By Gabrielle Barkany, OCT, and Janis Leonard, OCT
Rapid changes in technology make electronic communication a complex area of practice. Our message to you, however, is straightforward: Continue to maintain appropriate boundaries and professional standards when using electronic communication and social media. What does this mean?
“Keep interactions professional, as you would in the classroom, and build a positive online presence,” says the College’s Deputy Registrar Joe Jamieson, OCT. “Know and respect proper professional boundaries with students, even when they initiate electronic interaction. Take time to reflect; ensure the standards of practice guide your professional judgment and actions.”
In 2011, the College published the professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media. Since then, a lot has changed.
Communication technologies are evolving rapidly, allowing us to access and share information in innovative ways. More teachers, students and their families have access to the internet, tablets and other mobile communication devices.
More social networking sites — such as Snapchat — have also emerged, and some of the more popular sites have changed significantly. For example, Facebook now has features that allow users to chat using instant messaging, talk online and share information using a variety of media.
These changes are exciting for educators. They provide many opportunities to enhance professional learning and practice.
However, these rapid developments, combined with the sheer number of devices, apps and networks that we connect to each day, make it increasingly challenging to protect our privacy, ensure security and maintain appropriate professional boundaries with students.
Given the highly public nature of electronic communications and the speed at which information is shared, teachers do need to be cautious. Reflect and apply your professional judgment before sharing information electronically — both publicly and privately.
Legal bodies and professional regulators are increasingly referring to mobile messages and social media content in their investigations. A seemingly harmless personal message read out of context could have unintended negative consequences for you and the profession.
“Keep interactions professional, as you would in the classroom, and build a positive online presence. Know and respect proper professional boundaries with students, even when they initiate electronic interaction. Take time to reflect; ensure the standards of practice guide all of your professional judgment and actions.”
We updated the definition of electronic communication to reflect a more contemporary meaning, and provided current examples. We also clarified that the College does not discourage the use of electronic communication and social media. The advisory acknowledges the many innovative opportunities that electronic technologies provide for teaching and learning.
Members told us that more specific advice would be helpful in understanding what is — and what is not — appropriate electronic communication. We added more examples of the types of incidents we are seeing in professional misconduct decisions.
You will continue to see a self-reflective framework to guide your professional judgment. We have added a few items to the general advice section to help minimize any risks associated with electronic communication. For example, “Would I write this post knowing it can never truly be erased and may remain in the public domain forever?”
To update the advisory, the College reviewed current publications and policy documents, surveyed members about their opinions and practices, and held focus groups with Ontario Certified Teachers, including administrators.
We also engaged our network of professional regulators and educational associations, and compared our advice to members with theirs.
Finally, we reviewed our investigations and discipline cases involving members who have used electronic communication and social media inappropriately.
To access the College’s complete list of professional advisories, please visit oct-oeeo.ca/professionaladvisories.