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The following articles from Professional Relations Services staff consider the safe, effective and responsible use of online, mobile, and social media technologies. Follow the links below to learn about your rights and responsibilities and contact the PRS department if you have any questions or concerns.
Professional Relations Services: 416-962-3836/1-888-838-3836
E-mail and Text Messaging Advice to Members Context ETFO continues to be concerned that members may be engaging in inappropriate e-mail and text messaging communications with students. Members of ETFO have previously been advised of the problems associated with e-mails and other forms of electronic communication between teachers and students. See the following publications in the Professional Relations section of the ETFO website. Go to www.etfo.ca and follow the links:
Allegations of Sexual Misconduct ("Avoid sending e-mails to students, do not give out your personal e-mail address.") PRS Matters Special Edition, October 2002
Professional Boundaries ("Writing or exchanging notes, letters or e-mails" is designated as an "unacceptable behaviour" that could qualify as a boundary violation.) PRS Matters Volume 3
Electronic Communications (This issue sheet focuses on student misuse of electronic communications and warns members that electronic communications are not secure and can be misused.) PRS Matters Volume 9, August 2002Analysis Community use and access to e-mails and text messaging continues to expand as more people become proficient and reliant on these simple forms of communication. Electronic text communication is no longer restricted to the e-mail format:
Electronic "chat rooms" allow real time text communication between any number of people.
MSN Messaging, and other similar applications (such as ICQ, which is an icon for "I seek you"), are instant messaging systems that allow real time text communication with any number of individuals.
Cell phone text messaging.Students are especially proficient in, and prone to use, these forms of electronic communication. The result is that these forms of communication can appear tempting because of ease of use and ease of access. E-mails, and even more so instant messaging systems, by their very nature promote a casual tone, familiarity, the use of slang and colloquialisms, short-form electronic language (a common example is "lol" which stands for "laughing out loud" which communicates to others that the person writing is laughing), all of which have the potential to erode the professional nature of the student-teacher relationship. Recent allegations against members of ETFO involving e-mails and text messaging reveal the following:
Members using forms of e-mails and text messaging with students very rapidly adopt a casual, familiar tone.
In a brief period of time following the initiation of this type of communication with students (sometimes days or even hours), members can begin to use inappropriate language and inappropriately share and receive personal information.
Members who use e-mails and text messaging are prone to becoming a "friend" of the student (or students). Professional boundaries, which are solely the responsibility of the member to maintain, become dangerously eroded or entirely dissolved.
This type of communication leads to the member commenting on student-parent and student-student relationships.
For a variety of reasons e-mails and text messaging generate a false sense of security and privacy. Nothing could be further from the truth: e-mails and text messaging are subject to interception, alteration, manipulation, and transmission to unknown others.
E-mails and text messaging with students leave members vulnerable to allegations of misconduct including and beyond the e-mails and text messaging themselves.
There is an emerging and alarming relationship between allegations of sexual misconduct and the use of e-mails and text messaging between the member and the complainant.
Members who use e-mails and text messaging with students, and who then face false allegations of sexual misconduct, can expect their employer, as well as criminal and College of Teachers’ prosecutors, to use the e-mails and text messaging against them as evidence supporting the allegations. This makes a defence against such allegations all the more difficult.Advice to Members of ETFO E-mails and text messaging are becoming so simple and so prevalent that they may, one day, become a normal part of the education system relied upon by educators and students. Until rules, protocols, and most importantly express permission for members to use e-mails and text messaging with students are implemented for district school boards, these remain very dangerous modes of communication.Consistent with previous advice to members concerning electronic communications, ETFO cautions members about the risks regarding the use of e-mails and text messaging to communicate with students. If you are experiencing difficulties and need to talk to someone in confidence, call staff in Professional Relations Services (PRS) at (416) 962-3836 or 1-888-838-3836.
