Catholic Educational Leaders Should Chart a Positive Course for Social Media

Article excerpt

Catholic educators have unique considerations because of their responsibility for students, their understanding of parents as the primary educators of their children and the mission of Catholic schools and parish catechetical programs as instruments of evangelization.

As social media takes center stage in the lives of our young people, and even their parents, Catholic school leaders and educators are grappling with what their roles and responses should be.

How should individual schools and parishes establish Facebook and Twitter accounts for marketing and communications? How should these be managed? What can be done if a teacher or staff member discloses confidential information or disparages a school via a personal Facebook page or Twitter account? When is it acceptable for a teacher to "friend" a student or parent? What should the role of social media be in the classroom?

Social media, which encourages dialogue and two-way communication, adds a new twist to the challenge of communications for many reasons: Virtually everyone now has instant access to a public platform (Facebook for example, claims 750 million active users); speed often takes precedence over prudence; and the line between private and public information has never been more blurred. Not surprisingly, even archdioceses and dioceses, parishes and schools that have embraced the use of technology in the learning environment may be reluctant to embrace social media or may be unsure of what to include in a policy.

To be sure, Catholic educational communities are not alone. Nearly every organization today is grappling with how to manage the proliferation of emerging technologies and the impact of instant and unfiltered communications. Yet, Catholic educators have unique considerations because of their responsibility for students, their understanding of parents as the primary educators of their children, and the mission of Catholic schools and parish catechetical programs as instruments of evangelization.

Role of Leadership

At an archdiocese where we previously worked, priests were required to use email and to check their accounts regularly for official communications. One pastor refused. When asked why, his answer was that "people gossip on email." The pastor was viewing technology as the cause of gossip, not as the delivery system. This is not an uncommon thought process when it comes to technology.

The reality is that any communications system can be misused and, because humans are imperfect, it likely will be. However, actual or potential misuse is not a reason to ban the use of social media. Used properly, technology can enhance evangelization and communication.

The rote of the Catholic leader iste guide and facilitate the proper use of social media. To this end, church and educational leaders have begun to recognize and accept that these types of communications are occurring and that establishing expectations for their use within and by these communities, based on Catholic principles, can facilitate a respect for privacy while supporting and even encouragingthe appropriate use of emerging technologies.

Further, archdiocesan, diocesan and educational leaders have a new opportunity to partner with parents in developing and implementing social media policies and guidelines designed to ensure the safety and privacy of their children. In addition to creating social media policies, schools, parishes, archdioceses and dioceses are developing practical guidance for parents, such as regularly checking the privacy settings on their children's computer, knowing the passwords for their children's accounts, checking children's text messages and insisting on having full access to the content of their children's social media accounts.

Catholic Perspective

As Catholic educators, the starting point is our faith. Everything we do fiows from what the Catholic Church teaches. Communications and technology are no different. …