Your online presence is an important part of becoming an educational professional. Find out why and learn how to review and improve your profile.
By starting an undergraduate or postgraduate programme in education, you're taking your first steps in an exciting career in the education profession.
During your course at university, you'll spend time in schools and other educational settings, where you'll come into direct contact with children, staff and parents/carers. Although you'll be a trainee, you'll need to uphold high professional standards at all times in order to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing. You'll also be a role model and this brings great responsibilities in terms of your behaviour.
The Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2011) state clearly that it is your professional responsibility to:
“demonstrate consistently high standards of personal and professional conduct”
“uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school”.
This applies to students and trainees as well as teachers.
Your online presence
Whilst being rewarding and stimulating, working in education is also rather public.
You'll be visible and accessible to the children and adults with whom you work during your course and career. Your lifestyle, relationships, interests and beliefs will be of interest to the school community and people may choose to find out about you by looking online. What they see and read will affect how you are perceived, including your level of professionalism. It’s often how you make a first impression, so make sure it’s a good one. It doesn’t have to be exclusively education-related; it’s important to show that you have personal interests and talents, too. This is what makes you an individual and will make you stand out – in a good way!
Warning: Posting unprofessional images or comments online could result in your being asked to leave a placement, your university course or job.
You may think that it’s only your family and friends who look at your online profile, but others may be interested, too.
Some higher education institutions carry out an online check as part of the application process. During your course, university staff and fellow students are likely to search for you online. Remember that these people will likely write your references and could become your future colleagues!
Once you start placements in schools and other educational settings, there will be many other people interested in who you are: headteachers, managers, governors, staff, parents/carers and children. Try to consider these different points of view. This is even more true when you're applying for jobs, and an online search can be part of a shortlisting process.
Why use online tools?
Online educational communities are a good source of practical, intellectual and academic ideas, enabling you to make contact with colleagues and experts nationally and internationally.
Engaging in discussion with teachers and educators around the world will broaden your perspective and stimulate your thinking. This will help you to keep thinking and reflecting on your values and practice and may even help when you’re writing assignments and planning lessons. Your participation in these networks will be visible and will form part of your online presence, showing that you are outward looking, engaged with new ideas and open-minded. Your contributions to these discussions and networks are likely to demonstrate your values, so make sure that you're proud of any posts or publications!
Review your online profile
You need to consider what constitutes a ‘professional image’ and how much personal information it is sensible to reveal. Try to think about this from the point of view of other education professionals and members of school communities, including children and parents/guardians, who may be searching for the information.
The UK Safer Internet Centre publishes clear advice on materials and actions that can have a negative effect on your online presence and wider reputation, such as inappropriate comments, photos and affiliations. Remember that an online search will reveal connections to individuals and groups as well as information directly about you.
Consider everything you publish online to be public. Even if your account is set to be private, anything published online is easy for others to copy, reuse and download so it can quickly become public.
Improve your online profile
Regularly check, review and tidy your online presence and make sure you're presenting yourself in a positive light. Information about you, including images, should be positive and professional.
- Make a list of the sites on which you have (or have ever had) a profile – as well as social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Remember to include sites related to your interests and hobbies such as forums or sites like Goodreads and IMDb.
- Review your posts, comments and messages on these sites – make a note of things that show off your positive side, such as posts that show you're active, creative and intellectually engaged, but also consider if any of your posts or photos may seem unprofessional or controversial.
- Remove any inappropriate posts, images or tags – you should delete posts unless you're 100% certain that you would stand by them in public and you're happy for future employers, colleagues, pupils and their families to read them.
- Remove any unwanted material about you posted by others – you can ask family and friends to untag you from anything you think may be inappropriate. You can find advice on how to report inappropriate material about you posted by others on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube and Flickr.
Build a professional presence
Your online presence is an extension to your CV, so use it proactively to promote a positive image to people who look you up.
Follow policy makers, professors, publications and teachers on Twitter to keep in touch with the latest educational policies and ideas. A good place to start on Twitter is #UKEdChat, with a weekly online discussion about pedagogy and improvement in teaching. You may find yourself in deep discussion with colleagues and experts from around the world. This will enhance your academic studies by encouraging you to consider different points of view and contribute to your practice in schools and settings through the sharing of practical ideas and resources.
Lots of teachers and educational professionals have developed a significant online presence by blogging – this a helpful way to record and reflect on experiences and ideas.
The content varies from classroom tips and ideas to deeper philosophical reflections, debates and research findings. For some it has led to exciting opportunities such as giving presentations and keynotes at conferences or even travelling around the world to provide training and professional development. Reading blog posts is a great way to keep up-to-date and engage with new ideas.
You can set up your own blog using a simple, free tool such as Blogger or Wordpress. It may focus on a specific theme or interest or may be more wide ranging in the educational topics it covers. As it develops, it will form a record of your developing ideas and understanding, almost like a portfolio, and it could form part of future job applications and presentations. Remember to remain professional in your language and tone throughout and maintain the anonymity of any schools, colleagues or pupils.
- The UK Safer Internet Centre provides sound advice on how to maintain a positive online reputation.
- E-Safety Supports offer a wealth of advice on teachers’ use of social media and potential pitfalls. You'll need to set up an account, but it’s free and there are lots of useful materials and updates.
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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