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Schools receive guidance to prevent cyber-bullying

The Joint Managerial Body has provided advice to schools and teachers about Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

File photo (models)
File photo (models)
Image: Sylvie Bouchard via Shutterstock

TEACHERS SHOULD NOT use their own personal social media accounts for school-related projects and avoid using personal photos in their profile information.

That is just two pieces of advice given to school staff by the Joint Managerial Board recently, in the wake of concerns that cyber bullying is becoming a major problem in Irish schools.

The body, which manages secondary schools across the country, issued a guidance bulletin on cyber bullying in schools last week.

Seen by TheJournal.ie, the document shows the incidence of students attacking teachers online is becoming more common. However, student-on-student bullying is still the most reported form, it says.

According to general secretary Ferdia Kelly, the best way to prevent bullying is to take a “whole school approach”, which includes the creation of anti-bullying initiatives and a code of practice outlining expected behaviour. This should include a policy on the use of social media a teaching tool, according to the JMB.

Teachers have also been asked to become familiar with the terminology used on the internet, for example ‘likes’, ‘tweets’, ‘re-tweets’ and MEMEs.

“Teachers are increasingly using the internet and social media sites as educational tools,” continues the document. “It’s important that teachers take precautions to safeguard themselves against cyber bullying and also protect their privacy.

“For example, connecting with students on social media sites can seem like an effective means of communication. However, this gives students potential to access personal information about teachers and the opportunity to target them with abusive behaviour.”

The JMB Professional Behaviour Guide asks for an “arms-length professional relationship” to be maintained at all times.

There was other practical considerations given to staff, such as a proposed ban on students taking photographs in school – of either staff or classmates -unless required for a project.

The Board advised that permission should always be sought from school management and parents before running a social media-related project.

Other advice given included:

  • Use invitation-only discussion groups where possible. This means the teacher in charge of the project can control who joins and can moderate the content posted in the group.
  • Avoid connecting directly with students by using Facebook ‘pages’ – in this case a student can access the page without having to be ‘friends’ with the teacher.
  • School staff would be advised to maximize their privacy settings on Facebook for their personal profile. This will minimize the chances of students discovering a staff-member’s personal profile. Privacy settings should also be adjusted appropriately for accounts used for school purposes.
  • Privacy settings do not guarantee absolute privacy as a ‘friend’ may pass on information.
  • Teachers can ‘protect’ their tweets on Twitter. This means tweets are only viewable to approved users. This is good practice for personal and school-related Twitter accounts.
  • Do not connect with people who cannot be identified or who post questionable content.
  • School staff should not make any comments about students or post pictures of students using their personal profiles on social media sites.

The bulletin, dated 26 November, comes after three girls - Erin Gallagher (13) from Donegal, Leitrim teenager Ciara Pugsley (15) and Lara Burns Gibbs (12) from Kildare – took their own lives after being allegedly bullied online.

More: Teens believe cyber bullying is worse than traditional bullying >

Read: Teens urged not to respond to cyber bullies >

Over to you: Have you ever been bullied? >

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