Legal & Ethical Contexts in my Digital Practice

Working in a Special Education department in a Secondary School can lead to many ethical challenges.  One such challenge is the issue of teenagers with learning difficulties using social media sites and the possible interactions that can take place on these platforms.

The Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (2017) has sent out a code of professional responsibility and standards for the teaching profession.  In this document, it is expressed that teachers will work in the best interests of learners by promoting the wellbeing of learners and protecting them from harm.

We in Special Education can do this is through educating students on how to use social media safely and appropriately.  The best approach to achieve this is through strong school/home communication.  Students with learning difficulties can benefit from social media. For students who do not liked to be touched, or who find it hard to communicate with other individuals, social media platforms are a chance to share pictures and interests, and an opportunity to have a social life.  The internet can also be a dangerous place, especially for students who may struggle with communication.   Peagram (2016) outlines what she believes is the best approach for educating students with learning difficulties on using social media safety.  Peagram gives three clear and concise guidelines for teachers and parents,

  1. Firstly, have a lot of discussions with students on how to use social media.
  2. Secondly, monitor your students’ online accounts.
  3. Educate your students on appropriate behaviour when using social media.

Peagram (2016) recommends that: 

  • Teachers and parents create a clear and concise list of rules for students to follow,
  • Structure the time your students spends online,
  • Monitor accounts and understand the sites your students are using.

Teachers should make a ” social media contract” with students.  This contract should only be five rules or less.  Keeping it simple is important as anything more is overwhelming for students to remember.  One key rule for students to understand is to keep private things private.  It is important that students are often reminded of the social media contract.  Repetition is key.

Teachers and specially parents must monitor accounts and understand the sites students are using.  Some experts recommend limiting students to safer sites with moderators and filters although these sites are often more child-orientated and are not suited for the teenagers (Pinkerton, 2016).  The filters can also limit self-moderation, so students won’t learn what they can and can’t talk about.  If we do not teach them the right skills, they’ll never learn them and may become more vulnerable in the future.

Parents and teachers can monitor a students’ circle of friends for clear warning signs.  Things to look out for include a big age differences in online friends, accounts that seem fake, or people posting inappropriate material in social media links.  Behaviour of students can also be an indication that something is not right.

If a student is displaying more aggressive, or using inappropriate language that they didn’t learn in school, it might have something to do with their social media experience.  Teachers must work within their schools’ professional boundaries.  With respect to social media practices that staff should avoid, the Waimea College (2014) guideline discourages ccommunication with students for social purposes via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and text messaging. It is preferable to use another Facebook page if necessary for any professional communication (Waimea College, 2014).

This guideline is to protect the teacher and clearly delineates the differences between professional and social relationships.  We as Special Education teachers can work within the guidelines and still provide for the wellbeing of learners and protect them from harm.

As teachers, we should model good social media behaviours always.  There are a lot of issues raised here.  This warrants further conversations at both a departmental and school wide level.  Social media is playing a larger role in all our lives and this will only increase in the future.  Hopefully this blogpost lays out some discussion points and pointers for future direction.

Stewart McKean


Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2017). Our Code, Our Standards.  Retrieved from

Peagram, K. (2016, April 4). What Happens When the Online Bully Is a Child with Special Needs [Web log post]Retrieved from

Pinkerton, B. (2016, April 7). What Special Ed Teachers and Parents Need to Know About Social Media [Web log post].  Retrieved from

Waimea College. (2014). Professional Boundaries Guidelines.  Retrieved from

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3 thoughts on “Legal & Ethical Contexts in my Digital Practice

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  1. Hi Stewart
    Social media is a real mine field but teachers need to not shy away from it as a learning tool. Provided that clear boundaries are put in place, social media is a great place to share resources and exchange ideas. I think that students and teachers should at the least have an educational social media identity (page) so that only information about the learning is shared / exchanged and those professional boundaries are kept very clear. If you would like to read some great material on this topic take a look at the work by John Parsons. We had him come into school recently and he was fantastic talking to students, staff and parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Stewart,

    I enjoyed the discussion points of your blog. Yours is an interesting area of inquiry. I am aware of many Facebook sites that communicate directly with our students. It can be argued for instance that the Adventure Racing site is co-curricular with Health and Physical Education as it serves and supports the needs of the Waimea Adventure Racing squad. It is a forum that teachers and students use to set trainings, advise of up-coming racers, keep up to date on training and advise on injury issues. In a wider sense of the “Waimea College. (2014). Professional Boundaries Guidelines”, we are practicing pastoral care for a social practice. I suppose my range of roles and functions that the site allows could be construed as professional, although, it seems beyond the bounds of normal student staff interaction. Thanks for the food for thought.


  3. Hi Stewart,

    interesting looking at social media through the lens of special needs students and how that might look. The point you make about keeping an eye on their behaviours, monitoring and understanding what they are doing online is critical. I wonder how our past experiences of unsupervised access to a screen (for us it was TV) shapes the way we monitor young people who are viewing the screen of their choice? Their choice of screen is a rabbit hole through which the world can turn very dark very quickly, we cannot afford to see all screens as equal. Positive modeling of the correct behaviours and explaining what to do in challenging circumstances is the way forward. I also believe that we can within our professional boundaries communicate online with students in a positive way that also acts as positive role modeling. This occurs in our public school facebook page where students and staff mix in an online environment.


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