TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario teachers are being warned not to befriend students on social networking sites and to be extremely cautious when using social media outside of the workplace.

The Ontario College of Teachers released the warning to teaching faculty in a professional advisory concerning electronic communications and social media, Monday.

The advisory warns the, approximately, 230,000 members that their behaviour outside of the classroom impacts their suitability as a teacher, and they must maintain professional boundaries at all times.

The report states: “Social media encourage casual dialogue. Even the most innocent actions can be easily misconstrued or manipulated.”

Teachers are advised to decline “friend” requests from students on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and to not send out “friend” requests to students.

They are also warned against exchanging private texts, phone numbers, personal emails or photos with students.

This is only the third advisory ever issued by the College and comes as school boards struggle to create guidelines for a rapidly changing social-media environment.

The report acknowledged social media can be a strong tool when used effectively in the teaching environment but reiterated social networking sites were not created solely for an educational purpose.

The report states: “Electronic communication and social media can be effective when used cautiously and professionally. They serve a range of purposes,from helping students and parents/guardians access assignments and resources related to classroom studies to connecting with classrooms in other communities and countries.”

It also states: “However, the most popular social media applications were not created specifically for educational purposes and their use can expose members to risk when it comes to maintaining professionalism.”

Teachers are also reminded that professional boundaries need to be minded in all forms of communication, technological or not.

The entire report can be found here.