The Hidden Dangers of Electronic Communications The issue of electronic communication, cyberbullying, defamatory websites, and social networking sites have been the topic of numerous ETFO publications over the past few years. In an effort to be proactive and prevent possible difficulties, we have advised members to be extremely cautious when communicating electronically with students as well as parents. In PRS Matters #48, entitled, 'Electronic Communications', the issue of electronic abuse was explored in detail. Members were provided with strategies to deal with inappropriate student electronic communications. In PRS Matters #43, entitled, 'Changes to the Safe Schools Act Bill 212: What You Need to Know', we outlined the changes to the Act, especially the inclusion of cyberbullying on the list of infractions that may lead to suspensions. In PRS Matters #46, entitled, 'Defamatory Websites and Social Networking Pages', we outlined the difficulties associated with having defamatory messages removed from websites such as ratemyteacher.com. In addition, the Canadian Teachers' Federation has developed a handy pamphlet entitled, 'Cybertype for Teachers' and presented a brief to the Department of Justice Canada on the topic, "Addressing Cyberconduct." The brief calls for the government to recognize the extreme impact of the misuse of technology by supporting amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada that make it clear that the use of information and communication technology to convey a message that threatens death or bodily harm, or perpetuates fear and intimidation in another constitutes a punishable offence under the Criminal Code. At the ETFO Leadership Training Event in September 2008, ETFO legal counsel, Patrick Groom, presented on the topic, "The Hidden Dangers of Electronic Communication." In his address, he commented on the issue of cyberbullying, the victims of cyberbullying, and the dangers of teachers engaging in electronic communication. He provided very valuable "tips" that all teachers should know. Tips General
Always maintain a professional demeanor in all interactions with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.
Failure to communicate appropriately puts teaches at risk with the employer, College of Teachers, Children’s Aid Society, and police.
Do not e-mail students or communicate via instant messaging services.
Always maintain professional boundaries and avoid communications that could be interpreted as personal.
It may be inadvisable to use your home/personal computer for contact with parents or students.Communicating with students
Do not e-mail students for personal reasons.
Your messages may be forwarded to a much wider audience – deliberately or unintentionally and they may be manipulated.
Avoid casual, familiar tone that can erode boundaries.
Watch your language.
Do not comment on student-parent or student-student relationships or other colleagues.
Avoid sharing or receiving personal information which might be construed as violating boundaries or "grooming."Communicating with parents
Be aware that your e-mail can be used as evidence of your conduct.
Your messages may be forwarded to a much wider audience – deliberately or unintentionally.
Avoid lengthy e-mail exchanges that consume a lot of time. In addition to increasing your workload, protracted exchanges may be prone to misinterpretation.
Respect confidentiality: obtain permission to use e-mail communications.Protect Yourself
Refrain from using a personal computer account for school communication purposes and use caution when using school based computers.
Do not leave a computer unattended when logged into the school board system.
Protect username and password against identity theft to prevent unauthorized e-mail under your name or access to school documents.
Where possible, change your password(s) on a regular basis.
Respond to complex messages from parents by telephone or face-to-face meeting whenever possible.
Clear the web browser’s cache memory after every session on a computer.For Internet Explorer, click on "Tools -> Internet Options" and click the following buttons:
Be sure to check the box to “Delete all offline content” if the box pops up.For Mozilla Fire Fox, click on "Tools -> Options" and then click on the following tabs:
"Cache tab -> Clear Cache Now"
"Cookies tab -> Clear Cookies Now"
"History tab -> Clear Browsing History Now"
"Download History tab -> Clear Download History Now" (may not apply depending on computer configuration).If you do send messages
Save a copy of the original message.
Use spelling and grammar checks on materials that you plan to e-mail or post on a web site.
Signatures should include your name, assignment title, and school name.
Avoid unnecessary attachments and/or forwards.
Do not write e-mails in capital letters (capitals indicate SHOUTING).
Never forward a message without permission from the sender first.
Always maintain professional standards when sending e-mails to students, parents, colleagues (including friends), and administrators on board equipment – treat every e-mail as though it is a written letter.
Do not engage in casual gossip on chat lines as it is unprofessional.Members are advised to consult Professional Relations staff (PRS) in Protective Services at 416-962-3836 or 1-888-838-3836 for additional advice.
