The digital world is rapidly changing and I think it’s fair to say some schools are struggling to keep up with the power that social media has in our students lives. As teachers, we often have to call on our ethics with regards to the use of social media with students. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had the odd friend request on Facebook from a student but thankfully with a name like “Jo Smith” it doesn’t happen too often.
My school is currently in the draft stage of social media policies and it can’t come soon enough. For most teachers, we didn’t grow up with social media and navigating what, when who and how can sometimes be tricky. I’m sure we’ve all seen that one friend we have that always posts something we see as inappropriate. So what would you do if a student sent you a friend request? I’m talking teenagers here, but imagine if you as a primary or intermediate school teacher was friended by a 10 year old? Or even someone at tertiary level? I previously worked with a teacher back in 2010 (in a very small community) who would send friend requests to students and saw no problem with it…I wonder if they have since changed their mind.
In New Zealand. certificated teachers are required to work within a code of ethics. One of the key points outlines that teachers are to strive to develop and maintain professional relationships with learners based upon the best interests of those learners (Education Council New Zealand, n.d.). This becomes very difficult to do if you follow each other on social media and have access to the ins and outs of each other’s private lives: the lines have been blurred and this can no longer be considered a professional relationship. What we are willing to share with our friends might not be the same for sharing with our students or teachers.
I use facebook as part of my teaching and learning programmes. I have closed groups (so we keep out the random people) and parents are informed and invited to join the class pages if they wish (but they never do!). I have a personal policy of not accepting friend requests from students while they are still at school. I will never look for them on social media once they have left school. There are other ways to show your students that you are human and live a normal life without delving into each others online lives.
How do we make these decisions? For me it all comes back to the Education Council’s Code of Ethics regarding professional relationships- this helps to maintain boundaries over what we share and what we don’t.
So, what would you do?
Education Council New Zealand (n.d.). The Education Council Code of Ethics for Certficated Teachers. Retrieved from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/content/code-of-ethics-certificated-teachers-0