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Source: Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA)

Secondary Principals Council chair James Morris shares his thoughts on the increasing role social media plays in how we connect.

SPC chair James Morris

Schools work hard to build connections between people: students, staff, families and community. I believe that doing this is key to being successful in educating our children. Feeling connected is fundamental to wellbeing.

The more a student feels connected to their school the better their wellbeing and their learning is likely to be. In the same way a school connected to and supported by their local community brings benefits that are difficult for a school standing alone to achieve.

The speed and reach of social media is a benefit and a challenge

Social media is playing an increasingly central role in how we connect and communicate as a community, both locally and internationally. Social media provides excellent opportunities for people to keep in contact, make links, trade and seek help. 

The speed and reach of communicating via social media are both its benefits and its challenges. A key issue we face however is that individuals are able to make comments online that are hurtful and often untrue.

Such comments are made in a moment and generally without considered thought for the impact and damage. Others may then also choose to wade in with further vitriol and accusations. In a school community this can lead to significant hurt and fracturing of relationships that results in division rather than working together.

If personal attacks become the norm the whole community loses

Schools and their staff are in a central and often public role in their community. Due to professional standards, the targets of online attacks are often not in a position to be able to defend themselves. It also unfairly impacts their families. 

If school staff and Board of Trustee members are fearful of being publicly pilloried, they will increasingly be unable to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. Good people may choose to leave their positions rather than work in such a climate. If this happens, the whole community loses.

If as a community we see such personal attacks as acceptable, then this becomes the norm and all individuals in the community risk being the target of them. One protection we have is that individuals can also come to the support of others and express concern at online behaviour that they believe is unacceptable. In addition, the administrators of social media sites can be proactive in responding to damaging comment.

Building connections despite not always agreeing

There are laws of defamation and digital communication that may be breached and remedies can be found in this way; but such strategies are time consuming and costly and do not tend to repair the damage done. As adults we set the example to our children about what is right and wrong. They watch us closely and follow our lead. They will learn how to deal with conflict by seeing how we do it. If they see us publicly insulting others, then they will do this too. 

It is OK to disagree with a decision; this is a fundamental right of our democracy, but people need to be kind to each other and challenge decisions in a respectful manner. Schools and school staff will make mistakes and decisions will be made that some do not agree with.
Whilst best efforts are made to avoid mistakes and disagreement, they will happen. All schools have published complaints procedures for dealing with these situations. If we can find ways to build connections, despite not always agreeing, will be doing a great service to our children’s education.

This piece was originally published in Principals Today magazine

Last modified on Monday, 8 June 2020 13:17