April 13, 2011 at 5:00 PM ET
Regarding the ongoing quandary over teachers friending students on Facebook, the Ontario College of Teachers came up with an answer so obvious, other school systems should promptly face-palm upon hearing it: Just don't do it.
That's right, kids. The regulatory board for all public teachers in Ontario, Canada, essentially forbids its 230,000 members from accepting Facebook friend requests from students, All Facebook reports:
The Ontario College of Teachers’ websiteincludes a copy of an eight-page "Professional Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media" ... outlin[ing] appropriate conduct for electronic messages, complete with explanations of criminal and civil law implications. Teachers are instructed to only communicate with students electronically during "appropriate times of the day and through established education platforms."
See how easy?
No hand-wringing. No Puritanical finger-wagging. No rending of garments while howling, "Won't somebody please think of the children?" In an example that should be followed throughout Canada, and most certainly the United States, the Ontario advisory acknowledges that Facebook and the Internet are facts of life, as well as a useful tool when directions are followed:
Facebook is not banned from the classroom. Facebook pages or groups established for classroom use are allowed — as is most other social media. However, teachers are strictly forbidden to communicate with students through any personal means, such as private instant messages or through personal Facebook profiles.
According to the advisory, teachers must decline student-initiated friend requests, and never initiate a friend request with a student. The college asserts that when a teacher and a student become friends in an online environment, the dynamic between them is forever changed. An invisible line between professional and personal is crossed, which can lead to strictly forbidden informal conversations.
The report also says that teachers who post inflammatory comments on social media — even if those comments are meant to be private — can be fired and/or criminally prosecuted. It also states that teachers are always "on duty" and bound by "certain standards of conduct."
In its entirety, the advisory may seem a bit extreme. Then again, if U.S. schools adopted such a simple policy, there'd be no wondering what's to be done about the Chicago teacher who posted a photo of her 7-year-old student whom she snapped with her cellphone, along with mocking comments about the little girl's hair. There'd be protocol for the teacher who called her first-grade students "future criminals" on a Facebook post open for all to see.
Granted, there are far more good teachers than the few that make the news. If we lived in a world where people had the Internet all figured out, teachers and students friending each other might be an awesome idea. But the majority of us don't even understand basic privacy settings, and the potential for chaos far outweighs any possible benefits of student/teacher Facebook fraternization.
That doesn't mean teachers should pretend Facebook and the Internet doesn't exist.
Ontario College of Teachers report is accompanied by this 6-minute video (below) that is as charming, in its un-jaded Internet 101 approach to social media in the classroom, as it is realistic and informative.
(They say "aboot" a lot.)
Throughout the video, you'll hear school administrators, teachers and at least one "social media expert" talk about how social media is now a student's main window on the world, that it can, and is, used in the classroom, and that it is a disservice to students not to instruct them on how things work on the Internet.
Same goes for teachers.
More on the annoying way we live now: