The Ontario College of Teachers issued a controversial advisory for teachers last week. It covers the use of social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) in relation to students.
Some of the advice is obvious. “As a digital citizen, model the behavior you expect to see online from your students.” Who could argue? Other advice is more controversial. For instance:
- Avoid exchanging private texts, phone numbers, personal e-mail addresses or photos of a personal nature with students.
- Decline student-initiated “friend” requests and do not issue “friend” requests to students.
Some are aghast at these restrictions.
This news story got me thinking about pastors and social media. Of course, pastors aren’t teachers. It’s harder to maintain boundaries between our personal lives and our ministries. We are more than professionals.
But some of the guidelines do apply. Pastors do need boundaries. We can easily fall into danger. I’ve seen some lines crossed myself. They were crossed with the best of intentions, and no major harm was done, but the danger is there.
Some of the questions asked in the advisory are very good for pastors and ministry leaders to consider:
- When interacting with students electronically am I using electronic communication and social media to enhance their learning or to satisfy a personal need?
- What are my reasons for sharing this information with a student – are they professional or are they personal?
- Is this picture or comment something I would be comfortable with my students, their parents/guardians, my supervisor, my family or the media seeing?
- Would my peers or supervisors consider what I have posted as reasonable and professional?
- Would I communicate this way in my community?
- Are the photos, videos or audio recordings I am posting susceptible to misrepresentation or manipulation?
- Am I keeping current in my awareness and knowledge of social media technology developments to protect myself from misuse?
I’m not ready to argue for a similar set of guidelines for pastors, but I do appreciate these questions. It’s probably worth discussing this issue with key leaders in our ministries. Tim Challies posted on this very subject last year; it’s an issue that we’ll have to revisit again in the future.
What do you think? What boundaries have you found helpful in your ministry as it relates to social media? I’d love to know what you think.