Ontario Teachers Asked To Decline Students' Facebook Adds

Ontario's public teachers must maintain professional distance from their students, which includes declining Facebook friend requests.

The battle against social media in education rages on this week as the Ontario College of Teachers, the regulatory board for all public teachers in Ontario, Canada, advises its 230,000 members not to accept Facebook friend requests from students.

The Canadian province’s teacher association has moved much further than the Virginia Department of Education, which has so far been unable to pass a policy discouraging Facebook friendships between teachers and students.

The state board would have set an example for the rest of the U.S. had a January 13 vote approved social media suggestions in a report called “Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct and Abuse in Virginia Public Schools.” Instead, Canada has set a precedent that just might become the model for schools across North America.

The Ontario College of Teachers’ website includes a copy of an eight-page “Professional Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media,” outlining 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.”

Facebook is not banned from the classroom. Facebook pages or groups established for classroom use are allowed — as is most other social media. However, the group recommends that teachers don’t 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.

Besides the advisory, the college has created a six-minute video about using social media responsibly and effectively, and we’ve embedded a copy of it below. The video takes on a more positive tone than the written advisory, highlighting the innovative ways teachers are using social media in Canadian classrooms.

The materials released by the Ontario College of Teachers declare that teachers are always “on duty” and bound by “certain standards of conduct.” As teachers, they are not allowed to have any life outside of the profession – they must always present themselves as professionals and role models. By these standards, a teacher can be fired or criminally prosecuted for any inflammatory comments made on social media, even those intended for a private audience.

Should teachers be punished for comments made on Facebook? Is it fair for anyone to be considered on duty all day, every day?