I know how to strike it rich. All I have to do is invent software that can delete the stupid emails that people send out. It would also be able to make your Facebook postings disappear. Think of the market for such a software program.
Haven’t we all sent an email or posted something on Facebook that we regret? Maybe we were trying to be funny, or maybe we were very angry and went on a rant. It does not matter because once you hit “send,” everything is out of your control.
I remember early in my tenure at NJSBA I sent a very sarcastic e-mail to my boss about a situation that occurred and I thought it was pretty funny. It did not help much to see that I was poking fun at my boss’s boss. Then to my chagrin, my boss had taken my satirical e-mail seriously and forwarded it on as a great idea to the very person I was poking fun at. After I updated my resume, I called my boss and said it was a joke. Luckily for me, my boss’s boss had a good sense of humor.
That faux pas happened in the early stages of technology. Now I am constantly communicating with people through Facebook, text messaging and, of course, emailing. I remember when I first got my cellphone, I thought it was for emergencies only. I couldn’t imagine I’d ever use text messaging much. Now I feel naked without my cellphone and have this uncontrollable urge to check my e-mails, text messages, even Facebook every 10 minutes or so.
One of the greatest challenges that a board of education or any governing body faces is how they use the new technology and social media both efficiently but responsibly. The Open Public Meeting Act was written long before email and Facebook, but there are potential legal implications to board member emails. But that pales next to the public relations nightmares that can occur when someone posts an inappropriate comment.
You would think that we would all learn that no email is private and no posting is seen by only your friends, yet we don’t. We are addicted to all these forms of communication and while it may be better to never email on certain topics, we just can’t stop because it is just the way we communicate nowadays. If we can’t stop it, we must learn to control it.
A chain of emails among a majority of the board members might be construed as a meeting of the board. A board member posting on his/her Facebook page that is critical of the administration or their board colleagues can disrupt the unity and collaboration of the board. A staff member’s rant on their Facebook page about someone’s religion or ethnicity may cause a public relations nightmare for the district.
I am not sure how we can control it. I sometimes think the answer is to be boring. While I am not currently in an elected public position, with my job I feel that I have to be very careful about what I email or text to friends and board members and even what I post on Facebook since many of my Facebook friends are board members. While I don’t consider myself boring, if you only knew me by my Facebook postings you might get that idea. (Feel free to friend me and see for yourself.) I do not feel I have the luxury of expressing political or religious views in my Facebook posts. While I like to think I have a good sense of humor, I also feel my sense of humor should be “G” rated and never target another human being. So while my old high school classmates are posting criticism of politicians of both parties and rather risqué comments I feel my postings fit like a rerun of Father Knows Best on MTV.
The point is while we are all getting more accustomed to the new technology (I have not even mentioned Twitter) we are more likely to make a mistake. That’s because everything we do in our private lives without a second thought might get us in hot water as a public official or employee. You are never a private citizen, it seems, when texting, on Facebook, Twitter or in emails.
This week’s online School Board Notes reports the results of an NJSBA survey on texting while at the board table. There is a lively debate in the comments section on when it is appropriate to text—if ever.
While I sometimes find this balancing act difficult, I wonder what the rest of you think? Has this technology at times made your job more difficult? Do you find that your board and district are always working a tight rope in this area? What advice do you have for others?