In my first year of teaching I experienced an ethical dilemma of a digital nature that almost cost me my position. I was first made aware of the situation when my principal called me into her office and asked if I had an Instagram account. I replied in the affirmative and was then asked if I had any inappropriate content that students might be able to view. I replied in the negative and was informed that a parent had laid a complaint against me.
What had happened was some of my students has started following my Instagram account. While looking through them one student had shown her mother a picture I had taken of a scantily clad street performer in Las Vegas around 3 years prior. The parent was quite rightly aghast to learn that her daughter had access to her teacher’s photos, one of which she considered inappropriate for a nine year old.
My principal followed procedure by standing me down for the rest of the week while an investigation was launched and my school computer was forensically analysed. It’s fair to say I was in shock! While I had several social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I believed I had made everything private or only viewable by request, when I had first started my training. I was also teaching a year 5 class who I did not think were even allowed to have such accounts, (my daughter was 14 at the time and certainly not permitted on these platforms). My shock soon changed to embarrassment when I realised my Instagram account was still set to public viewing and had pictures of my family and travels from as far back as 2009.
We know that the prevalence of the use of social media has greatly impacted the educational community – including teachers, administrators, students and their families. A new generation is growing up with social networks as an integral part of life and the public sharing of information obscures the normal boundaries between teacher and student and teacher and colleagues (Connecticut’s Teacher Education and Mentoring Program, 2012).
To quote Goran Collste (2012);
“Morality is a natural feature of human life. Human beings are social beings engaged in social interactions. As human beings, we cannot avoid making judgements about what is right and wrong, what one should do and what is valuable.” (pg. 17)
The Education Council Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers clearly states that Teachers certificated to practice in New Zealand must be committed to the attainment of the highest standards of professional service in the promotion of learning by those they teach, mindful of the learner’s ability, cultural background, gender, age or stage of development (Education Council, nd).
All my professional interactions are governed by fundamental principles, one of which is a commitment to learners and another a commitment to the profession. This means that I need to develop and maintain professional relationships with learners, based upon their best interests, and also advance the interests of the teaching profession through responsible ethical practice. While I felt I had not intentionally dishonoured these principles, my inaction was a clear breech of my Schools Cyber safety policy.
Our policy states that the use of any ICT equipment/devices on the school site, or at any school-related activity must be appropriate to the school environment. This includes any images or material present/stored on ICT equipment/devices brought onto the school site, or to any school-related activity. This also all includes the use of all personal electronic devices such as mobile phones and ipads.
Staff are reminded that they are powerful role models and need to be seen to be upholding the core values and principles of Cyber safety and the conditions of our user agreements. Staff are also reminded to be aware of professional and ethical obligations when communicating via ICT with students outside school hours. There should be no contact outside of my role as their teacher.
In the end my breech was viewed by the board as unfortunate. I was told to secure my account, given a verbal warning and the parent was informed of the circumstances and given guidelines from Net Safe about social media. We then used the scenario as cyber safety PD with other staff members and updated our user agreements. Lesson learned!
Collste, G. (2012) Applied and professional ethics. Kemanusiaan,.19 (1), 17–33
Connecticut’s Teacher Education and Mentoring Program. (2012) Ethical and Professional Dilemmas for Educator: Facilitator’s Guide. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.ctteam.org/df/resources/Module5_Manual.pdf
Education Council (nd). The Education Council Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.educationcouncil.org.nz/content/code-of-ethics-certificated-teachers-0
Ministry of Education (2015).Digital technology- Safe and responsible use in school. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.education.govt.nz/assets/Documents/School/Managing-and-supporting-students/DigitalTechnologySafeAndResponsibleUseInSchs.pdf