Week 29: Legal and ethical contexts in my digital practice- Teachers, students and social media.

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


About Jo Smith

Health & PE teacher and TIC Outdoor Education at Aotea College.
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9 Responses to Week 29: Legal and ethical contexts in my digital practice- Teachers, students and social media.

  1. Mel Noble-Savidan says:

    Hi Jo
    Great dilemma to explore here. As our world becomes increasingly digital this will become increasingly more an issue. I am a primary teacher – I currently teach 6 year olds so haven’t had any issues with them adding me on Facebook. I have, however, had students add me on Facebook when I taught 10 year olds. At the time, I addressed it with my class as not being appropriate and never had any other requests. I occasionally get requests from ex-students who are now in high school, I tend to ignore them. I personally don’t feel its appropriate for my students (either ex or current) to have to much insight into my personal life, it’s that blurring of professional boundaries. Regards,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carly says:

    Hi Jo thanks for an interesting blog post. You mentioned how you have Facebook groups that are closed set up and I was wondering if that means that the group is for parents and students in your class or just parents? If it is for students can I please ask how you use it? Students are unable to access Facebook or Instagram at my school but could obviously look at home. Thank you 🙂


    • Jo Smith says:

      Hi Carly, thanks for reading. I use them for students but parents are informed to keep them in the loop. They are closed so only the students in that specific class can join and not just any old person on facebook. I use it as a way to communicate with students about upcoming assessments, reminders to bring PE gear, OED trip preparation and information, photo sharing from trips and more. The only reason I use facebook is that it is a platform that my students are currently using but this will likely change in time.


      • Caro Katu says:

        Hi Jo and Carly. I too am a PE teacher and I rely heavily on facebook pages as a means of getting notices out to everyone IMMEDIATELY (tapping into the hooked on world that these teens live in). For some of my closed groups, I have insisted that a parent must also be a member of the page, that way the parent also gets the message too! Having parents as members of the page has made me have to rethink the way I give messages, as I was once pulled up by a parent who said that the focus of my message needed to be on encouraging participation rather than winning (we were one game out from the finals of the winter season and I thought that I was being inspirational!). Made me think of the way my message could be interpreted.

        I do think though that students are starting to rebel against teachers invasion into their social media time and are actually turning off notifications for some pages, which makes me wonder how intrusive are we being tapping into social media as a way of engaging with them. Hence, I try to keep posts to a minimum. Thanks.


  3. beebrhyte says:

    I totally hear ya on the never friending students thing! I found it most scary when my primary aged children would DM me. I always ignored them, then told them at school that I never friended students. I even used to not friend my bosses! Not that I ever said anything bad, I just liked to have the separation between work and facebook! Now, with so much social media going on around us, I just monitor what I say and make sure I wouldn’t object to saying it in front of important people. I have had students follow me on twitter in the past, but they were obsessed with gaining followers rather that actually doing anything purposeful with the platform, so I never really had to worry about them. I used to follow them, just so that I could monitor if anything did kick off between them on it, but it never did. I’m interested to see how it will all progress! What will the next new thing be????


  4. Hi Jo, really good points you raised here especially in making sure that as teachers we are ethical in how and what we do to engage and enhance children’s learning. Most primary schools these days are behind the ‘8 ball’ in regards to using IT for teaching and learning. At times it can be a process of trial and error. I am hoping that as we develop more of an understanding and awareness as educators for social media that we develop policies and procedures that align to our code of ethics but at the same time does not restrict us in the pedagogies we use and create to engage learners.
    Ia Manuia Junior


  5. Pingback: Using social online networks for teaching/professional learning (Week 30) | EDVENTURENZ

  6. Mel says:

    Hi Jo
    As I teach year 7/8 we are at that difficult age where they are keen to be involved in social media and have the personal devices to do it, but for the most part they are too young to legally be on social media sites. This causes us a pile of issues as many try to use it secretly so their parents don’t find out. They also therefore don’t often have the right discussions and support to use social media well.
    In terms of class use we recently decided to use twitter as a way of sharing key messages about books they were reading. They were so excited about sharing to the world their ideas. We posted from our class account which is under the teachers names and details. But is this really ok? Are we saying “we know you’re not old enough, so we’ll do it for you”? It is like saying “you can’t buy this R16 game so I’ll buy it for you”?


  7. Jo Smith says:

    Kia ora Mel,
    I think if you’re monitoring the account and you know what’s posted it can be a good way to teach young children about how to use it safely and responsibly. I can see how conflicting it might feel though- so many different POVs to take into account.


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