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College provides advice to teachers about professional boundaries

November 17 2020

(Toronto) - The Ontario College of Teachers today sent 234,000 Ontario Certified Teachers advice to remind them to respect their professional boundaries in the care of their students – at school, at home, or wherever learning occurs.

“Educators hold great responsibility in their duty of care toward students,” says Chantal Bélisle, OCT, the College’s Deputy Registrar. “Although good judgment and professionalism are expected, the practice of teaching is multifaceted. Establishing professional boundaries can be complex.

“Our advice gives educators pause to consider the professional, ethical and legal parameters that govern their daily practice, along with suggestions on what to avoid.”

Approved by College Council, Professional Boundaries – An Advisory for Ontario Certified Teachers applies to all members of Ontario’s teaching profession and those in positions requiring a licence to teach. Boundaries are defined as the “the verbal, physical, emotional and social distances that an educator must maintain to ensure structure, security, and predictability in an educational environment.”

The advisory includes:

  • a list of watch-for behaviours
  • a framework for action and self-reflection, and
  • pointers to applicable decisions and helpful resources.

It recognizes that practitioners are expected to uphold professional standards seven days a week, in and out of learning environments, and have many roles and relationships with colleagues, parents and others in the community. It also notes the differences in communities themselves.

In northern and rural communities, for example, educators may have a much more pronounced influence on community life and, therefore, a closer but different relationship to students and their families.

“Educators are more likely to know or socialize with parents of their students, and as parents themselves, in clubs, associations or in sporting circles as leaders, participants, instructors or coaches,” the advisory says. Consequently, they will have legitimate reasons to attend social events, visit each other in their homes and contribute to the well-being of the community.”

Educators hold authority and students trust their safety and welfare to them. Boundary violations occur when the imbalance of power tips toward serving the educator’s needs, not the student’s, and the student’s welfare is compromised.

“Boundaries define professionalism,” says Bélisle. “And the onus is always on educators to set and maintain boundaries that clearly separate professional conduct needed to meet student needs from personal opinions and behaviours that are not germane to supporting students.”

The advice provides a list of communication, physical, emotional, relationship, technological and financial boundaries of which to be aware.

By way of example, the document cautions educators to refrain from using language with students that is too casual, suggestive, obscene, hurtful or humiliating. It warns not to joke about sexual, racial or cultural matters. And it advises against physical contact such as touching, hugging, tickling or massaging.

The document asks practitioners to ask themselves:

  • Am I doing the right thing?
  • How would colleagues/others judge my actions?
  • Can we work together where others can see us, preferably in a public place?
  • Am I using the school’s authorized technology to communicate and not a personal email or social media account or platform?
  • Are my actions known and sanctioned by the principal/supervisor and/or the student’s parents/guardians?
  • If a colleague, family member or friend was watching, could they misinterpret my behaviour?

In addition to reading the advisory, OCTs are encouraged to consult their employer policies, protocols and Ministry of Education resources.

“The vast majority of teaching professionals are guided by the ethical standards and standards of practice established for all OCTs,” says Council Chair Nicole van Woudenberg, OCT. “This advice lets teachers – and the public – know what’s acceptable behaviour for all teaching professionals in all learning situations and at any point in their careers.”


The Ontario College of Teachers licenses, governs and regulates the profession of teaching in the public interest. It sets standards of practice and ethical standards, conducts disciplinary hearings and accredits teacher education programs affecting more than 234,000 members in publicly funded schools and institutions across Ontario. The College is Canada’s largest self-regulatory body.

For more information or to see other College advisories, go to oct.ca or contact:

Brian Jamieson, Senior Communications Officer
416-961-8800, ext. 655
Toll-free 1-888-534-2222, ext. 655

Gabrielle Barkany, OCT, Senior Communications Officer (Bilingual)
416-961-8800, ext. 621
Toll-free 1-888-534-2222, ext. 621

Olivia Yu, Senior Communications Officer
416-961-8800, ext. 620
Toll-free 1-888-534-2222, ext. 620

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