The Anonymous Teacher

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Should teachers use social media anonymously?

In the past, your medical and employment records would have remained hidden in filing cabinets for decades. Yet, in today’s society most will now have a digital footprint available in some form. How true is this for our general use of social media?

Digital Footprint:

“You may not have thought about what will happen to your digital accounts such as your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts when you die, however this is becoming more relevant in an increasingly digital world.” (Death and your digital footprint)

What will be your digital legacy after you die? What about your digital footprint whilst you are still living and breathing?

How does the latter impact on your current employment prospects?

Recruitment:

There are very few schools today, that would not conduct an online ‘initial search of a potential candidate’ before interview, or at least prior to appointment. I know for two reasons. The first being two years ago, when I attended 6 interviews for deputy head teacher. At least 50% of schools/head teachers referenced my online identity (in a search engine) before, or on arrival to an interview. One headteacher even used their search (of me) in their opening greeting to me in front of other candidates! I was taken aback, not by their want of searching, but by the openness of their findings in front of other candidates.

The second reason would be as a school middle or senior leader on a short-listing panel.

All school leaders I have worked with, are encouraged by the head teacher to ‘skim’ social media platforms to cross-reference applications, particularly those who are long-listed. This may not be common-practice in all schools, but is something that is encouraged in a safeguarding recruitment process. It would be very surprising to think that any teacher were unaware of ‘the potential to be searched’ when submitting any application.

Searching online is useful strategy when deciding ‘what school a teacher would want to work in’. Why on earth would a school choose not to do the same about a potential employee? There is too much at stake when dealing with the lives of children.

If a school makes this clear in their recruitment process, and most schools do with their ‘safer recruitment disclaimer’ in adverts, the applicant has no reason to question the process in addition to the standard DBS checks. A decision may not rest on any evidence, but if something unsavoury or untoward is displayed for all to see, it would likely be the final ‘nail in the coffin’ for that individual case. In some circumstances, a closer inspection may also flag up safeguarding issues for unprotected accounts which may display inappropriate content.

Teachers should uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school. (Teachers’ Standards, England.)

Key Question:

The question here is, should teachers use social media anonymously?

In this post I present reasons for and against anonymity of teachers who use social media.

shutterstock_169147106 Anonymous male on a laptop at night. Concept of internet addiction

Image: Shutterstock

Firstly, there is a difference between anonymity for whistle blowing or satire, versus anonymity for trolling.

In our current media climate, the words troll and trolling appear to pop up most regularly when describing destructive behaviours or states (copyright trolls, patent trolls, cyber-bullying trolls). When encountering my first net troll, I didn’t immediately frame them as evil – to me, they were simply an attention-seeking individual with obvious, and potentially serious, issues. (The problems with anonymous trolls and accountability in the digital age.)

“Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality.” (Teachers’ Standards, England.)

So, if teachers by default have ‘proper and professional regard’, why be anonymous if one has nothing to hide?

For Anonymity:

I am in support of teacher anonymity, particularly to encourage teachers to expose poor practice, to discuss issues such as poor line-management and decisions that have been made by colleagues and schools that are bordering on bullying or constructive dismissal. Obviously, these are few and far between examples, but sadly, not unheard of in schools.

Whether negative or constructive, most trolls operate under a cloak of anonymity. This anonymity affords them the ability to engage with others (adversely or beneficially) without the hindrance of a definable identity: combine this with the significant freedom of expression that anonymity produces, and that’s one highly volatile mix.” (Do not feed the trolls: Anonymity and free speech.)

Reading bad news from the front-line is of course, saddening, but this also provides a reality-check of the conditions in which teachers work. In this case, there is a place for anonymity to help shape government policy and expose shameful examples of practice in school. This ensures we all keep our heads out of the sand and address what really does go on in schools. Without honesty, we cannot improve.

Here are some reasons ‘for’ anonymity:

  • provoke or challenge dialogue in all aspects of education
  • expose bad ideas
  • provide instantaneous (and often fleeting) online interactions, with outbursts of emotion
  • post content that demands feedback. Often an anonymous blog warrants the attention it craves
  • work safely online in terms of your own public persona
  • a good starting point for those new to social media, sharing ideas in a professional capacity.

There is one disclaimer: remember, everything you say or do is archived on the web. Is there anything you do, that could hinder your future employment prospects?

It has been interesting to see a tiny number of anonymous teachers, come out from behind their keyboards into transparency. With a few enjoying new-found social media acclaim and financial reward, writing and some now appearing at educational conferences! It’s good to see that transparency – against anonymity – is the way forward for everyone.

Against Anonymity:

I cannot think of many teachers who would support anonymity in order to direct abuse at an individual.

For example, to attack their work or views of colleagues who share freely online for the greater good. For the vast majority of people I follow online – or the folk that follow me – almost everyone I interact with is someone I know digitally or physically. In digital examples, these relationships are formed on the basis of ‘word-of-mouth’ recommendations from trusted sources, or observing from a distance over a long period of time before making a digital-connection.

Social media can act to condense and compress real-time communication rules to the extent that an individual feels like they operate in a place where no rules apply.” (What lurks behind Trolldom)

Here are some reasons ‘against’ anonymity:

  • share best practice, dispel a few myths about teaching and offer support and challenge
  • views expressed are thoughtful, measured responses
  • demonstrate high standards of personal and professional conduct.
  • uphold public trust in the profession
  • show tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
  • transparent feedback loops avoid narcissistic and egotistical behaviour
  • seek feedback and critique
  • show impartiality.

Ad Hominem:

Ad hominem derives from Latin: “to the man” or “to the person” which in short, is attacking the person not the argument they are making.

