Educators and Electronic Media

Navigating the ethics, guidelines & laws of a digital world

Teachers walk a fine line between being "human" and being a teacher. They are held to a different standard and are viewed as leaders in the community. Often, educators struggle with being a part of the community and the standards to which they are held. Younger teachers, especially, are met with making the abrupt change from broadcasting their every thought and emotion in real time to being mindful and deliberate in how and what they communicate. Below is a guide prepared to educate both new and veteran teachers on the ethics, guidelines and laws regarding electronic media and data that teachers in Gwinnett County Schools should be familiar with and apply to their paractice.
Teachers' personal and professional boundaries

What is Electronic Media

Teachers use electronic media to communicate, collaborate, research and evaluate on a daily basis. Examples of electronic media include cell phones, iPods, instant messaging, internet social media sites, e-mail. Of these, the most commonly used are e-mail and social media. Inappropriate social media behavior, however, is where most teachers have miscues.

What is Social Media

Miriam Webster defines social media as any form of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content, Social media is a powerful tool for teachers both in and out of the classroom. It has taken the classroom by storm and takes the form of private social groups, Facebook Pages, classroom Twitter profiles or blogs. Intergrating social media into the classroom helps make learning more engaging and authentic. Students that are engaged are more successful.

A Huffington Post article reports on two studies following social media implementations in the classroom. "A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20 percent of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50 percent, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third." Another study, which analyzed how students performed when asked to use twitter to do assignments, found that students who were asked to "contribute to class discussions and complete assignments using Twitter increased their engagement over a semester more than twice as much as a control group."

Using social media in the classroom and in your personal life is encouraged. Personal use of social media keeps us connected and collaborating with family, friends and colleagues. Through social media, we share in each other's celebrations and sorrows in a unique and sometimes voyeuristic way. As teachers, our use of social media is highly scrutinized and sometimes a career deal breaker.

According to Papandrea (2012) teachers can be disciplined for unprofessional or inappropriate content on social media sites. Even if postings are on personal sites, made after school hours, off school property and on personal devices teachers can be punished if their postings are deemed inappropriate. Examples of these types of postings are those that involve sex, drugs, alcohol, profanity, or comments that cast their school or district in a less than favorable light. Additionally, sharing names, photos and detailed anecdotes about students and parents is unacceptable. Anyone who places information in digital form must assume that an unintended audience may discover it, even if your accounts are private.

How Do I Know What's Acceptable?

The Code of Conduct for Georgia Educators Will Guide You

According to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission...

every Georgia educator is governed by a code of conduct, or code of ethics.

The Code of Ethics for Educators defines the professional behavior of educators in Georgia and serves as a guide to ethical conduct. The Professional Standards Commission (or PSC) has adopted standards that represent the conduct generally accepted by the education profession. The code protects the health, safety and general welfare of students and educators, ensures the citizens of Georgia a degree of accountability within the education profession, and defines unethical conduct justifying disciplinary sanction.

Above all, the Code of Ethics is your guide for how you conduct yourself in the digital world. Judging your actions against Standards 7 and 10 will assist you in making wise decisions when using electronic or social media.

Standard 7: Confidential Information - An educator shall comply with state and federal laws and state school board policies relating to the confidentiality of student and personnel records, standardized test material and other information.

Standard 10: Professional Conduct - An educator shall demonstrate conduct that follows generally recognized professional standards and preserves the dignity and integrity of the teaching profession.

But What About Free Speech?

Isn't it my right?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances." First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

This means that the government may not make laws that stop us from saying what we feel or think. The American people have the right to share their opinions with other people or criticize the government.

Simpson, in his NEA website posting explains that many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. What many new teachers do not realize is that nontenured teachers can be non-renewed for no reason at all and districts are not required to provided them with a due process hearing.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. However, when exercising your first amendment rights, remember, you are bound by the Code of Ethics.

NYC Teacher Fired For Facebook Post

Social Media Pitfalls

With more than 800 million users, Facebook is the world’s most popular social networking website. It is not surprising, then, that Facebook frequently plays a role in cases where teachers are punished for posting inappropriate content.

The scenarios provided below detail instances where teachers have faced disciplinary action as a result of activity on social media. Where the actions of leadership appropriate in these cases? Be sure to evaluate these through the lens of teacher, leadership, students, parents and communities.

Teacher Fired Over Photos Posted on Facebook
Teacher Fired Over Facebook

A school board’s chief responsibility is to protect and maintain the relationship between students and teachers as one that is professional. Schools have legitimate interests in maintaining the boundary lines between teachers and students. GCPS has developed clear guidelines for users of technology and social media,

Follow the link below to review this essential policy.

GCPS Acceptable Use of Electronic Media for Staff

Tips for Preventing Social Media Missteps

Watch What You Share

FERPA Guidelines for Teachers

FERPA, The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ( was enacted by Congress in 1974. It mandates that all institutions receiving federal dollars comply with certain procedures for maintaining and disclosing educational records. Its intention is to protect the privacy of students and their families.

FERPA guidelines restrict the types of information that can be shared. Information outside of what is commonly referred to as "Directory Information", must be securely stored and can not be disclosed to any individual or entity that does not have a a legitimate educational interest. Directory Information is information, the disclosure of which is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy. The Act prohibits the disclosure of a student’s “protected information” to a third party. This disclosure is prohibited regardless of whether it is made by hand delivery, verbally, fax, mail, or electronic transmission.

Gwinnett County takes seriously their role in protecting student information and privacy. Each year parents are informed of their rights and are provided with the opportunity to choose for Directory Information to be withheld along with Protected Information.

Additionally, parents have the right to request photographs, audio recordings, and/or video recordings of their child(ren) taken or recorded at its facilities and events not be published. If this is the case, you are responsible for ensuring these images or recordings are not posted on websites or printed in newsletters. Always refrain from posting pictures of your students on your personal social media sties.

Follow the link below to review GCPS's FERPA and Media Release statements.$file/Media_Release-2012-13_MS-HS_Handbook.pdf

Summing Things Up

It is your responsibility to be aware of your duties and responsibilities as an educator, which includes conducting yourself appropriately in your personal life. Through this activity, you have been provided with resources and references for understanding and implementing these guidelines into your practice.