Just as electronic communication grows and evolves over time, so too has advice for OSSTF/FEESO members regarding communicating with parents and students through electronic means. Years ago, common advice was to avoid communicating with students through electronic channels altogether, but education and communication have increasingly turned to the digital realm. The range of platforms used to communicate electronically has also expanded beyond email to include websites, apps, video chat software, texting, blogging, social media, and other platforms such as Google Classroom.
Any electronic communication with parents or students should be limited to curricular or extracurricular information, on employer-provided hardware, through employer servers, during a regular workday. You choose when to communicate with students and parents and under what circumstances: make that information clear.
It is also reasonable to set parameters around what and when students or parents can communicate with you online, and to let them know that you will receive information without engaging in an ongoing, electronic dialogue. A student submitting an assignment or asking a question about homework or extracurricular activities can be done expeditiously and responses can wait until the next day, or responses can be shared on a more public platform where an entire class or group can see any response to common questions.
OSSTF/FEESO workshops and the OSSTF/FEESO Cybersafety pamphlet found in the member-protected area of the provincial website include variations of the following advice:
- Maintain exemplary professional standards when sending email messages to students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.
- Always keep a copy of your email messages and consider copying a colleague.
- Use a professional voice when communicating via cyberspace.
- Use a signature that includes your name, assignment title, and workplace.
- Ask friends, family and colleagues to get your permission before tagging you in photos.
- Give students your personal email account or phone number.
- Communicate with individual students online.
- Engage in ongoing, back and forth electronic conversation with parents or students.
- Share your password with other colleagues or students.
- Leave your computer on and unattended when students are in the vicinity.
- Send unnecessary attachments with emails.
- Write emails using capitals.
- Do not use cyberspeak or emojis when communicating with parents or students.
- Use your home computer or email to contact students or parents.
- Permit images of yourself to be taken or posted on any site without appropriate privacy safeguards.
- Post criticism of administrators, colleagues, students, or parents on social networking sites.
This advice is predicated on the need to maintain professional boundaries with students, parents and fellow employees. Following the advice above can help to minimize the risk of your actions being misconstrued, resulting in allegations and investigations of professional misconduct by employers or professional colleges.
Before you hit send on any work-related electronic communication, ask yourself whether or not the choice of words, tone, or time of day could be misconstrued by the intended audience or their friends. One filter you could consider would be to ask yourself whether or not you would be comfortable printing the message and posting it in your workspace.