If students in Ontario want to friend their favourite teacher on Facebook, it’s not going to happen. The Ontario College of Teachers has forbidden all teachers from “friending” their students on the popular social networking site.

All Facebook reports that In the eight-page missive released by the college, entitled “Professional Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication,” teachers are told how to conduct themselves when dealing with electronic messages, going so far as to explain what legal implications are involved. There are limits as to when and how teachers are to communicate electronically with their students, using “established education platforms” and only during “appropriate times of the day.”

That doesn’t mean that Facebook has been outlawed in the classroom. Pages and groups that are established for classsroom use are permitted, along with other forms of social media. But teachers are instructed to steer clear of communicating with students through private electronic means, such as instant messaging or personal Facebook profiles. The college believes that once a teacher and student become connected through an online portal such as Facebook, it permanently undermines the relationship. That can lead to discussions that are not appropriate for teachers take part in.

In addition, the college states that teachers are “always on duty” and as a result are expected to present a “certain code of conduct” at all times. Teachers are considered to be role models and can be fired or even criminally prosecuted should they make any comments on social media that are deemed inflammatory — even if the comments are supposed to be private. The advisory ends by asking teachers to consider how their “online presence – that which I control and that which is posted by others – reflect my professionalism,” and further asks, “how does it reflect the teaching profession?”

Anthony Marco, Teachers’ Vice President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Hamilton-Wentworth, offered his thoughts on the college’s decision.

“Such a question is patently ridiculous as it asks teachers to pre-suppose the thoughts of others on their professional standards. The College does not offer concrete examples in the advisory.” Marco, who has also been interviewed on CBC Radio’s “Q” program regarding teachers’ use of social media and offers workshops for teachers on how to use social media, added, “To hold such a standard/threat over the heads of teachers…gives a clear indication of why many teachers still shy away from social networking as a whole, and why there seems to be such a disconnect from those who sit in disbelief at why teachers (and public boards) are hamstrung in serving the needs of a student base that uses the web as a primary communication medium.”

The college has developed a short video (embedded below) that offers advice on how teachers should conduct themselves in the social media realm.



The position taken by the Ontario College of Teachers to outright forbid Facebook “friending” between teachers and students has not been taken up by any other province in Canada…yet.