The Internet is a dynamic and highly instructive forum for students and their parents to voice opinions on the state of education in their communities. The emergence of online information has created a particularly difficult challenge for teachers and school administrators who are now regularly evaluated based on their performances, whether rightfully or wrongly.

In the digital age, the consequences of poor reviews for teachers and school administrators are significant. Information online has a lasting impact due to its eternality. In many cases, teachers have received walking papers after making inappropriate statements on social media sites. Sadly, others have been fired for having false accusations and blatant inaccuracies about them posted online.

Those who serve in the educational field are at a higher risk for reputation damage due to the highly visible positions they hold in local communities. Further, they are viewed by society as role models for the students. Seeking legal assistance from the courts in taking down information found online will not solve the problem of negative material in most cases, as user-generated content continues to be accepted under the law. Anyone who follows the news can attest to the fact that employees in the education field have been often placed in uncomfortable situations, without the ability to correct these errors.

Many schools and school districts maintain social media rules that outline how teachers should conduct themselves online. Additionally, numerous discussions have revolved around whether or not teachers should hold social-media accounts or maintain professional blogs. In the experience of 3Ci, establishing an online presence can help to ensure that educational professionals position themselves as trusted authority figures in their communities.

Develop a Social Media Presence

Some states have considered laws that will prohibit teachers from maintaining accounts on social media sites at all, though these laws have been criticized as too broad. In fact, staying proactive about your online presence is actually the best strategy to avoid embarrassing consequences in the future.

Teachers are strongly urged to establish social media accounts under their real names to avoid cases of mistaken identity. Social media sites are high-authority sites that will consistently rank near the top of Google search results. As further reinforcement, create an account on major blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger. Engage with your audience by publishing content relevant to the field of education.

A few basic rules apply when setting up social media sites. Refrain from adding students as friends or followers – or responding to their private messages. Subjects and photos on personal social-media accounts should be “G-rated” so as not to be construed as controversial in any way. Teachers should also avoid posting any information about colleagues and students.

Put an Emphasis on Your Online Teacher Profile

Teacher profiles are crucial online tools that are specific to the field of education. Keeping profiles on education-based websites such as WizIQ, Discovery Education Network or edWeb will provide the opportunity to begin discussions with peers while bolstering your standing in the field. Remember that the existence of negative information could undermine your ability to educate students. Counteract these effects with a consistent positive presence online.

Teachers and school administrators are experiencing problems in all fifty states – whether a student is taking issue with a bad grade or a parent is complaining about disciplinary measures or the lack thereof. Even an educator with an untarnished job record is not immune to these penalties. School leadership will be eager to distance themselves from employees whose conduct conflicts with the mission of the school – including the existence of negative information online. Even if the charges are unfounded, they will most certainly taint your online reputation.

Avoid Responding to Bad Reviews Online

It should go without saying that educators can be terminated for misleading facts and the presence of unprofessional material posted online. Teachers could potentially lose their licenses or experience difficulty when seeking employment. However, replying back to criticisms found on the Internet might just add fuel to the fire. In most cases, it is best to take a breath and refrain from responding to negative commentary posted about you or your school online.

Posting responses on social media sites and teacher rating websites will just amplify the conversation – and might eventually make the situation escalate. Discussions with students, parents and local residents are best held in-person with another educator present. Teachers must protect themselves from any hint of wrongdoing.

The lives of most students now revolve around the Internet and kids generally have a great desire to share information online. If students haven’t made negative comments about you online – positive or negative – one day they probably will. Don’t respond to any accusations or complaints. The most prudent strategy is to conduct yourself in the same manner as you would in the classroom.

For teachers and other educators, trust and credibility are of utmost importance when performing in such a prominent role. Take charge of your online identity so that your career prospects remain on track.