It has been a rough couple weeks. My town, like so many others, has a community forum on Facebook. Residents share the good, bad, and everything in between. In this online community, I have noticed a growing number of complaints about different schools, teachers, and issues that occur as we deal with students. As a high school administrator, I personally have pretty thick skin, but the constant negative talk is publicly hurtful to our schools.
I have seen families vent on social media about their school, teacher, or a particular policy they disagree with. I am struck that this is the first step of what you do when things aren’t going the way you want them to go at your school. Prior to an incident where I was identified, the event was not laid out in a truthful way, and I was working to resolve the situation as they were posting negatively about our school and me. I knew the school and teacher bashing was bad, but I didn’t know how personally hurtful it was.
Educators are many times in a position where they cannot defend themselves on social media. Sharing information would be a violation of FERPA and frankly unprofessional. So the blame piles on. Comments and comments and comments are made lambasting school rules, teacher’s grading policies, and the overall state of our schools. While I will absolutely be the first to say that schools and educators working in them make mistakes and may not see the best way to do something, blasting someone on social media isn’t going to resolve the problem. I see, again and again, frustrated parents sharing discipline incidents or grade disputes with an online community that they do not know. I wonder, what is the benefit of doing so?
So, what do we do when things go wrong at school if we aren’t just putting the school on blast on social media? What if we asked parents and community members to start with the teacher or whomever they are concerned with. What if we try to resolve it in the most local way? What if we utilized the chain of command if it isn’t resolved with satisfaction? This is a powerful tool: go to administration or seek out a supervisor. If you still aren’t satisfied, go to district administration and then even to the school board. If a school isn’t serving you, it is ok to let them know. But please do not go to Facebook to out your teachers, counselors, bus driver, or administrator for doing something that you perceive as wrong.
Schools are left defenseless to remarks that are sometimes not totally factual or involve issues that they are trying to resolve. In the end, all that is created from social media slander is an atmosphere where schools are filled with a demoralized staff who does not feel the support of their community.
As I sat down to write this, I got a call. A person took a newspaper photograph of our school’s varsity football players kneeling in prayer before the game out of context and blasted us for allowing them to kneel during the anthem. While all students have the right to do either, and this article is most definitely not about student protest or prayer, our schools and coaches were getting hit from all sides about the incident on Facebook. Once again, facts were wrong, but that was not relevant or interesting to outraged FB posters. The comments grew and grew until parents of the students were forced to share the information in context.
I think everyone can agree: these are divisive times. Schools have plenty to do to resolve the issues that are on their campuses with their students. While we should absolutely answer to the public, a social media forum isn’t the appropriate place for them to defend or talk about private, singular incidents involving students. I encourage all parents or concerned citizens who go to social media to share things that are happening at their school to leave the keyboard behind and go into the school to make the changes we need. Everyone wants to see the same outcome at the end of the day, and that is to make our schools a better place for the students who attend them.