More and more nurseries are setting up websites, using email to contact parents and setting up Facebook pages for the nursery. And of course, many staff members are active Facebook and Twitter users, and some have their own blogs or social networking sites.
The increased use of electronic media can bring great benefits. It can reinforce the partnership between parents and staff. It can provide a forum for discussion, learning and team building. And it can create a sense of community for the nursery. A dedicated nursery Facebook site, which both staff and parents can join, can celebrate the children’s achievements, advertise upcoming events or share the successes of staff when they pass exams.
But it’s not without its risks.
Inappropriate comments or images may be posted which could reflect badly on the nursery and other staff, either intentionally or unintentionally. This could undermine the professionalism of staff as well as breach confidentiality or have safeguarding implications. Online interactions between staff and parents may accidentally replace the more effective face to face interactions and small niggles could potentially get out of hand (without the benefit of seeing people face to face, online interactions can get unexpectedly heated and personal).
It is important that nursery owners, managers and staff should be aware of these pitfalls and that steps should be taken to prevent them from occurring.
One way of dealing with this is to have a nursery policy about all social networking activity. This could clearly state whether staff could be ‘friends’ with parents or if the nursery could be named, for example. If the nursery manager is joined as a ‘friend’ then he or she can monitor the staff comments on the public area. Private messages can still be sent, but these will not be read by parents, governors and other staff.
I would also advise that the nursery manager has an open discussion with staff and gets common agreement about what is acceptable and what is not. The truth is that social networking is blurring the boundaries between personal and professional life. You only have one profile on Facebook and its very easy to forget who has visibility of what you are posting – as employees have found to the cost in the past!
So, although clear policies can be helpful, there are many grey areas which are best addressed by having open discussions with the team and agreeing to apply common sense. For example, advising staff on how to communicate privately with friends on Facebook groups with restricted access and the policy if a member of staff is already a ‘friend’ with a parent prior to the child starting nursery.
Social networking is still a new phenomenon and we are still learning about its impact and how things can go right and wrong. But creating a simple and clear policy and discussing this with staff can go a long way to making sure the nursery and its team doesn’t meet any pitfalls.
A version of this article was first published in Nursery World, 22nd September 2010
Image by Kodomut. Find the blog at http://www.kodomut.com/info/