Thursday, June 11, 2009


I recently became a member of the Ontario College of Teachers.

I recently received my first copy of their magazine, entitled, "Professionally Speaking."

The magazine has an online version on the College website.

One of the articles, entitled, "Can We Be Friends," discusses the use of Facebook and other social websites in the classroom.

I read a blog some weeks ago pondering the question: Should teachers add students as friends on Facebook?

One quote in the "Can We Be Friends" article suggests that teachers should not befriend students on Facebook.

The Ontario College of Teachers doesn't have a specific professional advisory on online social media and electronic communications with students. But the College's Professional Advisory on Sexual Abuse and Professional Misconduct can be instructive.

Sexual abuse and misconduct obviously can't be equated to a simple Facebook post. But when you look at the advisory, you'll find reminders of teachers' broader responsibility to avoid "an unprofessional and inappropriate relationship with a student" and "activities that may reasonably raise concerns as to their propriety."

The onus is always on the teacher to take care when communicating with students and to avoid breaching appropriate boundaries. It comes down to using good judgment, says Joe Jamieson, Director of Investigations and Hearings for the College. E-mailing students or inviting them to be your Facebook friends might seem harmless. But given the meaning that young people attach to these tools and media, Jamieson likens it to hanging out with your students.

"Why would teachers need to dwell within the social network of kids who are also their students?" poses Jamieson.

I mostly concur with Jamieson's assertion that teachers need to be careful. At the same time, I believe it is beneficial, even necessary, to socialize with students and to get to know them, and their interests, in and out of the classroom. For sure, I believe that social websites need to be utilized in the classroom for multitudinous purposes and reasons.

I think a good compromise would be for a teacher to have separate professional and personal Facebook profiles.

On a different topic, I discovered something remarkable when I was reading the online article. With the Diigo toolbar installed, I am able to read comments left on websites by other Diigo users. Many comments were left on the "Can We Be Friends" article by Melanie McBride. Melanie McBride is a consultant and teacher who is actually quoted within the article. In one of her comments, Melanie clarifies a sentence in which she felt she had been misquoted.

I think it is neat that people can comment upon articles in which they are quoted, in order to clarify their assertions, and to create and participate in an online dialogue.

Update: Here is an article on the blog Lucacept that discusses this issue.

Photo by Yukon White Light.


Tracy said...

I've also posted about this topic and I agree with you - I think there are benefits for teachers to be part of a student's social network. As long as it is very clear that we are not 'friends' in the traditional sense. My role is as mentor and teacher. As such I may be friendly but I'm not a bff :) As well, as such I let my students know when I feel they have stepped over the bounds of good taste and appropriate online behaviour. I remind them that if I am part of their social network I will be witness to their activities and may need to react as befits my role.

I think some people misunderstand what a social network is. It is not necessarily a gang of good friends or a peer group. A social network can be filled with people of varying relationship to you.

Here is my post on facebook friends. The comments are pretty neat, too.

Tracy Rosen said...

Hi Steven, good stuff modifying the comment options. It makes your blog more accessible - and thanks for posting my comment :)

iZangerle said...

I wonder if it is not still just a bit too early for administrators and the powers that be to accept the new social paradigm. Myspace and Facebook still have a certain "Boogey Man" quality. I wonder if this conversation will even exist in 5 or 10 years when the kids who grew up with social media are the teachers.?

Tracy Rosen said...

Very good point. I think that with the intro of social media to our lives there are new models of relationship, of privacy, of social groups. To be honest, I can not imagine not having my students as facebook contacts. I would not feel authentic in my relationship with them.

I also wonder if, in 5-10 yrs, we will still be struggling with cell phone and i-pod policies in our schools...

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