Remote education: challenges in maintaining professional boundaries

28 APRIL 2020

During the past month, we have witnessed Victorian teachers responding with incredible professionalism and resilience to meet the challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

As Victoria continues to deal with the impacts of COVID-19, schools and other education settings have transitioned to remote learning models in order to support learning continuity for children and young people. Remote learning may include virtual classrooms and video-conferencing as well as communicating with learners via telephone, email and by post, and should only take place in channels authorised by the education setting.

As engagement with learners begins to occur in a remote environment, establishing good practices around professional communication is vital. This article provides teachers with simple strategies to ensure they continue to maintain strong professional relationships with learners as well as guidance on what teachers should not do to ensure their professional practise is not called into question.

While the Victorian teaching profession’s Code of Conduct is currently under review to ensure it fits in the contemporary context of the teaching profession, it continues to provide strong guidance to teachers on navigating learning environments.

As has always been the case, teachers must provide for the safety and wellbeing of children. This is done by

  • providing opportunities for all learners to learn, particularly by maintaining a safe and enriching online or remote learning environment
  • treating learners with courtesy and dignity, particularly by
    • modelling and engaging in respectful and impartial language
    • protecting learners from intimidation, embarrassment, humiliation or harm
    • respecting a learner’s privacy in sensitive matters, such as health and family problems
    • using appropriate disciplinary responses when dealing with challenging behaviour by learners
  • maintaining objectivity in their relationships with learners, particularly by
    • making decisions in their best interests
    • not drawing learners into personal agenda
  • maintaining professional relationships with learners at all times, including in conversations through online or remote learning environments.

Minimising the risks

The online environment is an ever-expanding resource, which provides great opportunities for teachers. And some serious traps to avoid. For some tips and recommendations on safe practices, you can watch our video on Digital Professionalism.

You can also find a comprehensive range of resources on the Department of Education and Training website under ‘Safe use of digital technologies’. This highly informative page provides information on bully stoppers, downloadable classroom activities, videos, interactive learning modules, advice sheets and other useful resources. It also features advice on social media, acceptable use agreements, digital copyright, and how to respond to and manage an online incident.

Maintaining professional conversations in a remote education setting

  • ensure you only use online communication channels which have been approved by your school or employer to ensure transparency (i.e. do not use any social media platforms which have not been approved for use by your school or employer)
  • unless there is a valid educational context, avoid private one-on-one communications with learners
  • limit your communications with learners to ordinary school hours (i.e. do not engage with learners late at nights and on weekends)
  • maintain a professional tone in your communications with learners - refrain from engaging in overly personal / social conversations without a valid educational context (i.e. do not use language that is overly familiar or informal and do not engage in inappropriate conversations, make inappropriate jokes or say or write anything that could be interpreted as inappropriate)
  • seek advice or support from your school or educational leaders if you have any concerns
  • avoid crossing over into ‘counselling’ conversations with learners - continue to follow appropriate processes to refer students to professional services as you would under ordinary circumstances
  • establish clear expectations from your learners about their online behaviour in the learning environment and quickly address any behaviour that does not meet these expectations
  • be aware of any suggestion or information that indicates learners may be bullying or victimising others in the remote learning environment, and address these issues promptly through approved school processes
  • using video conferencing technologies can be challenging if there are other adults and children in the house at one time - use a headset (to limit audio input just to you) and use of settings in the applications to blur your background or change the background image (to limit the distraction to students of others in the room behind you)
  • be mindful of your continuing legal obligations, such as mandatory reporting and similar responsibilities.

The VIT recognises and respects the dedication and commitment of Victorian teachers who continue to deliver quality teaching and the best educational outcomes to learners during these challenging times.

We are committed to working with teachers to support your professional practice and to ensure that together, we provide for the safety and wellbeing of Victorian children and young people.