A serviceman accesses social media channels using a smart phone

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district drafts social media policy

Teachers can only interact with students via a professional social media presence – as “Mr. Doe.”

Local teachers will not be able to accept students as friends on their personal Facebook accounts if a new draft policy is accepted by the school board.

Information Technology and Communications Systems – Appropriate Use is the name of the new policy.

The social media guidelines set out that teachers in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district should maintain a dual presence in social media – one for John Doe private citizen, and the other for Mr. Doe, teacher.

They can only interact with students via a professional social media presence – as “Mr. Doe.”

The local teachers’ union was supportive of developing new guidelines, acknowledging teachers should be given some direction about the appropriate use of social media with students, said director of instruction David Vandergugten.

“They could get themselves in hot water, because they’re not using the tool appropriately,” he said.

There have been cases in other districts where teachers have had adult friends post images to the educator’s Facebook wall which show the teacher drinking and partying with friends. It is not intended for their students, nor appropriate for them to see it, but any students who have been ‘friended’ by the teacher have access to it.

“As a teacher, you’ve got that expectation, and you have to meet certain standards,” said Vandergugten, noting the standards of professionalism are set out by the college of teachers.

“At the end of the day, you’re their teacher – you’re not their friend,” he added. “Just as a parent has a parent-child relationship that differs from their relationship with their friends.”

The guidelines, a 10-page document, say that the same standards of conduct in professional settings will be observed on a professional social media site. District employees are not to review personal social media accounts created by their students. No personally identifiable student information can be posted on the professional sites, including photos, without the consent of the student’s parents. These are just a few examples.

Teachers will be educated about the new policy, and advised about issues such as appropriate privacy settings to use.

“We want to educate our employees on how to use social media properly, because it’s a very powerful tool,” he said. “But it’s like a drill press, or a hand saw – if you don’t know how to use it, you can really hurt yourself.”

Some school districts in North America have policies prohibiting teachers from using social media at all. Vandergugten rejects that approach.

“The genie is out of the bottle.”

Also, there is some great teaching being done using social media. He recalls a class studying Shakespeare setting up Facebook pages for all the characters in a play, as a way to engage the students.

“If you block it, you lose that valuable resource.”

The policy does not address social media communications between employees, or student-to-student.

Maple Ridge’s work is being looked at by other districts.

The local policy was adapted from the New York Department of Education’s policy, and Vandergugten said the Ridge board got permission to use it. He said it is about one-third new, and two-thirds New York’s.

The Surrey school district is developing a policy and an instructional video on how to use social media, and the Vancouver School Board has asked for a copy of the local policy.

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