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Ontario College of Teachers Issues Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media

April 11 2011

Social Media and Electronic Communication Q&A

  • News Release
  • Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media
  • Video (incorporates clips from teachers and social media experts – unmixed version available for broadcast, by request)

Why is the College issuing this advisory?

The Ontario College of Teachers regulates Ontario’s teaching profession in the public interest. This advisory is intended to clarify members’ responsibilities when using electronic communication or social media so they can reflect upon the way they interact electronically with students and others and ensure that their conduct meet professional standards.

Why an advisory now?

Because the use of e-communication is a fact in Ontario schools and it can only increase. Students spend an enormous amount of time using social media. Increasingly, so are College members. For many students, social media represent the single most commonly used avenue for communication and community. This is something we simply cannot ignore in the classroom.

To whom does this advisory apply?

This advisory applies to College members including teachers, vice-principals, principals, consultants, supervisory officers and directors of education. It also affects members working in private and independent schools and elsewhere.

Does the advisory apply to teachers when they are off duty?

As members of a profession, teachers are always on duty. Teachers, like other professionals, such as doctors, nurses and lawyers, are bound by certain standards of conduct. Teachers are expected to be professionals, even outside the classroom and beyond school-related activities.

The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that teachers are role models and, as such, “they do not necessarily check their teaching hats at the school yard gate and may be perceived to be wearing their teaching hats even off duty.”

What happens if teachers don’t follow the guidelines?

Teachers are responsible for their conduct as professionals and for their online reputation and identity. Those who are in breach of accepted ethical standards and the standards of practice for teachers may be subject to a complaint of professional misconduct.

The advisory seems to indicate that if a teacher makes sexual remarks online to a student that constitutes “sexual abuse”.  Is that true?

Yes. The Ontario College of Teachers Act and the Student Protection Act include “behavior or remarks of a sexual nature by a member towards a student” in the definition of sexual abuse.

Are there examples of professional misconduct without a criminal conviction?

Yes. Decisions made by panels of the discipline committee are a matter of public record and appear on the College register. Copies of the full decisions are available through the College’s Margaret Wilson Library.  In one example, a 2006 panel of the Discipline Committee heard seven allegations of professional misconduct against a member for inappropriate verbal and electronic communication with Grade 7 students. The member admitted questioning students via computer about whether they had engaged in French kissing, and asking one student whether she had a boyfriend or if she had been kissed. The panel found him guilty of professional misconduct, reprimanded him, and ordered him to complete a course on teacher-student boundaries.

How many teachers have lost their teaching certificates because of inappropriate electronic communication with students or other staff members?

We don’t keep a separate statistic for cases involving inappropriate use of electronic communication or social media. However, given the prevalence of e-communication and social media today, many if not most cases of professional misconduct involving inappropriate communication may include inappropriate e-communication and social media.

Do you have research on the number of Ontario teachers now using social media?

The College surveyed members in July 2010 regarding their use of social media. Respondents with a computer at home report spending an average 8.3 hours a week online. More than 30 per cent said they connect on Facebook for up to two hours a week and just over 50 per cent said they tune into YouTube for as much as two hours per week.  Members use technology to access lesson plans (44.2 per cent) and classroom resources (42.3 per cent), network with other professionals (41.9 per cent), and conduct research to support their work as teachers (39.2 per cent).

What do you mean by telling members to communicate at “appropriate times” of the day?

Communicating with students or parents late at night, for example, may be misconstrued and considered inappropriate. E-mails drafted late at night can instead be sent the following day using the “delay” option in the toolbar. 

You say that teachers should maintain “appropriate professional boundaries” at all times in all forms of communication. Can you give an example?

Maintaining professional boundaries requires recognizing that students are not teachers’ peers and cannot be treated as friends. The College advises teachers to avoid accepting friend requests from students, using endearments or nicknames, communicating late at night, and sharing personal photos, texts, or information. Electronic communication or social media should not be used in an attempt to establish a more personal connection or to bypass more public and formal modes of communication.

Where can teachers go for additional information on this topic?

Teachers should consult their administrator, board, employer, teacher federation or professional association.

101 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON, M5S 0A1, P: 416.961.8800 / Toll Free (Ontario Only): 1.888.534.2222 / F: 416.961.8822 / info@oct.ca

© 2019 Ontario College of Teachers

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