Thursday, September 01, 2016

Social Media Advice for Teachers from the Ontario College of Teachers

Social media has become such a pervasive part of our daily lives, it is easy to take it for granted. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat - whatever your preference, it is likely you use these platforms for regular communication with friends, family, and even colleagues in some cases. Heck, I am more likely to send a Facebook message to my mom than to pick up the phone to call her if I just have a quick question or update.

Our children are becoming active on social media at earlier ages as well, particularly on platforms such as SnapChat and YouTube, and they text and iMessage and FaceTime with their friends as well. There are certainly social benefits to the ease of communication, but so many potential pitfalls and dangers. As parents we need to educate ourselves on the channels our kids are using, and be aware of what they are doing online. Teachers also have an important role to play, as they spend such a huge chunk of each day with them, and are key influences in their lives.

The Ontario College of Teachers has created a professional advisory on appropriate social media use for teachers, to help guide them through this new terrain. Whether using electronic communication and social media in the classroom, or posting on their personal channels after hours, a teacher needs to be aware of the messages they are putting out there and the example they are setting. As professionals, teachers must remember that they are never really "off duty," and even the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that teachers, as role models, “do not necessarily check their teaching hats at the school yard gate and may be perceived to be wearing their teaching hats even off duty.” That's a heavy duty of care, and I imagine teachers are thankful for the guidance this document provides.

The advice offered to teachers covers a range of topics, from modelling appropriate online behaviour for their students and instructing them in the proper use of comments and images, to effectively monitoring their own privacy settings and ensuring others do not tag them in inappropriate online content. Teachers are advised to alert parents if they are using social media for classroom communications or activities, and to consider inviting parents to join the classroom groups with their kids. The document also warns against accepting friend requests from students or exchanging private texts or messages with them. The interactions between teachers and students should always be professional and above reproach.

I can see how these waters could get seriously muddied, very easily. Your tween is on Facebook, loves her teacher, so she looks her up and sends a friend request. Perfectly innocent. But the perception of that online connection might not be. And that connection on a personal social platform would dramatically change the nature of the teacher-student relationship.

When I worked in university administration I often had students send me Facebook friend requests. Even though they were adults, it still felt wrong. Did I really want to share my personal life with my students? Did I want to give them access to my family information? No. It would be even less appropriate with grade school or high school students.

This Advisory document is a great resource for teachers, to help them understand the potential problems as well as the potential benefits of electronic communication and social media use. It provides clarity and guidance to help teachers maintain their professional stature and remain positive role models for our children.

The document ends with the following, "Members should be able to answer this: How does my online presence – that which I control and that which is posted by others – reflect my professionalism, and how does it reflect on the teaching profession?" Or, as I like to say, "Ask yourself - are you ok with your grandmother seeing this? No? Don't post it."

Find A Teacher

The College publishes a free e-newsletter, The Standard, available to the public. Subscribe to this newsletter to keep up to date on College services that help you learn more about teacher qualifications and to learn how the College works to ensure high standards in education. Subscribers are the first to see College reports on trends in education, and to hear about any coming changes in education legislation. It is a great resource, and is available in both English and French editions.

Get Social

Speaking of social media, you can also connect with the College on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.

Does your child's school use social media to support the curriculum? I'd love to hear how or if they implement this technology into the classroom.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Ontario College of Teachers. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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