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Teachers advised to be careful using social media

Teachers are encouraged to use social media for educational purposes but are advised to avoid accepting students as friends on Facebook or getting chummy in chat rooms.
The Ontario College of Teachers made a presentation to educators in Sudbury that outlined its new advisory regarding the responsible, professional use of electronic media such as email and text messaging, and social media such as MSN and Facebook.

“We can’t ignore this is how young people communicate,” says Liz Papadopoulos, a teacher and chair of the Ontario College of Teachers council. But “teachers should maintain the same boundaries with students using social media as they would face to face.”

The college’s advisory says, “Maintaining professional boundaries requires recognizing that students are not teacher’s peers and cannot be treated as friends. The college advises teachers to avoid accepting friend requests from students, using endearments or nicknames, communicating late at night, and sharing personal photos, texts, or information.”

Teachers should not give out their personal email addresses to students just like they wouldn’t give out their phone numbers or home addresses, says Papadopoulos.

If there is a need to share information or homework by email or through a classroom Facebook site or YouTube, it should be done with the permission of parents, and using platforms provided by their employer, says Joe C. Jamieson, deputy registrar with the Ontario Teachers of College.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that teachers are never off duty, and “don’t take their teacher’s hat off,” says Jamieson. Teachers are responsible for their behavour outside of the classroom.

With regard to email or social media, “unintended misuse often starts out innocently, says Jamieson. “The relationship (can) go from formal to informal, to what is inappropriate. The informality is inherit to the platform…There is a sense of being anonymous, of doing something in private.”

The college’s advises teachers to be cautious about any posting that might reflect poorly on themselves, the school or the teaching profession. They should always use their own identities, and avoid online criticism of any student, and arguments.

Inappropriate use of emails and other forms of electronic communication has been used in disciplinary and professional misconduct cases.

There are exciting new opportunities to use electronic media but it should be used within the principles of the teachers’ code of ethics: care, trust, respect and integrity, says Jamieson. He does not use Facebook.

The college surveyed its 230,000 members in 2010 regarding the use of electronic and social media. They found members spend an average of 8.3 hours online, more than 30 percent connect with friends on Facebook, and 44 per cent use the internet to prepare lessons.


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