Demonstrating professionalism matters in education. It matters with parents, it matters with students, and it matters with colleagues. In fact, it matters in all contexts of our lives—and now that we are “plugged in” more than ever, it matters in new areas that we may not have previously considered.
When we think about professionalism, we usually start with the basics: dressing nicely, showing up on time, being appropriate with our students, and communicating well are just a few of the important areas to consider. Traditionally, this is what we would call “professionalism.”
The teaching world has changed over the past few years with the addition of numerous technology tools along with student use of these tools. Because of these changes, there are new considerations with professionalism that we should also reflect upon. These are what I refer to as “twenty-first century professionalism.”
Consider the following areas:
- Social Media: This is probably the number one area to focus on with teachers—especially those who are younger. Social media accounts are rarely completely private, and posting questionable photos or even negative comments is out of line for a teacher. We are looked to as examples for our students and need to act as such at all times. Even though we have a right to our own life outside the school building, when we share that life online, we are creating a record of who we are. We must make sure that “who we are” is someone that we can all be proud of.
- Privacy and Confidentiality: This area of concern has exploded over the past few years for many reasons. Because so much of what we use as teachers is cloud-based, it is important for professionals to recognize and proceed with caution. Student information should not be shared on any source that isn’t secure or password protected, and teachers should protect the privacy of all students in their class. Some occurences—such as custody situations that require teachers to be diligent about releasing information only to people who are on an approved list—didn’t exist a few years ago, so it is key to always consider how we are protecting our students.
- Positive Communication: When it comes to electronic communication, we all seem to be using it more and more. It is much more efficient than making phone calls, and I have found parents are less likely to answer a phone call right away as opposed to an email. It also creates a documented record of communication, which can come in handy later. If we are going to email parents about situations at school, we must ensure that it is very positive. It is important to be clear and honest, but at the same time, we have to do so with a positive slant to attempt to make sure we don’t appear unprofessional. I alway reread every email I write to check for typos and misspellings, but I also read it with the eyes of a parent. I try to ask myself, “What would I think I if I received this from the principal?” This litmus test has helped me to improve my communication with parents.
- Diligence in School Safety: In today’s classroom, part of teacher professionalism is knowing and following all security procedures. Beyond grabbing the crisis bag on the way out the door for a fire drill, teachers need to know the ins and out of lockdown drills, protecting students in emergencies, intruder alerts, and how to correctly greet a stranger in the hallway. Even if a guest has signed in at the office, staff still must screen individuals to make sure they are where they’re supposed to be. Being a professional might mean questioning a parent who forgot to put on their name badge—this wasn’t an expectation 25 years ago, but with numerous school safety issues over the past few years, it is now part of our job.
- Making a Great Impression: Because we never know when we are being recorded, it is critical to always put our best foot forward—the social media comments mentioned above factor in here. Sometimes the photo shared online isn’t one that we even knew was taken, so it is critical to be aware that as a professional, our dress, language, comments, and behaviors factor into the image others have of who we are. Teachers should always try to err on the side of caution.
These skills are important for younger teachers to consider, but even veteran teachers should be aware of these as well. For things like social media, younger teachers will know the specifics of keeping things secure on Facebook, while older teachers may not even realize what they are sharing online. All teachers should review what professionalism means in today’s school context.
Be sure to check out the first part of our Professionalism for Teachers series to read more about this topic. For additional teaching tips—and to stay up to date on the latest in education and education technology—subscribe to our Educator blog today!