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Having worked with Special Needs Students for over 20 years one of the ethical dilemmas I have had to work through is their need for contact after they leave school. They wanted to continue to share their lives with me. Initially I resisted any contact at all wanting to keep my professional and private life separate. I then realised that some contact was beneficial for both us especially the first two years after they left school as I needed to see if my Transition Curriculum had some impact on their future lives and choices. For example were they continuing to use public transport or were they able to make informed choices about leaving home to live as independently as they could, when in my class having visited past students in different living situations. In the mid 1990's email provided me with a platform I felt comfortable with my students having contact with me. Email had many advantages as students needed little training to learn how to send/receive one, I could reply at my convenience, it saved me time, I could attach photos, files and messages could be saved in advance ready to be sent later.

Knowing many of my past students were frequent users of Facebook I had resisted joining because of wanting to maintain appropriate boundaries. Realising Facebook could provide me with an online space for contact with students that is both mutually beneficial and non-intrusive on my time or private life I finally joined in 2010. Once they left school Facebook also provided the perfect platform for students to be able to keep in contact with the friends they had made at school and it became the best way for me to contact them when it was time for our reunions which we hold every five years. I actively encouraged the students I work with to join Facebook and suggested safety strategies such as their parents being friends with them on Facebook so they too could know what their son/daughter was doing.

Bearing in mind that teachers are viewed as role models by wider society and considering my digital ‘footprint’ and the fact that people you don’t know may judge you based on how you are portrayed online, I had to think carefully about how would I represent myself when using this social media and how I wanted to be presented, both in my own posts/photos/videos and those I maybe ‘tagged’ in by other users. I needed to up-skill myself on how to set up groups, establish privacy settings, and how ‘friends’ or other users are able to share information that I post. I checked the terms of use to make sure I knew how the service provider could access, re-use or republish the information I posted.

After taking into account the views and opinions of my colleagues, students, and parents/whanau and the privacy of those involved and the things I would share, the boundaries I have set are:

  • To seek agreement from students, colleagues and parents/whanau.
  • To be aware of how shareable my posts / photos / videos are.
  • Share only what I'm comfortable with the whole world seeing.
  • To be responsible and a role model for the students by keeping my privacy settings up to date and appropriate. 
  • To be clear about the purpose of my interactions via Facebook.
  • To continue to talk to colleagues about my activity on Facebook means I'm not acting in isolation and exposing myself to a potential ethical dilemma.
  • To educate the students I work with about being a digitally responsible citizen.

It has continued to be a positive experience for all involved.

New Zealand Teachers Council.(2012). Establishing safeguards.[video file]. Retrieved from

New Zealand Teachers Council. (2015). Teachers & Social Media. Retrieved from

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