During this very particular time, when educators are communicating with colleagues, students and parents through online platforms, the MUT feels compelled to issue some basic guidelines and tips on the safe use of the internet. These are not meant to be rules or instructions, but common sense advice for educators on what to do and what to avoid to protect ourselves from possible situations that could be avoided.
Here are ten simple guidelines to follow at all times:
1) Always maintain a professional relationship
A professional relationship should be maintained both in school and also, in our situation, out of school. Always maintain a formal, courteous and respectful tone, even when communicating with your students and colleagues on online platforms.
2) Ensure professional boundaries
Always ensure that professional boundaries are maintained by declining any friend requests from your students and their parents in your personal social media platforms. This should also be the case if you are communicating through a messaging platform.
3) Choose what to share
This situation will be over but what you share during this period will still be available. You should refrain from sharing personal contacts, including your mobile or home phone numbers. Even if such sharing is used for WhatsApp groups, the personal numbers provided will be available and you may be expected to use them. Personal contact lines must remain personal.
4) Choose sensible usernames
Consider your own digital identity and security by choosing sensible names for your usernames, email addresses and screen names.
5) Choose online educational resources attentively
Not all educational websites and apps are trustworthy. Research educational resources before recommending and sharing them with your students. Make sure that the material you are sharing is appropriate and adequate for your age group and level.
6) Use official channels
Always use your school based email addresses when communicating with students and colleagues. If available, also make use of other officially approved communication platforms implemented by your school. This is important as it would leave a trail of what is being communicated and would be easily accessible in case of an issue.
7) Keep personal information private
This might be obvious but is worth reiterating. Always keep your personal information private. Do not exchange telephone numbers, passwords and personal email addresses.
8) Encourage safe online behaviour
Always encourage your students to use appropriate and safe online behaviour. Particularly at this time, when we depend entirely on this kind of communication, safe and appropriate conduct goes a long way in making this singular experience less stressful and frustrating.
9) Seek help if necessary
If you are uncomfortable with certain comments, or posts made by any student or parent, always make sure to bring the matter to the attention of the respective employer. Report any inappropriate online behaviour, cyber bullying or any kind of cyber crime you witness. There are many services according to the issue, such as Kellimni.com, Appoġġ 179 and the Police Cyber Crime Unit which you can access. You can also call the Malta Union of Teachers for any advice.
10) Make sure to unplug
Life is all about balance. It’s not good for our health and well-being to be online all the time, especially during these times in which we are receiving an influx of negative information. This is an issue the MUT (through its confederation For.U.M.) has been working on for many years, called ‘The Right to Disconnect’, and it is now more relevant than ever. Although our social life is restricted at the moment, there are still many things which we can do to unwind whilst keeping ourselves safe.
In conclusion, the MUT appeals to all educators to stay safe. First and foremost by following all the directions by the health authorities regarding the coronavirus. But also in our professional work, particularly through the challenging times we are currently experiencing. Let us help each other and show all the solidarity needed to overcome the situation together.