In the majority of arguments conducted online – to think that anyone could argue with someone else on Twitter using 140 characters – most disagreement takes an ‘Ad Hominem’ stance (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining. This blog would be a perfect example if readers attacked me rather than the balanced argument I am trying to put across.

From the moment I started using social media – to tweet and to blog – I made the conscious decision to keep my thoughts open and transparent. There have been times along the way, where I have had my thoughts commented on by colleagues and head teachers – once pulled into a senior teacher’s office for ‘a chat’ regarding a blog which had to be edited – for positive and negative reasons. Each time, the reality of blogging and tweeting from personal devices, from the comfort of one’s home, has triggered a ‘wake-up call’ that colleagues will read your work and that you will walk past them on the corridor.

In all the cases when I write online, promoting the need for teachers to avoid taking an anonymous stance when using social media, I am attacked rather than the idea itself. We are all adults. We are professionals and we can all make our own decisions as to what works best for us.

Seasoned Advice:

In my popular 10 Tips for Tweeting Teachers post, I suggest that teachers ‘create a professional account for tweeting about teaching’. I then encourage users to ‘define a purpose for your (blog or) Twitter account’ before creating it. To be anonymous or transparent is the individual’s decision. To do either or, one must decide then if the account settings will be locked or open.

In my final piece of social media advice, do not feed the trolls: it may seem simplistic, but in the majority of cases, it seems to work. Even better, to “employ a Cognitive Therapy Approach – behaviours that cannot be controlled – or get used to blocking.”

Either way, teachers have to decide what’s best for them in their professional capacity.

TT.

@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man TT

 

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of being most influential in the field of education. He remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing resources and ideas online as @TeacherToolkit, he has built this website (c2008) which has been described as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the UK Blog Awards (2018). Read more...

14 thoughts on “The Anonymous Teacher

  • 16th May 2016 at 7:32 pm
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    Interestingly I have heard that an Academy Trust has made it a disciplinary offence to make any criticism of its management. If this is true I find it morally corrupt and counter productive.

    Reply
    • 16th May 2016 at 7:36 pm
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      I agree with you. I understand why they may do it, but is not a school I want to work in.

      Reply
  • 21st May 2016 at 9:45 pm
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    Doing an online search of potential candidates is something I completely disagree with. I have a name which is totally unique in the UK and my partner has a very strong web presence because of his job and the fact that he also has a unique name. If we had common names it would be difficult to find us online. Why should a school be able to find out more about me than another candidate just because of my name? It’s blatant discrimination

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    • 22nd May 2016 at 2:35 am
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      You’re right. I guess headteachers should – prior to appointment – stop asking each other for opinions on the telephone too.

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  • 22nd May 2016 at 8:09 am
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    Another argument against anonymity is that we are digital role models for our students. A recent Twitter chat concluded that it is (mainly) through our modelling that students learn their online behaviour. We will inevitably be Googled by our kids, and why not? In doing so, they will see how positively we use the internet and that we have nothing to hide. I question why people need to be anonymous. Even in cases of disagreement or even argument, there is a professional, mature way to do this. Another great post. Thanks!

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    • 22nd May 2016 at 11:48 am
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      You are fortunate enough to have worked in a professional mature environment. I have worked in a very toxic environment where the only way it could be exposed was through anonymous social media as the staff lived in fear of personal victimisation. If you have a malicious management it is now very easy to put in false assessments and go down the incompetence route. I have seen it happen.

      Reply
  • 9th June 2016 at 6:46 pm
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    Hi Ross! I think you bring up a really interesting point!

    I think that schools using 21st century social media networks is certainly a very large topic, something that a lot of people agree with as well as disagree with. I think it is interesting to see how each school decides to implement it. I also find it interesting that more and more teachers use social media not only in the classroom, but for their community members and parents to see their school in a more transparent way. Here is an example: http://blog.sungardk12.com/blog/superintendentsguidetofacebook/

    Reply
  • 16th June 2016 at 8:16 pm
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    Found this interesting, Ross – thanks for making me think….

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    • 16th June 2016 at 10:01 pm
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      Thanks Jill. It’s a delicate and important topic. We need anonymous voices to expose bad practice, but when teachers use anonymity to attack their peers and their ideas deliberately, these trolls from anon IDs need to be exposed in my opinion. It’s hard to agree of you’ve not been the recipient of the attack, but I hope the post is balanced and fair of both sides of the argument.

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      • 17th June 2016 at 9:32 am
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        For security purposes I think anyone using any forum has to register with a verified email and/or address. If for suitable reasons the contributor could be anonymous but the site controller could block and then identify trolls. I do not understand why we accept such contributions in this medium that would not be tolerated in others. The Tyburn Mail operates it’s site sensibly and has served its community very well. BTW can anyone explain why my predictive text changes well to eek ? 🙂

  • 31st July 2016 at 5:10 pm
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    Anonymity is not the key. Using social media responsibly and in educational way is.

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      • 2nd August 2016 at 6:37 pm
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        Exactly that! I’m always for that approach! Today on social networks you can not hide or run away from students and parents. The sooner teachers get that the better for them (us).

  • 6th August 2016 at 11:04 pm
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    There is no one answer as there are many reasons to post anonymously, as there are good reasons to insist on disclosure. Posting anonymously depends on the forum and the purpose. On social postings (on articles like this for instance) it can be unpleasant to have someone contact your admin to “report you” because they don’t like or agree with your opinion, or feel something you wrote ought to “get you in trouble” (like criticizing a policy, boss, etc). On the other hand, anonymity often is used to bully/troll and certainly takes away the ability to discern whether a poster is an authority to take seriously. I do like to know with whom I’m interacting!

    Reply

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