Understanding Professional Boundaries
Failure to understand professional boundaries can lead almost any member to make serious mistakes - career threatening ones - in the management of teacher-student relationships.
Any act of professional misconduct can lead to disciplinary measures being taken by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT). Even an unfounded allegation of professional misconduct could be permanently damaging to a teacher, to their family, and to the profession.
Professional Boundaries Defined
The term "Professional Boundaries" is not easily defined. When teachers were asked how they understood the term, ETFO learned that it can mean different things to different people. Some common responses were
The most extreme form of boundary violation is that of sexual abuse against a student. Sexual abuse represents the ultimate breach of the trust reposed in a teacher.
The Onus is On the Teacher
Teachers are responsible for recognizing in themselves whether they are "at risk" of crossing boundaries and, if they are, of addressing the issue. This makes the issue an important and dangerous one for teachers.
Teachers have a responsibility to address this issue when they witness a colleague who may be crossing boundaries. Administrators and colleagues need to recognize danger signals in other teachers' interactions, and to intervene. In serious situations, reporting suspicion of child abuse may be required.
What Places Teachers at the Highest Risk?
Insufficient training: Teachers insufficiently trained in their roles can become too personally involved with students. This can lead to actual or alleged sexual misconduct.
Ignorance of the law: There is no excuse for being ignorant of the law! Teachers need to be informed about legal liability issues and the standards of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT).
In general, activities which take a teacher beyond the expectations of the employer could easily qualify as boundary violations. These include:
The best way for members to protect themselves is to follow that old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Teachers must be ever vigilant of situations that place them in vulnerable positions.
As a teacher, do you protect yourself by:
Remember … a caring professional relationship always helps a student to learn. But this relationship has boundaries of time, place, purpose and activity.
Members are advised to consult their Local President or Professional Relations staff in Protective Services at 416-962-3836 or 1-888-838-3836 for additional advice.