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Think Before Sending

I remember being told that the things we say about others always reveal so much more about ourselves. This is particularly obvious when we think about President Trump’s abuse of social media to target critics, disloyal former members of staff and indeed, anyone else who happens to cross his path. Is Meryl Streep really ‘one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood’? Perhaps it’s just that she dared to criticise one of the most over-rated presidents in American history.

The birth of the internet came with a real optimism that mass communication would be an empowering and liberating force for good. This view, however, failed to take into consideration those that abuse it – and with Mr. Trump expertly modelling how this is done, it is hardly a surprise that online abuse is rife.

When I started teaching, any dissatisfaction amongst members of the school community would be addressed through either a face-to-face meeting, or by an exchange of letters. Both these methods of communication require time. A meeting requires time to arrange and time to attend. Very often meetings would be cancelled because the issue had resolved itself before the meeting could take place.

When meetings take place, handled well, both parties have the opportunity to listen to one another – and often issues can be nipped in the bud. I like the fact that our teachers are available before and after school, when often a short, friendly and empathic conversation is all that’s needed to reassure a parent. After all, teachers and parents are all on the same side, working together to get the best outcomes for our children.

Letters work well because they require reflection, thought and consideration. The timing of the school day inevitably means that the letter can only be delivered once the issue has been slept on. Headteachers talk about ‘the 24-hour rule’ for good reason.

It is the immediacy of the social media which can led to actions that can later be regretted. Understandably things can be written in anger, fired off when we are worked up or upset – but then it’s too late – the damage has been done.

At school we increasingly have to deal with situations where pupils have used social media to say things that we know would not have been said face-to-face. The screen-shot is our most powerful weapon, and faced with hard evidence, pupils who have posted before thinking will always regret their actions. But the message will always be remembered by the recipient.

And irresponsible use of social media is not restricted to the pupils. Schools increasingly have to address the misuse of social media by adults. The class social media group is great for building communities and creating a cohesive parent group. Arranging a picnic in Highgate Woods, a Christmas drink at The Woodman or an end of year card for the teacher is perfect. Criticising a fellow member of the school community is not.

The Governing Body’s Communications Committee is currently drawing up protocols to help address this issue. One of the ideas is to encourage all members of the community to challenge the misuse of a class social media group, collated by class reps to support school, rather than undermine it. Sending something along the lines of, ‘Rather than putting this in the public domain, my advice would be to speak to the school, who I’m sure would be happy to address your concern’.

A quick search of ‘Highgate Primary’ brings up the following on Google Review: ‘Highgate is a terrible school. The teachers insult their pupils…always defend bullies and hate black people’. Just like President Trump’s tweets, I suspect this says more about the author than the target of this abuse. I wonder whether this would have been posted had the author taken the time to come and talk to me first? Thankfully, the comment that ‘the Headteacher is a psychopath who drinks children’s blood’, has now been deleted!

William