Electronic Communication and Social Media Advice to Members You are a seasoned teacher. Your Grade 7 class is a handful. There are a couple of "bright lights" in your class who seem to reward all of your hard work. One in particular is a girl with so much potential you want to challenge her, help her and watch her achieve remarkable things. You know that her family circumstances are difficult, and are amazed that she succeeds despite considerable obstacles. She confides in you that she struggles to study but is determined to do so. She thanks you for your help. One day she emails (or texts) you her considerable distress about whether she will be able to continue with her dream of going to university. You sense she is losing hope and you write back: "Don't worry, I've got your back, I believe in you, you're the best". She emails back: "you have no idea what you mean to me, you are the key to my future, luv u." You email back "luv u too sweetie, can't wait to see you on Monday". She emails you a "heart" emoticon in return. Questions: Does this exchange concern you? Does it cause you to seek advice from ETFO? Does it cause you to report this email communication to your principal? Does it cause you to seek assistance from the guidance counselor or social worker? Does it cause you to speak to the student with a colleague present to discuss boundaries? Does this interaction raise no cause for concern? Would you continue this type of communication with this student? Answer: In the example above, the first time you emailed or texted this student you may have officially started down the "slippery slope" leading to boundary violations according to the Ontario College of Teachers and its recent PROFESSIONAL ADVISORY ON THE USE OF ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS AND SOCIAL MEDIA. Every member of the College received a copy of the advisory in the June 2011 edition of Professionally Speaking. It is also available on the College website. ETFO continues to support the responsible use of social media as an excellent teaching tool, provided it adheres to professional standards. ETFO warns its members that anything they post can be: forwarded, taken out of context, copied, manipulated and impossible to remove from cyberspace. In the example above, this overly casual communication may be misconstrued as inappropriate, and as a boundary violation. "Friending" students; posting pictures of partying, or sending overly casual messages or texts to students, parents or others may lead to professional difficulties that you may not anticipate. While the use of technology has changed dramatically over time, the standards of professionalism have not changed. Interactions must be respectful, courteous, professional and boundaries must be maintained. Members are expected to be friendly, but not “friends” with their students. ETFO has seen an increase in cyberbullying by electronic media in the education community. Members of ETFO can be the target of this. Sometimes members initiate careless electronic communication which may have unintended, but grave professional consequences. Some tips: 1. communication with parents, students and other members of the education community is best done verbally or face to face in a professional and structured manner; 2. casual, off hand, joking remarks or expressions of support via electronic media are easily misconstrued;3. pictures of you, chat discussions you initiate or participate in, and email or text messages between you and others create a permanent record. Reflect on your electronic postings. 4. advise friends and family not to post pictures of you on social media sites without first asking for your consent. 5. slow down. Don’t press "send" until you evaluate whether or not your postings, texts, emails will be considered professional and appropriate in the education community. 6. you are not your students' "friend". You are their teacher and must maintain a professionally appropriate relationship. If in doubt, call to find out. ETFO has previously distributed a variety of publications on the topic of the appropriate professional use of electronic communication – see PRS Matters Volumes 48, 46 and 25 and VOICE articles from December 2008 – Cyberbullying and October 2007 – Think Before You Click. These are available on the ETFO website. Staff in Professional Relations (PRS) can be reached at 416-962-3836 or 1-888-838-3836See also ETFO’s website – Advice for Members
Think Before You Click You may be checking your email quickly to respond to a family member. Or you may be checking the weather, reading the news, buying tickets, or replying to a request to "add a friend" on Facebook. There may or may not be anyone else in the room. Whatever the circumstances, if you are using a school computer, you can be sure that you are not alone. Aside from your physical fingerprints on the keyboard and the mouse, you are also leaving behind various digital fingerprints, markers, and log entries that allow your employer to monitor your time and activity on that computer. When using your employer's property – the board’s computer and Internet connection – you are not "clicking" in private: it's as though your principal were sitting beside you. Your principal and board can, and often do, have access to your every move. For this reason your use of the Internet at work must at all times be in accordance with school board policy. Boards must have policies School boards are required to establish rules around the use of the Internet in order to achieve the following goals:
The consequences of violating board policies can be severe: you could be disciplined or fired. Depending on the infraction, you may also be reported to the CAS, the police, and/or the College of Teachers.
