With the popularity of social media today, our children are exposed to a wider circle of people and influences via their Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat accounts. Besides personal safety issues around encountering strangers online, kids are in danger of being "unfriended," "blocked" and bullied even in the confines of their own homes.
While we as adults are rightly concerned about how social media affects kids, I think we sometimes forget that the pitfalls of social media and electronic communications affect us too. Have you ever sent an email or text to the wrong person? Or accidentally forwarded information you didn't mean to share? I certainly have. And it's even worse when you do so at work.
Just as parents and teachers guide children around cyber safety, the Ontario College of Teachers advises teachers about the appropriate use of electronic communications and social media. The College’s Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media alerts teachers to potential issues that may result from interacting with students online.
Teachers are important role models, and this carries on beyond the school day - they are essentially always "on duty." I know this from personal experience as the spouse of a high school teacher. Any time we go to a place where teens gather (the mall, the coffee shop, our favourite all-you-can-eat sushi place, even the park) we see some of my husband's current and former students. Like other professionals, such as doctors, nurses and lawyers, teachers are bound by standards of conduct even outside of work.
When You're Online, You're In Public
Children are inevitably curious about their teachers. (Remember when you thought your teacher didn't even exist outside the classroom?) In this era of the online presence, students Google their teachers to see what they can find. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that teachers’ off-duty conduct, even when not directly related to students, is relevant to their suitability to teach.
Clearly, we can't just avoid social media completely. There are benefits to electronic communication and social media. As College Registrar Michael Salvatori, OCT, points out, “In the current education milieu, e-communication and social media do and will continue to offer engaging and exciting teaching and learning experiences for students and teachers. Their use should be encouraged. We want to alert members to its potential risks and provide guidance for its responsible, professional use." Essentially, the College advises Ontario certified teachers to represent themselves in social media the same way they would in person.
Electronic communication and social media can be useful to help students and their guardians access assignments and classroom resources. Teachers also take advantage of social networking sites and the Internet as instructional tools and for resources. Use of social media does, however, lead to more potential interaction with students outside of the classroom setting, so it calls upon teachers to maintain professional boundaries.
Minimizing the Risks
The College advises teachers to model the behaviour they expect to see online from students. The advisory outlines these helpful points to maintain a professional persona:
- Communicate with students electronically at appropriate times of the day and through established education platforms (for example, a web page dedicated to a school program rather than a personal profile).
- Maintain a formal, courteous and professional tone in all communications with students.
- Avoid exchanging private texts, phone numbers, personal email addresses or photos with students.
- Decline student-initiated "friend" requests and do not issue "friend" requests to students.
- Notify parents/guardians before using social networks for classroom activities. Consider giving them access to group pages.
- Manage the privacy and security settings of your social media accounts. Check the settings frequently.
- Assume that information you post can be accessed or altered.
- Monitor regularly all content you or others post to your social media accounts and remove anything that is inappropriate.
- Ask others not to tag you on any photographs without your permission.
- Avoid online criticism about students, colleagues, your employer or others in the school community.
The College advises that, when interacting with students electronically, teachers consider whether the interaction is of a professional nature and enhances student learning. One point that I found interesting is that you need to consider whether photos, videos and audio are susceptible to manipulation. Seeing as many students are much more technology-savvy than some of us adults, it's certainly something to think about. Overall, teachers are advised to consider whether their online presence reflects their image as a professional and represents the teaching profession in a positive light.
Find a Teacher On The College’s Website
Did you know that the Find a Teacher function of the College’s website lists everyone who has been certified to teach in Ontario's publicly funded schools? Each record includes:
- a teacher's qualifications
- date of initial certification
- status with the College
- disciplinary history, if applicable
The College does not provide teachers' addresses or other contact information or employment history. Deceased teachers are not searchable. The information made available to the public is defined by Section 23 of the Ontario College of Teachers Act and College bylaws.
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The College's free e-newsletter, The Standard, is a great resource for parents who wish to be more involved and engaged in their child's education. You will get College reports on trends in education, information on changes in education legislation, and details about College services and how the College works to ensure high standards in education.
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Find out more about the Ontario College of Teachers
Website - www.oct.ca
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Youtube - www.youtube.com/user/OCTvideoOEEO
Are there any points in the advisory that you hadn't considered? Have you ever sent an email or text inadvertently or made another online faux pas?
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