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Maintaining Professionalism in the Digital World

In Pennsylvania, teachers are expected to be moral exemplars in their communities. Parents look to teachers to help promote principles of citizenship and societal responsibilities. These expectations are broad and far-reaching and can encompass all facets of a teacher’s personal and professional life. As our means of communication become increasingly digital, however, more of our lives are lived on-line and more of our communications is occurring through electronic means. When private conduct becomes either intentionally or unintentionally public, it is more difficult for teachers to maintain a private persona distinct and separate from their public persona. Communicating digitally or electronically with students may lead to a blurring of the appropriate teacher-student boundaries and create additional challenges to maintaining and protecting one’s privacy.

The objective of this section is to provide an overview of several recent cases from across the country involving teachers and their use of emerging technology. While each of the items in the video and reading library reflects teachers being disciplined by their employers for conduct involving technology, it is important to remember that texting, social networking, blogging and other new forms of communication are not the “sources” of the misconduct outlined. In each situation, the incidents were the result of poor judgment on the behalf of teachers.

The standards of ethical conduct related to the use of technology do not differ from those practice expectations related to more traditional forms of communication and/or interactions with students. A responsible educational system is dependent upon the teacher fulfilling his or her obligation to put the needs of students first. It is always the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that this foundation of trust is not breached. It is also the responsibility of the teacher to control his or her "public brand"-- how he or she wants to be perceived by students, parents, colleagues, and the public. One's public brand can and does impact perceptions, which in turn can impinge upon effectiveness.

Module 4 is designed to highlight the challenges posed by technology, reinforce the expectations of teachers with respect to the safe use of technology, and to provide guidance in how to protect one’s privacy and maintain the divide between one’s private and public persona.

Video Library

Suggested Readings

Discussion Questions

After viewing the videos and reading the articles in the library, consider the following questions:

  1. In each of the instances, did the educator act in a way that was respectful towards his/her colleagues, students and the community?
  2. In situations involving educator misconduct, there is an instance in which the educator makes a decision and crosses an ethical boundary. Select one of the scenarios presented in the video library and identify where the educator makes the decision that crosses the line. What could the educator have done differently in that situation?
  3. If a principal in a school district accessed all of the online content you have authored or posted, would this hinder your chances of employment? How might you improve your online footprint before you graduate?