Use your good judgment Teachers are expected to lead by example, and they hold a special position of trust in relation to their students. You may be seen to be violating these obligations if students are in any way exposed to inappropriate material or communications as a result of your computer use – be it your own computer or the board's. For all of these reasons, remember to "think before you click." Your expectation of privacy is diminished while using the Internet on school board property. Exercising caution and good judgment when checking email or surfing the Internet at work will help you to maintain your privacy and forestall any criminal investigations, professional discipline, and/or discipline by the school board. Visit etfo.ca and click on Advice for Members -> PRS Matters Bulletins -> volumes 25 and 9, for information on related issues. PROFESSIONAL RELATIONS SERVICES staff provide confidential advice and support to assist you. They deal with a wide variety of issues: the performance appraisal process, work-related conflict, College of Teachers investigations, and human rights issues, including harassment and discrimination, professional boundaries, and allegations. Call 416-962-3836 or 1-888-838-3836 and ask to speak to the PRS counsellor on call.
Cyberbullying Despite the growing awareness about its negative effects, cyberbullying continues to be all too common among elementary and secondary school students. Online forums are still rife with the potential for false allegations and degrading comments, and new school- based video clips recorded with cellphones are posted to YouTube every day.Our members and students themselves are increasingly reporting incidents of negative comments and images on social networking sites such as Facebook.For instance, the Student Safety Line, set up in January 2008 following the Toronto District School Board’s Final Report on School Safety, has reported receiving an average 30 calls a week. Forty percent of the callers were elementary students. *1* Bullying was cited as the second most frequent reason for calling at 12 percent, with harassment cited at 10 percent and physical/ verbal confrontation at 15 percent. *2* As a result of this persisting phenomenon, delegates to the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF) annual meeting voted unanimously to lobby the federal government to make cyberbullying a criminal offence. *3* The delegates, who represent 220,000 teachers across Canada, also approved a far-reaching policy that recommends the adoption of provisions in collective agreements and workers’ compensation legislation to protect teachers. New Statistics The CTF based its actions on the results of its National Issues in Education poll. The survey contacted 2,523 Canadians in February and March and found that:
Legal Landscape What tools are currently in place to protect teachers from cyberbullying? Changes to the Education Act enacted February 1, 2008 mean that "bullying" can now result in suspension. *4* The Ministry of Education’s Policy and Program Memorandum No. 144, defines bullying as "typically a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance." *5* All Ontario school boards were directed to include this definition in their policies. Of course, a single act can also be very damaging to a teacher’s career and ought to be captured by any definition of cyberbullying. Consider, for example, a student who digitally assembles and then circulates a doctored and humiliating photograph depicting a teacher. The image, once circulated, can never be erased from cyberspace. The Ministry of Education has also made efforts to recognize cyberbullying in its policy memorandum, which acknowledges that bullying "may also occur through the use of technology" such as email, cellphones, text messaging, Internet websites, or other technology. Unfortunately though, it is up to individual school boards to specifically incorporate cyberbullying in their anti-harassment policies. Cyberconduct According to CTF The CTF has recently endorsed another definition and position regarding online behaviour. It has defined cyberbullying as "the use of information and communication technologies to bully, embarrass, threaten or harass another. It also includes the use of these technologies to engage in conduct or behaviour that is derogatory,defamatory, degrading, illegal or abusive." *6* The new CTF policy also sets out appropriate online behaviour. This includes:
The guiding principles emphasize the balance between the right to self-expression and the right to be free from harmful conduct: "Individual rights to freedom of information, thought, belief, opinion and expression, should be balanced with the rights and responsibilities of parents, guardians and the education community. These include the right to guide individuals in the responsible use of information and communication technology." *8*
1. Toronto District School Board, "On the Road to Health: Leadership Action Team Report" (May 20, 2008), pp. 3-4,. Available online. 2. I bid. 3. Canadian Teachers' Federation, Media Release, "Cyberbullying in schools: National poll shows Canadians’ growing awareness" (July 11, 2008). Available online. 4. Education Act, s.306(1). 5. Ontario Ministry of Education, Policy/Program Memorandum No. 144, Bullying Prevention and Intervention (October 4, 2007). Available online. 6. Canadian Teachers' Federation, Cyberconduct and Cyberbullying Policy, 184.108.40.206(b). Available online. 7. I bid. at 220.127.116.11(a). 8. I bid. at 18.104.22.168.3.