Sunday, June 12, 2016

Getting Carried Away on Social Media

Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers - It's Our Responsibility

During our careers we will be faced with many ethical dilemmas.  As social media begins to play an even more important and powerful role in many of our lives - usually in a positive way for most of us - there are times when we will need to make a call and take action.  

For many of us, social media is an important part of our Professional Learning Networks (PLN) or our community of practice where we can reflect on our own learning and improve our practice to meet the needs of our students.  So what happens then, when we come across something in a discussion that makes us feel uncomfortable and which we know is against the Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers that are part of our legal responsibility as Certificated Teachers, part of our Practising Teacher Criteria?

A few months ago in an online group, a discussion began with a post made by a well-known educator about their child's report.  An error had been made where the child's gender had been swapped.  The assumption was made straight away that the report must have been copied and pasted.  The 'discussion' rapidly declined into one that was abusive and judgmental of the teacher concerned.  I must admit that I was concerned about the tone of the discussion and the attitudes towards the unnamed teacher - a fellow colleague and professional.  My concerns were:

  • The teacher concerned was being judged based on the comment from one person who, because they are a well-known educator, had enormous credibility and power;
  • The teacher concerned did not have a voice in this discussion and could not defend him/herself;
  • There was every chance that this teacher was also a part of this group and easily identifiable based on the school the child attended;
  • The teacher concerned possibly had to sit and read the comments from colleagues who were prepared to make snap judgments based on the words of one person.

Our Code of Ethics consists of four 'fundamental principles'

  • Autonomy to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
  • Justice to share power and prevent the abuse of power
  • Responsible care to do good and minimise harm to others
  • Truth to be honest with others and self

Under the Commitment to the Profession we are expected to "treat colleagues and associates with respect, working with them co-operatively and collegially to promote students' learning."  I think this statement should include the need to promote colleagues' learning as well as students.  

From this online discussion it was so easy to see how discussions can get out of hand very quickly and cyberbullying can take over.  But was this cyberbullying?  Was I overreacting to what I was reading? I discussed this with another colleague and we don't think we overreacted and several comments, including our own, made it clear that we didn't agree with what was happening.  We can only imagine how the teacher who was being discussed felt as he/she was being berated for being 'less than perfect'.  I'm the least perfect person I know and have made mistakes on social media and hopefully learned from them, but I would not judge anyone based on one person's comments in an online forum.  As professionals we owed that teacher to shut the discussion down.  

Ultimately, the person who posted the initial comments should not have done so, particularly given their status in the profession.

This was a learning curve for many of us.  Most of us are very aware of helping our students learn about being good digital citizens but we also need to make sure that we are good digital citizens as well. We have an ethical responsibility.

Simple advice for all of us... It's so easy to get caught up in the 'discussion.'


Education Council New Zealand. (2015). Practising teacher criteria.  Retrieved from

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