Twitter, cause for disciplinary action?

Mural from law office building by Jason Luper

Mural from law office building by Jason Luper

When Professor Steve Molyneux a magistrate from Telford, Shropshire resigned following a complaint from a colleague over his court tweets, my Twitter PLN posted links to the story. This was followed by silence (perhaps of disquiet) and some ambivalence regarding the incident.  I can’t have been the only one who was a little concerned that this event had indicated that sometimes, tweets or blog posts might in the wrong hands become misconstrued. Could twittering constitute a breach of trust or confidentiality and therefore present a case for misconduct and disciplinary action?

It seems that teaching contracts are fairly standard, producing something all encompassing and in some cases, allowing one’s employer to decide on what warrants disciplinary action. The Hertfordshire Grid for Learning School Administration website and specifically the document, ‘Model Disciplinary Procedure for Schools’  point 10.1 XI, highlights that “Unauthorised disclosure of information classified as confidential by the Authority or the Governors of the school” could be classed as misconduct. What is seen as unauthorised disclosure? What is considered confidential information?

Professor Molyneux in a podcast interview with Charon QC states that in twittering outside of courtroom procedures he was simply making justice transparent – the public have a right to know what is taking place in court, especially if they have an interest in a case and are unable to attend.  He says that he did no wrong because the events were a matter of public record and that any observer in the courtroom on that day could have sent out similar tweets.  He also makes valid points by suggesting that it might not be long before Twitter is acknowledged as a 21st Century court reporting service and that with tools like Twitter, the average citizen becomes the journalist and can record and report on any event. Professor Molyneux’s resignation seems to have been mainly an issue of collegiality – he felt that it would have been difficult to work with his peers knowing that one of them hadn’t approached him first regarding their displeasure at his tweets.

I don’t have opinions on whether what he did was wrong or right; for me, this is another reminder that we need to remain prudent over what we divulge in the public domain. Through our PLN’s we share with like-minded colleagues, we develop and improve on our teaching and other professional skills and we identify new resources, experimenting and innovating. We do this very well after school hours and there are also times when we need to connect with each other during the working day. This is especially the case if a teacher is unable to attend a professional development meeting, if they have a specific software problem, or a specification question which no-one in their immediate professional vicinity can answer. In these cases, twittering is the same as making a telephone call or sending an email.

When a teacher from a PLN tweets hashtags for a Twitterfall during a conference event, this is incredibly useful. Yet it stands to reason that joining the Twitter Stream should be during non contact periods of the teaching day. As real time data is being shared with parents, we need to be aware that hard evidence from tweets could be deemed as unprofessional and land us in trouble. If a parent logs onto an MLE, sees that her son has a Math lesson at 10.30 am and then discovers that the teacher had tweeted, “Boring lesson with a bunch of numbskulls” at 10.45 am, this would obviously cause concern. Perhaps this is a case for our Unions, perhaps we just need a good dose of common sense in order to decide whether we’re outside of what’s considered confidential or not. In any event, the Steve Molyneux incident further highlights the need for our tweets to always be thoroughly considered.

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