ETFO’s experience in advising and assisting members over the years has caused us to realize that almost any member can fall victim to a lack of understanding of professional boundaries. This can translate into the member making serious mistakes – career threatening ones – in the management of school relationships.
Any act of professional misconduct can lead to disciplinary measures being taken by the Ontario College of Teachers or the College of Early Childhood Educators. Even an unfounded allegation of professional misconduct could be permanently damaging to a member, to their family and to the profession.
The term “Professional Boundaries” is not easily defined. When members were interviewed and asked to provide their understanding of such a term, we learned that it means different things to different people.
Some of the overarching common threads to their responses were:
The most extreme form of boundary violation is that of sexual abuse against a student. Sexual abuse represents the ultimate breach of trust by an educator.
What makes the issue of professional boundaries an important and dangerous one for educators is the fact that educators are responsible for recognizing in themselves whether they are “at risk” of crossing boundaries and if they are, subsequently addressing this issue.
Further, educators 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 others’ interactions and intervene. In serious situations, reporting suspicion of child abuse may be required.
In general, activities which take an educator 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.” Educators must be ever vigilant of situations that place them in vulnerable positions.
As an educator, ask whether 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.
If you have any questions or concerns about your professional boundaries, please contact your local president or call and speak with a Professional Relations Services staff at 1-888-838-3836 or 416-962-3836