NSW principals are feeling increasingly stressed and distracted as a result of angry parents lashing out online, according to a recent state-wide survey of school leaders.
Almost 90% of respondents told the 2021 NSW Secondary Principals’ Council (SPC) survey that “social media hate campaigns” from parents were affecting their wellbeing and taking up valuable time that could be spent on teaching and learning.
One of the recommendations of the SPC’s survey was that the Department “adopt and ensure a zero tolerance of any abuse of principals and teachers, including online.”
Until such a policy is implemented, SPC president, Craig Petersen, says schools should get dedicated social media staff so that teachers and leaders can focus on their core job.
“At this stage it is a preliminary recommendation, but what it would look like would be part of a broader Community Liaison Officer type of role,” Petersen told The Educator.
“Lots of schools employ CLO’s using own funds, and it’s a pretty ad-hoc arrangement, but what is fairly consistent is that it is unusual for them to have any technology expertise or any particular training around social media misuse.”
Petersen said that while social media pile-ons against school staff have traditionally been more common from students, the trend has shifted to parents over the last 5-6 years.
“An important point to make here is that the vast majority of parents are really supportive, and that it’s a minority who are doing the wrong thing, but this minority are impacting on the health and wellbeing of the majority of our principals,” he said.
“The simplest way to resolve a complaint or concern is to make a call to the school and meet with the principal or the relevant staff member. We can generally resolve issues that way.
“However, when someone blows something out on social media it usually has the impact of exacerbating the problem and distracting from what the core issue was, because now there are a whole range of other issues that may have been raised as well, and other people we have to deal with.”
As to what might be causing this worrying trend, Petersen said the increased reliance on technology for communication is one factor, but it is also a broader societal problem.
“One example is the prevalence of reality TV shows where the entire basis of the show is built around creating conflict and deliberately expanding it for the sake of keeping people interested,” he said.
“There’s also the way we see politicians interact with each other every day. It is behaviour modelled increasingly across a whole range of social interactions, and it’s normalising what we would actually see as atypical and unacceptable behaviours.”
Petersen said dedicated staff who have specific training in social media should be a common fixture in a 21st century school.
“Right now, the people who tend to look after social media complaints are teachers and principals with no specific training in these areas. We’re taking our expert teachers and leaders out of their core role and making them deal with something they have no real training in,” he said.
“We need to identify the skills and positions we need in our modern schools and be open about discussing what the non-teaching school workforce should look like.”