'Cautious' teachers need social media support from schools

A lack of support from schools is making teachers “cautious” about blogging and using social media, an academic has warned.

Dr Helen Woodley told the annual conference of the Chartered College of Teaching today that curriculum changes and increasingly “hierarchical” school structures undermine the voice of teachers, prompting some to turn to platforms like Twitter and blogs to share their concerns.

According to Woodley, a special educational needs coordinator and researcher, blogging and tweeting by teachers has many benefits.

“No teacher who is on twitter can escape conversations about Ofsted myths, pupil discipline, marking,” said Woodley. “We’ve all seen that. And teachers who are actively involved in sharing their voice in such forums share knowledge, skills and stories in ways we just couldn’t have done as a profession before.”

But there is “often a lack of professional support by schools in helping teachers use social media and blogs”. This means teachers often “use them with caution”, and worry the benefits of such platforms are outweighed by the risks of “criticism and public shaming”.

When using the internet to share grievances and anecdotes, teachers also face “questions of ethics and anonymity”, with the publication of certain sensitive information prohibited by teachers’ professional standards.

“If we take those [standards] literally, it would be ethically wrong for a teacher to discuss on a blog, in an academic journal, in a conversation at a conference anything which could have a negative effect on a student, colleague or school being identified,” said Woodley. “This naturally limits how we can share our voices.”

However, the use of “fictionalised narratives” – stories where names and details are changed to protect the anonymity of schools and pupils – allows school staff to tell their stories without fear of falling foul of professional standards.

These stories allow teachers to present real-life stories “in a way imagined by the author”. For example, Woodley used the technique in her own thesis in order to tell the stories of of 8-year-old pupils permanently excluded from school while protecting their identities.

“Fictionalised narratives are brilliant, because they lend themselves to sharing this highly sensitive information and they aim to show the truth of what people say or do, but yet also remain untrue at the same time.”

For more on this story, see edition 130 of Schools Week, available on Friday February 23.