Guidelines for Teachers to Avoid Pitfalls in an Online Learning Environment
One of the great qualities of the Learn4Life
schools I lead is the high level of in-person, student-to-adult
bonding that consistently creates student persistence and success.
Thanks to our flexible model, we were able to quickly transition from
site-based learning to remote instruction for more than 23,000
students and their teachers, counselors and tutors.
As educators delve
into the world of remote and online learning, we must be mindful of
the need to retain professional boundaries at the same time as
working to maintain a high level of support for students. My
leadership team developed guidelines to help our teachers and others
maintain professional balance in an online education world.
professional. You provide academic support and guidance
to students, but you are neither their friend nor parent. Online
communication mediums can feel less formal and more private than
in-person meetings at school. Students may share details about their
lives and feelings that are more intimate than teachers may be used
to, and some of it may be inappropriate for professional
interaction. If this happens, gently stop the student, tell
them you want to get them help and offer to connect them directly
with a counselor or trained professional. Electronic
communication can be taken out of context, misunderstood or misused
in ways that can damage professional careers. Brevity can get you
into trouble, so be explicit in your digital communications to help
ensure your true intention is preserved.
mindful of your environment, especially if you are using
a webcam. You may not want your students looking at your messy
living room or listening to your children in the background. Work
from a quiet space with sufficient privacy to stay focused on your
students’ needs. Likewise, be mindful of your digital environment.
If you are sharing your screen, make sure you aren’t showing other
students’ information or having your email notifications pop up.
Don’t give out your personal information. Use
only work channels of communication that are approved, like Parent
Square and provided tools, not personal cell phone, email or social
media. This allows a formal record of communication to be
established that will protect teachers and students. Communication
with students through the use of personal technology or personal
social media, where the content of such communication is not about
school or school activities, is prohibited.
share or discuss inappropriate topics, for example those
of a sexual, illegal or prejudiced nature. Be aware that joking and
other banter can begin as light-hearted but quickly become
inappropriate. If it does, stop the interaction immediately and let
the student know that professional boundaries have been crossed in a
matter of fact way. If students share inappropriate images or
conversations, please immediately contact your supervisor to address
the situation. This behavior violates the student code of conduct.
students get wrap-around or whole-student support. Continue
to help remove obstacles in the way of your students’ education.
At Learn4Life, community partnerships are an important part of our
model. Continue to connect students with resources such as food,
health services, laptops or internet access. Refer the student to a
school counselor if a topic they want to discuss feels too personal
or beyond your professional training.
stay positive and solution oriented. Avoid sharing
personal or professional frustrations with your students, or
engaging in negative conversations about other staff, students or
families. Never share intimate details of your life experience
beyond general descriptions that can convey your sense of empathy.
your communication with your students so that the next
person who interacts with them can have a deeper understanding of
their ongoing needs, triumphs and challenges through a description
of your interaction.
agree to keep secrets. Students may confide in you as
their mentor, coach or teacher, but you have a duty to report when a
student is being abused, harmful or in danger.
doubt, ask. Your supervisor can help you manage what is
appropriate and what is not. A good rule of thumb is the “Would
you want it on the front page of the New York Times?” test.
Anything online can go viral. Nothing is private, even if you think
it has been deleted.
judgment. In general, the use of good judgment will guide
you with respect to acceptable conduct.
principles don’t replace our
organization’s Employee Handbook, but they put the usual policies
into a remote learning context. Educators are charged with the
privilege and responsibility to bring about the safest and most
learning-conducive environment possible for our students. In this
rapidly changing situation, we are honored to be a part of the lives
of our students and a beacon of hope for the communities (now online)
is the National Superintendent of Learn4Life, a network of nonprofit
public schools that serves Opportunity Youth and formerly disengaged
high school students.