Teacher Code of Conduct… Revisited

If you have not seen my previous post, click yourself through to Teacher Code of Conduct from 1915.

My first reaction to the rules were, that they infringed on teachers’ private lives.

But… I wonder… if it is not such a far cry from what is …or not… or should be happening right now.

No, I am not talking about dictating what to wear, who or when to marry or what time a teacher should be home. I am talking about a different kind of code of conduct though. A code of conduct for teachers in their ONLINE world.

I am wondering if there is  a necessity to create a guideline or code of conduct how teachers are to present themselves in their private online network places profiles? Does the administration at school or the district have the right (duty) to bring the subject up for discussion and in the end to make rules? Is it their business or not?

There is no doubt that some teachers do not have a natural filter when it comes to professional behavior online. It is incredible the kind of content teachers seem to be comfortable of uploading to their Facebook or MySpace accounts. Just google the keywords “teachers facebook, schools mySpace” and you will find many incredible stories of what teachers choose to upload. What is acceptable? What is unacceptable?

  • swimsuit shots?
  • partying pictures?
  • bench drinking? social drinking?
  • racial, discriminatory words or jokes?
  • degrading words, stories and comments about students and their school.

What actions are schools and districts taking?

On eSchool News the article Teachers warned about MySpace Profiles from November 19th, 2007 shows that the issue is not new and that school districts, unions, administrators are getting involved :

An investigation by the Columbus Dispatch into educator misconduct underscores the reasons for the union’s concern.
The newspaper’s recent probe has revealed questionable or inappropriate content on at least three MySpace profiles belonging to people who say they are Ohio teachers.
One says she’s an “aggressive freak in bed,” another says she has taken drugs and likes to party, and a third describes his mood as “dirty,” the Dispatch reported Nov. 10. The guy with the dirty mood, who claims to be a 35-year-old middle school math teacher in Cleveland, reportedly listed students among his MySpace friends.

Cynthia on her blog The Learning Curve referring to the above article above asks herself:

We all want to be known for who we really are–or at least, for who we’d like people to think we are. But we may not want to be known for all of who we really are, by everybody. Social networking sites force us to make some decisions about our privacy. Especially if we’re teachers, and we have kids looking up to us.

An anonymous commenter on her post(who claims to be a High School student)  brings the perspective of the students into the mix.

If you ask me, talking to a teacher on myspace makes them real and I learn better from someone who is real then some robot afraid of reaching out beyond their little “safe zone”. People say they don’t want personal lives and school mixing. Well, what do you think is going to happen if you tell a teacher how to act outside of work.

Articles, like the one on eSchool, just shows that there is a problem. We can’t simply ignore it.

  • Many people ARE posting inappropriate materials on the social network profiles. Some of them happen to be teachers.
  • The boundaries between professional and private lives are blurring
  • The online world is a connected world that brings people closer (sometimes too close for comfort)

Now, the question is how do we DEAL with these issues?

I posed the following question to my twitter network this morning and received an overwhelming response.

What are your thoughts about teachers’ Code of Conduct regarding their personal MySpace and Facebook accounts?

Obviously there are many points, angles, stakeholders, and perspectives to consider. The amount of responses I received from Twitter in such a short amount of time also speaks volumes to the time sensitivity of the issue. Many teachers and districts are confronted with these question:

  • Is there a need to regulate or mandate teachers’ social network profiles whether they are private or not?
  • Is it appropriate for students to befriend their teachers and vice-versa?
  • Should contact between teachers and students be prohobited or encouraged
  • Does age and grade level of students play a role?
  • What are the legal implications for inappropriate content on teachers’ profiles/pages?
  • Do we need to raise and educate our teachers on the the issue of “appropriate” content or do we assume that ALL of them are professionals and should know what is appropriate.
  • Is it any of our business what teachers do and post on their (private) online profiles during their (private) time?
  • Can we and should we pass judgment and make decisions based on the content of a teacher’s online profile?
  • If you are “friends” with your students and you see them post inappropriate things, are you required to report it? Can you be their friend and their police?
  • What are the legal/ethical implications of being friends with your students?

Mike Fisher wrote an excellent post Teachers, Students and Facebook on his blog DigiGogy. He writes:

I understand the concerns that other teachers and administrators have with networking through sites like Facebook, but I also understand that ignoring that network is ignoring a mountain of possibilities for professional development and teaching about appropriate internet usage.

Megan Golding wrote a post Facebook Privacy for Teachers, where she explains step by step how to set up your privacy settings, so students to not get her status updates about what she is doing on the weekend,  but she also cautions:

Teachers should be incredibly wary about having profiles on social networking sites. And even more wary about befriending students. That’s potentially a glimpse into your personal life you don’t need to share. At best sharing the wrong info is unprofessional.

Here are some of the responses from my Twitter network. Again I am in awe, that I can sit at home on a Sunday morning, contemplating an issue and be able to get in touch with so many other educators around the world who will push, shape, guide and challenge my thinking in so many different ways and directions. Thank you to all who took the time to respond and participate in this conversation.

Remember that the responses are in reverse chronological order.

twitter-coc1

twitter-coc2

twitter-coc3

twitter-coc4

twitter-coc5

twitter-coc6

twitter-coc7

twitter-coc8-1

It looks like there are many newspaper articles out there picking this touchy subject about regulating teachers’ private lives in online social network sites apart.

So many angles, so many opinions, not just one correct anwer. What I am taking away from looking a little deeper into the issue is that teachers and administrators DO have to ask themselves where they stand.

  • What do you consider being a professional in an online space?
  • How comfortable are you with the blur between your private and professional lives?
  • Can you “defend” any online interaction with students and back it up with educational value?

Please share if you and your school have taken steps in addressing (or not) an Online Code of Conduct for their teachers. What is your point of view? Do you have a Facebook account and are “friends” with colleagues and students?