Susan McLean is an expert in cyber-safety. I have attended a number of workshops and presentations by her, and have never been less than impressed by her knowledge and advice.

Usually, she speaks about the damage unrestrained online comments can make on our students, but most recently I encountered her views on social media and the relationship between school and teachers and parents – particularly parents with a grievance (real or perceived) against the school or its staff.

We are seeing more and more of totally inappropriate, disrespectful behaviour online. People think it’s harmless fun but it can ruin a teacher’s life, and what kind of message is it sending to their children? It is an issue; when you work in the public eye, like teachers do, you can be particularly susceptible to vitriol from individuals.

It appears it is now common for some parents to set up Facebook sites or groups and use them as venting forums.
Ms McLean’s concerns are shared by Australian Principals’ Federation President, Chris Cotching:

Parents are using Facebook and other social networks to attack principals and teachers they dislike or believe have wronged them or their children…These forums can also fuel the sort of misplaced anger and hatred that can end in physical confrontations and school lockdowns.

Thankfully, I have had little cause for concern in regard to the misuse of social media by parents but, as School Principal, I have the responsibility, as an employer, to protect staff from “unsubstantiated and damaging comments”. In short, I cannot and would not ignore instances where persons used social media to:

  • Misrepresent the school or its actions
  • Indulge in slanderous or defamatory comments about teachers or the school
  • Misrepresent what the school has done or not done

Staff, students and parents are expected to maintain the same high standards of conduct and behaviour online as would be expected in a physical work environment. We expect our parents to be examples of positive and appropriate use of social media for their children. We will act to protect the students, staff and reputation of the school from untrue, unwarranted and unsubstantiated comments. And I would have no hesitation in seeking legal redress or contacting the police if I believed what has been said on social media breached the law (anti-discrimination, harassment, privacy, stalking and other legislation) or threatened the safety and wellbeing of staff, parents or students.

“Bullies don’t just disappear. They grow up, become parents and then instead of torturing children, they bully teachers instead.”

I acknowledge that we can be “delicate” when we perceive that we or our child have been unfairly treated. I understand that we live in a competitive educational and employment world and we all want the best for our children… but we cannot allow impressionable young people to see adults taking their frustrations out on others and not respond. That would be a failure to educate.

It’s not just the culture of violence against our teachers that concerns me, it’s the fact that this behaviour signposts a culture of self entitlement and blame – where an entire generation are being conditioned to believe that other people are somehow responsible for their achievement. – Mandy Nolan, Mamamia

At SCAS our community is a more positive one than the examples so often used in the media to degrade our schools, families and youth. The positive sense of aspiration, positive/growth thinking and the reputation of our school and all the individuals in our learning community are very valuable and very precious, and in the words of the poet Ted Hughes:

“The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.”