin board services, interactive forums, virtual learning environments like Blackboard and Blended Schools, and other educational tools which encouraged two-way communications among students in the class and the teacher. All of this is here to stay… so how should we use technology safely?
Cons – Negatives – Warnings
Paraphrasing current and past postings from the Pennsylvania Department of Education Professional Standards and Practices Commission Educator Ethics and Conduct Toolkit, social media and other digital communications may perpetuate the following problems:
- Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to the blurring of appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting confidentiality.
- Texts, emails, and social media postings are not private, and may be seen by others, forwarded, and/or copied or printed.
- Out of context, they may be misinterpreted, appear to be inappropriate, and/or lead to a violation of “The Code.”
- It is the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her “public brand,” how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One’s public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.
“Let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise.”
– National Education Association
There are a lot of pretty scary scenarios out there modeling “real” ethical dilemmas for teachers in the use of emerging technology and social media. If you can, take the time to preview a few of these case studies and videos:
- Nebraska Professional Practices Commission
- Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission
Many have said that Facebook and educators, in particular, should never mix. Although not entirely accurate or perhaps fair to the social media “giant” (you can carefully set-up private, content-specific Facebook groups with restricted access and limited privileges), this seems to be supported by one news story about a Math teacher who loss her job because she failed to notice changes in her Facebook privacy settings, and the other, a clever Facebook vs. teacher presentation by R. Osterman. In my opinion, both of these should be “required viewing” by all college music education majors and current educators in all subject areas.
Pros – Positives – Recommendations
By no means are we implying that all forms of technology are “bad” or “dangerous” for music teachers. For example, some of us have explored the valuable web-based music education platforms of SmartMusic (MakeMusic, Inc.) and MusicFirst, and I can give you a handful of fantastic (free) links to online resources for the teaching of music theory, ear-training, and even sight-singing:
One of my favorite music educator blog-sites is Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room. Her March 2017 post, “Social Media for Music Teachers,” provides excellent insights into the safe and philosophically-sound use of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. I cannot recall how many times I visited YouTube’s exhaustive library of recordings, sharing with my students both good and bad examples of the orchestral literature we were studying.
Another impressive article, “How Music Teachers Can Use the Power of Social Media” by Amanda Green, focuses on using the Internet to send out practice reminders, encourage practice uploads, share amazing performances, and communicate tips and reminders.
“Some people mistakenly assume that social media doesn’t apply to them. Take music teachers. Their work is done in person, one student at a time, right? Not at all. If you’re a music teacher and you don’t already have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Tumblr blog set up for your music studio, you’re not taking advantage of all of the ways that social media can help your students. As the TakeLessons team notes: the Internet has enabled students to learn music from anywhere, often from teachers who are Skyping halfway across the country.” – Amanda Green
Here are several supplemental resources provided in NAfME Music in a Minuet:
- “Social Media for Teachers”
- “Building Your Personal Learning Network Using Social Media”
- “The Socially Minded Music Classroom”
Finally, I urge you to review Chad Criswell’s submission, “Social Media and Communication in the Music Classroom,” which was published in the February 2012 NAfME Teaching Music.
Exercising Good Judgment and Professionalism Using Technology
Ethics are all about making good choices. Returning to “my state’s” excellent ethics tool kit, the following links were suggested for additional study:
- Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA): “Safe Social Media for Educators”
- PSEA: “Social Networking Tips & Information”
- PSEA: “Blogging 101”
- PSEA: “Emailing and Text Messaging”
Guiding questions about the above links from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission:
- “After examining these resource guides for emerging technology, did any of the guidelines surprise you?”
- “Do you envision any problem for you personally in adhering to these guidelines?”
During my sessions on ethics in music education, I quote these ten rules from the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence:
- Know your school district or state’s policies on social media.
- Never “friend” or “follow” students on your personal accounts.
- Keep your profile photos clean
- Do not affiliate yourself with your school on a personal profile.
- Do not geo-tag your posts with your school’s location.
- “Snaps” are forever! Anyone can take a screen shot of your posts.
- Never mention your school or the names of staff or students in any post.
- Set your Instagram account to private.
- Never complain about your job online.
- Never post photos of your students on social media
The final word, the most eloquent and comprehensive guide for all of us to use in our daily decision-making in the profession is the Model Code of Ethics for Educators, created by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).
“The Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE) serves as a guide for future and current educators faced with the complexities of P-12 education. The code establishes principles for ethical best practice, mindfulness, self-reflection, and decision-making, setting the groundwork for self-regulation and self-accountability. The establishment of this professional code of ethics by educators for educators honors the public trust and upholds the dignity of the profession.” – NASDTEC
Here is the specific section applicable to social media and other technology. I cannot imagine that, after all of this, there is anything else left to say!
Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “Internet” by TheDigitalArtist, “notes” by Alehandra, “social-media” by mohamed_hassan, “network” by geralt, “Facebook” by Simon, “Internet” (2) by TheDigitalArtist, “portrait” by Karla_Campos, “woman” by shy_kurji, “smartphone” by TeroVesalainen, and “connection” by TheDigitalArtist.
© 2018 Paul K. Fox